Mel Wiggins, the founder of the Assembly Community, writes about the importance of community and creative support in this cultural moment.
Have you ever had a bubbling urge to do something? An idea that rises up in you every so often and demands that you notice it? It ruminates for a while, lingers in your soul, and finally begins to take formation. Then you have to decide to have the courage it takes to make it happen - this is how Assembly Gatherings came about for me.
I had spent several years noticing and connecting with some amazingly talented women here in Northern Ireland through social media, and I had this notion that most of us were craving real, flesh and blood connection with each other. We have some of the most talented female thinkers, makers and doers you could imagine right here on our doorstep – many of whom have flown the nest, only to return home and nurture their dreams and ideas here. I wondered what it would be like to be able to facilitate a safe space for them, for us all to be together. A space that was inclusive, soulful, and felt like a real investment in our own well-being.
It started in October 2016, when I tentatively invited a few creative women that I admired to join me for dinner in an apple orchard in Co. Armagh; a night that saw us feast under the heaving branches of the apple trees as the cold Autumn air started to nip. With every invitation that went nervously out, a resounding ‘YES! I’m in!’ came back. I partnered with Sarah from The Little Pink Kitchen and Grace from Grace & Saviour to plan an evening of glorious food, beautiful styling, and making and sharing our dreams, plans, and fears around the campfire. There were women there from all kinds of paths – both hobby and career creatives; writers, café owners, artists, designers, photographers. There was magic in the air the night that Assembly was born because we all came a little nervous, a little unsure, but left having made new friends, new cheerleaders, and feeling a little less alone on our creative paths.
From there, Assembly has continued to gather women. We have hosted over one hundred women for dinners in barns and breweries, learned new skills together as we supported other women leading us in workshops, and we have huddled around tables and campfires across the country to share about what we do; our hopes and fears. It has been an amazing privilege to plan our Gatherings and see the foundations laid to a community that is growing not just in numbers, but in desire and courage.
In 2018, we launched some new elements to what Assembly offers women here in Ireland by hosting seasonal ‘Sessions’ and developing a Members Community. We hold our big banquet-style Gatherings twice a year and are intentional about using food and workshop ideas that reflect the flow of the seasons. These are big and beautifully styled affairs, a real treat for all the senses. Sessions are smaller events, four times a year that are just as beautiful, but move things deeper to explore both the practical and the soulful side of creative living. Sessions equip women to be clear and courageous on their creative path, providing a safe space to learn, reflect, and talk through their ideas. Gatherings are when we celebrate; Sessions are when we dig deeper. Both are important.
The Assembly Members Community is for those that want the consistency of creative support in between Gatherings and Sessions and hosts a number of extra benefits that members can avail of that will help them build relationships and networks as they move forward in their creative paths. We offer members meet-ups, live online workshops with experts that will help to unpack the practicalities (like telling the story of your work, blogging, photography and branding) and the inner work that it takes to run creative businesses and projects (like managing fear, not hiding behind your creativity, handling feedback etc). Another important element we have included is the opportunity for members to participate in a collective project once a year that will support and empower women in need both globally and locally. We believe it’s important that ‘women supporting women’ goes beyond our privilege and extends to ensure that every woman feels supported and valued and we are collaborating with charities and causes to make this a valuable part of our community.
Assembly was never going to be a formal business network with formulas for success and growth, but a soulful connection point for women who desire to learn, gather, reflect and evolve together. I want the legacy of Assembly to be a cultural shift for women who are offering their creative desires to the world; that we would blaze a path to reveal a new kind of female creative community. One that sees women as allies of each other, instead of the stereotypes that culture has tried to narrate to us; competition, scarcity and having to clamber for a place at the table. I want Assembly to thrive through generosity; because we aren’t afraid to champion each other boldly, to help each other give birth to new ideas.
Assembly will always be a safe, inclusive space for makers, thinkers, dreamers and doers to rest and to be propelled. We welcome women from all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and value being inclusive about what creativity means to you. Whether you are in a traditionally creative profession, dabble on the side or you are aching to reignite that creative part of your life again. As Brene Brown says, “there is no such thing as creative and non-creative people – just those that use their creativity and those that don’t”. We want to inspire women to ignite the creativity that they are so often afraid to let loose or don’t prioritise because of other pressures and responsibilities.
Something that has struck me as significant about Assembly is the power of taking our online relationships into real life; to meet the people you admire or who you aspire to and realise that we are all the same. When we see only each other’s best offerings in tiny squares on screens it limits our connection; our shared pain in the process or working out of our creative endeavours. When we pull up a chair at the table beside one another, we give way to a deeper opportunity to connect. It’s in these spaces that we have found relief to share that we all struggle with the same creative doubts and setbacks. What’s even more powerful than just sitting around a table is creating a safe community to voice those same struggles in – somewhere to belong. Assembly has proven to be a haven for the wilderness that creative life can bring. The table that Assembly sets is wide and long and has room for all the voices, desires, ideas and plans of creative women here in Ireland.
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Tim Nunn, from Suffolk, East Anglia, has spent over 18 years travelling, writing and surfing. One of the UK’s most published surfing photographers, Tim has also seved as the Editor of Wavelength Magazine.