Blog Post Thirty

The life of the projects beyond their initial timespan is one of the most interesting things about the Social Housing Arts Network. Lots of aspects of the project continue in different ways. Groups of people brought together by the project continue working together. Things produced during the project take on lives of their own with new applications and purposes. Artists alter their practices due to what they learned. Specifically for this blog post, films get re-edited and shown to new audiences, new people find out about the ways of working, and we all have a chat about what it really means anyway.

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Settlers in England image by Laura Page

A night of the co-produced films of Ian Nesbitt took place at the Nottingham Contemporary on 8th September 2016, and featured screenings of “Settlers In England”, Ian’s film made with the residents of the Oxcroft Estate in North East Derbyshire, and a slightly different edit of “Walk With A Cart Through Upperthorpe” to the one that premiered in Upperthorpe, made as part of the Social Housing Arts Network. These screenings were followed by a Q&A with Ian and some of his co-workers and was presented in collaboration with Primary, an artist led project that has just commissioned Ian for a project in Nottingham.

These two films were paired together as they both look at social housing, albeit in different forms.

Settlers in England was up first, and I had very little knowledge of these settlers: unemployed miners and other workers who were given small plots of land to farm in the period immediately before the Second World War, essentially as subsistence farmers. There were apparently twenty-odd such settlements in the country, and the way of life at Oxcroft is still similar to how it was upon its inception.

The film mixed long shots of the bleak but beautiful countryside with interviews with the residents, many of them descendants of the original settlers and themselves now long-term residents of Oxcroft. It was all in the residents own words and gave a snapshot of how satisfying but difficult and isolated life on these settlements can be.

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Up next was the re-edit of Walk With A Cart Through Upperthorpe, with the focus shifted from the original edit to be “on people who talk explicitly about their artform”, in Ian’s words. Some interesting things were missing, but as it now united all the people who had made the film in talking about their creative outlets, it made a lot of sense. Much more content was gathered for the film than could ever be included, so it’s good to see a definitive focus.

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After the films, there was a question and answer session with Ian, Rebecca Beinart from Primary, Pete Jones (whose music and photos are used throughout the Upperthorpe film) and Julie Gosling who worked with Ian on another co-produced film, 2010’s Arise, You Gallant Sweeneys!

Pete talked about the difference in Ian’s approach to the other people who have asked him to take part in films about the Kelvin Flats he used to live in in Sheffield. He said Ian had no agenda or angle he wanted to push and he immediately felt comfortable giving him a memory card of photos and music for him to use however he wanted. Ian talked about creating the agenda with people, and there was some discussion about the phrases “co-production” and “co-operation”and the ways words are taken over and lose their meanings, so it becomes hard to get across what you mean. ‘Co-production” is now something that is done to people, a friendly sounding word that can mask bad practice in the wrong hands, or a tag that people slap on a project to make it sound fashionable.

Ian’s use of the word was boiled down to trying to do things on other people’s terms, with good relationships leading to their input to put the meat on the bones of a structure that he brings along (his film-making practice).

There was a conversation about the artist being an impostor in these situations, and the need for a certain set of principles, intentions and ethics based on trust to allow this impostor to get people interested in taking part in the project on their own terms. A polyphony of input, or getting the truth from a kaleidoscope of voices is how Ian described it, with Julie suggesting parallels to the open dialogue mental health care techniques of Western Lapland.

The discussion then moved towards the idea of well-being often reinforcing productive compliance and obedience (the health and work Government department merger was referenced as a frightening development), and that real well-being needs to lie in choices that those taking part want, and projects like this have the power to make people activists against the status-quo peddling version.

Pete then rubbished the idea that Ian and the others making the film were on an even footing, as he brings the idea and the vision in, there’d be no film without him. It was a starkly black and white position, but quite refreshing. The real truth lies in the fact that Ian indeed makes the (physical or notional) space for a film to happen and has a certain set of skills to execute the project, but his other skills lie in building relationships with people, and these people then use their wisdom, care and confidence to make the film what it is.

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Rebecca talked a little about the problems of artist-led projects, and Ian said that he was taking a break from working in such a way due to problems with projects being too short to build up relationships and then have to stop, which can break trust. Ian suggested that the film in Upperthorpe ought to have signalled the halfway point of the project, with another 8 or 9 months to come to develop ideas and let the people involved have an event more prominent role in whatever came next.

