A photo of me, Nicola. Stood by a window on a sunny day with long bright pink hair and in a black jumper.
Nikki Wilson talks to Nicola Babbington
13 May, 2024
Member of the Month: Nicola Babbington

Each month, Nikki Wilson interviews an Ignite Member, asking five simple questions, to find out what creativity means to them, and how they see culture and creativity, and its potential, in Chelmsford.

This month Nikki talks to Nicola Babbington.

How would you describe what you do?

So that’s a very broad question, Nikki, how would I describe what I do? Let’s drill that down into the creative space for the readers that you have. Creatively, I’m going to do a tiny bit of history, because then it got very uncreative and then went a little bit creative again. I was very creative at school, GCSEs comprised of art and drama, and basically doing anything that wasn’t very academic and my results showed that clearly.  Anyway, fast forward, you thunderstorm into life, don’t you and I started out in a very creative arena, hairdressing, makeup, fashion styling, that kind of thing and had a number of years in the creative industries, hairdressing, London College of Fashion, working freelance, and just really felt like “Yeah, this is my, this is my groove, this is my gravy”, I loved it. And then that really adulty bit took over where I had to “adult” and unfortunately, for me, it doesn’t happen for everyone, but for me, that meant I had to move into less creative circles, and it all got a little bit corporate.

Coming back to today’s Nicola, or a few years ago, Nicola, back in 2018 to 2019, I decided, “you know what, I need that creativity back, I need something that just gives me that little bright spot in the week where I can explore my creativity and meet other creatives”. That’s the main driver for me. I do have a creative element in my employment. I’m in Learning and Development, so thankfully, I get to build lots of funky PowerPoints and that kind of thing, but I did a little bit of searching online. I wasn’t too sure what angle to go in, because I didn’t actually do that well in my art GCSE, so I can do it all, but I’m by no means an artist. I stumbled across a group called Drink and Draw, which back then was running out of the Bay Horse in Moulsham Street, and I thought “well, I’ll go along”, and I did. I was nervous, absolutely.  The group was run back then by the lovely Lynn Excell and I was welcomed in even though I had, I think it was a pencil and an old pad, to what was just this wonderful creative group of varying levels, established artists through to people that again, just wanted that more social side.

Drink and Draw, an image of the letters D&D representing Drink & Draw with a blue background.

I became an established member throughout 2019, just into early 2020. At the same time, I also thought “writing, let me think about writing” something I’ve never done at all before. So that was a real leap of faith, and again, looked up on apps like Meetup,  looked locally in Chelmsford and stumbled across a group called Write Bulb. So again, I put my big girl pants on and I went along thinking, this could be a whole group of established authors who are critiquing work and, you know, really writing properly, (I’ve currently come to the realisation that my grammar is terrible). Anyway, I went along, I was welcomed in and yeah, I continued going to Write Bulb throughout 2019 into 2020.

Write Bulb logo, an image of a fountain pen combined with a light bulb

Using 2020 as a benchmark, because of course everyone will know that things changed a little bit then. So of course we couldn’t meet up anymore. It was also for  Drink and Draw a point where Lynn said, “Nicola, I don’t suppose you fancy running  Drink and Draw”. She was kind of happy to hand the reins over, so she did, the same month we went into lockdown, which was a baptism of fire.

I thought, “Right, I’ve got this group to try and run. What are we going to do? We’re now in lockdown”, Write Bulb the same thing. So we went over to Zoom for both and we soldiered on.

Bringing it to today, for both Drink and Draw and Write Bulb, we are back meeting up. So for Write Bulb we meet in the Chelmsford Library every second Saturday of the month, and Drink and Draw we now meet at the United Brethren or commonly known locally as the UB, and that’s the second Tuesday of every month in the evening. So we’re back established running, we’re meeting face to face, and it’s wonderful, it’s lovely to be back, face to face.

