The Totnes Wellbeing Fund offers grants up to £500 to help new initiatives that could really enhance personal, community and environmental wellbeing locally. This summer, Mim Stenning and Julia Brownlow were awarded a grant to set up a community Open-no-Mic night called Fireside. In this blog, Mim gives us a wonderful account of their journey to connect others through music and song.

Blog by Mim Stenning, Co-Founder of Fireside

In the early Spring this year I decided to finally get round to checking out the Open Mic nights in Totnes. I have always loved singing and songwriting, so I was determined this year to kick myself up the bum, get out there and perform.

A few years ago I had been to a wonderful Open-No-Mic night called ‘Presence’ in Bristol, which was held in a small room above a pub. Presence was a supportive space where people could share songs or instrumentals with no background pub noise and everyone was there to listen. It was low-key and magical. Although I enjoyed the Open-Mics in Totnes (particularly the one at The Albert on a Wednesday), they were in a fairly noisy pub atmosphere which felt quite a daunting place to start singing in front of people again. It can feel incredibly vulnerable, especially when singing your own songs. So I decided to start my own Open-no-Mic night, modelled on what I had loved about Presence.

I did this with the help of my friend Julia, who had also experienced the magic of Presence and has a great passion for music. It had been suggested that we should apply for the Network of Wellbeing’s fund over the Summer, which supports local social enterprises if they need some start-up funding. We were quite surprised and delighted when we were awarded it! And so eventually, after very much pondering and poll-taking over the name, we started ‘Fireside’ in September. The NOW funding has been such a great help with covering venue and publicity costs to get us started, and will allow us to gather momentum and become self-supporting over the coming months.

Our aim was to create a very cosy and safe space for people to share their music. And so far it has been a great success, in fact it has surpassed our expectations. Held monthly, we just had our second Fireside where someone played and sang who hadn’t done so in years. Fireside has also inspired two people to start writing a song, saying that they would only consider doing this because this was a space they would feel completely safe to share it. It is so wonderful to have this unexpected benefit from starting this event – it’s really helping people to have the courage to create and to share music with others. Personally, even in just two sessions, it has massively helped my confidence, and it is motivating me to write new songs for the following events. It’s also a really lovely way to meet people, have a chinwag together in the break, and to be inspired by and make connections with other musicians.

All are welcome. Songs or instrumentals, originals or covers are all fine. We are keeping the focus on music, as there are other venues that offer a voice for poets, but if any poets feel like singing their verse they are most welcome too.

We decorate the space to make it feel more like a magical living-room and people have commented on what a lovely atmosphere it has and great the acoustics are, and also how nice it is to sing without amplification. We have a tea break halfway through with snacks.

The next Fireside will be on Sunday 27th November, starting at the slightly later, 7pm-9.30pm at Birdwood House, and there is a £3 entrance fee. We are in the downstairs room, so we are accessible for wheelchair-users. We look forward to seeing you there!

We have a Facebook page and if you would like to be added to the mailing list, please email:

If you have a fantastic idea that could really benefit the Totnes community and would like some seed funding to get started, don’t delay! We are taking applications until 16th December 2016. Find out how to apply here.