So you’re interested in our “alternative space”, maybe you’d like to do
something similar, different, better or worse? Well here’s some ideas based on
how we got the Forest going…
We wanted a place where we could show films, play and listen to music, hang
out, dance, discuss stuff, think, hold amateur boxing contests, learn Spanish,
play chess, encourage sarcasm, look at art, make things etc… and anybody
could get involved and make things happen. Basically we wanted a cool place to
go when there was none.
To make this happen, the four basic requirements are (in order):
- People - you need people who share a vision of what they want to create.
- Time - at least a handful of the people need a lot of free time
- A Place - you need to find a place
- Some Money - when we started, everyone chipped in what they could to make it happen. The idea was that you’d never see your money again.
How many you need depends on the scale of your project. Once it’s up and
going, if it’s cool and in a good location it will attract people, and
more people will want to become involved (hooray). You need people for
building, staffing, painting walls, making furniture, throwing things
out, preparing food, DJing, jokes; there is always stuff that needs
doing and everyone nearly always has something good to contribute.
Setting something up like this requires an enormous amount of time and
effort. Not just when you’re running, but to find a location, to deal
with the letting agent (or whoever) to sort out the damp on the walls,
to collect sofas, to paint the walls - it will involve a load of work.
What you are trying to do determines what an acceptable place is going
to be like: size, cost, location. If you find cool, empty shops with no
letting signs, ask in neighbouring shops who owns it. Also, city
libraries typically have a register of who owns all property - also
worth checking. Remember, if you want to make lots of noise, you will
need a noise-proof room or no neighbours! And bear in mind legal public
access to all points of the building. In our first space, we had a
basement that we wanted to use as a cinema, but we had to abandon this
‘cos the stairs were too steep. In the event of an emergency, you need to
have an easy escape route for all people who could be inside your
When we started we had about five or six people each put in £200 and a
further ten or so people put in what they could - from £20 to £150. So we
had around £2000 in all. This was spent primarily on rent, fittings
(paint, nails, wood etc) and stock (in our case food and drink, not
alcohol (which can be very profitable). No-one was bothered about
getting their money back so if it all turned into a disaster we didn’t
care. However, it is worth agreeing in advance what to do if you make
some money, like whether to: split it, give to charity, or save it for
future projects (this is what we did). To make money you can sell stuff,
ask for donations, have raffles etc. To look at money in a little more
detail, consider these four biggest costs in opening a space (in order):
People - if everyone works for free this is not a cost! But if
people are being paid this is probably the biggest expense.
Rent - probably your biggest cost. We started in a much smaller
space (although we could cram around a hundred people in) in an almost as cool
location, and one month’s rent was £600. We were initially open just for
one month (we didn’t know if it would work and we didn’t know that we
wanted it to exist for longer) and were lucky enough to get a
month-by-month lease, so we could stay as long or as little as we wanted
(we couldn’t have done it without this requirement). This kind of lease
is not that common, but you may be able to squat a place (check
squatting law) or find a friendly landlord who’s up for negotiations.
Fittings & Stuff - this adds up pretty quickly. A surprisingly
large amount of stuff can be got from mates or freecycle. For nice
things to put in your space (stereo etc), go to car boot sales and raid
Stock - hopefully you will sell stuff and it will pay for
everything. Food is quite a good one, which is why we picked it. We try
to more or less double our money on everything we sell (i.e. the mark-up
is twice the cost price — we buy for £1 and sell for £3).
You ought to be able to figure out ours, what’s yours? This is also
important in how a place is run. We try to be an ethical and open
organisation, encouraging the flow of important information about the
Forest and the rest of the world through our mouthpiece CIA NIGHTS,
which admittedly has now eclipsed us.
There are quite a few things people will have to take responsibility for:
- Signing the lease
- Health & Safety
- Running the kitchen (if you are going to have one)
- Accounting & utilities
- Building - do it yourselves, libraries have books on plumbing, wiring, interior design etc
- Liasing with council/police/health & safety people/public/neighbours
It is not possible or desirable for one person to do all this. Split up
the responsibilities, but be sure to tell each other what’s going on;
email groups or web noticeboards can be useful for this. Also, long
committee meetings where you discuss trivial useless shit are excellent
to keep each other happy. Try to bear in mind that some of these
responsibilities are quite serious — if you sign the lease and forget to
give notice maybe you are legally bound to pay another month’s rent! So
be clear on these things and stand together in times of trouble!
If You Want a Kitchen
Try to keep things simple, and maybe grow with experience. The general
- Keep things clean
- Have “three” sinks - hand washing, dish washing, food preparation
- Toilet for staff must have two doors before kitchen area and wash basin
fridges should work!
- Don’t serve meat - most food poisoning is because of meat, and there are additional rules for having meat in kitchens
- Rotate stock
- Washdownable worksurfaces
- Decent lino flooring in kitchen
On the whole, the council people won’t want to close you down.
Essentially they want you to succeed ‘cos you are a business and
business is good. However, if you take the piss, they wont like it.
Alcohol. You can’t legally sell alcohol without a license, but you can
do BYOB (bring your own booze) and charge corkage (a fee for opening
bottle/can). You need an entertainment license if you want to charge an
THAT’S IT! THERE ISN’T ANYTHING MORE TO KNOW! GO AND OPEN A SHOP!
…of course you can always contact us, we offer various consultation
programmes to help you, all at attractive rates…