There was then a general discussion about time/funding/evaluative constraints on projects like this, but also that these projects have a responsibility to challenge these constraints so the next project can do a little more on our terms, and so on.

To cap off an enjoyable evening we retired to the pub and carried on the discussion.


Blog Post Twenty-Nine

Edlington Phase 2

In Edlington, the steering group commissioned Wayne Sables, a multi-discipline artist with a background in dance, and an interest in film and digital technologies.

Learning from the other locations, I (Dan) saved some of my phase one time to work alongside Wayne.

Together, we met again with Dean Mangham the Senior Youth Worker for Doncaster so we could look at how to supplement his activity with our own, and make use of their youth centres on wheels. We also met with Beryce Nixon, the executive head of Hilltop and Victoria Schools to see how we could work with them. Rob Red and Leigh Calladine from the Hilltop Centre were others we met to  find out about the vast range of activities they currently do, and Leigh became a member of the Steering Group. We belatedly brought the PIN to Edlington for the ECO Christmas Fair, just as Storm Desmond was gusting and drenching the country. We managed half a day of great conversations with local residents before our giant map blew away.

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Wayne developed many strands of activity and worked with a variety of people via a range of art forms: At the Hilltop Centre, he learned how to knit (he already knew how to natter) and the group made knitted animals for a nature trail. People also developed stories about Edlington and storyboarded a graphic novel about the village.

Rob and Leigh at Hilltop are amazing sources of local knowledge and enthusiasm and pointed Wayne in the direction of many interesting things.

At Swallowdale, Wayne conducted various interviews with the people that live there to get an idea of what their lives have been like and how they have ended up in Edlo. He ran open sessions at ECO. The portable youth centre bus gave Wayne the opportunity to do some film and photography work based around ‘a day in the life’ with some of the young people. He also filmed skateboard and micro scooter tricks. Using a drone, Wayne captured some aerial shots of Martinwells Lake, as well as timelapse footage of the village. He also did some work with growing on the allotments and at Swallowdale.

The Yorkshire Main Commemorative and Heritage Trust’s former miners chatted to Wayne about the Miner’s Strke of 1984-85 and the subsequent changes to life in Edlington.

We also visited Edlington Woods to look for Neolothic caves, Roman ruins and the legend of the greyhound, a monunent built to a trusty hound that saved his master’s life.

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An initial plan had been to throw a block party, complete with food and large-scale visual projections of all the work that had been made, but as summer approached and the nights got lighter, this became unfeasable.

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Edlington Phase 3

Phase three was primarily geared around pulling the different strands of Wayne’s work together. Wayne had recorded many different glimpses into Edlington life and a way of collecting and displaying these different versions of Edlington was needed. We discussed the idea of an alternative Tourist Information Centre, complete with a map. The idea evolved into a video player that looks a bit like an old camera obscura. Unlike a camera, what we made contains a screen and speakers, and you can watch all the videos that Wayne has made with the Edlington folk he has met. We’d like this artifact to be used for showing people some of Edlington’s stories, and perhaps generating new content as well.

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The artwork launched at a celebration event at Martinwells Lake, that also featured pin-hole camera making, food and drink.

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The bespoke display then had a stint in the local library and will continue to be used by St Leger Homes with residents and community groups across Edlington. We are encouraging people to think about other applications for the work created; temporary artwork to go up during building work for the new houses (which was intended to happen during the project but has been delayed), an ongoing photographic documentation of the area by old and new residents alike and the collection of new versions of Edlington’s story and history.

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The people of Edlington were the most forthcoming about the project by far, volunteering ideas on what we should be doing and even asking steering group members to be kept in the loop. I think this is down to a shared desire by almost everyone we have met for a positive future for the village, and an eagerness to explore ways of getting to this future. There are different agendas in the village, as there are everywhere, but it seemed like most people were pulling in the same direction.

There was  also more openness on the part of St Leger staff, for two reasons. The first was a genuine interest in seeing how our approach, and the previous experience of other Social Housing Providers and art projects, can lead to interesting things. The second reason was our first contact at St Leger was the Chief Executive, and her opinion carries weight! Widespread support for a project through an organisation is invaluable.

The other learning from this part of the project is that a cohesive overall vision for the artwork is necessary. Wayne had all the raw materials for a good project but it took a while to work out how best to celebrate and showcase what had been achieved.

