Thrive School is here!

Thrive School opening graphic

 

From the age of about 12 I’ve had notions to set up an alternative kind of school. It would be a place of learning, but not traditionally. It would be a place where we could bring our whole selves- our head, hearts and hopes. It would be a place of skill building, and a place of strong community. That dream has taken several iterations over the years and now is emerging in real time, big time. It is a dream which is born from experience and born with the deep desire to serve others on their own creative and entrepreneurial paths.

And so, with this message I welcome Thrive School into the world. (I am launching this on my birthday too- a day I have always cherished as I shared it with my father’s birthday also- so it feels extra special!)

Thrive school is a different kind of school- one for dreamers, creatives, entrepreneurs, start-up-ers or people who really want to make a difference. It is about doing business, and life as unusual and giving us the support we need along our undulating journey.

I have been a freelancer/ soletrader for over 8 years now. It has been a journey full of learning, adventure, failure, progress and challenge. I have had huge highs and huge lows through it all and there have been so many times when I have wanted to give up because it felt too lonely or too difficult.  One thing I know for sure is that I would not be doing what I am doing without the support of friends and a network of other creative and entrepreneurs globally who lend support and advice. Their input has been invaluable.

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The kind of learning which we need to create a life we thrive through I know can be accelerated with the right structure, people, resources and community around us. Thrive School is that- a place to connect and learn from others on their entrepreneurial journey, and hone valuable personal and professional skills along the way.

Before Christmas I reached out to my network and asked what they were seeking.  Above all, people wanted a place to gather, connect, learn and find in-person support, which I know is so necessary and vital when working alone. And so I realised it was time for Thrive School to emerge.

We start on 17th May! 

Thrive School Dublin will take place from May- Oct (with a summer break built in).  It combines an in-person gathering once a month with an online learning component packed full of resources and tools. There will be an internal accountability support as part of the programme and it includes a private one to one coaching package for each individual who unrolls.

This is going to be very very special…
Thrive School Dublin EventsI am delighted to be teaming up with Emmet Condon from Homebeat and Cafe Thirty Four, who has offered his beautiful cafe space to be our Dublin HQ, and also very excited to welcome to the team Claire Faithorn, a fellow coach and current programme manager for the Suas Volunteer and Leadership programme- she is a bright star and brings such fresh energy and insight to the process.

Want to join? Read more over here, come along to our open evening on May 3rd or drop me a message.

Know you are ready you apply? Application form is here and applications are now open. Application deadline is Tues 10th May.

It’s time to Thrive! 

 

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Creative Islanders: Emily Archer

Creative Islanders Emily Archer

 

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

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Artist, activist, shining human, Emily Robyn Archer exudes creative flair. She brings passion and purpose to her interactions, coupled with a curiosity which takes them ever deeper. A graduate from The School for Social Entrepreneurs, Emily is the founder of Cre8 Sustainability, working in schools to marry art practice with environmental awareness. She is known for her large scale installations, incorporating reclaimed and recycled materials as well as her hydroponic window installations, a method she uses for growing plants in water without the need for soil. With a love of wild nature running through to her, Emily’s work is an embodiment of this love and respect. It also acts as an exploration of how to engage humans with their environment in creative, educational, and mutually beneficial ways.

There are many things I love about Emily- her zest for living, her commitment to friendship but mostly her simple presence, for never do you leave Emily’s company without a renewed sense of hope and a reclaimed sense of possibility. Quite simply, she glows.

With pleasure, I introduce you to Emily Robyn Archer… 

 

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 What makes you tick? What motivates you?

I’ve always been motivated by our relationship to the environment. Nothing gets me like environmental injustice -I know there are many, many other hugely important issues; how we treat each other for instance, poverty, war hunger- the list is long. And I don’t see these things as isolated either. But for some reason since I was a little girl I connected with this idea that we could be living in our environment in a better way- in harmony with the planet and all the creatures that roam its surface with us. I spent so much time as a kid making drawings about it, trying to raise money, even staging my own protests! Nowadays my art practice is centered on environmental themes (not much has changed!) I work with issues like water, waste and especially climate change. I don’t know why I’m so focused on this I just always have been and I’m pretty sure I always will be in one way or another.

