DONCOPOLITANISM: Zen and the Art of Doing

market garden estate
Last week I spoke about how the Doncopolitan was driven by passion; how Rachel and I (with help from our many contributors, advertisers and supporters, of course) have built both a magazine and, we hope, a new-found faith in Doncaster with very little money, no time (with no money we have to work other jobs just to pay the bills, so the magazine is largely made at night, which also means…), no respite and in a seemingly constant battle against the naysayers.
Why would we tire ourselves to breaking point for an arts and culture magazine?
Well, despite the fact that Doncaster *really* did need an arts and culture magazine, the Doncopolitan has always been much more than that. From the first issue it has been a manifesto for change. One which argues that we, the people of one of the poorest regions in England, can and will make a brighter future for our town.
This idea was presented in the pages of the Doncopolitan right from the very first issue. The ‘fake it until you make it’ message suggested that if we act the way we want to be (if, as Gandhi suggested, we become the change we want to see in the world) then we will see our attitude manifest itself as real change; something which, certainly in terms of arts culture in our town, has already begun to happen. Issue one is hard to find in all its papery goodness, so if you haven’t already read it check out the online version:

We elaborated on this even further within the pages of issue 2 (in some ways our embarrassing ‘second album’ – we put the poster on the wrong page and for some reason the masthead has a skinny ‘D’). Republic of South Yorkshire 2.0 (RoSY2.0) presents a vision for a bottom-up, self-built, local economy which focuses on the essentials of life (food, shelter, energy, creativity, companionship and good times) to create jobs and revenue for our region. Despite giving a nod to the old Republic of South Yorkshire this isn’t a backward looking plea for a return to times past, as I said back then:

I’m not talking a ‘People’s Republic’ here, we don’t need any more ‘ideology’ (left or right), we just need a healthy boost of ‘I-do-ology’.

What we also need to do is to combat the widespread cynicism (the constant negativity of the ‘yes, but..’ and ‘It’ll never happen in Donny’ brigade) and cowardly paternalism (the dis-empowering idea that somebody else – be it the ‘experts’, the ‘council’, the ‘government’ or the ‘politicos’ – should do the work on our behalf). Don’t get me wrong, we totally understand people’s concerns. There have been many top-down grand schemes over the years, but despite having millions of pounds pumped into the region the situation on the average street hasn’t really changed much. How do we know? Because we come from – and still live in – those very streets. 

I am a largely self-educated, self-taught artist from North Doncaster who has lived (often swaying in and out of official breadline poverty) in towns like Askern, Scawthorpe and Bentley for the last 30 years. Rachel has a higher level of education (and arguably a higher level of talent!..) than I, but she is also a ‘strike baby’ who now lives in an area which, according to the HMGs Index of Multiple Deprivation, falls in the top ten percent most deprived wards in the country. In short, we know how hard it is to live in modern Doncaster, because we live in modern Doncaster.

But we also know constantly moaning doesn’t change a thing. It is only our deeds which make real change possible. In our personal lives we have both fought for change, and despite the set-backs I think it’s fair to say that we’ve managed to create something pretty unique. And so, given half a chance and a lot more confidence, could most of the people in Donny.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the grand designs – I love projects like The Hub and the new Civic & Cultural Quarter – but what is lacking, and what is so desperately needed, is a push from below which is capable of scooping up those of us who, for whatever reason, are currently disengaged from mainstream education and/or employment opportunities, and which can provide a way for everyday people to invent and build their own future. I outline some possible grassroots projects in RoSY2.0 (page 8):

