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by sarahb last modified 11/04/2023 11:06 AM

From the archives: A million bricks of love

by sarahb last modified 11/04/2023 11:06 AM
From the archives:  A million bricks of love

Visual arts is an important part of the activity at x-church

x-church in Gainsborough

As the push continues to #SaveJWB, we look back to Trinity's 2018 Heart & Soul project and our series of talks where both national and international speakers shared their knowledge and experience on the positives and pitfalls of re-imaging historic buildings. In this blog we invited Marcus Hammond, curator of x-church - a community space in Gainsborough, like no other - to come and share its story...

Over a million bricks hold together the love and forward-thinking acceptance of x-church. Marcus Hammond

Marcus Hammond bought a church building in 2006 and the night before he received the keys, the window got bricked. Therefore the first few days of his ownership were spent fixing the windows, and during this time he left the doors open. Children and young people walked right in and started playing in the space. This has lasted 12 years so far. ‘Now’, he said, ‘the building is almost incidental’.

It was interesting to learn that in the same way as the children wandering in, a lot of x-church’s journey happened almost accidentally: the building was described by someone as built in a slum-gothic way, and as well as enjoying the playful amalgamation of two words, Hammond and what was becoming a small team of volunteers decided it would be the name of a youth project.

x-church is host to many successful visual art installations

Physically building a place is hard but assembling the people is harder

They created a small dome structure for Slumgothic within the huge church space in which young people’s music and band practice can be contained. Immediately Hammond was building relationships with young people with total acceptance of who they are as individuals. Over time these relationships led to so much mutual respect that Marcus handed out keys to the front door. This helped with practical things such as not having to be there to unlock, but also gives the young people a sense of ownership of the building. With a mixture of surprise and pride, Hammond said, ‘So far, nothing bad has happened.’

The bare-brick architecture has become x-church’s strength and therefore not much has been added to make it more than a vast empty space. Marcus’s view is that physically building a place is hard but assembling the people is harder. For example, Mukhat Dar is open about his poignant story of how not all arts spaces end up in success as he reflects on The Drum Arts Centre (The Life & Death of an Arts Centre).

The x-church team like it when someone comes in and has a grand plan for an exhibition, show or event to hold there, and x-church is welcoming to almost all ideas. In a community like Gainsborough there is not an active interest in art or culture but x- church’s practice of ‘inconveniencing people with art’ proves that if you take it to the people they will engage.

From blocking out all the windows with card in order to turn x-church into a camera obscura to holding 24 hours of drumming for Syria, lots of events and exhibitions have taken place at x-church, some instigated by the young people and some by external artists. ‘Increasingly at x-church', according to Marcus, 'people don’t have a fear of making a fool of themselves.’ I agree wholeheartedly that there is a lot to be said for creating a space in which young people can take risks. In a time when young people are called upon to be available at all times via phones, it is increasingly important to allow freedom in other parts of their lives to benefit their wellbeing and independence.

Through loads of conversations and shared experiences, the lives of individuals and the Slumgothic community has been immeasurably touched. From what I heard at the talk, x-church is an inspiring example of what could be happening to benefit young people all over the world. Over a million bricks hold together the love and forward-thinking acceptance of x-church, but Marcus is not precious about what happens to the physical building, instead it is the people that matter. 'If the building collapsed we could just relocate somewhere else. Even to a field.'

This write up was by Tess Sieling, who was the project intern on the Heart & Soul heritage project. The talk was part of a series exploring the challenges and achievements of transforming and preserving historic buildings and was programmed in collaboration with Bristol's Architecture Centre and the University of West England (UWE).

How to get involved

Click here to sign the Hotwells and Cliftonwood petition to Save Jacobs Wells Baths

Further reading

Read more from our Heart & Soul talk series - Father Paul, Fidel Meraz and Dr Katie McClymont

Read more about the Save Jacobs Wells Campaign here.

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