The ‘Loop de Loop’ project in Frome is one of those quirky projects which could only exist in the exact time and space of its conception. A mosh-up of heritage, art & food ideas provoked by a sudden realisation that it had to be done, RIGHT NOW, or something precious would be gone forever. This was the urge to salvage a perfectly serviceable building which had been boarded up for seven years but contained hidden secrets.
In 2000 a millennium project created a unique glass artwork celebrating the history of Frome, embedding items from lost industries in a back-lit glass ‘seam’ in a curved stone wall. The creation of glass artist Helga Watkins-Baker, it entranced many locals in the evenings when the colour-changing glass blocks shone out over a central space in Frome, yet it was abandoned a few years later, the toilets in the building backing the wall being so small that the District Council replaced them just seven years after they were built.
Four local women were involved in the conception of the ‘Singers Links’ project which links together the industries, the Museum, the glass blocks and the re-sited artefacts (including Gordon the camel!). Eleven years after its completion, one of them, Katy Duke, decided that something had to be done to rescue the artwork. “I had a sudden fear that the stone wall which contained Helga’s glass blocks would be demolished as the Local Authority had no need for the abandoned toilets which housed the essential light projector. If it was demolished then this unique local project would be lost forever. I contacted the District Council last summer & eventually they agreed to handover the building to our community group.”
Crucially, an idea was needed. What could the building be used for? Five small toilet cubicles with a highly service back-room; soon the concept was born – the creativity of Frome could be showcased in the cubicles, the hidden artist of the town could be made visible and the emerging and thriving interest in local food could be a catalyst in the kiosk.
“I’m quite overwhelmed at the generosity of spirit in the town” said Katy, ”Frome is a very special place, full of people with energy and creativity. I gained inspiration from three local projects in particular – The Bicycle Academy, run by Andrew Denham who inspires the town each year with the annual Cobble Wobble. The others are the Tool Shed Gallery, literally that, a shed in the grounds of the incredible Silk Mill Studios, which is the third inspiration. The Academy achieved £40K of crowd-funding in a very short 6 days! It makes our 12 weeks look easy, but it was difficult to set both a budget and a target date for the toilet conversion yet ensure that funding would be achieved.
These Frome projects show that passion & creativity can overcome enormous hurdles in dealing with buildings & bureaucracy. They thrive on the talents and energy of neighbours & friends and Frome is a bit of a hotbed of this sort of activism.”
The Loop de Loop project proved this, with eighteen organisations & businesses getting involved and around 90 individuals giving time or cash to the project it truly feels as if the project belongs to the community at large. The Spacehive crowd-funding platform has been key to the success of the project, linking a secure cash-handling facility with clear project information, social media networking and national publicity & funders.
The building will be transformed from an inadequate row of 5 toilets to a food kiosk selling local food and four ‘micro-galleries’ for local artists or businesses. These are, in effect, shop windows, just large enough for an installation or several displayed objects. The ‘links’ with nearby Frome Museum and the on-site salvaged Singers artifacts will be apparent in the converted urinal (it provides a perfect display ‘niche’!), with a new Frome camel. The local heritage project, ‘Home in Frome’ will be promoted, offering recorded Oral Histories from Frome workers, linking stories from them with the restored glass blocks which contain, for example, glass sleeves from fuse-maker Bussman Cooper. The food kiosk will supply free local shopping guides (a service recently cut by the District Council) and work with Food Frome on their food heritage projects.
The project funding target was achieved seven days before the deadline with generous offers of time from local stonemasons Minerva Stone Conservation, a local plumber, graphic designer, digital artist, carpenter & general builders and an Impromptu Art Auction. These were added to the fundraising site as a ‘Time-Bank’ donation to the project.
There have also been donations from Lord Jim Knight, ex-Mayor of the town & local celebrity Kevin McCloud, who said “Public space needs creativity. It needs art and it needs local involvement in order for it to thrive. Without these things, the spaces between buildings – the public areas that ought to be where we flourish as social creatures – will remain barren and mediocre. It’s human imagination, not concrete and tarmac, that make our towns and cityscapes enjoyable places” – see the Spacehive blog.
Organisations supporting the project include Frome Town Council, Frome Lottery, Mendip District Council, Experian & Frome Society for Local Study.
The project opened just in time for the annual Frome Festival in July. You can see videos of the glass blocks in action here, the Loop website here and more on the Singers Links story here. For progress photos see the Facebook page.
Contact Katy Duke
Social Entrepreneur, Town Centre Activist & Businesswoman
This image shows all the abandoned toilets in Frome town centre, including the Blue Loos (top right);
Imagine a town full of hidden creative genius and wonderful local food providers, then wandering through Frome town centre you see, instead of a boarded up toilet block, an inspiring showcase of these local talents. A glimpse of ever-changing exhibits out in the open in one of the key public squares in the town, and behind them a unique heritage artwork showcasing items made in yesteryear.
We aim to convert the old blue toilet block in central Frome into four micro-galleries and a local food kiosk PLUS repair a unique heritage glass block artwork containing industrial artifacts.