Outside-In Project
Creating an LGBTQ-inspired Sanctuary in the UK

The story so far

Telling the story as a way of discovering more.
April 2014

Introducing the story so far

As more people have become connected with Outside-In, there has been a natural tendency to ask basic questions like “What has already been decided?” The actual answer is that there is a broad vision, but we have been trying not to decide things prematurely. Early on we realised that being too decisive too soon was a way of getting the feeling that we were doing something, but was in danger of being a distraction from the task of growing a community out of which other things can grow. The word “hospitality” has been prominent in our thinking, but the good host invites someone into their space in a generous way that lets them be fully at home — fully themself, rather than starting with a lot of restrictions, or enforcing someone else’s vision.

The snag is that not saying things have been decided in advance can be quite un-nerving, no least because it seems quite counter-cultural and can make it seem as if decisions have been made, but are being kept secret. There is considerable openness about how the project might evolve, but to give a sense of what it is about, rather than a sense of restriction, here is an account of the story so far.

Beginnings

The story of Outside-In began in the autumn of 2012, when several of those involved heard of a redundant convent near Stroud that was for sale at a price which raised the possibility of creating a new LGBTQ-inspired centre, drawing on visions and experiences of residential communities and co-housing, with the running of residential workshops, events and retreats. A group of nine friends started to take the process further, conscious of the richness, and sometimes the difficulty, of the gay experience, and thinking in terms of a sanctuary which could be a place of nourishment for people of diverse sexualities and genders. Among the places influencing our thinking were Lauriston, Esalen, Easton Mountain and Folleterre. We also draw on visions and explorations which had looked at the possibility of creating an LGBTQ centre/community in the past which hadn’t eventually happened, but seemed to bequeath to Outside-In some lessons learned and experiences gained.

People

It’s surprisingly hard to put into words the human story of Outside-In because much of it has happened gradually. That original group of friends has gently morphed into a core group. We’ve gradually moved from “holding a space for those who are not yet involved” to having an emering sense of a much bigger community, and thinking about ways of developing that, both in depth and numbers. Positions have changed, for example, as we have explored more deeply what it is to emprace diverse sexualities and genders.

Places

As it happens, that redundant convent had been on the market for a while. It was bought soon after we looked at it, and is now being renovated as a hotel. We were aware that, besides the initial purchase cost, there would need to be a significant investment in restoring and adapting the building, and we anticipated a likely cost in the region of £3,000,000. Although we were not in a position to make an offer, looking at the building helped us begin to explore our vision, both in terms of what we might seek to create, and ways of making it happen, which included practical thinking about people who might wish to become involved in various ways, including help with financing.

Looking at other possible venues early on 2013 led us to another redundant convent. This was only on the market for a short time so we were not in a position to make an offer, but it helped us take our thinking further, shaped by a very different building and setting. There were two human tasks going at the same time — one was to explore our own processes to deepen our understanding of our vision, seeing the diversity of the core group as shedding some light on the wider gay world, but also conscious that it is not as diverse as it might be, so inevitably there were some voices missing. The other human task was networking out in the wider LGBTQ community.

In the summer of 2013 we looked closely at a youth hostel due to close early in 2014. In some ways this differed from what we had imagined — a beautiful location, but remote, which brought opportunities as well as problems. There was less space and potential for community or co-housing, but with a guide price of £350,000 there was also an appreciably lower cost. Although the lack of co-housing potential reduced the amount of money available, we chose to make an offer for the building. One of the delights of the process was the number of people wanting to become involved, offering help in many ways, which included practical building and planning skills, and a willingness to contribute financially. The best financial model for this purchase involved people lending money to the project, and our bid was based on offers of loans from 24 people.

New directions

In many ways that bid marked a turning point, as the number of people involved increased substantially. What had begun as a group of nine friends took on a changed role as a core group within a rather larger number of people, with the anticipation that this will grow further. Having thought in very concrete terms of the acquisition of a specific property, the task has become to apply what was learned in that process, to engage more widely in and beyond the LGBTQ community. Part of that process is about the continued quest for a building, and engaging with people who might be able to help with the purchase, but it is also about conversations with people who would be interested in community/co-housing, and people who would be interested in attending events in a new centre. The autumn of 2013 sees plans evolving for a range of networking gatherings which will help to build connections.

There’s a recognition that the legal and financial framework that was right for the purchase of a youth hostel might not be the best for a different building, so there is scope for these to be re-visited as we think about ways to foster the charitable aims of Outside-In to benefit a wide range of people, and the the ways in which the needs of a community extending hospitality to a workshop/event/retreat centre can be balanced.

Coming up to the anniversary of our first meeting, conversations about buildings and practicalities are around, but there the bigger question seems to be around building community and connection among people who might be interested in some form of involvement — which could be anything from aspiring to attend an event to thinking seriously of living in a community. Plans for the coming months include:

April 2014

As of April 2014 there are around 60 people connected with OutsideIn. We have held three gatherings, with more planned in the rest of 2014: visit the events page to find out more.

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