This time last week we were excitedly shoving pallets of beer out of the way, sweeping floors and filling carafes of water. We were hanging festoon lights (not me, I left that to the experts) and arranging bunches of fresh herbs at place settings. We were setting the stage for another Assembly Gathering.
After our very first magical gathering in the Autumn the fear started to set in about how I would ever be able to host another event that would be as special and intimate as it was. The first one is always special isn't it? Because it's new and a bit raw and fumbly and honest. The first time round I invited creative women that I knew or that I had built up a relationship with online because it was a pilot - a test I gave myself - to see if the idea was worth it to other people and so it felt safer to invite people I knew rather than to open it up to everyone. I didn't want to lose that honesty and intimacy the second time around. Isn't it funny how the things you worry most about end up being the most beautiful part of something?...
So I flung the doors open this time - welcoming anyone who felt like they needed some creative community in their life to come along. No creative criteria needed to qualify you to be there - just a 'come as you are' call-out. I had so many messages from people saying how they wanted to come but didn't feel 'creative' enough. They were reassured that they didn't need to be 'professional' creatives to come - just a knowing in the bones that creativity was important to them. And so they did. 40 of us in fact - almost double the last gathering.
The scene of our evening together was Boundary Brewery Tap Room - a small, bright industrial unit in an old trade centre in the heart of East Belfast. Boundary is a cooperative brewery, owned by 1100 shareholders (of which we are one) and run by Matthew, Michael and a bunch of other passionate dreamers. We are big fans of what Boundary are doing - pursuing their passion, creating, experimenting, collaborating, and putting Northern Ireland on the map for amazing craft beer. It seemed like the perfect place to bring people together again. And so we did.
As you can see I was joined by the most incredible team again. Grace Campbell from Grace & Saviour turned a lads-pad brewery into an earthy, charming, feminine haven. I'm so grateful for Grace's eye for detail and work ethic - she is a pleasure. See how she transformed the space...
Right? Clever girl.
As people nervously arrived (and - full disclosure - I was putting make up on in my car - the glamour), we mingled, chatted and eventually split into two groups to flex our creative muscles. One group circled around the temporary bar to listen to Sheena (Matthew's wife, beer connoisseur and all-around beautiful person) tell the story of Boundary and talk through beer tasting etiquette - including the right way to pour, the brewing process, flavours and glassware importance. Who knew?! Even the most adamant, reluctant non beer-drinkers were swayed around by the beautifully citrusy Boundary ales. Combo that with some incredible crudites and wild garlic dip to keep our bellies from rumbling and it was hea-ven.
The other workshop brought Christine from Colour & Cloth in to show us how to naturally dye fabric using basic kitchen and foraged ingredients. We got to huddle around bubbling pots of blackberries, tea, tumeric and onion skins and watch Christine as she manipulated fabric around elastic bands and clothes pegs and dipped it in the pots of natural dye to create the most incredible patterns. Christine is a natural teacher and a talented maker (she worked on the costumes for Game of Thrones!) and I would highly recommend going along to any of her workshops. We were then each given a beautiful piece of natural silk to make our own mark on and take home as a scarf. It was such a good leveller to be able to chat as we went about folding and pegging our scarves, submerging them into the various dyes and hanging them all around the brewery to dry.
Once we had all sampled and tasted and dyed we were ready to sit down and feast. And feast we did. Sarah from Little Pink Kitchen put on the most incredible menu for us. We started with probably the best soup I have ever had - some kind of indian spiced parsnip and apple mouth party, with a little onion bahji on top. Then onto a plate full of mango chicken and paneer skewers, chopped seedy salads, coconut, sweet potato and pomegranate rice, dips to die for and a tangy blood orange cake for dessert. So much yum. Sarah bossed it and everyone was raving about the flavours in the food - even the vegans!
I don't remember what we're laughing about here but I was probably telling Sarah that she is a bonkers genius for making and delivering 40 lunches, going to OX for lunch herself and then making dinner for 40 people in THE ONE DAY. BY HERSELF.
I'm just so gushingly grateful for all the incredible women who came out and braved their own self-doubt and nerves (not to mention our other gal pal, Storm Doris!) to be together. Not wanting to force conversation, but to gently encourage discussion directed towards our mutual love of creativity, I had laid out some quotes and questions on the table that could be talked about together. I loved stopping through dinner to look around and listen to all the buzz of conversation and connection as quotes were hashed out and questions were raised. It was so fun to see people meeting for the first time in real life - artists meeting customers and stockists of their work, designers meeting photographers, others wearing accessories designed by someone else in the room, not to mention so many moments of "Oh! You're ________! I've been dying to meet you! I love your work!" This is what Assembly is all about. The connecting, the championing.
I'm already looking forward to planning for our Spring gathering - ideas are swirling! I really hope that if you have wanted to be a part of Assembly that you know that you can and you should- there is no hierarchy of creativity here.
If you are interested in sponsoring Assembly Gatherings or would be interested in leading one of our workshops, please do get in touch - I would love to hear how we can work together.
Here's to making the time, honouring our creative sides and being part of a community in bloom.
* All of the photography you see here is from the insanely talented Grace from Adam & Grace Photography. We are so grateful for how beautifully she has captured the evening. *