But, as things currently stand, those of us who are pushing for change are constantly held back by the age-old shackles of time and money. We have often lamented the fact that there is a whole world of talent currently sitting on supermarket checkouts or picking orders in a giant warehouse; talent which has the potential to reshape Doncaster for the better if it were only given the chance.
We have also continuously warned of the haemorrhaging of talent from our area as the youth are forced to find employment away from Doncaster if they want to find work in the arts or creative industries sector.
As I’ve already mentioned, it is only the fact that Rachel and I are employed outside of the Doncopolitan which makes it possible for us to produce it in the first place. But this also means that we’re currently working to our full capacity just to provide a platform for our ideas; working seven days a week we have run out of time to put these ideas into action… and you should see the splendour of our dreams!
We need to construct new ways to support Doncaster’s doers and dreamers.
Our area is poor, but it is not completely without means. We need to encourage donations from businesses, to crowdfund, to fund-raise, to borrow, beg and steal (OK, stealing might be a little extreme, but you get my point… mind you, I kinda get the point of Robin Hood too ūüėČ ) to provide the bursaries, low/no-interest loans, grants and seed-funding needed to free up time for the creative, the productive and the passionate to do their thing free (for a start-up period at least) from the chains of a hand-to-mouth existence.
Finding money just to pay for people’s time might not sound like a far-reaching, forward-thinking plan. But if this money were to go to the people with the vision, drive and skills to build new enterprises in Doncaster then it would not be dead money. It would be used to create jobs and generate further revenue for the local economy; which, in turn, generates the possibility for further seed-funding for the next batch of ‘Dontrepreneurs’.
Notice I’m not talking about social enterprise here. Social enterprise, as I will discuss shortly, has an important role to play in the do-conomy, but what most enterprising people need is freedom from the ties imposed by traditional funding streams. And with the future of such funding being so uncertain it might be wise to save them for those who provide more direct support for the most vulnerable in society.
It may sound like a risk to offer people money with less restrictions on spending, but ultimately what can they do but spend. Which is in itself a bonus for the local economy. Existing businesses should really consider supporting a do-conomy fund for exactly this reason!
But that’s enough talk of money (although, if there are any wealthy benefactors out there looking for a new home for their money, I would like to say that Rachel and I are very cheap to keep!), back to the business (quite literally) of doing.
When I talk of a do-conomy I mean exactly that, a local economy based on people doing productive things. When we are actively making, growing, creating, designing, building, etc., we are engaged with work. And when we do that work to a high enough degree we create work for others. This is enterprise. I’m not offering any groundbreaking theories here, I’m just emphasising the fact that if we are serious about creating jobs we should be talking to the people who are serious about creating work. The doers.
Yes, a giant warehouse might provide a good many low-paid, menial jobs, but a job which provides even a low degree of creative skill is better at seeding the kind of employment which will create a much more diverse local economy. And diversity, as any ecologist, economist or evolutionary biologist will tell you, is the key to long-term resilience, adaptability and sustainability.
Thankfully Doncaster is far from impoverished when it comes to people capable of creating this kind of work. As our latest issue (and most of the issues before it) shows, we are definitely a town of doers:

