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Life at Pembroke House: Mark

‘I will week’ is also about social action. Where better to be talking about than Pembroke House?

Pembroke House is a multi-use community space in Walworth, south east London. It was set up by Pembroke undergraduates in 1885 and still maintains its original vision of a settlement where living as part of the community is just as important as volunteering in it. Several volunteers, including some Pembroke graduates, are residents at Pembroke House and volunteer in the office or running/helping with some of the many projects run or hosted by Pembroke House.  Mark is a resident at Pembroke House, and we’re kickstarting our I will week celebrations with an interview about what makes it so special.

How long have you been with Pembroke House, and how did you first hear about it?

I started volunteering in January of this year and had moved into the residency by March. I had been helping a local housing group in booking Pembroke House as a venue for free-food lunch clubs a couple of times last year and on one occasion, during our Christmas lunch club, David got speaking to myself and some other people from the housing group about the volunteering opportunities. I was at a bit of a crossroads, having just quit a corporate job, and was trying to find some new, more rewarding (and socially valuable) work – so I started volunteering here.

What, in your mind, is the value of Pembroke House?

There’s many values to this space, the working cultures and projects within it, and the groups it supports and enables – and many more I haven’t had direct experience of. Perhaps unfortunately, I think one of the values is in its uniqueness – I say this is unfortunate as there should be places like this in pretty much every neighborhood; social spaces for activity, education and the chance for people to get involved in some project, develop and discover skills, talents, confidence, or even just have exposure to a social world and world of creative work that challenges or disrupts the traditional work/life split, nudging towards some different kind-of community.

Why is it important to be a resident as well as a volunteer?

The residency is a really special place; the opportunity to live within a space that has such direct social function for the local community (so many of our neighbours are volunteers, beneficiaries in someway or other, or otherwise helping to run projects or events within this space). It’s also a space to be around a really interesting mixture of different, talented people – to learn from them, and see the ways that they also help shape and develop what’s happening at Pembroke House. It’s quite a unique situation to be able to live just a few doors away from a social space that you can see everyday being so valuable to the people in this community.

What has been your experience of Pembroke House and the people there so far?

There’s a lot of different approaches and ideas here, which I think is healthy. A street party was hosted earlier in the year and it was great to see how so much of this was run and supported by people who were living just a few doors or streets away. So it’s not just the staff, residents and project leads making things happen: there’s broader networks of people involved in different things here – like the street party, the weekly lunchclub, Mumspace, etc. In the time I’ve been here, the residency has also housed really interesting people at different times. There’s been some turnaround in residents lately, with many new rooms opening up as former residents ended terms here, and at the moment there’s loads of energy in the residency as a space for communal living and to make little improvements, revamps and bring new things to Pembroke House.

Have you got a favourite memory or anecdote?

I’ve mainly been working in the office here – and I’ve worked office jobs before, but never something so community-focused, with social life and wellbeing at its core. As different people from the local area are popping into the building and the office throughout the day, there’s often little surprise moments where, even in office work, you can find yourself involved in something with even more immediate social value. One of the members of staff working on access to therapies and health services in the borough often travels to other offices, and walks with some members of the community and service-users who she’s working with. During one of these walks recently I joined her and one of the members of our gardening group for a little while: we took just a few spontaneous minutes out to play basketball in a nearby court. I think little moments like this – and this attitude towards their worth – are healthy and valuable for everyone; we can bring different people together and create something positive out of little pieces of time.

There’s also a church in Pembroke House, and I visited to help out one Sunday during ‘Messy Church’, which was run by one of the previous residents and church youth worker. My work in making things messy involved painting kids (and grown-ups) feet for them to create a little artwork of footprints on some paper we had on the floor. This was fun, weird and rewarding – and quite a creative thing for the kids (and us) to be involved in.

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