A black and white pencil sketch of dried orange fruit slices and cinnamon sticks

And who, or what gives you creative inspiration?

Oh, my goodness, I’m really going to let the side down here, and I’m not going to mention any particular authors, because I’m a terrible reader. I’ve actually got two books in a bag, I’m going away for a couple of days this week, and I’ve been really brave and put two books in there, which will probably come back unread, I just can’t pick up a book and read it, unless I keep reading the same book. It’s a really bad habit, but I’m gonna make I’m going to make a promise right here that I’m going to read or start to read one of these books. So author wise, I’m going to say no one.

Actually, I’m going to be really controversial, at Write Bulb, some of the stuff that we write just in a 20 minutes space off the back of a prompt that we’ve only just been given. That for me is the sugar, that’s the really good bit, inspiring.  Because you hear what someone’s written off the back of hearing the prompt 20 minutes ago and the creativity and the difference between those different writers is amazing.

Art wise, crumbs that’s difficult. I tend to warm more towards the kind of street art side of things. So the obvious ones are things like Banksy, London Police, and so on and so forth. But you know, thinking more locally thinking about Chelmsford I think the art and creation I like is things like the Concrete Canvas, which is obviously led by the wonderful Candy Joyce, absolutely incredible stuff going on there. I think street art’s, the pull for me, I’ve tried galleries and stuff, and I’ve wandered around, and I’ve looked and I’ve heard people analysing certain types of paints and stuff but, for me, it sits more in the street stuff.

If you could try any new creative or cultural experience or practice, what would it be?

Oh, my goodness, that is a really good question, Nikki. An idea that I’ve had is combining the two. So say for example, if I go along to Write Bulb, the prompt is provided, I write a story or a short flash fiction, and then draw a picture of it. So combining the two in a way. The reason I have this idea is the lovely Shelley who is a prominent artist in Chelmsford, she’s done some of the Concrete Canvas pieces and also just done a piece in one of the town centre pub gardens. She draws these wonderful comic strips and the detail in there is just incredible, and I can sit and watch her, you know, when she comes along to Drink and Draw and sit and watch her do this and just think, “When I grow up, I want to be able to draw like that”. So that would be it for me I think, if I could combine the two.

What excites you about creativity and culture in Chelmsford?

The social aspects. I think we are incredibly lucky, there’s a community.  You have to go find it, you have to go looking for it absolutely, but I do think some of the names I’ve already mentioned Lynn, Candy, there are far more names I could mention, but I think the fact that we have an artistic community, a creative community in Chelmsford, it’s such a wonderful pull. One thing that I really, really embrace is that it is open to people who aren’t necessarily “A creative”. As I’ve said, for me, I can sit there and doodle absolutely right, I can knock up a flash fiction, absolutely right, however, for me it’s that social aspect and knowing that you can go along to maybe the Chelmsford Creative Collective meets that run at the end of the month or go along to Drink and Draw, you can drop in, you don’t have to go every month, there’s no kind of continuity requirement, you can dip in and out as and when you want, that is that is that sociable piece for me? And talking to other creatives and finding out about what they’ve done or what they’ve got coming up and getting involved as and where possible.

What would you like to see in Chelmsford that isn’t here yet?

I think a more sociable movement. We’ve got a lot out there, but I do think having been involved in Write Bulb and Drink and Draw, prior to recent years, so many people have seen so much change, we’ve all experienced change and shift. I think a more social movement now that we are sort of on the other side (I say the other side loosely, of course), but I would really like to see more traction, more people coming along to these social events, more people engaging because I’m a big fan of community,  of getting involved, of having that conversation. My daughter always says if we’re out in town or in a shop “You always talk to people,  why do you always talk to people, do you even know them”? And I’m like, “No, I’m just passing the time a day”. So I think for me, it’s embracing that we are social creatures and getting some of that traction back, seeing each other,  communicating, you know, being creative together. That’s what I’d like to see.


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