ROCKAWAY24 Sep 2020

‘’Would those that said it can’t be done please stand clear of those doing it”

A few weeks ago we accidentally discovered a hidden place full of character and treasures, a place that so embodied the spirit of DIY that we wanted to share it with you… Each colony of artists, each outcrop of creativity is different and without a doubt this is a place completely different to Cobalt. This is a place with community and a VERY committed DIY ‘can do’ attitude at its core; consequently we felt a deep connection and fascination to all that they were up to.

Its quite hard to know where to start… so we will begin with how we found it. We went camping – to a pop-up campsite run by great people who usually (in normal times) run an annual arts and music festival. Apart from being extremely grateful for more than a whiff of non-pandemic normality and fun times in a field, we also have them to thank for pointing us towards Rockaway Park. ‘There is this great guy, Mark’, they said. ‘He is doing stuff in containers with artists …you should check it out, head to Temple Cloud.’

So we followed our noses to a small one street village not that far form Bristol and looked around for containers. Given that it was a pretty neat, normal looking village the containers weren’t immediately obvious. Even when we found the small lane lined with trees, it was a small sign and a relatively ordinary entrance that led into the most extraordinary courtyard you could imagine.

We hadn’t made an appointment and despite the fact that this is obviously a place with plenty to do each day to keep it running, we were greeted by Mark with a beaming welcome and willingness to engage us in conversation. A casual chat turned into a generous tour that took over an hour and quite possibly made Mark late for his lunch.

Mark is full of engaging stories and anecdotes…It’s hard not to appear rude when he’s talking because there is so much to look at, it’s almost impossible not to let your eyes wander every-which way. The triangular courtyard is flanked by multi-media buildings created from a variety of materials, many of which appear to be found or reclaimed. The buildings could easily be a stage set for a sci-fi or a fantasy film, but as people wander in and out of various openings it becomes obvious that this is a working space.

The website (which you can find here) will show you more specifics of what goes on at Rockaway. There are printers, a sheep shearers tattooists, musicians, vegan chefs, an acupuncturist, a badge factory… the list goes on and on!

Beyond the working area that we saw, Mark mentioned what sounded like another whole area of container dwellers that we didn’t manage to see! So for the time being whatever happens there stays in our imagination. We’ve no doubt its just as eclectic as the rest of the place. He did however shows us his extraordinary house which is accessed though an atrium supporting plants left, right and centre. It lead to a huge, majestic glass lined room with a view over the permaculture garden and beyond. There is political, outspoken and propagandist art everywhere… this feels like a place visited by many a street artist. Here’s some good news… if you are interested, you can stay in annexes attached to the house, because Air BnB is just one of many things that they offer at Rockaway!

The list of things that we saw on our visit is endless… but here’s a list of some of the most notable/memorable, it may give sense of the sheer cornucopia of eye-candy that was scattered as far as the eye could see …..

  • A helta skelter
  • A fairground horse
  • Crushed cars
  • An old wind turbine
  • A sort of Penelope pitstop car
  • Graffiti trucks
  • Fairground sit on elephants
  • Modded signposts
  • Toilets lined with riso prints

Mark says ‘if you build it they will come’. He describes the ‘yard as his canvas and the forklift as his paintbrush’, and this is a clue as to how it all started…

Mark ran a scrap yard here for many years. He spoke very honestly about his blatant lack of interest in making money, which he even spoke to a councillor about to see if this was normal, perhaps as an outcome of this the yard hit the buffers. From its ashes emerged this community of makers, doers, artists – some of them building their own spaces but with much dreamt up by Mark himself. Its really clear that the riches in this place far exceed financial gain and monetary shackles, their website says the following…

‘‘Found on Cloud Hill, in Temple Cloud, Rockaway Park is home to an ever expanding community of diverse and interdependent talents. At the core of our disused quarry is a belief that collaboration and collectivism, sharing work, vision and ideas are how all great creations take hold and manifest.’

In a very different way these are the values that Cobalt holds dear too, this ethos resonates with the reasons behind why we run this place and in that respect it’s always invigorating and nurturing to meet kindred spirits, even when the outcomes are very different!

We left Mark eating his lunch in the vegan café onsite, it’s very possible that our chat made him late for dinner but his smile and warmth  was as broad as when we  arrived. This is a unique and special place, with creativity , ingenuity and warmth running through it – go and check it out if you can, book into the Airbnb and kick back with t he eye-candy for a few days.

Thank you so much to Mark for his time and tales, we hope to be back soon for sure!

Kate, Mark, Jacob and Charlie