I suppose if I peel back the layers I’m motivated simply by the natural world. It’s a difficult one because it sounds cliched. But I really am totally in awe, inspired and stirred-up by what I see growing through the cracks in the pavement, or soaring over my head everyday. I can’t look at a tree in passing without delighting in it. 

What keeps you in Ireland?

That’s easy-  my community here. Old friends, new friends and of course family- I treasure them all. I also love living here- it’s my home. I grew up here and that connection is really important to me. When I was a teenager my family lived abroad in Kenya for years so I got an idea of what its like to be foreigner in a foreign land. Being in Africa was an amazing experience in a so many different ways, and it made me value my own home place; that piece of land that I felt connected to. I was always sure that I wanted to live here.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

Spending time hanging out with my family and friends. They are the stuff of life. It may be that unexpected pop around for tea, surprise visit and a long meandering conversation or all of the above if I’m lucky.

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What does the creative process teach you?

My first creative coaches were my Mum and Dad. They’re both very creative in their own way- my Mum is a dancer and my Dad is a business man always coming up with new ideas. Mum instilled in us to never waste anything, every little thing has value and can be used again in a creative way. My Dad gave me my first official art lesson- the table was set with paints, brushes and paper and we both sat down to paint together. The very first thing he taught me was that there was no such thing as a mistake, in fact you have to make mistakes to learn and make new and interesting things.

I’ve really held on to these ideas in my own practice: I don’t get put off by what I don’t know yet or all the ‘mistakes’ I could potentially make while learning- I try to look at it as part of the process. I have a sort of ‘fortune favours the brave’ approach and usually find that if you put yourself out there and go for it- all sorts of wonderful things happen. My mum is probably happy that I work mainly with salvaged materials and am always trying to work out how to reuse and re-invent commonly undervalued or discarded materials.

So 3 things I learnt from my creative process and am still learning today are

  • That there is no such thing as mistakes. 
  • Limits and parameters are sometimes great creative catalysts
  • That there is a magic to opening up to possibilities

I take these learnings into other areas of my work: I run an initiative called Cre8 Sustainability that delivers environmental education and awareness raising projects with a creative edge. This can vary from teaching a group of city kids about urban growing by creating an upcycled hydroponic system with them for their school or getting teenagers interested in biodiversity by making seed bombs and teaching guerilla gardening tactics. Basically I feel that the creativity and its process are a really important part of the environmental movement and I’ve learnt from my work with Cre8 how powerful it can be in terms of getting people engaged, inspired and finally motivated.

 

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How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

Tidy my spaces: that’s a big one. I get stifled with too much stuff and mess around me. I take some time to remove whats not necessary, do some recycling or giving away and organize my living and work spaces. Then I sit down with a pen and notebook and go back to and reconnect with my core vision and mission.

How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

I have found meditation really helpful in the past in terms of recognising and sitting with different emotions. Yoga helps me link mind and body too. But probably most of all- people- being with friends and family. I always delay sharing my feelings but when I do level with a friend and share what is going on I always feel better and have a different perspective on things. Another thing that really nourishes me or gets me through tough bouts of the blues is just being in nature: going on a wild walk, getting blasted by a bit of wind, looking at some amazing trees and realising that I am and we all are ‘only human’ at the end of the day.

