The Pilot

Divergence: Spinning-off Convergence

Calum Smail— @Calum_Smail — and Alex Hough—@100aCreweRoad— were inspired by The Convergence Symposium in Macclesfield to put on their own happening 15 miles south a month later in Alsager, the ex-campus town between Crewe and Stoke on the border of South East Cheshire and Staffordshire where they both are based writes Alex…

The Pilot Episode

Early 2018… 13th February… we found ourselves in Macclesfield Town Hall, browsing various digital, and interactive artworks and glued to speakers at Convergence Symposium, an event produced by Shift, a “vibrant and interactive programme celebrating all things digital in Cheshire East” in partnership with Weave an organisation “helping the creative & digital businesses of Cheshire East collaborate and prosper” We decided on a date – 24th March – and a name “Divergence”. We didn’t know exactly what we were going to do, but knew it would involved some of the augmented reality and interactive video installation ideas Calum was using with commercial clients as part of his day job as creative director of The Round Group. We previously made a short documentary and decided to show that in one of the small rooms in the building. That small room would become a mini-cinema in future episodes. I had recently got back in contact with Spencer Hickson. Since I last saw him in the 1990s as a owner of a record shop, record producer and label owner, had qualified as a councillor and has set up Inner Trust to bring music technology to create innovative and engaging therapeutic settings with young people. Shift agreed to support us and arranged for FACT from Liverpool to come down to run a Raspberry Pi workshop. Jane Searles agreed to use the magnetic wall downstairs to capture peoples ideas on what they would like to see in the building in the future. A tenant had just left and there were opportunities to use the building for creative purposes. The building is already home to Two Doors Studio, an art and craft shop (Jane helped to get them started) which puts on events and workshops as well as selling the work of over 50 local artists. Calum’s The Round Group is also based in the building. We had the idea that there could be a cross between the two, a digital art and craft project, a “digital sister” for Two Doors. Divergence would put on events and organise workshops in a similar way. The building could become a prototype for type of maker space. At a previous Shift event, Wayne Hemingway talked about creative hubs and maker spaces having a role in the rejuvenation of smaller towns and their high streets.

Naming an organisation

The name “divergence” sprung to mind because somewhere I had seen something about convergence and divergence being part of the natural creative process. Somehow I though it was was connected to IDEO, a well known creative agency. Google confirmed this, and threw up an interesting image (see below) , one which turned out to be part of a video “12 Ways To Add Design Thinking Into Your Project” convergence divergence Image: 12 Ways To Add Design Thinking Into Your Project The link to “Design Thinking” was attractive to me too. We’d be bringing design thinking to the high street, I reasoned. People would be able to attend a glass-making, book-binding or screen printing workshop one day and be learning how to create augmented reality, produce electronic music, make interactive video projections but also engage with the more abstract concept of applying design thinking to re-building the high street or starting their own project. Design Thinking offers a route to thinking about starting up a business or project as a creative process. Putting business startup skills into the mix of activities seemed to make sense as it would strengthen the link to creativity and craft. Running a business needs skills, they are similar to craft skills. Divergence stuck as both a name for the event and, following the success of the pilot, for a new organisation to produce a series of events. We’d continue to call the events “Episodes” and we’d have a “Series”.

Creating and making choices on the high street

The divergence “create choices” and convergence “make choices” idea in the IDEO video continues to appeal to me. I liked, and still like the idea of an organisation based on the high street of a small town as creating choices and – if someone wants to – can step off the street and can spin-off a divergence of their own. Alex Hough is a co-founder of Divergence