Fun Palaces: A Sixties vision that citizens of all ages would come together to be creative has finally come to fruition

If you've ever wanted to sing in a choir, take part in guerrilla knitting or carry out science experiments with red cabbage, now is your chance

Karen Attwood
Saturday 04 October 2014 22:53
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Joan Littlewood thought the British ‘never have enough fun’
Joan Littlewood thought the British ‘never have enough fun’

The British, the theatre director Joan Littlewood insisted, "never have enough fun". Her solution was to suggest constructing buildings where people of all ages could come together to be creative, learn something new or simply have fun. Littlewood's vision went unrealised – until now.

A century after Littlewood's birth, the dream she and architect Cedric Price nurtured will come to fruition at venues across the country as well as in Europe, the US and Canada. The UK will be transformed into a huge Fun Palace today, as more than 130 free community arts and science events take place nationwide.

If you've ever wanted to sing in a choir, take part in guerrilla knitting, carry out science experiments with red cabbage, or make an entire town – or an elephant – out of cardboard, now is your chance. There's a murder mystery trail with real life forensics in Birmingham, a chance to swim with a mermaid in Brockwell Lido, south London, and a poetry picnic in Glasgow.

Stella Duffy, the celebrated writer who has helped realise the Fun Palace scheme, says she expected a handful of people to get involved when she first announced the project, but Fun-Palace mania has swept through communities bringing young and old, artists and scientists, professionals and amateurs together in a "university of the streets".

Jude Kelly, artistic director of Southbank Centre in London which will be hosting a series of talks in their own Fun Palace, says they were originally conceived to combine "arts, science, technology, playfulness and earnestness", and to make people believe that "the world was a treasure trove of possibility that didn't stop with education".

Kelly, who was mentored by Price, says the public at the Southbank will have a chance to devise their own Fun Palace, which will be brought to life in future years.

Taking as inspiration Littlewood's idea that "there is genius in everyone", thousands of volunteers have been working in their spare time to create projects.

The celebrated writer, Stella Duffy, has helped realise the Fun Palace scheme

Alanna Higginson, who works in the travel industry, is one of many hundreds who have for months been giving up evenings and weekends to create a Fun Palace from scratch.

"I loved the idea of art being accessible to all, as it is often seen as elitist and expensive," said the organiser of the Glasgow Fun Palace, which will include a picnic with poetry readings and an art installation made with 100 postcards from members of the community.

"It started with just me, then I began approaching people. I like the idea that you don't have to be an artist or a scientist. We've now got a real momentum and there is a buzz about it. I hope to make it bigger and better next year."

To find your nearest Fun Palace visit funpalaces.co.uk

Whirligig Fun Palace, Stoke-on-Trent

Four acres of beautiful woodland on the Rode Hall Estate hosts curious characters, woodland yoga, and a camp-fire singalong for all the family. Revellers can also send letters through the pigeon post and join in with many more arts and science activities.

Deptford Fun Palace, London

Music and theatre performances, including Source, an epic tale of London's lost river, and pop-up street theatre: Deptford was apparently once the land of giants; the Ministry of Mysteries needs help to work out how a giant from the past got sick. Bring What You Can party from 4pm today.

Crystal Fun Palace, London

A team of Dinosaur Doctors venture on an expedition to save the beasts, in this live performance, followed by a dino picnic and dino face-painting. There are science experiments for children, storytelling for adults, a poetry sweet shop and tours of the Transmitter Building.

Brockwell Lido Fun Palace, London

Most activities will be on a watery theme, with the opportunity to swim with mermaids, pose for an underwater photograph or paddle a kayak across the 50-metre pool. There will also be spooky stories, a human chess game, dance lessons and sign-language sessions. Wet suits are on hand if it gets chilly.

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