The Talking Shop

How a disused space for creativity, collaboration, and cultural exchange brings communities together

The Concept of The Talking Shop

I have been developing the concept of The Talking Shop – (a democratic and cultural information centre) – since 2017.  A place to find out What’s On and What’s What. The Talking Shop is a public creative space inside a disused shop in a town or city and hosted and facilitated six days a week by trained professional freelance artists and creatives, Democracy Box young co-creators and co-hosts from collaborating and partner organisations.

I am developing the use of creative approaches to deliberative democracy and exploring how creativity, conversation and information can be combined and used to increase both cultural and democratic participation.

The Talking Shop© was piloted in Cardiff in 2019 and led to the creation of The Democracy Box© project funded from 2020-21 by Clwstwr. Young people told me that as well as digital information and getting it into schools they also want this information in person and face to face. So, I came right back to where we began with the physical space of The Talking Shop and put The Democracy Box inside on the wall, on the screens and in bilingual booklets that you can take away with you.

The main aim of The Talking Shop is to tackle our democratic deficit and increase cultural and democratic participation both at and beyond the ballot box.  Everyone contributes to and helps curate the shop. The Talking Shop aims to address the current democratic deficit by raising democratic participation (including but not limited to registering to vote) through conversation, information, and creative approaches to democratic deliberation.

However, I began to realise in 2019 that the benefits and impact of The Talking Shop model far outreach these main aims.

The Talking Shop trials to date have evidenced the power of the model increase democratic and cultural participation and tackle polarisation in communities and society and help us confront some of society’s most pressing issues including isolation and loneliness; mental health and well-being and inter-generational connection; community cohesion and urban regeneration. You can read here about the emerging themes from the trails to date.

Everyone is welcome. There is no need to book. Anyone can just pop in and stay for as long as they like. There is free Wi-Fi and free tea. Free information and conversation. Visitors can join in a conversation or programmed activity or work, study, read, draw, think, meet people, or just find a quiet place to just ‘be’.

Visitors range from 6 months to 96 years old and include all socio/economic demographics with a high percentage of young people aged 16-30 and visitors represent the full range of democratically engaged from self-declared non-engagement to highly engaged citizens.

Omidaze’s work to date has successfully evidenced that a majority of Welsh citizens do not currently understand how our democracy works and fits together and need a shared baseline of information before they can engage in meaningful democratic deliberation. The Talking Shop and The Democracy Box combined address this identified need.

What’s It All About?

Everyone who comes asks us “What is this place?”

We reply by telling them that it’s a place to find out what’s on, to share stuff you know that’s happening with others and to also find out about the basics of our democracy and how it actually works and fits together so perhaps we can all begin to understand it and write the next chapter together.

It’s a place where you can meet others, not be alone, or find a space to call your own.

It’s a space where you don’t need money to enter or be and someone will make you a free cup of tea.

It’s a space where you can just hang out, work, sit, think, dream, read, get connected, be welcomed, informed, inspired, signposted, and heard.

It’s a space for the young, the old and everyone in between. It’s a shop which sells nothing because ideas, conversation and information are free.

An open space for the public and creatives to be informed citizens and collide, converse, connect, collude, and create.

A space to find out what’s on and what’s what.

The Talking Shop is non-partisan and neutral. It is not affiliated to or supported by any political party and holds no political or religious view. The only agenda of The Talking Shop is to increase democratic and cultural engagement and participation through information, conversation, and creativity.

The Talking Shop is a physical ‘what’s on’ and ‘what’s what?’ cultural and democratic hub which everyone helps curate. It is a public space which explores the intersection between cultural and democratic participation and creative approaches to democratic deliberation.

A space with information, creation, and conversation at its core.

A space in which to articulate, champion and strengthen the role of the creativity and democracy in society and empower through a sharing of information and knowledge. A place which encourages and facilitates public engagement with creativity, arts and culture and democratic participation.

The Talking Shop’s creative approaches to engagement and deliberative democracy activities have included bunting making, collaging (individual and collective), stone painting, poetry, journaling, origami, knitting, crocheting, music, podcasting, creative writing, playwriting,  tote bag making, clay pot painting, badge making, paper lantern making, printmaking, needle felt, story and dance time for babies and toddlers, graffiti, Christmas crafts, clay modelling, pompom making, illustration, zine making, dance and spoken word.

We respond to what visitors tell us they want and what local professional creatives and our collaborating and partner organisations offer. We were delighted with how quickly the lino print 4-week course with the Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) booked up and that our visitors’ creations will form part of a month-long exhibition at the WMC to celebrate the opening of Nye the musical. We are experimenting and exploring what works and what activities are good weekly slots and which ones work well as special one offs.

