I first met Emma when the four winners of the #LibertyOpenCall met up at Liberty HQ in London to work on our fabric designs with the Liberty design team. We had a great lunch together and a pint afterwards, and then went our separate ways.
We all met up again at Gatwick airport for an extended day trip to Milan, looking round the Liberty factory and getting a first glimpse at the test prints of our fabrics.
Our third meeting was for the launch of our fabrics, back in London’s Regent Street at the Liberty store. And then, later, at a Liberty book launch reception, where we hobnobbed with fashion glitterati, including Chatham girl, Dame Zandra Rhodes.
We’ve all kept in touch since then, and Emma Hill kindly submitted some of her art to an exhibition (remember those?) that I organised at The Hot Tin in Faversham, Kent.
Unlike me, Emma had her eye on Liberty for quite a while before her successful submission to the #LibertyOpenCall fabric design competition.
#LibertyOpenCall was the first Liberty Open Call to be conducted entirely online. Prior to that, aspiring artists/makers would queue up outside the store, sometimes for six hours or more, for the chance to make a four-minute pitch about their product to the Liberty buying team.
Emma had spent two years developing a scarf collection with Liberty Open Call firmly in mind. Her designs were inspired from her ‘Itchycoo’ painting series, featuring the enchanted garden from the stories that she told to her young children. Each scarf featured: a heart; a tiny motif of Mimi, a child in a red dress from the Itchycoo stories; and a daisy and an iris – the names of Emma’s daughters. But Emma and her scarves never made it to London.
‘The first year, they didn’t have an Open Call,’ Emma remembers. ‘And then they did have one, but I was abroad so I didn’t hear about it until after the event. And the last Open Call I missed as we were doing up our house. So I never got to pitch.’
In 2018, six years after Emma completed her scarf collection, a sponsored ad for #LibertyOpenCall popped up on her Instagram feed. There was no queuing for this fabric design competition. Aspiring designers posted their entries on Instagram and added the #LibertyOpenCall hashtag. There was a fantastic prize. Winning designs would be made into fabrics to be sold in Liberty’s flagship London store and online, and would enter Liberty’s historical fabric archives alongside the design greats, including William Morris.
Emma submitted her painting Graffiti Summer, which was inspired by a day spent in London with her daughter, visiting the Fashioned from Nature exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and photographing graffiti in the East End. Her entry was chosen as one of the four winners.
‘I hadn’t really put any thought into which painting to hashtag,’ Emma reflects. ‘If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have chosen Graffiti Summer. That painting took me on a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It had been a battle making it, so it wasn’t a favourite. I felt so relieved when it was finished. However, now I’m really pleased that it accidently became the one, because it’s so much richer because of all the layers. It has a good story behind it and now, with a bit of time, I’ve grown to love it. ‘
As part of her Liberty experience, Emma was chosen to feature in a BBC documentary called A Day That Changed My Life. The cameras followed her creative journey from submission through to the nail-biting moment when she heard that she was one of the winners.
‘It was fun to share my art journey and the background of the winning painting,’ Emma says. ‘It was also the first time I’d shown my fresh new style of painting after a three-year break, so it was amazing to get such a fantastic initial response.’
‘It wouldn’t have been the same if there was just one winner,’ she says. ‘What made it so valuable and amazing was the four of us being able to experience it together. And the opportunity to learn a bit about each others’ work and to get to know each other.’
Emma was brought up in the UK but is half English and half Norwegian. As a child she spent school holidays in Norway visiting family. There were summer camps in the mountains in summer, and skiing in the winter.
Although she really excelled at art at school, she didn’t get into art college. They said she ‘needed to be more free’. This was a massive blow for Emma. She became very insecure in her art and began to believe that she couldn’t paint.
She decided the best way to get her passion back and find her creativity again was to learn more about art. So, after a ‘mind-blowing’ year studying art and philosophy among the mountains and lakes in Lillehammer in Norway, Emma, aged 19, returned to the UK to pursue a joint honours degree in Art History and Scandinavian Studies.
‘I thought that through my studies, I could learn about art, discover what interested me and get into painting again,’ she reflects wryly. ‘In fact, studying art history had no influence on my art whatsoever!’
