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Dystoveia – Dumfries’ First Escape Room

Hear about the Dystoveia Escape Room from the Creative Spaces Team. This project transformed Room 2 in the Stove into a dystopian escape room in August 2023. 

Why an Escape Room?

On one of the blessed sunny days in June, our creative producer Mia asked us two million-dollar questions: what kind of things do we like to do for fun? And how could we bring that to D&G? After a great creative session where each of the CS team individually mind-mapped our answers, we discovered a common thread between us: an escape room! Why did such a thing not exist here?

We initially thought this might be too ambitious an idea for a bunch of amateurs. However, a good friend of mine (shoutout to Seb Summers) kindly booked us a slot at his escape room in Glasgow. Our visit to Riddle Rooms, led to us learning a lot about what makes an escape room good and the mechanics behind it. The possibilities of what we could create ourselves seemed endless, so deciding our theme early was key for honing our ideas. This made us consider the room as an unravelling story as opposed to a random mixture of puzzles.


Dumfries has fallen under the control of an oppressive regime. Your team of rebels have managed to infiltrate the high-security government control room and the town is locked down on red alert as they try to hunt you down. It is up to you to save the town in time and to escape before state officials discover you.

Following an in-depth storyline that unveils the secrets of Dumfries and the authoritarian regime, you and your team must work together to uncover hidden clues and solve a variety of puzzles to progress and beat the clock.

We wanted our participants to feel like they had stepped into a parallel universe, completely different to the town they knew. So, we blacked out the windows, turned on the AC, and set the scene with a distorted video of our mole (played by the talented Sahar) leaving instructions for the rebels (the participants). Without a huge budget to work with, we circulated our props list far and wide and managed to collect a lot of cool stuff that helped transform the room. Finishing touches like a doomsday timer, fake cobwebs, chains and hazard tape really pulled the room together.

What we hadn’t anticipated was how much of our planning time was taken up by logistics. Without any access to fancy tech, we had to come up with solutions (painful zoom trialling and walkie-talkies) to make the scenario feel as realistic as possible with close to zero in-person contact with the room. The timings of the room also required a lot of planning. Every participant in an escape room approaches the experience differently with unique problem-solving skills. In the end, Room 2 had transformed into a complex labyrinth of puzzles, where we made sure the room wasn’t too easy or too difficult to complete in the hour – something we discovered when trialling the room with different groups of people.

It’s time to escape…

Once the escape room was set up and ready to trial, we had two teams come and test the room for any bugs or potential problems that would cause any mishaps. The trials were successful for two reasons; it Identified what worked and what didn’t, and it revealed itself to be a fully-fledged legitimately enticing escape room.

The night we opened, all our participants were keen to get started and they all had brilliant positive feedback once they had escaped the room. Each team that participated were all enthusiastic and up for an evening of puzzles and hilarity which made each game as lively as the last. Whilst being informed of the room rules and the mission brief, it was clear that participants were becoming increasingly intrigued and excited to get started. Perhaps this was because the room’s particular story was unique to Dumfries/The Stove. With the aid of a lot of in-house equipment, we were able to create a convincing atmosphere which was as functional as it was aesthetically immersive. As the creators and facilitators of the evening, we had an enjoyable night. This felt fantastic, as we had come so far since our ambitious idea a couple of months previous. Since we had no major technical issues or mishaps, it was safe to agree it was a successful night. We felt like we had accomplished something great when there was a demand to potentially do it all again!


Dystoveia was a very popular and successful event. With only eighteen spaces available (three groups of six) we didn’t have to do much advertising before it sold out, and we found that there were many friends and family who expressed interest after all the spaces had already been taken.

Once the groups had booked, in hindsight we could have gotten in touch earlier to tell them the time slot we wanted them to come in for. If we were to run this event again, we would also request contact numbers from those who signed up so we could communicate with them more easily.

We learnt that arranging the room and the puzzles took a lot more time than expected when we began constructing the space. We only gave ourselves a week which felt quite rushed, but thanks to the Stove team’s flexibility we were able to have two trial runs to iron out any mistakes or sticking points before the day of the event.


