23rd June 2016, and I wake up to the news that we're leaving the EU. I appreciate it wasn't the case for everyone, but my stomach really dropped. To make matters worse, I was booked to attend an event in Liverpool where I'd get to meet a bunch of creative projects that were fundamentally altering the culture of cities across Europe; the Europe we were about to have a very different relationship with. I was sad.
The morning's presentations were great but did little to lift my mood, and lunch landed heavy, making the start to the afternoon a sleepy one. My friend and I slumped deeper into our chairs. Then Roel Schoenmakers took the floor.
Roel is effervescent. He is quietly spoken but utterly fizzy. With this effortless combination of laid back excitement, pride in his community and one of the strongest beards I've ever come across, he walked us through some of the ways in which his organisation, Cascoland, had 'used art as an excuse' to make stuff happen. I decided within five minutes that I needed to know this man.
'Casco' translates to 'framework' from Dutch, and it was with the intention of challenging the existing framework that Roel, alongside artist Fiona Bell, initiated Cascoland in a Western suburb of Amsterdam. With art as their tool, Cascoland renegotiate the city's structures and initiate new cultures in their corner of Amsterdam.
I continued to follow Cascoland's movements and found myself heading for their website whenever I needed to be reminded that amazing things were very possible. So it only seemed right to go and visit and see things for myself. Here's a selection of what I found:
"When the West Amsterdam suburbs were rebuilt, 75% of the original residents moved back and into the new apartments. The main problem? Moving costs. So Cascoland bought a van for people to use. And when it's not in use? It's a self-built, AirBnb accommodation to cover the costs. Of course, it is." - Instagram post, April '17
"Who needs tools/mixers/chocolate fountains full time when you live in tiny apartments as a family of 7? The Library of Things is the place to borrow those occasional use items and meet your neighbours." - Instagram post, April '17
"A restaurant on the move: Three ovens, two work tops, six benches and a hatch. Hosting meals all over Amsterdam." - Instagram post, April '17
"Preserves, pickles, ferments and treats made, owned and shared by people living in West Amsterdam who come, mostly, from Turkish, Moroccan and West Indian backgrounds. Photos are a no go, so Cascoland commissioned these beautiful portraits. I feel like I know all their neighbours through these line drawings!" - Instagram post, April '17
"These gardens are traditionally just for looking at. They're paid for by public taxes, but you don't use them. We convinced the authority to open this one up and we built a raised bed for each family. Skill sharing and training? Nah. These people have always gardened for production, they just haven't had a space to do it since moving the the Netherlands." - Instagram post, April '17
"The chicken coop is on wheels. Everything I build is on wheels. Moveable and temporary is my speciality!" - Instagram post, April '17
The world needs people like Roel. The UK particularly needs people like Roel! He's intuitive, playful, handy, incredibly sharp and incredibly giving. He gives me hope that, by putting my ear to the ground and not overthinking, I can cultivate thoughtful, instinctive corners of brilliance too. Roel's surname 'Schoenmakers' translates as 'Shoemakers' in English and there's just something incredibly right about that.