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Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

  1. Walk out the door and bring the natural world into focus again
  2. The wonderful work and vision of my friends and people in our community.
  3. Books & publications & podcasts
  4. Talking with my partner Sam! He’s always got an interesting perspective up his sleeve.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

Key lessons: 

  1. Find a vision that enlivens you
  2. Keep doing what you are uniquely doing
  3. Charge a proper fee for your work

Failures are of course all marvelous life lessons in disguise. I always think of Beckett’s words, ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’  

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

I can be counted on to use a steaming hot facecloth with essential oil to wake up myself up gently. I’d like to say I walk or do yoga every morning but it doesn’t happen that regularly. I do try and stretch and be mindful and gentle in the morning. In fact I can definitely say that I’m a believer in ‘gentle mornings’. This means taking it easy, not rushing, enjoying some good food and generally appreciating the morning that’s in it. If that also happens to involve a cup of tea in bed then even better!

As for other rituals: I keep an online day planner- it includes priorities/focus for the week ahead, daily tasks and deadlines and also a ‘long finger’ list that I tackle when I get a quiet day, things can stay on this list for a long time but having them written down and organised in priority really helps me not to get overwhelmed by having ‘a million things to do’. I really enjoy being able to say to myself- ‘there’s going to be time for that.’

It is hard to really pinpoint a particular creative habit. I know I work best at night when everyone has gone to bed. I know I sometimes have to go on an aimless cycle or walk to let a creative solution or idea to spring up. Sometimes you can try and try and try sitting at a studio desk, and then the creative vision comes as you’re watching the ducks!   

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What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to? 

Most recently Burning Ice-Art and Climate Change. A collection of essays and artworks undertaken on an arctic expedition ‘Cape Farewell’ including insights from artists, writers. scientists.

Art & Ecology Now, Thames & Hudson

This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein

Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird

My favourite podcast is ‘On Being’ with Krista Tippett. One of my special pastimes, when I know I have the house to myself for a couple of hours, is to listen to this while cooking a lovely meal.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

Do exactly what you want to do, don’t worry about what others are doing or what other’s think you should be doing. Following your own interests and passions- they will fulfill you and excite you. Don’t limit yourself either- dream big. Oh and thanks to my friend Shrine who did say to me years ago “Give up your day job and go for it!”

And what advice would you give to your future self?

Grab a seat one of those solar powered airplanes and go on an adventure!

FreeFall

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 Emily’s work is currently on show in Paris as part of an exhibition in the Centre Culturel Irlandais. The exhibition titled Et si on s’était trompé ? (What if we got it wrong ?) runs until November 4th.

Link here to Emily’s website

And more on Cre8 Sustainability in this lovely video.

Cre8 Sustainability from Ishka Films on Vimeo.


Creative Islanders: Aoife Mc Elwain

Aoife McElwain Headshot by Julia Dunin Creative IslandersPhoto: Julia Dunin

The Creative Islanders is a new interview series showcasing some of Ireland’s brightest creative talent and enterprise. It is about people who are stepping into their dreams, purpose and possibilities and embracing their one wild life. 

The interviews give a rare ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse into creative practice, motivations and mindsets- shining a light on what makes people tick, and how, collectively, Ireland is alive with creative possibility.

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A bundle of life and talent, Aoife McElwain, food stylist, recipe writer, and a creative force behind Forkful is next up in the Creative Islanders series. Her food writing brings an elegance and charm to even the simplest of dishes, offering unusual twists on classic dishes. Teamed up with photographer and videographer Mark Duggan, Aoife has a knack of peeling back a recipe to its basic structure and revealing, step by step, the sheer delight of cooking it. That it will be tasty is unquestionable.

Beyond food writing, one of the things I admire about Aoife is her honesty about the creative process and what it really means to be a creative practitioner, speaking candidly about the highs, the lows and the dogged determination it can take to keep our internal critics at bay. We spoke together last weekend at the Creative Islanders event at Another Love Story but for those not able to attend, I hand you now over to the lovely Aoife McElwain…

All imagery below: Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography: Mark Duggan

What keeps you in Ireland?

My community keeps me in Ireland. That includes my close community of family and friends, as well as the wider community of taxi drivers who talk about metaphysics on a Monday, old ladies who love a chat at bus stops, event enthusiasts who strive to create happenings that increase the happiness of people around them… I think the size of Ireland and our openness for craic and banter lend itself well to making connections which can help make good things happen.

