Outside(R) Zine Festival – a trip to Coventry

On the night of 14th November 1940, the centre of Coventry was all but obliterated during a raid by the Lufwaffe. Over 4,300 homes were destroyed and 568 people lost their lives. Hit directly by several incendiary bombs, Coventry Cathedral burned with the city.

Yet, from the very next day, a determination grew amongst the people of Coventry to seek peace and reconciliation, not revenge. Their destroyed cathedral was preserved beside a new one – crafted as a physical embodiment of that desire.

The only Cathedral to be built in the UK since the war, Coventry Cathedral confounds all expectations of what a Cathedral should or can be. Over the last few years, it played host to the annual Outside(R) zine festival – organised by the POD.


The POD has itself been confounding expectations – in its case, of what a Local Authority mental health service can be. It is a secondary mental health social brokerage and cultural hub, as far away from a traditional mental health support service as you can imagine.


The Pod was developed when a more traditional day centre was closed, and embodies a more creative, outward-facing vision. It now consists of a city centre vegan cafe, an allotment space where food for the café is grown, a Food Union and a, skill-sharing, Time Union. It also hosts a zine library.

The POD reminds us of the best of the UK social inclusion initiatives, some inspired by the ‘democratic psychiatry’ movement in Trieste (Italy) in the 1980’s – where the Asylums were closed and the buildings opened up to patients and workers cooperatives and cultural ventures catering for the whole community (Trieste also inspired Asylum magazine, which we’re both involved with).

The name ‘POD’ explicitly draws on the idea of cross-pollinating creative skills and ideas . That interested us, as we’ve been playing around ourselves with horticultural analogies – thinking, for example, about how zines can, in quiet ways, ‘seed’ ideas’. We were interested too in another way in which the POD defines its work – as ‘quiet activism’:

‘The quiet activism of THE POD is also a deep activism, a unique case of civic care for people, places, land and multi-species, at a time when civic care is aggressively being eroded through calls to austerity, auditing and capital’ (Nirmal Puwar, self-proclaimed Writer as Resident in Coventry).

The POD’s support for quiet activists and championing of the ‘under-heard’ has led to its explicit and unusual (at least for a Local Authority) enthusiasm for independent publishing and zines. This includes hosting an annual zine fair to connect artists, zine makers and small presses in the region; supporting members to create their own zines; collecting relevant zines for their library, and commissioning their own zine series, InZine.

We had visited the POD’s zine library back in 2022, when it was housed at Fargo Village in a wonderful shed designed and built by Bob and Roberta Smith. On that occasion, we attended the launch of Colin Oddy’s zine, Tales of the Loony Bin, and Tamsin gave a talk about her own work with the Madzines project. We met Hande Cayir, a film maker and PhD student working with the POD, who later paid us a return visit, contributing to our Reimagining Mental Health event in Lancaster in 2022.

And Hel had returneded to the POD, the following year, to speak about Madzines and Asylum magazine at the POD’s regular ‘Politics and Pakora’ evenings where Colin Oddy had been launching his new zine, Jump – a characteristically darkly humorous account of a suicide attempt. Unfortunately, the zine library had lost its space at FARGO village by then. The zines were mostly boxed up, but still available for keen enthusiasts to browse (and some were still on display for members). Hel spent a couple of days sitting in the café exploring the boxes and the gems and treasures they contained – like many zine collections they encompassed a beautiful combination of the personal and the political and, more importantly, the personal as political.

We found Said the Bird by Ant Stevens especially powerful and evocative, although it’s not easy to explain why.

It’s a good example of how zines can’t easily be translated into, or replaced by, text or explanation – often being more about the feelings they evoke in us.

Zines like this are often quite ephemeral and not always easy to track down. For these reasons, we plan to include a link to a video that we made of it on our YouTube channel.

We’ve been in regular contact with the POD since, and Asylum has just published a poem from one of their regular members, Matt Loat (in the Spring 2004 issue). Hel and Jill were delighted to return this Spring for the latest Outside(R) zine festival.

Outside(R) Zine Festival

We stayed a stone’s throw from the Cathedral in a fifteenth century cottage at Priory Row, a sobering reminder that Coventry was, prior to the destruction wrought by the Second World War, arguably the best-preserved mediaeval city in England.


We attended a special pre zine-festival supper club at the POD the evening before. Christine Eade, manager of the POD, outlined the project’s history, and how its enthusiasm for zines resulted in her becoming an accidental zine librarian. She touched on how, as an employee of the Local Authority, she has managed to stay politically engaged – organising regular ‘politics and pakora’ events, while avoiding the active engagement in party politics that might cause difficulties in her role.

The (award-winning) food was delicious as ever, the company was great, and the two zines that graced our dinner tables were launched in between the courses.

Colin Oddy spoke about his new wonderfully titled zine, Careful in the Community, regaling the audience with another humorous tale about how he volunteered to help out in a police line-up…

Christine then introduced Jazz Moreton who, having had a stroke when she was a teenager, has created a zine to help her young nephew both to understand her experience himself and to explain it to others. Zines commonly set out to explain lived experience to interested others, but this was unusual in being written as a communication tool for a relative. It shows how a person’s understanding of their lived experience can be passed on, not only directly, but indirectly through a zine.

The next morning we took our newly created Madzine trilogy, to the Outside(R) zine festival itself at Coventry Cathedral. This time, the mini zines opened out into little posters – including one by the wonderful Dolly Sen.

These zines were relatively portable, compared with our Madzine library, which Jill had adapted from an old sewing box she’d inherited. It felt worth having  lugged it around the streets of Coventry, when we saw how people engaged with it. Some compartments are not well-sized for mini-zines, though, so stay tuned for some adaptations, and for news of some other portable Madzine libraries . . . .

We were joined at the Cathedral by Liz Bell of the ZIG/ZAG project – a fellow Madzine enthusiast. ZIG/ZAG are creating and collecting zines made by and for people who think differently, on subjects including neurodiversity, disability, madness/mental illness, and identity. They are based on the border of England and Wales in the Forest of Dean – or, as we joked, the ‘Forest of Zine. Zine-related puns are, we’re coming to see, never-ending. . . .

Looking up to the right, from where we were sitting, we could see the West Screen, that is both a wall and a window and unifies the old and new cathedrals. Straight ahead was the collaged Baptistry window with its 195 coloured panes – a vision, it seemed to us, of tiny illuminated zines!

The day was rich, not just in light and colour, but in encounters too. Mixed Rage were at the table next to us, and we spoke about the ‘mixedness’ that has been cropping up in our own thinking, in so many different contexts, over recent months. It was great to meet Lizz Brady again of Broken Grey Wires, a survivor artist who’d developed a Mad Manual Toolkit and several zines.

We were stoked to see Lauren (Ren) James tabling their zines, the author of several young adult novels, and story consultant to the TV adaptation of Alice Oseman’s gorgeously cute graphic novel, Heartstopper ❤️

We encountered other Queer creatives like Dawn and Lucy Aphramor, the ‘Naked Dietician’. They have been re-imagining food and well-being beyond the binaries of healthy/unhealthy and good/bad.

Like us, Lucy has been inspired by the work of Nicole Schott to shift the discourse from Eating ‘Disorders’ to the many Eating ‘Orders’ that constrain us all. Nicole will be visiting the UK later in the year and we hope to invite them both up to the North West.

The Madzines team has been thinking a lot about restorative approaches over recent months and our trip to the POD, and the Cathedral, seeded new ideas, as well as growing connections with other ‘quiet activists’.

Until the next time!


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