A free escape room in a town without any escape rooms was a brilliant idea, and it sold out very quickly! If you are looking to create an escape room from scratch, here are our learnings.

1.      Make use of resources online for puzzle ideas – there are lots of ideas out there, and many are cheap, low-tech and relatively easy to put together.

2.      Develop a strong back story, narrative and characters for the escape room – the fun in the experience is largely due to how immersive it is, try to completely transform the space.

3.      Do your research – visit at least one escape room with a group of friends/teammates and record what you learnt.

4.      Find people to help you with trial runs – you will learn a lot!

5.      Don’t put too many distracting decorations in the room – everything will be seen as a potential clue so make sure you do a deep clean and make sure nothing is in the space that you don’t want to be there.

Thank you to everyone who got involved with Dystoveia; from testing puzzles, lending décor to the space, to coming along to the event! It was a team effort, and we definitely couldn’t have done it without you!

By our 2023 Creative Spaces Team – Martha, Sahar & Korey.

Musings News

Skye Loneragan’s Though This Be Madness

As Skye Loneragan makes her return to The Stove on Saturday 25th June 2022 with her solo performance, Though This Be Madness, Skye tells us all about the play and how it came to fruition, following her own journey in new parenthood alongside the challenges of coping with mental illness within her family.

“I am looking forward to returning to Dumfries & Galloway this week. I remember performing Though This Be Madness in its early days, before it was Covid-cancelled, at The Stove. An audience member emailed me in the days after the show, about L.O.I.P (Loved Ones In Pain) which I talk about in the show, words I cherish as they remind me why we have a response sanctuary at the end of the show, and put soft toys on the seats:

“There were so many points of traction and heart-opening in your performance, more than I can sum up here… So much discourse focuses on the person experiencing the crisis, and of course they should be at the centre, but for those of us holding and caring and witnessing and having our hearts just about ripped out of us in the process, it doesn’t often feel like there’s space for that… My heart was moved tonight in a way I didn’t quite expect… Thank you for making this kind of pain and process visible, I really appreciate it, and want you to know how important this work is.”

Someone else shared with me their own resonances after the performance, and helped me find my where I’d parked the hire car. They allowed me to record their spoken word:

Basically it was about my life… the insight in that show was amazing… for somebody who has seen both sides, as a worker and as a patient, I think that was the most honest, actually complimentary almost, portrayal of mental health I’ve ever seen. I don’t know Skye’s background, I don’t know if she has actually been locked up with her rights removed, but if she hasn’t, respect to her because I don’t know anybody who could write something like that who hasn’t actually seen it from the inside.

I share these words with you (with permission) because so many people are juggling so much. Staying afloat, letting alone seeing a theatre show, can be a huge task which can take a lot of energy, never mind the energy it takes to look after yourself and allow your own creative quest to take flight. 

I know this but would still love to see you in my ‘lounge room’, (the play is set in the Land of Lounge Room), at Heart of Hawick or The Catstrand, New Galloway or The Stove, Dumfries.

What can you expect from Though This Be Madness

I had started writing Though This Be Madness before I had a baby, initially toying with ‘diagnosing’ Shakespeare’s female leads. Once I had my sought-after wee one, I had to try and write it in snatches of baby sleep and found I literally could not… finish a sentence.

The show begins with, “she’s down, but she doesn’t sleep lying down, so we may not have long”. A new mature-age mum, I spent hours trying to get my baby to snooze by walking her in the harness or bouncing her on the Pilates ball… I was so on the ball.

My own sleep never made it past a two-hour stretch, for years. I don’t know how people do it, stay functional despite sleep-deprivation. I managed to script tiny segments: ‘Grasp’, “fish-hook’, ‘Ophelia’, ‘The Bits You Don’t Get Back’, ‘Activated Macadamias’….and each of these has a little nut of truth in it and a curly question about how we nurture our collective sanity.

