The best stories are always those where there is a battle between good and evil; the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, Frodo and Sauron, Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort, those of you who love Marmite vs those of us who hate it…… You may recall that just over a year ago I wrote a blog about being involved with a potential building project of a new pre-school. I say potential because at the time of writing nothing was certain. For those who don’t recall it was a blog written about three days before we were scheduled to knock the old building down expressing my extreme anxiety as to the consequences, if, for want of a better phrase, we fucked it up. The two important points to bear in mind were: 1. We had to build it into the Summer holidays so we could open for the new term, and 2. We had one pot of money that had taken ten years to save, and that was it, down to the last penny. And in that blog I said that I would let you know how our story came to an end; it was a titanic battle.
As many of you who volunteer or work for charities know, we needed cash. And lots of it. You’ll be relieved to hear that we weren’t three days away from the start date when I was writing and still wondering where we were going to find the money. However, I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to thank every single person who ever donated anything towards the project because without them we would never have got to it even being a possibility. Previous trustees had been scrimping and saving for almost ten years to try and gather a pot of money together to prepare for the day that the building came down, either because it was knocked down deliberately, or by a reasonably strong gust of wind.
As the gust of wind option became more likely the need for the cash became more pressing. Thankfully we had a committee member who had the perfect skill-set of knowing precisely how to wring money out of people combined with an ability to boss about those of us who didn’t. And to keep it up, consistently, for about four years. It is impossible to express to you just how hard it was to raise that money. And once raised, how incredibly careful we had to be to make sure that money was enough.
Whilst we were getting the money together, because we are not completely stupid (which may surprise most of you), it had also occurred to us that we needed the legal right to actually go ahead with the build. Apparently planning authorities and landowners get a bit sniffy if you just start building on their property. This is where my complete and utter inability to organise a fundraiser did not matter (“Natalie you look as comfortable with that bunting as [three year old son] looks when I give him a pen”). However, my skill to work my way through the varying departments at the local authority until I got to speak to the correct person to give us that permission did matter. I exchanged the contract, I believe, with around an hour to spare before an army of volunteers turned up to empty the building before it was to be knocked down and the site cleared the next day. Nothing like taking it to the wire.
The committee also had a number of very detailed conversations late into the night about the minutiae of the building. A long list of all of the things that would be necessary in order for it to function as a pre-school, together with the associated cost of those items and the difference between essential and desirable. My colleagues and I now know far more about toilets than frankly, we ever wanted. Consequently we have also given more consideration and had more open conversation than we would have ever wished to regarding the dimensions of the human bottom. Nevertheless, if you need a lavatorial expert, I know just the woman, so please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Taking the old building down and the new one going up was where committee member number four came in. We had employed a company to supply and construct the building but once it was plastered we were going to need some other people come in. Committee member number four knew (and presumably still does) an inordinate number of people with diggers and trailers, those big metal fences, drills, chain saws, and lots of other manly equipment and power tools. A selection of eager husbands, fathers and I think some people who just fancied joining in turned up the next day and took great delight in dismantling the old building and chucking it into skips. Committee member number four took five days annual leave to work on the project. And that excludes evenings and weekends.
This is not forgetting other committee members, and the Manager in particular, who were doing boring and unsexy but extremely necessary administrative stuff and things like sanding handrails for hours on end, digging holes and spending a thrilling evening on their hands and knees putting nails into the floor so the carpet could be laid. All to ensure that we finished. On time. And on budget. Ready for the new term.
Perhaps when you are surrounded by people who are all working towards the same goal, even if you differ at points as to how to get there, the thing that binds you together is that you all do want to get there. Although there was a web of red tape involved which was exceedingly challenging to navigate, we didn’t feel that we were up against the wrong side. It was realizing that some people are wandering through life with entirely and exclusively their own interests at heart that did. One of our volunteers was working on the building one evening after being at work all day and looking forward to their dinner at eleven pm when their partner telephoned as they had come home to discover that they had been burgled. The plasterer walked off site the reasons for which we will never know and in doing so risked everything everyone had worked for, and five people’s jobs. Orcs? Death Eaters? I think so. By contrast a local builder found us four plasterers who were in the building the next morning to try and catch up the time. A local farmer who grows and sells sunflowers for charity had heard about the project and gave us a donation. Rebel Alliance? Gryffindors? Yup.
And us? The committee as was? What happened to us? We are still around, but not putting our hands up for any charitable building projects any time soon. Any number of people could have done what we did. And we could not have done it without everyone who had gone before us, and everyone who stood with us at the time. We just happened to be the people who were in the right place at the right time. And we knew it. Although some days it felt very much like the wrong place and the wrong time. But it is my view that the anything worth having in life, something worth truly having, is something that you have to fight for – love, respect, friendship. Do you remember that scene in Star Wars when Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the swamp using The Force? If you don’t (unconscionable but possible) look it up on YouTube. Luke Skywalker stands amazed and can only just manage to say “I don’t believe it.”. Yoda turns to him and in his distinctive, ominous and slightly squeaky voice, utters the immortal words: “That. Is. Why. You Failed.” We were a group of people for whom failure was not an option. We knew that together we had the ability to pull it off. But only together. Which I think by my own assessment, makes us all Yoda. Yikes.