Press Release - SISTER are here to stay!
SISTER are here to stay - the building occupied for the SISTER Summer School to remain open as a thriving community centre.
With the end of the Summer holidays, the SISTER (Stroud in Internationalist Solidarity, Together for Earth Repairs) Summer School that has popped-up on Lansdown Road is finishing. However, after such a great reception the space will continue as a centre for community education and a base for the SISTER project into the Autumn. They’ll still be running events, workshops, film screenings and cafes- and hosting other local community projects- despite the County Council asking them to leave it as yet another unused building.
SISTER is made up of local young people, parents and teachers, who are working to put power in the hands of the people so we can change our community for the better! A month after it was first occupied, what was the old Spiritualist Church has been transformed into a thriving community education space by SISTER. Instead of another empty building, the space has hosted a weekly community café, nearly 20 workshops, 8 film screenings and had hundreds of people through the door. The political conversations ranged from a workshop asking why ‘School Hates Farmers’, through ‘Squatting 101’ and ‘Popular Education in Burkina Faso’, and all the way to the amazing organising of Ginger and her feathered friends in Chicken Run. Alongside this, the space has begun hosting regular meetings for several local community groups such as School is a Crime Scene, Community Solidarity Stroud District, Stroud Radical Reading Group, Transition Stroud Textiles group and more.
Everything is held in an intergenerational way, something SISTER think is essential to encourage young people in Stroud to feel powerful and get involved with community building. Emma Calcutt, local mum, says the project is: "making use of a neglected space to create a supportive environment for the community to grow together and progress, giving opportunity for the next generation to experience the world through an inclusive and diverse lens. The people running the project are warm, friendly and generous and as a parent I welcome this initiative in Stroud."
The community cafes have been a real hit with over 50 free/donations-based meals served each time. The organisers have been blown away by people’s engagement and generosity; especially the local community scale agriculture projects like Common Soil, who have been donating all the seasonal veg to make the café possible. In fact, the only real negative reaction the SISTER organisers tell us they’ve received is from the County Council.
Despite a largely positive first meeting where the Asset Management team told organisers that maybe a long-term cheap rent could be organised to support the project, the County Council has shown their true colours as events unfolded. Having previously reiterated how they were ‘losing sleep every night’ over concerns for health and safety, they proceeded to issue written warnings asking all occupants to vacate immediately – which would have made a number of young people houseless. The Council’s reasoning was the SISTER had taken too long to get in contact with them after the first meeting. Although organisers explained that this time was taken to discuss with various members of the community, and get consensus within the group (which was reached, wanting a positive relationship with the CC and hoping for discussions), Assest Management refused to revoke their written warning. Ironically, at the time of writing, it has been over 2 weeks since SISTER emailed the council, asking for a meeting, and clarity on safety concerns so they could be addressed – and there has been no reply.
For the SISTER team this is about their right to turn empty space into community space, and they haven’t been simply waiting around. They now have 75 local people signed onto their open letter of support, they’ve started exciting discussions with both Town and District councillors and are asking people engaging with the project to stand with them and urge the County Council not to try and kill the project.
And it seems to be working with local journalist Caroline Molloy saying: "The SISTER occupation feels like the most exciting thing to happen in Stroud for a long time, and exactly what our town needs - committed young people, putting on lively and inclusive events for other young people and the whole community, in what was previously a neglected empty building. I urge the County Council to respond imaginatively and generously and let this project stay and grow."
So, with the Summer School finished the SISTER team are settling in for the Autumn and despite the decrease in the frequency of events, they’re encouraging anyone curious to drop by, have your say and get involved. Their next project will be Reparations Season throughout October for Black History Month as they work to win over the people of Stroud. SISTER is part of a network of communities across the UK and the Global South working together on PRALER (the Planet Repairs Action Learning Educational Revolution). Together they are supporting each other to break down barriers, liberate education and weave alternatives to neo-colonialism.
You can follow their social media handles for information on events and there is a standing invitation to sign an open letter to show your support for the project.
Some more quotes - Collected from people who have attended our events
"It has been a bustling, crazy few weeks, and the show of local support has been absolutely fantastic - from cooking us meals, providing kitchen equipment and those turning up to our cafes and events. It has been a truly beautiful show of community and a complete success!" - Roma (19)
"Thank you for curating a safe environment in which to learn, grow and help challenge injustice; to help make Stroud a more welcoming and inclusive place for all to live." - Freddie