The Three Pillars

We believe that there are three pillars to a healthy civilised society – health, education and arts and culture. Creativity is how we make sense of our world and our place in it.

In ancient Greece, citizens were obliged to go to the theatre as part of their civic duty. This report is not advocating that we should make theatre attendance compulsory in Wales and the rest of the UK – however, the author does believe, like the ancient Greeks, that access to and participation in arts, culture and creativity is vital to a healthy and democratic society.

We appear to have held onto and valued only part of the ancient Greeks thinking around democracy. The importance of ritual storytelling and creativity is somewhat undervalued in our modern UK society. Creativity and the creative arts help us to express ourselves, make sense of the world and fine-tune our critical thinking, debating, collaboration and consensus-reaching skills, along with encouraging us to challenge and critique. Ritual storytelling can help us to reflect and understand and reform our social and political structures. All of the above are fundamental for a good working democracy. And yet artists and creatives have been in a position of defence in the UK for decades and required to constantly re-articulate and re-evidence the value and impact of arts, culture, and creativity to society. Creatives spend a vast majority of their time working to survive, rather than being placed in positions of influence and power to help unlock some of society’s most pressing problems including, but not limited to, our democratic deficit.

Omidaze’s creative approaches to tackling our democratic deficit, (including creative approaches to engagement, communication, information sharing and democratic deliberation), have all proven successful. Using creative approaches to civic engagement is nothing new as we know from ancient Greece. In more recent years there have been decades of work, research and learning dedicated to ensuring best practice in creative approaches and the field of participatory arts. There is endless qualitative and quantitative evidence of the impact that access to, and participation in, creative arts and cultural activities has on everything from mental health and well-being to tackling anti-social behaviour and increasing civic engagement and cohesive communities. The evidence also points to the benefits of using the arts and creativity as a diplomatic tool and ‘soft power’ and as the most effective and low-cost strategy for urban regeneration.

In terms of what people can do to show their support in order to make these community fixtures more permanent is to give us feedback. Write in our visitors’ books, on the wall on The Talking Shop tree of thought, on The Talking Shop Typewriters and email us at Every quote and piece of feedback is helping us to convince multiple stakeholders that The Talking Shop is needed and wanted.

Omidaze have been trialling Talking Shops in towns across Wales since 2022 in order to create a blueprint for The Talking Shop.

Omidaze passionately believes that new money is not needed to make a Talking Shop sustainable and long term. Rather multiple stakeholders (cross departments of local authorities together with cultural organisations, public service boards, regional partnership boards, the health board and additional partners and collaborators) need to come together and repurpose their various budgets strands for public consultation, engagement and participation in a more joined up, creative and effective manner in line with the Well-being of Future Generations Act seven goals and five ways of working.

The Talking Shop model has now been trialled successfully in Cardiff, Newport, and Merthyr Tydfil in 2022/23 and Blackwood in 2024 and collectively recorded over 10,000 visitors with no dedicated marketing budget.

We are working hard to see if we can make Blackwood the first long-term sustainable Talking Shop in Wales and model how it could exist in any town.

Creative Activities

The intergenerational connection that happens in the shop is really important to us and the creative activities which we programme bring people together and act as a focus point for the conversations about culture and democracy. We have had a lot of feedback from people of all generations that the creative activities and being inside the shop generally has given them the opportunity to talk to, listen to and gain a better understanding of people of different ages. Also, many visitors have told us that they have shifted their perspectives and beliefs about other generations as a direct result of being in the shop. Creatives leading the sessions have also told us how important it is to them to pass on their knowledge and skills to another generation.

Sign Up

All Talking Shop hosts are trained to look after all visitors and welcome them to the space. Pop in first just for a cuppa and a chat or to have a look around. Have a look at our programme in the shop and online and see if anything interests you and then come and have a look. No pressure to join in. You can just sit and watch if you prefer. All our creative activities are free. And so is the tea.

We have a small budget to pay professional freelance creatives to facilitate sessions. If you are interested please email a short proposal and your CV to We also have a studio space upstairs which can be booked for free by the hour, day or week by professional freelance creatives and a gallery wall for professional artists to exhibit their work. Finally, we invite everyone to bring in posters and leaflets and add to our What’s On Wall anything creative, arts or cultural which is happening in or near Blackwood.

Yvonne Murphy is the Artistic Director of Omidaze Productions and the creator of The Talking Shop and The Democracy Box.

 The Democracy Box© & The Talking Shop© and all associated content is Copyright © 2020 OMIDAZE PRODUCTIONS all rights reserved.

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