Forge Urban Revival

How Forge Urban Revival started as a community business…

Forge Urban Revival is a vibrant community business and cafe run out of a Town Council building in Telford. Ann Johnson is the driving force behind Forge – she has created a busy community space for art, craft, cooking and workshops which brings together local people.

I believe that most people would help someone else in their community if they knew how. I set up Forge at The Wakes to enable this to happen. It brings people together to eat, socialise or learn in a modern environment and this creates art, craft and eating-together opportunities for those who need it for their health and well-being. My greatest reward is when a person comes alone to one activity and is soon seen at another with newly made friends.

Ann initially got involved with Community Catalysts as part of our previous Enterprising Communities project. Our local Catalyst linked Ann in with the School for Social Entrepreneurs Programme where she further received business support for her community business. They also connected Ann and her enthusiasm to a range of other people and organisations in the community who could help share resources, knowledge and skills.

[The local Catalyst] is our link to the wider community – she knows us and our aspirations and can find leads, opportunities and quick routes to the people we need to speak to.  I have a lot to thank her for, she is a great asset to me and Forge!

Just 12 months after opening Forge, Ann set up a range of activities for local people in her community: from Soup Social, to Wellness Wednesdays, to free crafting events and a carers’ wellbeing group. As a real bonus the centre was well on the way to being financially sustainable.

Forge has a warm and welcoming atmosphere where people from diverse backgrounds and different abilities come together.

Three years on from the opening of Forge Urban Revival…

By February 2020 Forge Urban Revival had been trading for just over three years, and reached a point where month on month there were trading profits meaning they were able to remove reliance on funding.

That’s not to say we were not facing challenges; our relationship was beginning to fracture over social objectives with the local council who licensed the space to us.

During mid-March 2020 the centre was forced to close due to COVID-19. Further uncertainties’ led Forge Urban Revival to hand in notice at The Wakes and they left in June 2020.

This resulted in the issuing of redundancy notices and a feeling of standing still.

Once Ann realised that COVID restrictions for groups meeting would be long-term she decided to take some immediate actions; this included supporting some existing groups that Forge Urban Revival had founded to become autonomous, including: Shropshire Artisan Fayre; The Craft Groups and the Telford Repair Café.

We also set up a Friends of Forge online community and a weekly group online coffee morning…and kept in touch with other groups i.e., Jazz networks, live music groups, art community group so that we would be ready to set up again if the environment is right to do so.

The past year provided some time for reflection for Forge Urban Revival and to understand future direction.  Ann had the opportunity to be seconded to Lloyds Bank Foundation on a part-time level; this role looked at local system change and helps to continue to provide social value to the area and fulfil some of Forge Urban Revival’s objectives.

Our belief at the moment is you cannot plan to get simply back to where we you were when COVID struck i.e., it cannot be back to normal; this is an opportunity to find a new focus, build on past learning, a new direction and a stronger future. The future is unknown and people need to have confidence to engage again; it’s time to look forward to be flexible and be prepared to take a cautious and measured new leap.

By Ann Johnson – founder of Forge Urban Revival