Thursday, 5 May 2011

Bootstrap Sam and the Pirates of Hackney

I always say that the best thing about my job are our members. Recently I was lucky enough to be invited by Cllr Guy Nicholson to meet Sam Aldenton, the top man at Bootstrap Company and a SEL member  in Dalston, and look at some of the fantastic things they and other social enterprises are doing there. It was an inspiring couple of hours and I have to say they really are too cool for school. Within a small part of London some very clever people have decided to really mix things up. Starting on the ground floor Bootstrap is the place where another outstanding SEL member - the groundbreaking Fair finance - is basing its operations.

There is a stunning gallery with a show opening tonight of photographic portraiture by Martin Zahinger, entitled  'Mute Shoot' and a jazz bar, Cafe OTO named by Time Out as London's hottest jazz venue. Then we headed up the building to find the delicious Gina shoes making their products to be distributed worldwide. From Dalston!

Next we find a floor of hot desks called Dalston Open Studios, rentable for the competitive rate of £50 per desk per week, which felt like a real hive of activity, which led nicely onto their Dalston Roof Park, cinema and outdoor bar. It all had the feel of New York when I lived in Hell's Kitchen in the 80s: edgy, arty, creative and clever, and in this case social enterprise through and through. Perfect. Sam also showed me around Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens where community groups were enjoying Dalston's only green space, growing vegetables (my favourite, we talked broad beans), making scarecrows and working up a cunning plan for maximising the use of their new wonderful clay oven. Again it felt like the community garden I belonged to in Manhattan where volunteers ran projects that enabled local tenants to have a go at cultivation , enjoy the outdoors and of course get to know one another. Finally I met up with the Hackney Pirates, a great project run by Bootstrap ( and what better organisation to run a pirate group than one named after a Pirate of the Carribean!?) that enabled working people to connect with school kids who were losing interest in education, to spend a couple of hours outside school but in a stimulating environment like, of course, Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens. The economy might be curling at the edges but I have to tell you it's all go in sunny Dalston!

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