Unlocking local potential
Elmhirst Building and Golden Iris
In 2015 Totnes Community Development Society asked KEVICC if the Society could lease the Elmhirst Building (the former Totnes Girls School building on Ashburton Road) so as to establish the Elmhirst Building as a community hub and to facilitate the development of community uses which maximise the education and social benefit for the young people and teachers within and around the School community. The Society believed that the key components needed to include a café space for young people to use out of school hours, with the opportunity for drop in space; child care support and play facilities; workshop space for artists and those in creative industries and space for food co-op and food growing projects.
Concerned by the increasing challenges they see around mental health which as they say “remain invisible to most”, in 2017 six 15 and 16 year old’s established the Golden Iris Festival. They know that through creative spaces it is possible to break down barriers and bring people together. Since 2017 young people have continued to work to provide creative spaces for themselves and other vulnerable people in the community.
The Elmhirst Building on Ashburton road was being renovated until early 2020 by young people and others in the community that want to support their vision. The doors opened on the 18th February 2019 for a week of intensive work, skills sharing, training and volunteering to celebrate the start of a transformation over several months. The young people that were leading this work (all between the ages of 15 and 18) said that:
Our main aim for developing the Elmhirst Building is supplying the community and young people a safe, yet inviting place for people with all types of interests to come and get involved with either supporting something they are doing, or getting young people involved with something new or developing new skills. This idea stemmed from the lack of safe and inviting places for young people in the Totnes community; resulting in many young people not being able to discover or practise a talent in a place where nobody is judged and everyone is included and safe. We, as a team feel this is exactly what the Totnes community needs in order to open new opportunities for every young person.
Sadly Totnes Community Development Society and Golden Iris no longer occupy the Elmhirst Building. Read this news statement for more information (November 2020).
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The Golden Iris Festival
The initial Golden Iris festival in 2017 proved the case for a more permanent home for this work. The festival involved over 1,500 people, with over 78 young people alone volunteering on and off stage. It was a space for local talent to start to flourish and challenge perceptions about young people in Totnes.
The Golden Iris Festival opened with a circus themed fashion show on Friday 6th October in the centre of Totnes. Professional designers, students, and up and coming designers were invited to show pieces and work together in launching this debut festival in their own unique way.
On the Saturday there was an open air music festival based upon live music with artists performing on two outdoor stages (main stage and acoustic stage), and talks and workshops (focusing on mental health and well-being and inclusion). Artists on the main stage included Two Sixty Six, Gypsy Unit, Rob Smith, Dizraeli and Gypsy Hill. The acoustic stage was dedicated to up and coming local talent. Young musicians or those starting out were given support to help them take to the stage alongside the national artists.
Here is what people said about the Golden Iris Festival:
“The Golden Iris festival, all thanks to a group of young students from the local secondary school, reminded a lot of older visitors how exciting and alive they can still feel.” Festival crew member
“…people don’t realise also that so many people with mental health issues are told it’s just a phase when it’s not, I just thought it was so thoughtful of you guys to raise awareness for it as it is a serious issue.” Golden Iris participant, 15 years old
“…we have done rather a lot of these types of events this summer (with our other artists as well in many different countries) and I can truly say that it would be great if everyone ran such a well organised show. Most importantly it was lovely to meet and work with such a lovely group of young people. So you got so much so very right which for a first festival in a new place is no small achievement.” International music producer