How it all started…

Hettie BurnHettie Burn, who came up with the idea for Dorchester Try This… in 2012 and facilitated the first festival in 2013, explains her initial inspiration for the project and how it has grown since its first year.

When I was a student I was forever turning up to events that I wasn’t really meant to be at, excited by the prospect of encountering something brand new which might just blow my mind a little bit. This excitement provided both the inspiration for Try This… and the catalyst for its creation. One evening in my first term I attended a workshop run by the Royal Society of the Arts in collaboration with Oxford Hub entitled ‘Empty Shop Talk’. Surrounded by Fellows of the Society – and certainly not really meant to be there at all – I joined the efforts to brainstorm ways in which an abundance of recently vacated shops on Britain’s high streets could be used for social good. For inspiration, we were shown a video of the wonderful Trade School initiative (http://tradeschool.coop/) in New York which provides people with the opportunity to trade their knowledge and abilities for other people’s goods and skills. Growing up in Dorchester, I was well aware of the number of highly skilled and knowledgeable members of our community. Many people were very generous and enthusiastic but had no easy way of sharing their skills and knowledge with those to whom it could make a positive difference. Could something like Trade School work here?

Between January and April 2013, Try This… began to grow into something more than an idea. The project was supported by a close steering group made up of representatives from various community initiatives in town as well as volunteers. In particular these included the West Dorset District Council, Dorchester Town Council, Dorchester Area Community Partnership, POPP (Partnership for Older People Programme) Union Learn (SW TUC), Dorchester Arts and representatives from Dorchester and South Dorset LETS. In June, we were in a position to put out a call for people who would like to run sessions and were overwhelmed by the response. In September, 36 one or two hour sessions were scheduled in 16 different venues across the town, led my members of the local community teaching other people what they knew and what they could do completely free of charge. Approximately 250 people attended, three new groups began as a result of the project and many established groups gained new members. I was chuffed, and decided that: a) Try This… could probably be called a success, and; b) that I would never attempt to organise anything like that ever again.

To my surprise, as the following January rolled around, whispers began to circulate about Try This… happening for a second year. It seems that things do, though, become easier the more times you do them. The steering group who embraced the concept so passionately in 2013 and helped to turn it into reality continued to support it, and our second year (2014) attracted over 400 attendees. Try This… then ran again in 2015 and in 2016, providing people with the opportunity to open their mind a bit, learn something they’ve always wanted to learn or something they’ve never even heard of before. We’ve tea-tasted and tie-dyed, kept bees, kept bikes (better), sung, slacklined, Twittered and scythed, but we’re not done yet. Life has taken me away from Dorchester for now but has left me with the immense pleasure of watching from the side-lines as Try This… continues to grow. All that is left for me to do now is to express my thanks for everyone who has ever made Try This… possible, in particular Emma Scott, Pauline Trimming, Keith Hatch, Sally Cooke, Julian English, Sue Burn, Justin Oakley, Susan Blake, Hazel Crofts, Barbara Evans and the wonderful folk of Dorchester. It’s always worth giving something a go; you never know what might happen or the wonderful people you might meet along the way.