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Credit: engin akyurt from Pixabay

I like the notion of the “Magic Coffee”. Once you get a hint of mutual benefit, the natural thing is to arrange a first date; time just to sit down together and talk informally- a neutral environment in the daytime, no pressure. And like any first date, you both know very quickly whether coming together is going to mean good things or not.

I have had a lot of them this week – mostly with some of the members of the newly formed 50 strong researcher group – adding to the picture, stitching in offers, ideas and hopes.

One coffee with an old connection saw him hand me a fat file of newspaper clippings about the Square going back 60 years. “Plans For The All New Botolph Street” lauded in futuristic optimism as they obliterate an old street pattern going back a thousand years. [More of this to come …]

The most magic of coffees I ever had was at the top end of last year with Dr Jeannette Baxter, the brilliant academic from Anglia Ruskin who is leading our research process. We worked together on Come Yew In! and, I think, fell into a professional kind of love. From the off we knew we could excite each other.

With this Love Story, together we are sticking our spades deeper into that vast, under-cultivated stretch of fertile ground between rigorous, curious universities and active, committed community organisations. As an academic Jeannette brings us a refreshing intelligence and real clarity, making difficult things seem doable.

It is also thanks to her that the penny is finally dropping for me about ‘Practice Research” – the powerful idea that creative response IS research.

This opens up a wide-open playing field for a project like this. We have already named the empty pots we will put things in – website, songbook, exhibitions, choir, story-telling, radio, publication, play – other stuff too if we need or want. We are keen that everyone can add to a piece of it, exercise their imaginations on the way, learn some new skills and help to leave a much more engaging legacy than simple knowledge.  

Now citizen researchers become citizen creators – much more The Common Lot’s language.  

“We have what we need, and if we don’t we will find it

The Common Lot, third principle.

The resources, skills, ideas, imaginations of nearly 50 researchers, together with the experience and connections we bring, mean that we could be rich with possibility. It’s a lot of people though – and the thought of losing anyone’s motivation is what drives me on to make the best of what we have. In our scramble to harness and direct the good will and energy obvious from Thursday nights researchers planning meet, it good to see past magic coffees coming good.  

Citizen researchers learning with Magdalen Walks

This week many have had their imaginations fired by some brilliant Oral history training by the tireless Gary and Wendy at BBC Voices, and by a deeply fascinating Sunday walk of the area by the Trevor, Stuart and Margaret – the living encyclopaedias of Magdalen Walks. Good connections are also being fostered with Ben at the EDP archives, Jenny at The Museum of Norwich, Rainbird AI and a steady stream of interested others – all adding to the mix of future opportunities.

Right now we have two short months to gather in the material we need – find the facts, source the photos, build the timelines, complete the interviews, sift and sort it; but this time with all that we have together, we will build a bigger, better bridge from the fact to the fruit.  

And on that fertile ground I talked about earlier – coffee beans make great compost …

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