While she was studying at the university, Emma started attending life drawing classes at the art college across the road from where she lived. Eventually, she applied for a place there but was told she would have to choose between the degree she was taking which was nearly complete, or a completely new course in fine art. She decided to complete her degree and afterwards, spent the summer in Norway with her uncle, training to be a divemaster.
After the dive season in September 1996, she came back to the UK and started working as cabin crew with British Airways and, that Emma says, is where her real art education began.
Art Culture Vulture
‘I travelled extensively and made it my mission to search for art and culture everywhere I went,’ Emma recalls. ‘It was a real adventure. When I arrived in a county, I would visit whatever exhibitions were showing. I found amazing exhibitions from the largest retrospectives in New York to tiny local galleries in Calcutta, Hong Kong and Tokyo, and everything in between.
‘The days when the time frame just didn’t fit, or when galleries were closed were often the most fun as they were totally unpredictable. I’d often find myself in the most unusual of places.’
‘I documented everything,’ she continues. ‘I wrote it down and organised it according to time zones, starting with London at 0 degrees Longitude. It was a kind of response to three of Mathew Collings books – Blimey: From Bohemia to Britpop: London Art World from Francis Bacon to Damien Hirst; It Hurts- New York Art from Warhol to Now and Art Crazy Nation. I thought of my writing as a commentary on art and culture at the turn of the century, from the point of view, of a 20-something-year-old girl.
‘I kept it all my writing on an old floppy disk, but luckily I had it printed up as a book, which, last year, came out of storage after eight years. In the New Year, 2020 I picked it up and had a read. After 20 years I realised that my thoughts about art and my purpose are exactly the same today.
‘What interested me back then was how art becomes like an international language, communicating cultural diversity and differences without the barriers of speech and geographical borders. Art uniting people while sharing new, rich perspectives. I’d be in Thailand and they’d be promoting art from Finland, or I’d be in Brazil looking at art about the arctic – completely different culture promoting each other, educating and sharing an insight to their world. It was like there was this network of people communicating and understanding each other’s cultures, and it was all through art.’
With the prospect of more time during the first lockdown, Emma prepped up, with canvas and paint and was looking forward to explore her creativity. But when lockdown came, she didn’t feel like painting. Instead she decided to write up her travel diaries as blogposts.
‘I thought it would be interesting to see if I could look back at where I’d been and continue the story, but on the internet,’ Emma says. I looked back at where my painting started off, in Australia, where I became hugely influenced by Aboriginal art and culture.
As I was revisiting my archives during lockdown ‘Black Lives Matter’ came to the forefront of my awareness and I thought that I would celebrate Black Art and the huge influence that it has had on my work. The previous week I had started painting heart’s for an exhibition in Vienna, All You Need is Love. All of a sudden I was continuing my story – painting Love HeArts, that were expressing unity, celebrating difference and visually expressing all the beliefs and thoughts from what I had written all those years ago’
You can see more of Emma’s Love HeArts here
So, six weeks into lockdown, Emma was painting again and exploring new ways of communicating her art through social media. You can watch Emma talking about influences on her work from Black art, in this IGTV broadcast.
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It was just about this time last year that I exhibited at The Hot Tin arts centre and cafe in Faversham, Kent. https://www.the-hot-tin.co.uk/
I’d just received some samples of the Liberty London fabric printed with my designs and it was the perfect place to celebrate alongside the other three #LibertyOpenCall winners. Barman, William Ford, designed a cocktail ‘The Drunken Duncan’ (gin, lime, lovage and absinthe) specially for the occasion and we danced the evening away to Northern Soul, from DJ Ged ‘Stax Volt’ Kelly. htpps://m.mixcloud.com/XRAYSOULCLUB/ It was a great night! If you were there, you can relive it a little here: https://duncangrantartist.com/2019/05/19/what-a-liberty-great-first-night-at-the-hot-tin/
Well how quickly things can change.
Just a few days before the UK went into official lockdown, on 20th March 2020, Boris Johnson announced that pubs, bars and restaurants would close for the foreseeable future. Three months down the line, small venues like The Hot Tin are struggling to survive.