Post-natal, I was also trying to make sense of the debilitating mental health crises of close family members and those I love dearly. So, the play became a fractured fiction and an honest attempt to reach you with a tale that isn’t about parenting at all, but is scuppered by that very context:

“Once upon a Time…  I Don’t Have Time…”

I also remember feeling terrified of leaving the house in case she’d cry. Would we make it? So I knew I wanted to make an adult show for parents or carers with babes-in-arms. The story will follow the same route but if your baby cries that’s ok, if you need to come or go, feed them – that’s fine too. I will take a pause if that’s what is needed, and one audience member told me this was needed:  

“I really appreciated having something cultural to go to…aimed at us parents but accommodating our babies….it’s depressingly rare”

The show has dug itself deeper for me during the pandemic, through the cancellations, the home-not-schooling, the caring for loved ones  – it became a digital version, Though This Be (online) Madness!.

Though This Be Madness is a 72-min piece without an interval. At the end we host a 15-min ‘post-show sanctuary’… a space to allow your response to the show to surface… and find some form of expression before heading home.

Not all stories wrap themselves around a beginning, a middle and an end. New motherhood doesn’t afford the time for that kind of structure. Though This Be Madness is an inventive and darkly humorous story of many sisters that delves into the combined challenges of new parenting alongside loved ones struggling with psychosis and depression.

In this fractured fiction told through poetry and performance, with a musical score co-created by Mairi Campbell, we meet a recovering mum bouncing on a Pilates ball in The Land of the Lounge Room. Determined to soothe her baby and ‘stay on the ball’, she tries finish her sentence and tell us how she is unable to reach her sister Ophelia, who wrestles with a cataract on what Shakespeare calls the ‘mind’s eye’.”

Though This Be Madness takes place at The Stove on Saturday 25th June at 7.30pm. Tickets are £5 and can be booked by clicking here.


Join the Cafe & Venue Team

Job Opportunity

We’re looking for an energetic and enthusiastic person, who’s full of beans, to join our busy cafe & venue team. 

The Stove Cafe is a social enterprise, community hub and arts & events venue in the heart of Dumfries High Street.

Serving as the HQ of the Stove Network, the Stove Cafe, serves as the ‘front door’ to our eclectic range of projects and events. From open mics to sign painting, bread clubs and live music, we facilitate and house a range of creative community events made with, for, by and about Doonhamers, old and new.

If you’re a team player who loves communicating with customers and delivering the highest levels of customer service, who wants to get involved in the delivery of our dynamic programme of events and cares about creating an enjoyable atmosphere for customers and staff, this might be for you…

About The Job

Job Title: Cafe & Venue Team Member

Hours: We’re offering a minimum of 15 hours /week over six days; Monday – Saturday including some evenings and weekends.

Pay: Up to £9.50/hr

About You

You’re a strong team player with a can-do, positive attitude with excellent customer service and communication skills, who is also comfortable working independently. With the ability to work under pressure and to prioritise in a fast-paced environment, you’ll be able to multitask, follow instruction and have great attention to detail, all the while putting the customer first.


  • Establishing welcoming and relaxed atmosphere
  • Taking orders and engaging with customers
  • Coffee making
  • Food preparation
  • Loading/unloading dishwasher
  • Maintaining a high standard of hygiene throughout the cafe, including the bathroom
  • Knowing and understanding the menu
  • Some light physical lifting will be required    
  • Supporting set up and delivery of evening events and activities

Desired Experience (but not essential)

  • Experience in providing high-quality customer service
  • Barista/coffee making experience
  • Experience in food preparation
  • Food and hygiene certificate 

Our Cafe & Venue team are responsible for delivering the best possible experience to our customers, whether serving food and drinks to our customers or supporting the production team during events, we’re looking of the right person who can support our mission to support our community wherever we can.

How to Apply

Please send us a short covering letter explaining why you feel this role is the right one for you and an up-to-date CV to: [email protected]

Closing Date for applications is midnight 31st May 2022.

News Project Updates

Creative Spaces Presents:

A Doonhamer’s Guide To The End of The World

This November, in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland, Creative Spaces presents: A Doonhamer’s Guide To The End of The World.

This series of events runs alongside COP26, the global climate conference that brings together climate experts from around the world. Hosted this year in Glasgow, COP26 will see decisions made that will change the path of the planet and humanity in the face of climate change.