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Blog Post Twenty-Eight

Poplar Phase 2

Hannah described her role as ‘storyteller in residence’ for Poplar. Working closely with the Teviot Centre and its staff – a local hub that serves the community in many ways – she aimed to collect people’s stories about living in the area, be they long-term residents or recent arrivals, happy to be there or desperate to leave.

Hannah planned a three-pronged engagement strategy.

In order to collect the stories of Teviot, sessions were planned at three local hubs. These sessions included: creative mums – 90 minute workshops for mothers of young children, especially those who have never done anything ‘creative’ before. The focus here was on storytelling through any medium: needlework, poetry, blogging, drawing, writing, collage, game design, gardening; writing/remembering, 90 minute workshops for the over 60s, with a focus on short writing like poems, for all abilities – especially those who have never written before. The sessions were to take personal and oral histories as starting points; game design, a series of three  90 minute workshops for anyone of any level of experience.

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Designed for all abilities – especially those who have never designed games before, and particularly welcoming women and girls. The sessions were to take personal and oral histories as a starting point and work with participants to learn how to design simple games — both digital and non-digital. Responding to a current trend in autobiographical DIY game design, Hannah intended to help people to begin thinking through the game design processes, and to begin, playtest and prototype a simple Twine, tabletop, pen and paper or pervasive game; community storytelling, a series of four  workshops on community storytelling. Hannah, as the community artists in residence wanted to gather stories from people in the area about personal and local history. She wanted to invite people to also take part, and over four sessions wanted to take people through her process of story collection, accompany the group on a story collection day, and then work with the group to find ways of re-telling the stories they collect, for exhibition; digital storytelling, a 90 minute workshop for anyone over 13, Digital Storytelling was to be a writing and storytelling workshop that looked at how we can use digital tools to tell stories; poetry and spoken word, a 90 minute workshop for anyone over 13 years, poetry and spoken word was intended as a writing workshop with a focus on short writing for reading out loud. The session proposed taking personal and oral histories as a starting point. All these events were promoted through Poplar HARCA’s communications team, flyering and word of mouth. Unfortunately, very few people came to the initial sessions, and a change of plan was necessary.

Luckily, Hannah had other techniques, including going out onto the streets and into public buildings and inviting strangers to speak to her, leading them through gentle questioning into stories about the local area, about them, their lives, and the community.

She switched from open workshops to running workshops for pre-existing groups on things like: poetry, game design, creative writing, all with an autobiographical theme in mind: letting people tell their own stories, in the their own way.

She also attempted to find people in the community who might like to be involved in collecting stories in the same way she did, with a microphone and through conversations:  when she did it it led to a few  more in-depth interviews with them about their lives and experiences, but despite some interest the community storytellers were few and far between.

Postcards were produced and distributed locally, with prompts by Hannah to: “Tell me about an act of kindness you saw. Where did it happen, and how did it make you feel? What place in Teviot is important to you – what happened there and what did it mean to you? Who is your favourite person in Teviot? What do they mean to you? What are they like? Tell me a story about them”. Again, response was minimal. Despite all the setbacks, dead ends and false starts, the wide range of techniques yielded the material for showing off contemporary folk stories from the area.

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In order to exhibit the stories Hannah collected from Teviot residents, a simple Twine-based (the open source software also taught to people during phase two) computer game, Teviot Tales, was produced with illustrations of Teviot and its inhabitants by Michael Parkin. The game lets you navigate the modern day folk tales of Teviot, meeting the people Hannah met and learning about the area through their experiences. The game launched at the Teviot Centre over a spring Friday and Saturday, with a trackpad and a TV screen (the potentially off-putting computer was hidden from view) accompanied by a display explaining the story collection process and map of the game. This launch featured food and drink, and many of the people involved popped in or brought family members to see them in the game. Locals who had read about the project or seen flyers also visited, and were joined by people from the other legs of the project.

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The game was installed as the home page of all Poplar HARCA community centre and staff computers and is available to play on our website or at http://poplarpeople.co.uk/playthegame

An overlap of Phase One involving the commissioned artist would have been valuable as connections often went nowhere or were not the right ones without an artist and focus in place. Finding the right on-the-ground support is imperative, and we were lucky to have the support of Vicky Coakley at the Teviot Centre.

