In 2012, when Fin and I weren’t able to pay ourselves, we were given an envelope with around seven ten pound notes in it. It was a gift from a handful of Labour city councillors. In exchange, they wanted a drink on our menu called Red or Dead – the name of their quiz team. What we did with the money was up to us.
Paul Bull was among these generous donators. But he was so much more than that.
I first met him in 2010, when he asked for a meeting in his capacity as a sound designer and technician (Paul would often mime removing one of his many hats and replacing it with another). Six months later, Fin used him as the sound designer on Waiting For Lefty, in which he created a gorgeous effect of the train rumbling above the meeting room that the theatre became. I worked with him myself on Bunnies, where Paul sampled an idyllic pastoral tune and dissected it until it became a scratchy echo of itself as the play descended into bleakness.
When we formed an advisory board in 2012, Paul was an obvious person to ask to join. His many hats – City Councillor, technician, sound designer, lover of theatre – made him ideal. But it was something else that I valued most. A few months earlier, I’d asked a question in an Open Space event asking whether opening the Bike Shed had been a waste of time. Paul kindly assured us that what we’d made was still wanted. Others said the same, but Paul’s comments stay with me because I knew he wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t genuinely mean it. To him, integrity was all.
In 2014, when a technician left us at short notice, Paul stepped into the breach, working long hours through the final Ignite festival, with 80 shows in twenty-odd spaces. His signature is still found around the Bike Shed – his distinctive p/b autographing many plugs and cables.
Paul sorted licences for us for hustings, wrestled a disputed business rates claim with the Council, made introductions and always, always supported. So much so that, perhaps, I took him a little too much for granted.
And now he’s gone. He resigned from our board a few weeks ago, having just been offered the Portfolio for Culture to add to his responsibilities for Communities. I texted him on Friday to see if he wanted to meet for a cup of tea. Not this weekend, he replied.
There are, I’m sure, many like Paul. But for me, the overwhelming decency of the man stands out. No matter how hard I tried – and I tried really hard – he wouldn’t give us special treatment as a Councillor. I loved talking politics with him, but it wasn’t the machinations that interested him. It was, boring as this sounds, the genuine responsibility of public service.
This was Paul’s life. Doing stuff for others, for the adopted town he loved (though he always liked to remind people he was actually from Plymouth). He was held in such high regard across the city, across the sector and across political divides – his wife Rachel told me yesterday that “even the Tories are saying nice things about him”.
Paul acted with selflessness throughout his too-short life. As a role model in putting others before yourself, he couldn’t be bettered. We will miss him but his legacy here remains, through initials on a plug and a bespoke Daiquiri that stands as a testament to quiet generosity.
Director of The Bike Shed Theatre