But for every Jade Clark, Naomi Horan or Mandy Keating (to name but a few) there are a dozen dreamers who currently lack the space or (as previously mentioned) the funds to freely do.
We have already discussed money, but space is something which is much easier to solve. We would encourage artists and designers to check out our friends at the Queen’s Road Design Centre, The Loft and Artfuel, but we would also like to point out that, in Doncaster, there is most definitely no shortage of space. From the many empty top-floors in Doncaster town centre to the abandoned buildings and lots in our satellite towns, every neglected eyesore is in fact a potential incubator for change.
We know how powerful the right space can be. Since creating our studio on Copley Road we have met many amazing people and helped to seed a diverse range of projects and ideas. Sometimes we get frustrated because our work is regularly interrupted, but then we remind ourselves how hard it was before we had such a space.
Every opportunity should be taken to marry potential spaces to would-be enterprises.
Even if people don’t have the money for rent the fact that a building is inhabited can save a landlord a fortune (empty properties devalue and also devalue the surrounding area) and the fact that people can see it being used can even help to sell it for the landlord.
There are also many local authority buildings currently mothballed due to a lack of funding. Selling these does nothing for the long-term future of our town (once they’re gone they are unlikely to be replaced), but as DMBC rent agreements are currently written they are not usually allowed to be used for private business.
But what if they could be used by social enterprises? What if the rent agreement were ‘no private profit’ rather than no business activity at all. If social enterprises could use these buildings to boost the local do-conomy then they really would deserve to be known as ‘assets’.
The most important space of all at this moment in time would be a ‘Do-conomy Hub’ in or near Doncaster town centre dedicated to designing, promoting and facilitating in the creation of further grassroots enterprises.
What is true of buildings and other commercial spaces is also true of resources. As a self-taught photographer and graphic designer I know all too well how frustrating it can be not to have access to the ‘right’ tools for the job.
For years the only option I had was to use second hand, often ‘end-of-use’, equipment and Free Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) applications running on the GNU/Linux Operating System. This was great in terms of my personal education and environmental impact (I always encourage upcycling wherever possible), but with regard to career it can be very limiting not to have access to higher-spec equipment and industry standard software. The software and equipment itself is not always better, but when something is used so widely across an industry it isn’t long before you find yourself at a disadvantage.
As with buildings, there isn’t a lack of essential resources in Doncaster, there is simply, as things currently stand, a lack of access. Doncaster’s businesses, schools and institutions have an incredible array of resources which could be used to help kick-start the do-conomy.
We need to work together to find ways in which we can grant access to such resources when they’re not being used by their owners. The aforementioned Do-conomy Hub would also be the perfect place to site a Common Treasury of essential equipment, materials and skills.
All of this is possible, right here, right now.
Rachel and I are constantly meeting people who have the ideas, the skills and the drive which, if unleashed, could change the face of Doncaster as we know it. They just need some very basic resources to turn their dreams and desires into solid enterprises.
If you are an individual, a business, an institution or a local authority who happens to have some spare capital, land, buildings or resources of any description (or if you have links to any who can help) then you could help create an exciting new grassroots regeneration scheme for our region.
Spread the word. Spread the love. Spread the means. And lets turn Doncaster into the world’s first Do-conomy.

No Sleep Till Bohemia

DONCOPOLITAN Fake It Issue cover
Rachel and I (Warren) started the Doncopolitan with a clear vision in mind; to showcase the wealth of local talent which Doncaster possesses, but which is too often¬†ignored, and to prove once and for all that there is no such thing as a ‘cultural desert’.
The theme of our first issue was #FakeItUntilYouMakeIt. Working from our initial tag line – If You Wanna Be A City, Act Like A City! – we argued that it was time to quit the moaning and the constant negativity and start acting as if this was the only place on earth you wanted to be; or as I wrote in that issue:

The future is¬†unwritten. Why not be the ones¬†holding the pen? Act like you’re living¬†in the best place on earth and one day¬†you will be.