Having more than one approach is vital in case some don’t work as well as anticipated!

The pressures and challenges in housing in the UK are noticeably amplified in London. As such, there’s been more focus on the role of art and arts projects in these environments, and some criticism that basically states that any artistic activity is the agent of gentrification, which I’d refute. Art can indeed aid changes that include higher rents that price whole swathes of the community out of areas, but it can also work against these mechanisms and help people understand the reasons behind things. It isn’t inevitably complicit in the march of capital.

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When setting up the Social Housing Arts Network we wanted to work in a range of settings, and it was us who approached Poplar HARCA about working together. Just because gentrification is a hot potato doesn’t mean that artists should steer clear of working in areas where it is apparent. Poplar HARCA is experienced in working with artists across the spectrum, and our project has provided an opportunity for them to experience what a longer-term social project can look like and mean.

Another thing we learned in Poplar was that no matter how clearly you guide collaborators through projects, they may still take a dislike to what is produced, as was the case with one person featured in Teviot Tales. We had to remove her from the game as she was unhappy with her portrayal. Other reactions were more positive, including from a young family who hadn’t been included but read about the project and came to the celebration event. It was as though they’d been sent to tell us what we wanted to hear when they perfectly articulated what makes project like this special, as it gave them a glimpse into the lives of people they might walk past everyday, and they enthused about the possibility of a much bigger picture of Poplar being built up over time.

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Blog Post Twenty-Seven

This blog post will combine phase three in Bolton and Sheffield, where the work produced at the end of the project in each place came to have an emphasis on a continued use in the community and by the social housing partner.

Bolton Phase 3

In Breightmet, there was a blurry edge between phase two and phase three, as we worked out how to pull together the project and show off the collections of stories, food growing tips and recipes that Sarah had gathered from the people she’d been working with.

In the end the Growing/Cooking/Sharing ‘deconstructed book’ was collaboratively developed by myself (Dan), Sarah, our regular graphic designers Textbook Studio, and fabricators M3 Industries and featured in/out trays for people to swap their own stories and recipes for pre-printed ones and lazed-engraved text about the project. We celebrated the project with a food event at Breightmet Library, and unveiled the artwork to a wide group of people who had been involved in the project, from the Congolese community to the women’s groups, from Bolton Urban Growers to the Chawla family.

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Following the event, the Growing Cooking Sharing box was on display for a week at Breighmet library and was then taken to the Urban Care and Neighbourhood centre where it continues to be used by a variety of groups in Breightmet, including food growing groups, people on cooking courses and as a practical tool for those learning English as a foreign language. People engaged during the project are now taking part in other initiatives with Bolton at Home.

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I think the key learning from working in Breightmet was that Bolton at Home prefer an artist to impose their artistic vision and work within that framework. Sarah has since suggested that: “maybe I should have gone in with more of an artistic vision, more of a “well this is what and do and this is how I’m going to deliver it”, but if I had done that, I wouldn’t have created that box, so I don’t know!”. We’d suggest that there’s a fine balance between flexibility within a project, and the artist doing what they do best. Our experience across all four places reinforces this. For example, Ian in Sheffield, as a filmmaker was always going to make a film, but within that the project was very fluid.

 

Sheffield Phase 3

After meeting people, recruiting them to the film-making process and through that meeting yet more people to contribute on and off camera to the Shared Vision project, Ian had an abundance of material. All of it needed editing down, with the help of his key collaborators on our steering group, into a film. A narrative, taking the form of a walk through Upperthorpe was decided on, and as such film captured when pushing the cart around could be combined with audio captured in interviews, and interspersed with footage of people chatting on camera.

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The celebration event in Upperthorpe was held at St Bart’s church, familiar to us from phase one work, and it included food prepared by Open Kitchen Social Club, another project Ian is involved in. The final film: Walk With A Cart Through Upperthorpe premiered to a packed house and there was a Q&A with the local residents who had made the film, myself (Dan), and Ian.

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There film has had further screenings, both in public and to the broader SYHA staff as a way of training them in how art projects can operate. More screenings are planned, and we are also discussing ways the ongoing Moments of Joy programme at SYHA could pick up working with the people involved here.

In hindsight, Ian framing the project as a film-making one from the start was a good idea. It meant that people’s involvement was unambiguous, and communicating what the work was going to be, and be about was simpler.