What makes you tick? What motivates you?

Cold, hard cash. Hah! Just kidding. I’m motivated by creating things for people to enjoy. Making yummy food for people is one of the ways I say “I love you and think you are wonderful.” Though I have no problems saying those types of things without cake, too. I go to extra effort when setting a table for dinner so that it feels like a special occasion that my guests will remember. I spend days planning and organising treasure hunts so people have fun discovering a new place. I’m also motivated by newness and connections. I like learning new things and meeting new people.

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What do you do just for the love of it?

It’s interesting because I love a lot of what I do. I’ve been really lucky in the last few years to have put myself in a position where I’m doing things I love all the time. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get stressed or I don’t procrastinate… but even when I’m wrecked after writing, cooking and styling ten recipes in one day for a photoshoot, I feel very grateful for the opportunity to get to work at doing stuff that makes me proud of what I’ve achieved, and the funny little diverse career I’m starting to carve out for myself.

What does the creative process teach you?

To me, the creative process goes like this: “Aaarrrrgghhhhhh oh CRAP I can’t do this, there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to do this arrrrgghhhhhh…. Oh! Wait. I think I have it. Oh, yeah, that’s actually pretty good.” The more I go through this process the more I trust myself at the outset, and the better able I am to deal with fear of failure and the anxiety that surrounds putting yourself out there creatively.

Why do you do what you do?

My aim is to lead a life where I keep learning. I really do believe that every person you meet has something to teach you, even if it’s something mundane like the name of their local football hero or something profound like their thoughts on the meaning of life. I like to push myself to try new things, whether it’s horse-riding or a recipe for shortcrust pastry, even though change and newness can a bit scary sometimes. It can be hard to keep up the momentum of discovery however, and, as I get older, I’m better at allowing myself breaks from activity to make room for rest and renewal. Chilling out is so important.

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What were some of the key moments along your own journey that helped you to get where you are today?

When I met Niall (my husband) ten years ago, I didn’t really know what a blog was. He helped me get set up with my first food blog (I Can Has Cook? www.icanhascook.com) which led to my columns in Totally Dublin, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times. At that time, I had been trying for a few years to break into radio (I had a show for five years on Dublin City FM interviewing Irish bands) and I was feeling pretty rubbish at how little success I was having. So when I started the blog for the fun of it, it was an amazing thing to have it turn into a career of sorts. When I met Mark Duggan in 2012 and we started working on forkful (www.forkful.tv) together, it also brought opportunities to work more full-time in food, which I’m really grateful for. It’s allowed me to develop my skills as a food stylist, which is a fun and challenging job wherein I have to use my creative wits to make challenging vegetables like celeraic look gorgeous.

How do you get unstuck? Any secret tools?

I very often suffer from procrastination paralysis when it comes to writing features. I’m grand with recipe writing but when I have to articulate my own opinion about something, I start to hear the voices of the world’s best writers in my head saying “Oh… so you call that writing? Wow. Scarleh for yer ma.” Sometimes the voices get so loud I have to take to bed with bowls of cocoa pops for company. This is not a nice place. If this happens in the late afternoon or early evening, I’ve learned to indulge it. I let myself take the time off and then I wake up very, very early the next day. I’m talking 5am early, when the foxes still own the streets and twitter hasn’t woken up yet. My inner critic only seems to wake up at around noon (she’s lazy as well as mean) so if I can get a good few hours in before that, then I’ve already had a productive day. Productivity really spurns me on too, so once I get one job done, the rest can often follow.

Where do you find inspiration? Any hidden gems?

For recipes and food styling ideas, I look to my peers like Imen McDonnell, Cliodhna Prendergast and Jette Virdi. I also follow a load of great people on Instagram for inspiration from folks like Beth Kirby (@local_milk) and publications like Root + Bone (@rootandbone), Lucky Peach (@luckypeach) and Fool Magazine (@foolmagazine) who are doing something a little different in their approach to food journalism. For personal inspiration, I often find myself looking to comedy for answers. I adore Amy Schumer, Louis CK, Amy Poehler and Lena Dunham. I read their books and tweets, and watch their TV shows. They make me laugh and help me understand the world.

