Black Sheep Collective / Bar Bar Black Sheep
“A place where artists could mingle, where new ideas could happen.”
We’re an arts organisation called the Black Sheep Collective, and we’re a Community Interest Company. We have three directors. Myself, Georgia Tillery-Randak, Sian Philpott, and Danny Quinn. We all have our specialist skills and our specialist strands.
With our education strand, we engage schools, community groups in theatre and different arts. We create bespoke workshops, run youth theatres, and we have put on our own performances.
We also have our street performance and entertainment strand. We programme buskers to be at the shopping centre in Milton Keynes to animate the space and to entertain shoppers, allowing buskers to perform there legally. There are different events that the shopping centre has and we provide performers to those. And we also have the opportunity for people to book us privately, for gigs and different events.
And then we have our community and consultancy strand as well. Other businesses approach us to give them help on the social side, and we give support that way.
In all honesty, the Bar Bar Black Sheep Coffee House came about from the fact that we were spending so much money on coffee in other establishments! We were struggling to find a place where we would like to hang out, where artists could mingle, where new ideas could happen, where maybe events and performances could happen.
So we started the coffee shop through a crowd-funding scheme, and we really engaged the community to help. We did literally everything ourselves on a shoestring to start off with. And as time has gone on, we’ve added bits, people have donated furniture; we’ve sourced things from charity shops. A lot of the stuff is props from our past shows. Like the suitcases and whatnot. And they just fit. We wanted to create that kind of living room environment where people are comfortable and they don’t feel that they have to leave after downing their cup of coffee.
I had never done anything like this before. But it’s mad how coffee and the Arts just click, and just work together. And the amount of ideas you can have over a good cup of coffee, and just having a chat! I’m a big advocate for promoting that within the shop. Sitting down, putting your phone away, putting technology away, be social! Chat! I’d like to think that everyone comes in here and feels comfortable to be able to do that.
And It all comes with a big heart. We’re not trying to rip anybody off; we’ve got very affordable prices, we like to say, and we welcome everybody. And we want people to understand that there is a social enterprise side. We want to help the community. Any profits that we make, we reimburse back into the community, and we encourage arts and community engagement through the different groups and events that we hold here. We have a programme of monthly and weekly sessions, and we also have one-off sessions and events. We’re open for discussions to put on anything, really. We have a space we’re calling ‘the Reading Room’ and anyone who wants to can hire the space.
Bar Bar’s social enterprise comes from our suspended coffee scheme – so customers can come in, donate money towards a coffee, which can then be taken by any member of the public. We don’t ask questions, and they can have that coffee for free, because of the generous donations of our customers.
Bar Bar started off as our baby and it’s now flourishing into a little rogue of a toddler that we love, that’s just starting to spawn its own personality. People have fallen in love with it as much as we have, so it’s very, very dear to us. Blood, sweat and tears have gone into it. And I think that reflects in what we give out to other people.
And it does really mean the world. I couldn’t imagine life without it.