Another thought was that it would be interesting to have an artist in residence at the Social Housing Provider partner in future as there are often internal barriers to a project’s smooth running that this could help to remove by being more embedded in an area.

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Blog Post Twenty Six: Susan Jordan, St Leger Homes

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St Leger Homes are delighted to have been part of the Social Housing Arts Network initiative and we have now completed our project in Edlington.  Unfortunately the new build development which we wanted to focus our project around hasn’t happened and therefore we refocused our project around the existing community and celebrating the village, its people, heritage and beauty.  Edlington has lots of history and culture and we wanted to share this with everyone who currently resides there.

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The final camera obscura display produced by Wayne did this in an excellent way and provided community members with an interesting and exciting way of seeing what their village is all about.  The end of project event was really enjoyable and gave us an opportunity to showcase the camera and other work produced by the community groups and individuals that took part.

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St Leger Homes have really enjoyed this project and intend to use the camera to do the same thing in other villages.  It is currently on display at Edlington library for the community to enjoy.

Susan Jordan

Chief Executive, St Leger Homes of Doncaster


Blog Post Twenty-Five: Wayne Sables reflections on working in Edlington, Doncaster.

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It’s been a few weeks since we had our final sharing event for the project in Edlington and I’ve been asked to write a final blog to discuss what I’ve learned and how I’m feeling after the project. Honesty I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. I’ve met some amazing people; I’ve knitted, filmed, chatted, drawn, photographed, fused, flown drones and most importantly I think we’ve added a little sunshine to those that engaged with us. Those I’ve seen after the event have all asked about the installation and I’m told half the village have been into the library to check it out.

There were a few new experiences for me within the project and I definitely felt out of my depth at times. For example, ordinarily I like to have an end goal or product in mind and work towards that, or so I thought. A challenge for me was to let go of any pre-conceptions of what the final piece would or could be and to just be in the moment with the people I was working with. The project made me question my practice (although I don’t like that word as I do not practice, but you get my point), made me face my own mortality, and made me question how I was working. This is all part of the approach of a project that’s led and steered by the community groups that I worked with. At times it feels as though things aren’t moving forward, then over a short space of time you have lots happening then calm then crazy and so on. The cycle repeats.

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This is not my first project within the social housing sphere but I will say it’s been the most successful. I think that’s down to a few key things, the passion and determination of Lou and Dan who were on it (always) despite the social housing build being continually put back and back and back (I owe Robbie a pint by the way), the groups I worked with, St Leger for trusting me and a continual focus to really create a project that has a meaningful impact.

At times the project felt quite fractured in places, however the sharing event provided an opportunity to pull the various strands together with over 70 people turning up to Martinwells Lake. I realised at this point how this community works and that actually we were quite embedded within it. We were where we were meant to be at that moment.

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Although the project in Edlington has now finished Edlington definitely hasn’t left me. In fact, I expect I will be working there again in probably a slightly different guise but I genuinely feel that this is the start of a long term relationship with a village that has had some bad press, doesn’t take itself to seriously and is home to some of the nicest most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with.


Blog Post Twenty-Four: Hannah Nicklin’s reflections of working in Teviot

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The making of Teviot Tales

The 2010 Census tells us this about the Teviot Estate:

It is inhabited by 2,010 people.

There are 540 children

259 of those children live in poverty

It is one the 20% most deprived areas of the UK

495 of the people who live there are White British

905 of the people who live there are Asian

300 people from Teviot are black.

1460 of them have a UK passport

620 of Teviot people say they are Christian

860 are Muslim

After housing costs the weekly average household income is £270

60% of households own no cars.

435 of the people have a limiting long term illness

67% of people there rent their home

33% of the houses are overcrowded

After spending somewhere between 30 and 50 days over 8 months on the estate, I can tell you about the people behind some of those numbers.

There was Lee, who campaigns against abuse in care homes after growing up abused. Rachel, a single mum, who boxes, calls herself half east end half west Indian. Tina, who runs the café at a loss because she gives away so much tea and sandwiches to hungry kids and down on their luck locals. Gemma, who complained about the loss of the parks. Berni who told me about climbing through abandoned houses, the two school girls who miss their friend Amjol. Who died on their street, from stab wounds. Azyadi, who was a refugee from the 1993 Somali war. Who lost her Aunt, her husband, many family members and struggled through a terrible journey to meet her surviving family again in East London.

