Eating the freshest sushi that Tokyo has to offer. Feeling the cleansing spray of Iceland’s mighty Gulfoss waterfall on your face. Watching a rainbow arc over New York City from the top of the Empire State. Each pretty inspiring, in their own way.
All of them I’ve done and consider the time wisely spent. Any of them I’d do again in a heartbeat, but they’re not the work of a moment. They are all places and activities on which I chose to spend my time (and money!) and found inspiration as a result.
Where, though, is the place that does the opposite; that inspires me to spend my time? The place I can go whenever I feel like it, in the knowledge that not a second will be wasted? What about a small city – just quarter of a million people – in the middle of the United Kingdom?
Derby was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, and the River Derwent tickles the edge of the city centre as a reminder of what drove its manufacturing. It’s not 3000 miles away, or even 300 miles. Derby is practically on my doorstep, just 30 miles from my home, and within the confines of its blank concrete ring road is something that sings to my heart.
That something is a bright cultural outpost known as QUAD, whose artistic vibe is seemingly at odds with the mechanical industry of old. Its modern angular structure combines a two-screen cinema, a social café, a vibrant gallery and a creative workshop.
I first visited on a cold November night in 2010, when drizzle fell on the lifeless market place outside. The wet sheen on the stone paving did nothing to recommend Derby as a destination, or to try and lift my mood. I sat in the café a broken man – one who longed to write but couldn’t find the words. My creativity was withered and limp, dreams lying ruined and torn asunder by a lack of confidence.
I went to QUAD at the behest of my closest friend, to chat and drink and forget about thwarted ambitions. To my surprise, I found an atmosphere of quiet productivity. People worked on MacBooks, fed by coffee and whatever took their fancy from the freshly prepared menu. Not one of them appeared hurried or under pressure and the calm was infectious. James and I talked while rivulets of rain left slug-like trails down the windows. We weren’t there to work but, crucially, I felt like I belonged.
The conversation was good, the creative buzz even better. The true source of my inspiration, however, was a chair. Neatly upholstered in warm red fabric, it was one of several hundred that drew like-minded people to sit in front of a screen bigger than any laptop.
QUAD is no faceless cinema chain feeding mainstream dross to the unquestioning masses. It provides a thoughtful programme of films: some fun and frivolous, some sincere and serious, all high in quality and artistic merit. When expensive journeys across multiple time zones are out of reach, the cinema screen gives all of us chance to be a citizen of the world; to experience other cultures and ways of life through the common visual language of film-making; and to expand our horizons while we laugh, cry or gasp in surprise.
You can go to a place and be inspired because it is awesome and unique on Earth. You can be captivated by nature’s magnificence or wowed by the skill of foreign craftsmen, but unless you live a rare kind of life those are only temporary feelings. The mundanity of daily routine is just a return flight away.
True beauty is found in life lived to its potential, regardless of geographic circumstance or economic wealth. James showed me a place where it is possible to flex creative muscles without feeling ashamed of doing so; a place that wants people to experiment and make art without fear of failure, and accepts them for their willingness to try.
The beauty of independent cinemas and cultural hubs is that they exist to serve their communities and are exactly what you choose to make of them. They can be a constant in your life, providing inspiration whenever you choose. The only place you can stand atop the Empire State is New York City; fulfilling your potential can happen right where you live.
Yes, I’ve visited cinemas in London, Dublin, and Copenhagen, but QUAD has my heart. In your quest for inspiration, I hope you can discover your local area like I discovered mine. And if your wider travels one day include Derby then be sure to grab a coffee, stop by my table and say hello.
I’ll be the guy smiling while he writes.
About the author: Paul Forrester is a writer who also runs, which is why his blog is called Writer & Runner. Now he knows how to write he is developing various book ideas; he has always looked for new places to visit.
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