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Sarah-Jane Rawlings, Co-Director of Fun Palaces, talks Community at the heart of culture

This weekend, 5-6 October, is Fun Palaces weekend. People from all over the UK and from much further afield have been getting together with their neighbours, their friends, their colleagues, their families to make something happen. And that is no ordinary something. This weekend will feel huge (although the events may be small) as the Fun Palaces they have created shine a light on the spirit of their communities and the skills and generosity of everyone that takes part. Fun Palaces are free events that say in these difficult, unsettling, explosive times, ‘We care about who we share our lives with, we recognise our differences and similarities and are excited by them, we believe in the genius of everyone. That’s what’s important.’ And that is far from ordinary.

This year there will be over 370 Fun Palaces. Hundreds of Fun Palaces full of local people sharing their skills; from lion dancing, to crochet, to samosa making to music of every sort.  Of course Fun Palaces have music – because in every village, on every estate, in every suburban street, there are musicians: there are the beat boxers, the professional violinists, the ones who sing in the gospel choir, the ones who will only sing in the shower, the ones who can’t read music but can play all the tunes from their youth on the piano (if they had access to one), the nine year old who plays the trumpet and likes to improvise, the forty year old who plays the drums and upsets the neighbours. Musicians at every level share their skills at a Fun Palace. It’s an opportunity to share what they know, to talk to people about what it means to them, to inspire others to have a go. But it’s also so much more than that – millions of tiny moments will happen over all the Fun Palaces next weekend. Tiny moments of people feeling special, of people feeling heard, of people feeling cared for and celebrated. Tiny moments that add up to so much. That is what Fun Palaces is about. Not the music that is played or the skill with which it is played but the heart that it lays bare and the participant that is there to feel its warmth. These tiny moments are why we call Fun Palaces ‘tiny revolutions of connection’.

Over years of travelling up and down the country on Fun Palaces weekend, I have witnessed many exciting music moments: a drum kit for everyone to use in a library in Oldham, the unexpected noise signalling that today anything is possible; a man in his early 70’s trying the violin for the first time; all ages trying out every instrument in an orchestra; a beat box poet working with an intergenerational group to pass on his skills; a D/deaf choir in Warrington teaching everyone to sign and sing.  The music fills the rafters with experimentation and endeavour, a perfect backdrop to the conversations, the learning and the whirring of change. As one of our Fun Palace Makers said: “I don’t think that people realise what talent they have. Just a little taster brings people together, which in itself helps to raise self esteem and a sense of belonging.”

So to all those who get involved with Make Music Day – have you ever thought about taking it a step further and sharing your skills at a Fun Palace? Why not visit your nearest Fun Palace this year funpalaces.co.uk/discover (and don’t forget to join our mailing list) and next year make your own. It’s exciting to give your particular music a chance to be aired but I would argue it is ten times more exciting to share that passion and skill. It is in that moment of connection that our lives are changed.

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