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How do you get through tough times? What sustains you?

I do try to go easy on myself. Though I have found it really hard to learn this, it’s ok that life isn’t all ice-cream sundaes and sunshine. I’m getting better at listening to myself. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take a break (if deadlines allow it – and usually, they do). Hanging out with my dog Daffodil can be a great release. Apart from the times she bullies other dogs in the park – she can be quite the terrier. But she thinks I’m absolutely brilliant, in every way, and is completely blind to my flaws. When I’m feeling low, hers is a good energy to have around. She mirrors my mood and will snuggle up to me quietly when I’m taking time out of the world, just so I know she’s there, if I need her. Apart from my canine companion, my husband Niall always has my back, as I do his. We’re a good team. He makes amazing sandwiches which is a crucial skill to call on in a crisis.

What key lessons have your learned about doing business or being a creative practitioner along the way? What have you learned from your ‘failures’?

That you don’t have to get things right straight away. That you can will your life to be slow and conscious, rather than too fast and stressy; you just have to work quite hard on your own self to achieve that. Taking time to slowly evaluate problems rather than emotionally reacting to things is a good pattern to try to live to. I’m only beginning to wake up to this and to see it as a possibility of a way to work and live. Some slow, gradual early success living and working to a more mindful beat makes me hopeful for the future.

Do you have a morning routine? Or other creative habits or rituals?

My favourite morning habit is to take my dog Daffodil to the park first thing in the morning. Then I like to come home and have a proper breakfast (the best is boiled eggs sprinkled with ground cumin and sea salt, with sourdough for dunking) and a coffee, brewed by my husband Niall. But I’m not going to pretend that routine happens every morning. Mostly I wake up later than I’d like and spend the rest of the morning catching up. I try not to get too angry at myself when this happens because that adds insult to injury. When I do get my ideal morning though, it sets me up for a happy and productive day.

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What books have inspired you? Or what websites do you turn to?

The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit is the most thumbed and food splattered book in my kitchen. It’s an absolute must for cooks who are ready to start finding their own creativity in the kitchen. I really enjoy reading memoirs by chefs, including the classic Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (a lovable rogue) and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I’ve also been inspired by the work of Michael Pollan, an American food journalist and writer whose work has taught me a lot about the basics and history of food.

What advice do you wish you had received as you were stepping onto your own creative path?

You don’t have to be good at everything and you certainly don’t have to be perfect at doing something straight away. And you don’t have to tell everyone you don’t know what you’re doing. Most of the time, this actually isn’t as endearing as you think.

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And what advice would you give to your future self?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and think about the other times you thought you were going to make a total mess of things and then actually did a pretty good job. You’re not a total dumdum, McElwain. And stop comparing your productivity levels to those of Michelle Obama! She has a team of, like, ten people. Of course she’s super productive!

What is coming up next for you?

Myself and Mark Duggan are releasing some new forkful videos this autumn, which I’m really excited about. We have been focusing on refining our still photography skills, as well as working with brands on video and photography content for their websites. I’m also working as a copywriter helping small brands develop their messages and identity. I’ll continue to work on my recipe columns and restaurant reviews for The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and Totally Dublin, and I’d like to flex my non-food writing muscles too. My current passion project is to develop a treasure hunt design agency. I recently organised an island-wide treasure hunt on Inishturk island which 35 visitors and islanders took part in. I designed it so they would not only bond with their team members but also discover the island, in a historical and physical way. I think there’s great potential to design place-specific treasure hunts around the country to enable people to embark on adventures of discovery. And I’m ready to start doing it.

 

Video credits: 

Recipes and food styling: Aoife McElwain / Photography and Direction: Mark Duggan / Editing: Killian Broderick / Music Supervision: Niall Byrne