I won’t elaborate any further¬†as you can¬†read the full article its on page 8 of Issue One, but I will say that commitment to this belief, and the front page statement about ‘building bohemia’ (see photograph above), remain our central focus.
These are undeniably hard time for a lot of Doncaster residents. The number of people begging (and sleeping) on our streets is heartbreaking. The communities in and around¬†Doncaster’s many satellite towns are struggling and rightfully anxious about¬†the future. The majority of us who work on the Doncopolitan are struggling ourselves. But cynicism, negativity, fear, anger and victim blaming will never change anything. Only re-visioning and positive action – daring to dream and to build upon those dreams – can instigate real change.
Some might question whether art and culture can influence ‘real life’.
Studies have show that a thriving art scene also has a positive effect on the local economy. Likewise a vibrant Creative Industries sector is good for the wider business community; and what is good for local business is good for Doncaster as a whole.
But the Doncopolitan sees ‘culture’ in much broader terms than art and commerce. To us ‘culture’ is the sum of human activity which can be seen on so many intertwined and interdependent levels. Some cultures are more clearly defined and more widely accepted than others, but none exist in a vacuum and non are more legitimate or more advanced than another. Wherever there are humans there is culture – hence there can never be a ‘cultural desert’ – and many of the problems people face (especially our young people) stem from cultural choices and the need to belong to something… sometimes, in extreme cases, to the only culture¬†which has ever offered them any form of companionship; however ‘wrong’ or ‘warped’ it might seem to those who have led more fortunate lives. So the creation of alternative and welcoming cultures – such as Doncopolitanism for example – can offer people new choices and new opportunities.
Throughout¬†the pages of the Doncopolitan we’ve presented new visions and documented people who are already doing work which is making a difference. People who are actively building an alternative future for Doncaster. Our own sister projects, things like Rooted and PermaFuture, are focusing on the fundamentals – growing food, bringing people together, etc. – to seed new cultural strategies which will be open to everyone and anyone, and which, we hope, will be able to provide for people even in the bleakest of times.
We’re not great at blowing our own trumpet, but I think its safe to say that we’re beginning to make¬†a difference, however small, to the town we love.
The success of our magazine, however, seems to have generated¬†some misconceptions. Contrary to what some people seem to think, Doncopolitan isn’t a well-funded, cash-rich business. Rachel and I – and the forty or so contributors who help make each issue happen – aren’t living the good life. We’ll be eternally grateful for the seed funding from Right Up Our Street which paid for the development of the first couple of issues, but from very early on the print magazine has relied 100% on advertising, subscriptions and donations to keep going… a massive¬†thank you to all our supporters!¬†
We have managed to create a couple of part-time jobs – most importantly for our Sales Manager, Amanda; she’s¬†the main reason the magazine is getting thicker lately! And we felt it was vital to use some of the revenue generated by¬†the magazine to create our studio HQ on Copley Road so that there is a focal point capable of bringing Doncaster creatives, businesses and groups together to make s**t happen. But two years on and the Doncopolitan is still made chiefly by volunteers and mainly designed in the wee hours because we’re all still busy working ‘proper’ jobs. This particular art machine runs mostly on PASSION.
There have been times when our passion well has run dry and we’ve come all too close to throwing in the towel, but each time a¬†new wonderful person comes along to put the wind back beneath our wings (most recently we have Gwyn and Jennefer to thank for this) and we find ourselves, once again, rushing toward the next issue.
But we live in the real work (even if it *is* a world we’re dedicated to changing) and the Doncopolitan needs money to keep doing what it does. Advertising, subscriptions and donations are our lifeblood, so if you can help, or if you know of somebody who can help, please visit the¬†advertising, sponsoring and/or subscription pages of our website.
We’re also looking at crowdfunding to help us get by, so if you have any ideas regarding ‘rewards’ please get in touch.
Money has never been our motive, and nor is it the only way you can help. Why not contribute an article, artwork, photograph or review to the magazine? Maybe you have an idea for a theme or event? Perhaps you want to volunteer for one of our projects or to work at Doncopolitan HQ? Or perhaps you’d like to help distribute the magazine or stock it in your business or venue? We’d like to hear from you too…
Every little helps and gets us a step closer to our goals.
Change is coming, we can feel it in our water, but until then our mantra must always be…
No sleep till Bohemia!