The Hot Tin (or The Tin as it is known) is the brainchild of Romana Bellinger and Mike Eden.
Their company RouteStock https://www.routestock.org/ is a non-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) dedicated to bringing communities together through art and music. RouteStock specialises in creating audiovisual content for prestigious live arts events all over the country.
Their professional portfolio includes Lost Lectures https://lostlectures.com/ which Romana describes as ‘a bit like Ted talks but funkier’, the Breakin’ Convention hip hop fusion dance festival at Sadlers Wells https://www.breakinconvention.com/ and work with live orchestras. Three years ago, they worked with the late Roy Budd’s wife to produce a restored version of the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera, accompanied by a 74-piece orchestra, which premiered at the London Coliseum.
Finding a venue
But the dream for Romana and Mike was always to create their own arts venue, to complement and extend their RouteStock projects. When they saw the Grade II listed, converted tin chapel online, they couldn’t resist.
‘The idea was always to have a place of our own, so that we could do what we love doing – connecting with people and bringing people together,’ Romana explains. ‘When this building came along it was a match made in heaven. The living accommodation was beautiful but when we saw the main hall, we just thought, wow, we can do so much with this!’
Originally, St Saviour’s Church (still the building’s official address) was a flat-pack church, built around 1885. It was probably made in the Old Kent Road in East London, and then brought down the river to Faversham on a Thames barge.
During the Victorian era, the rapid growth of urban populations , prompted the mass production of cheap, easily erected buildings to meet the needs of new communities. Pre-fabricated churches were relatively cheap. £150 would buy you a chapel seating 150 people. The size and other embellishments could be altered to meet different needs and budgets. If you are interested, you’ll find lots of technical information about these buildings here https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/tin-tabernacles/tin-tabernacles.html
Before it’s recent transformation into an arts space, The Hot Tin building experienced many reincarnations. It remained in use as a church from 1885 until 1950, when it was deconsecrated. After that, for a while, it was used by a school for gym lessons and piano teaching, and then as a scout hut. Romana explains that the different glass in all the windows is probably down to the ball games played inside.
Over the years, the building has also been a camping shop, a printers and an antique furniture showroom, before being used as a joiners for 30 years. Romana and Mike bought the building from Nick Kenny, who had converted the back of the building to living accommodation and used the main hall to build bespoke kitchens and bathrooms.
Because The Hot Tin is a Grade II listed building, remodelling possibilities were limited but that suited Romana and Mike. ‘We didn’t want to dress it up and make it prettier than it was, because the building has its own beauty,’ Romana explains. ‘ We painted to some extent and opened up an area that had been blocked off.
The main thing was cleaning the ceiling. It was in a terrible state. So we had one of those telescopic cherry pickers and we were up there with Henry the Hoover, for about a week, cleaning off layers and layers of wood dust.’
Because it is a tin building with no insulation, The Hot Tin gets very hot in the summer – hence the name – and cold in the winter, so Romana and Mike researched a way of heating the big space that would be as efficient and sustainable as possible. Now infra red heaters keep The Tin hot all year round. Future plans are to restore the building, rather than to change it.
A new arts space and cafe
For 18 months before the lockdown, The Hot Tin was thriving. The cafe, with its art exhibitions and workshops, locally sourced coffee and homemade vegan food attracted families, local businesses and other residents during the day. And in the evening, live music, DJ sets and films attracted a broad spectrum of people from around Faversham.
The cafe is now an important and integral part of the business but it wasn’t always in the business plan.
‘When we saw the building, we immediately thought arts space and we started to apply for our licences,’ explains Romana. ‘But because some people in the area just didn’t understand what we were doing, we got a lot of opposition. So we thought maybe we should have a cafe. That would support our events and allow people to get to know us and to understand who we are and what we are trying to do. ‘
Local resident Debbie Lowther was one of those who was sceptical at first. ‘When I first saw the planning permission for turning the Tin Chapel into an entertainment venue, I couldn’t see how it would work,’ she says. ‘ But work it does… for quiet coffee meetings or lunch during the day and for its music, great art and yummy cocktails, all unique in Faversham. I love it!’
