When life gives you lemons #LemonaidResponseUnit

Between previewing my new theatre show Ugly Chief I have been working on a new community project called the Lemonaid Response Unit. The Lemonaid Response Unit comes from a collaboration between an artist (me) and a police officer (PC Mahmoud). It was commissioned through Battersea Art Centre through their Agents of Creative Change program. The Lemonaid Response Unit is about visibility and getting a rare opportunity to speak to the human behind the uniform. You only usually have to speak to the police during a stressful situation. This is creating a new fun and accessible line of communication between the police and the public. We have built a mobile lemonade stand in which we can take to public locations. The public are invited to come and chat to a policeman about anything over a glass of lemonade.

The Concept

We needed a simple idea that would appeal to the public to see the person behind the uniform. We wanted to open up a new informal and accessible line of communication between the police and the local community. It was important that this was about community engagement rather than PR for the police. It needed to be an intriguing offer for the public. I came up with the idea of a lemonade stand in which the public were invited to share a free glass of lemonade with PC Mahmoud and ask him whatever they wanted. PC Mahmoud agreed to do this and it is his generosity and openness to the project that made it a success. We called it the Lemonaid Response Unit. I decorated the stand to make it look kitsch, fun and accessible, the opposite of the police uniform. It was important that the stand didn’t look anything like a formal police information stall.. My role on the day was to encourage nervous passer-by’s to get involved and to give PC Mahmoud backup when required.

The location on a busy street near a train station was ideal to reach a huge cross section of people. We gave out approximately 100 glasses of lemonade in exchange for a chat. We reached a massive diverse cross section of people. Future plans will be to take it to estates and locations where the police have a bad reputation. I would also be interested to see how the stand would work with other people from different services in the public sector.

I was as curious about the questions the public would ask. I wanted this to be a one on one chance encounter and I didn’t want it to feel burdened by us collecting stats or documenting it in anyway. So we only committed these conversations to memory.

Some sample questions we were asked

“Don’t your family get scared?”

“Have you experienced institutional racism?”

“What’s the best part of the job?”

“Can I see your badge?”

“Somebody trimmed my Camelia bush without permission is that a reportable offense?”

“Why don’t you come on to our estate more? The little kids are being told by the big kids that the police are bad. Why don’t you come and break the cycle by showing them your not all bad.”

Most kids wanted to know if the police carry a gun.

The timing was slightly unfortunate because a few days earlier a 5-year-old girl was fined by the police for running a homemade lemonade stall. So we had some people scream “hypocrites” at us. We had no idea why until somebody explained later on what had happened.

The Future

We are currently evaluating the next steps for the project. It’s such a simple and easy to manage idea that people responded to positively and there was a constant stream of people. It was picked up by the media and appeared in 7papers in Ireland, Scotland and England including the  Independent. ie. We have learnt from the pilot that these are the relevant conversations that people want to be having and that they don’t get the opportunity to have.

The Journey

I was paired with PC Mahmoud. The idea behind Agents of Creative Change is that the public sector professional comes to the artist with a problem and they work on a solution together. PC Mahmoud problem was that from his experience the public don’t like the police. This is a huge topic and one that couldn’t be tackled easily within our time limit and budget. We talked about how the public usually only experience the police during stressful situations. Budget cuts mean there are not as many bobby’s on the beat anymore.

I shadowed PC Mahmoud on a walk. I observed 6 different reactions from the public on our 1-hour walk.

  1. Curious/Nosey
  2. Aggressive/Rude
  3. Overly Charming drunk people – Hello Sir, how are you today
  4. Suspicious, crossing the street to avoid
  5. Fear
  6. Relieved to get directions because they were lost.

I carefully planned my outfit and I tried to imitate PC Mahmoud authoritative walk. This resulted in the public thinking I was part of the police too. The “uniform” instantly suppressed my individuality and people’s reactions to be me changed. People saw the uniform first and it immediately elicited stereotypes about my status, authority, attitudes, and motivations. PC Mahmoud and I have very different opinions about pretty much everything. But now stood side by side we were judged as being the same.

I’m going to write more about my observations from shadowing the police. The affect the uniform had on me personally was surprising and deserves further investigation.

Lots of love Vic xx

Further Notes

Agents of Creative Change

Agents of Creative Change is a free professional development programme run by Battersea Arts Centre for artists, public and third sector professionals, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

The programme invites people working in the charitable or public sector to come forwards with a challenge. That challenge might be in their professional environment, in their community, or both. They will then use their own creativity, and the creative inspiration of an artist, to tackle that challenge in a creative and playful way and meet, exchange and explore new ideas for social change.

Each year, Battersea Arts Centre recruits an unlikely group of eight people from different professional and creative backgrounds to make new connections across sectors. Each practitioner is paired with an artist and, through workshops led by key speakers, the whole group share practice, ideas and trial solutions to the presented challenges over a period of three months.

Info about Police PC Mahmoud

PC Mahmoud is an officer for the Metropolitan Police based in Battersea.


Info about Battersea Art Centre

Battersea Arts Centre is a public space where people come together to be creative, see a show, explore the local heritage, play or relax. The organisation’s purpose is to inspire people, to take creative risks, to shape the future.

Battersea Arts Centre encourages people to test and develop new ideas with members of the public – a process called Scratch. Scratch is used by artists to make theatre, by young people to develop entrepreneurial ideas and as a helpful process for anyone who wants to get creative.

The area of South West London and the old town hall in which Battersea Arts Centre is based, are rich in heritage. The organisation is also custodian of the Wandsworth Collection of historical artefacts, using creativity to explore the past and imagine the future.

Scratch has been adopted as far afield as Sydney and New York and shows and projects developed by people at Battersea Arts Centre travel across the UK and the world. The organisation has successfully sparked new approaches to creativity across the globe.

Each year Battersea Arts Centre:

Welcomes over 160,000 people to its building

Inspires the local community to get creative, including 3000 young people

Works with over 400 artists to put on over 800 performances and tour at least 10 shows and projects

www.bac.org.uk | @battersea_arts