On Thursday 4th November 7pm – 9pm, the team will be opening the series with a public discussion around climate change and the planet. If you’re under 30 and passionate about the environment, or are looking to learn more about climate change and COP, come along and help fuel the conversation.

The second event in the series, on Saturday 13th November 12pm – 3pm, is an afternoon of environmental talks at the historic Caerlaverock Castle. A bus will be leaving from The Stove at 12noon, so if you’re interested in attending this event, reserve a ticket here to confirm your place. You’ll be treated to an environmentally friendly (and delicious) lunch and refreshments when you book a ticket. Warm jackets and waterproof shoes are recommended!

Ever wondered what a zine is or how they are made? For the third event the Creative Spaces Team are running a zine making workshop in The Stove cafe on Thursday 18th November from 7pm – 9pm. Come along and learn how to make your own zines, or work on a contribution for the eco-zine the team are working on together. Zines are self-published and grown from a D.I.Y. making history – come along and let your creative energy flow for the evening!

For the last event in the series, Creative Spaces in collaboration with Dumfries Women’s Sign Writing Squad, are running a protest sign making workshop. Prepare to stand up for the planet in style. Join the team in The Stove on Thursday 25th November, 7pm – 9pm, they’ll bring the paints – you bring the passion.


Testing, testing… anybody there?

Welcome back Dumfries. This month we’re ready to open our doors once again with a month-long programme of inspiring events from conversations to workshops, creative activities and talks alongside the long-awaited return of our monthly film night Reel To Real, as well as the unmissable Brave New Words. We want to be extra safe as we navigate our way back into the world of live events so the way of doing things is a little bit different. First of all, you’ll need a ticket. You can see the full list of events here, so if you’d like to attend, you’ll need to book your place. And we’re not out of the woods yet so we’ll have some extra safety measures in place when you arrive, to protect everyone in our community. 

This month it’s all about testing new activity. We want to see how we can have a blended approach to our live events. So whether that’s a mix of live streaming to walks outdoors, we want to play with new ways of coming back together, that’s both safe and creative. Who knows, some of it might stick. So why not join us as we retrace our steps back to the world of live events…

Dumfries Fountain Project

The Dumfries Fountain Project goes live this month with the first of our workshops with writer JoAnne McKay, and a conversation evening exploring the history and heritage of the fountain!

Creative Spaces

Creative Spaces welcomes you back to our blended model of bi-monthly workshops we shall be exploring the link between mental wellbeing and creativity through the concept of the Tortured Artist.

Brave New Words

You heard us right, it’s back! We’re going live on the last Friday of the month, in The Stove Cafe and The Stove Network’s Youtube channel.

Reel to Real Cinema

This month we are discussing film and food in The Stove Cafe with filmmaker Zev Robinson, and his short film The Glasgow Diet

Musings News

Brave New Words Celebrates Four Years on the High Street!

This Friday sees the return of Brave New Words to The Stove for a special evening celebrating the fourth anniversary of the monthly event for new words spoken, sung, signed, shot or silenced. Since 2015, the open mic night has offered a platform to the town to celebrate diversity and challenge stigmas and stereotypes through spoken word, poetry, music and film.

Since our first Brave New Words four years ago, we’ve seen a new kind of scene flourish in the region. New poets, performers, musicians and writers from all walks of life coming together to support one another as well as a hunger for new work from local people. It’s really been an amazing journey.

Brave New Words plays a vital role in The Stove Network’s mission to bring vibrancy to evenings in the Town Centre, offering support to those willing to make a positive and impactful change in their home town and beyond. Since it began in 2015, Brave New Words has voyaged to festivals, created multi-disciplinary installations and uncovered an incredible amount of talent in the heart of Dumfries.

Over the years, Brave New Words has hosted some of the biggest names in the spoken word scene and as the project moves forward into 2020, there are a host exciting collaborations with national organisations, local initiatives and remarkable writers across Scotland.

This Friday’s Brave New Words tackles the theme of ‘Rebellion’ and will be a night full of surprises. Everyone is welcome to come along, and those wishing to participate should arrive prompt for 7pm to sign up to perform.


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