Griselda Cann Mussett, who also lives in Faversham, agrees. ‘The Hot Tin has become something of a marvel with excellent food, art exhibitions and occasional music and all so well-run. It’s an imaginative use of an unusual and special building,’ she says.
‘Our main ambition is to provide a one-of-a kind venue for live music, performance, films and the arts,’ Mike says. ‘We want to promote musicians and artists from around the world and around the corner.’
‘What we strive for is to be a place that is inclusive and where people feel comfortable,’ Romana adds. ‘Everyone is welcome here. We want to bring these sorts of arts events to the people of Faversham in their own town, so they don’t have to go to London for them. We want to make The Hot Tin a resource for the community again, which is really what this church was built for.’
Although it has only been open for 18 months, The Hot Tin has hosted some classy acts. These include Switzerland’s urban folk band Black Sea Dahu https://www.blackseadahu.com/ French-born Tucson singer Marianne Dissard (who now lives in Ramsgate) https://www.mariannedissard.com/ local electro-acoustic duo Liotia http://liotia.co.uk/ and from the forefront of the new London jazz scene, the Ash Walker Experience, a multisensory show with a six piece band. https://www.cenemagazine.co.uk/news/2019/12/6/the-hot-tin-ash-walker-experience
The last artist to play at The Hot Tin before lockdown was spoken word artist, writer, saxophonist and bandleader, Alabaster dePlume whose performances have received wide critical acclaim https://www.alabasterdeplume.com/
Lockdown and beyond
The coronavirus emergency and the closure of entertainment spaces and venues has hit The Hot Tin hard. Because they have so little outside space, Romana concedes that they will be unlikely to reopen for quite some time.
RadioRouteStock https://www.routestock.org/radio is still broadcasting LockDown DJ sessions. Details of tonight’s session (14th June) are in the image on the right. And Romana and Mike are exploring a subscription-based, TV broadcast quality, live streaming service, whereby audiences could have access to live interactive shows without being present physically at the venue. Once The Hot Tin is up-and-running again, live streaming could continue to be used to increase access to events for those who are unable to attend in person.
To help get them through this difficult period, The Hot Tin is trying to raise some money through two fundraising initiatives.
‘We are part of the Music Venue Trust http://www.musicvenuetrust.com/ and we’ve got a Crowdfunder campaign at the moment,’ Romana explains. ‘As a collective, we’re trying to raise money and awareness because grassroots venues are obviously going to be hit hardest by lockdown.’
So far The Hot Tin has raised nearly £2,500 towards its target of £10,000. Donations will help Romana and Mike keep some of their staff who ‘fall between the cracks’ of the government support schemes, cover some of the business’s ongoing overheads and losses, and help towards restructuring during lockdown and for when they are finally able to open again at full capacity.
You can donate here: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/thehottin
The Crowdfunder campaign runs until 1st September 2020 at 8pm. Any money raised over the £10,000 target will be donated to the Music Venue Trust crisis fund to protect other small venues across the country.
Faversham-based artist and Hot Tin bartender, chef and cocktail supremo, William Ford, is also organising a silent auction to help keep the venue afloat.
There has been a callout to creatives to donate artworks, ceramics, merchandise and crafted goods. These will be displayed and described on an auction site, which goes live on 27th June. It will work a bit like ebay, with members of the public invited to bid on items until the auction closes on 19th July.
‘We have been overwhelmed with the support we have received ,’ says William, ‘Originally we asked for artworks, because that was the idea I had in mind, but we’ve had lots of makers offering to donate things – some beautiful jewellery and stained glass. We’ve had bands offering merchandise bundles and others offering online services, such as guitar lessons or a garden design consultation. So now the auction is a proper showcase of what The Hot Tin and RouteStock is.’
To maintain social distancing, artists will be responsible for getting items bid for to those who have won them, although The Hot Tin can help if this is not possible.
If you are keen to see The Hot Tin reopen when the time comes and would like to donate to the silent auction, please contact William. firstname.lastname@example.org
Officially the deadline for donations is today (June 14th) but William is happy to receive new offers over the next week or two.
The auction goes live on 27th June. For more information, you can follow The Hot Tin on:
or contact them email@example.com