When Naomi Schillinger was asked if she wanted to take part in last year’s Chelsea Fringe her initial feeling was that, with a book to finish and numerous other commitments, she wouldn’t have time. But it turned out that the community vegetable growing project she was already running on her home street in Finsbury Park was a Fringe candidate, chiming perfectly with the festival’s open access ethos and emphasis on participation. Encouraged by CF director Tim Richardson to take the plunge, Naomi and her neighbours duly got stuck into organizing an event.
The festival’s early summer timeslot meant that there wouldn’t be much veg action in the front gardens so Naomi and her team decided on a street party style event, centering around a large-scale version of the Blackstock Triangle Gardens regular ‘Cake Sunday’ gatherings.
A section of the street was closed to traffic and in time-honoured fashion, furnished with homemade bunting, while the obligatory cake table was laden with irresistible baked goods. Naomi and team devised an equally appetising side order of activities to create a 2-hour mini festival, featuring a Vegetable Olympics, a seedbomb making workshop (using seeds donated by Nicky’s Nurseries) and a performance of ‘Pumpkin Patch’, a pithy 10-minute play about a community vegetable gardener. There was a seed give away and a neighbour who is a Master Gardener was on hand to dispense gardening advice to all-comers, while architect-turned-hedge-stylist extraordinaire Tim Bushe gave a topiary demonstration. The project’s own stand proved a hit with visitors keen to find out how they could replicate the veg growing model in their own front gardens – “it was absolutely rammed all day” recalls Naomi.
The event attracted national press attention and on the day (which was gloriously hot and sunny) drew visitors from as far afield as Manchester, Colchester and even tempted some from south of the river! “That’s the wonder of the Chelsea Fringe”, says Naomi, “it’s very well organized and they did such a good job publicizing our event, on the website and in the press, that we got lots of outside visitors”.
For Naomi, the experience of taking part in the CF was so positive that she is signing up for the 2013 installment and she is already thinking about how to develop the ideas that worked best last year. She’s keen to add a more arty emphasis by expanding the theatrical element and setting up collaborations with local artists – a promenade play and ‘more lounging opportunities’ all currently in the mix. Naomi is also hoping to link up with other Chelsea Fringe projects in the area, with a view to co-coordinating a trail to make it even more rewarding for visitors.
For Naomi (whose blog can be found at http://outofmyshed.co.uk) becoming a Fringe participant reaped its own, personal rewards -“When I went to my first Chelsea Fringe meeting I thought, ‘Wow – I’ve met my tribe.’ It was really exciting to encounter all these different wonderful ideas and hook up with so many like-minded people. I just thought, ‘I’ve come home!’”