Love Photography: The Upcycled Portrait Studio with Shane Peagram

Dan Ryder by Shane Peagram 2
Dan Ryder by Shane Peagram

On Thursday evening award winning photographer, Shane Peagram, revealed some of the secrets behind his amazing work to a fascinated (if slightly crammed-in…) group of local photographers, artists and novices attending the Doncopolitan‘s latest Love Photography workshop.
Shane is famed for his dramatic and highly creative portrait work…
shane peagram
…but what you might not know is that he rarely uses expensive, state-of-the-art equipment, because an understanding of light – and how to manipulate it – will serve you much better than paying a fortune for the latest¬†‘must have’ camera.
LP 1
Shane (top left in the above photo) began the evening talking us through some his photographs.
LP 2
He introduced concepts such as the classic light patterns for portraiture before revealing that some of his most beautiful portraits were actually taken in a dingy little garage using various ‘found materials’ (‘trash’ to¬†those of us who are¬†less inventive than Shane). For instance the ‘dress’ in the image below is actually some wrapping which came with a bunch of flowers.
Shane is a bit of a magpie and encourages all photographers to collect interesting, everyday items which¬†other people might throw out. He even came to the workshop with a bunch of feathers he’d been collecting en route for a future portrait he’s planning of a local street dancer who has the best afro in Donny. As you can see below the only light source was the large shop window of the Doncopolitan Studio¬†and the backdrop for the evening was made from a large cardboard box which Shane’s new bed had just been delivered in. He painted it using tester pots and gave it a classic ‘distressed’ look by scratching some of the paint away once it had dried.
LP 3
But Shane doesn’t just use reclaimed materials for his props and backgrounds, he also uses them to control the light for his portraits. He took the other half of the large cardboard box and painted one side¬†black and the other side white. This gave us¬†a large reflector to bounce back the light coming in from the window.
LP 4
Above the white side of the cŐ∂aŐ∂rŐ∂dŐ∂bŐ∂oŐ∂aŐ∂rŐ∂dŐ∂ Ő∂bŐ∂oŐ∂xŐ∂ reflector is being used to provide a flattering light for the young lady (whom fans of the Doncopolitan might recognise). Below the black side is creating a more dramatic lighting effect.
LP 5
Although we didn’t need it on the night, even the foam packing which came inside the box can be used as a light modifier. Simply tape it over the window to diffuse the light and create a more flattering glow.
Shane has many tips like this, such as using a¬†Pringles‘ tubes as a free snoot, but recommends you search the internet for the many hundreds of photographers hacks which are out there… and which can save you a small fortune!
LP 6
Here the large black card is being used as a backdrop and a smaller piece of foam-board, with one side painted black, is being used as a reflector (the results of which can be seen at the end of this blog post). And what’s true for portraits is true of other photography, such as still life…
LP 7
Shane has been kind enough to leave his rŐ∂uŐ∂bŐ∂bŐ∂iŐ∂sŐ∂hŐ∂¬†reflectors behind, so we’re going to use them to help people practice using some of the techniques he¬†taught us on the evening. If you fancy taking part in one of these practical evenings, or if you want to come along to the next Love Photography workshop, then email us at:
In the meantime here’s that portrait which Steve Bates’ was taking using the home-made black reflector and black background. We think you’ll agree that its not at all bad for some cardboard, foam-board, black paint, a window and a little imagination ūüôā
Dan Ryder by Steve Bates
Dan Ryder by Steve Bates

A huge thank you to Shane Peagram and everyone who attended on the workshop.

Sunflowers & Seed Bombs: Greenjacking In Doncaster

sands 1
This weekend some of the Doncopolitan editorial team joined our old friend the Greenjacker for a spot of Guerilla Gardening. We took some of our seed bombs – which will soon be available to purchase from the Doncopolitan shop – and some sunflower saplings we had been growing in the window of Doncopolitan HQ down on Copley Road.
sands 2
We found a lovely (albeit for now, secret…) little spot in the Hyde Park area which was in need of a a bit of TLC, so we began to brighten things up with some sunflowers and wild-meadow seed bombs.
sands 3
They don’t look much at the moment, but hopefully with a little care and additional watering we’ll have something pretty to show you in a few weeks time.
sands 4
In the meantime why not get out there yourselves and tidy up some neglected wasteland near where you live?
Seeds, compost and plant-pots are a really cheap and rewarding way to help you and your friends & family to start living the good (green) life. It wouldn’t take much effort to transform that¬†ugly little litter-collecting dump on the corner of your street. Or that plastic-filled roadside verge which encourages people to throw even more litter. As the gangsta gardener, Ron Finley, famously said:

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do… ¬†plus you get strawberries!”

And if you plant food rather than flowers the results are even more beneficial. You can eat the street and save yourself a few quid in the process. Or as Ron also says:

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

So come on, get planting!
If you don’t know where to start drop us an email and we’ll even put you in touch with the elusive Greenjacker ūüėČ

FREE Portrait Photography & Light Manipulation Workshop

shane peagram
6pm, Thursday 2nd June @ Doncopolitan Studio, 83 Copley Road, Doncaster, DN1 2PQ. FREE ENTRY
Award Winning photographer Shane Peagram shows how to use free/cheap everyday objects to manipulate light for great portraiture.
This workshop is suitable for both beginners and experts alike. The workshop will focus on using phones and tablets to take great photographs, but feel free to bring a camera instead if you feel more comfortable.
The Doncopolitan Studio is quite small, so an email or confirmation via the Facebook events page would help us plan for the evening.
Follow this link for a Google Map –¬†https://goo.gl/maps/Gj4jiNg63Pk