How did I collect these stories?

I gathered these stories through a series of workshops, conversations and interviews over the space of 6 months. These didn’t necessarily get off to a strong start, however. At the beginning I set out to run workshops designed for specific times, specific groups and specific abilities. Thinking that if you’re a young mum with time on your hands during nursery a free workshops for beginners might catch your eye, or ‘writing remembering’ for 60+ during the day, or game design, or community storytelling, etc. They were all free, and exhaustively flyered to community centre displays, local shops, and through letterboxes.

However they were very poorly attended, only 1 had people turn up. So, being a process-led practitioner, and at that point having spent more time within the community I revised the approach. I discovered that there were already a great deal of workshops going on in the area, and that people seemed to feel saturated. So instead I ran workshops for pre-existing groups which made a big difference. That along with story collecting in the street with the help of local volunteers, and also running interviews with people who I got to know through the residency – meant that by the end of 6 months I had a good selection of stories and accounts.

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With those, I made a storygame called Teviot Tales

I hope that I’ve made a story game that the people who live there would recognise.

I hope I’ve made something that might make a player think a bit about the life of a stranger they walk by.

I hope that I’ve made a place of meeting. That questions how we pass by, live together and meet.

I hope that if someone has not seen games used in this way before it makes them surprised and interested to find out a bit more.

The game was exhibited over 2 days in the Teviot Community Centre. Several of the people whose stories were part of the game came along and played, as well as passersby. We worked hard to build an exhibition that was accessible (physically and theoretically) and built a way of playing the game that looked as un-computery as possible: embedding a trackpad in a plinth, and hooking it up to large TV screen. Meaning that (hopefully) if you saw it, it looked unusual, but not ‘not for you’ if you don’t consider yourself a person who can play games or ‘do’ computers.

Why Twine?

The majority of the process of making the game was collecting the stories, working with local residents in interviews, chats, and within poetry, storytelling, and game design workshops – I only actually had 6 days to write and make the game at the end of it, and for those reasons, Twine, an easy to use free piece of software, was ideal. It was also important to me that I wasn’t just going in and taking from people, but offering my craft and skills as well: Twine is a genuinely simple and easy to use tool that meant I was able to run two workshops for an over 55s IT Learners group (some of whom were still struggling to use a mouse and keyboard) and by the end of the 2 sessions they’d all developed a small story game vignette with 2-4 links in it.

The other reason I was interested in using Twine is because I thought that it would be a useful form in which to represent the quality of wandering and tip-of-the-iceberg feeling that quickly began to feel right to represent the estate. There are always a thousand more stories than you can imagine under the surface of any community. I wanted to invite the player to wander across the estate in Twine, and to also give them a sense of stories they missed, to invite people to imagine the lives behind the people we pass in the street.

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Why games?

One of the things that has surprised people most about my residency on the Teviot Estate, is that I set out to make a game with the work I did with residents, that part of the workshops included games and game design.

There’s a long history of socially-engaged practices in playful arts, a history intertwined with political art in general, which is worth just touching on, because a bunch of other people making stuff for the past few centuries have done a lot of experimentation and thinking for us. (Artifical Hells by Claire Bishop and Critical Play by Mary Flanagan are two books I’d recommend picking up if you’re interested in any of this.)

When I think about socially engaged play, games and performance I think of the agit-prop (progoganda) movements in the 50s and 60s influenced by European workers’ movements. People would go into the streets and play out workers’ disputes, or parody factory bosses.

In the 60s and 70s community theatre worked with communities directly to devise big broad performances about their own history, everyone who wanted a part could have one.

Over in Brazil around this time Augusto Boal was calling for a revolutionary theatre made up of games, play and other interaction. They would stage invisible theatre – arguments on the street, encouraging people to join in. Or stage a moment of oppression and invite the audience to step in and try out solutions to it.

While in America the more apolitical movements of Fluxus and Happenings experimented with works that didn’t exist unless a participant acted or thought upon it. Making games, installations and instruction pieces.

In the 80s drastic assaults on the welfare state in the UK, and people fighting for womens rights, LGBT rights, the rights of people of colour saw an explosion in art that challenged the institutionalised status quo about whose voices were worth listening to.

In the 90s and 2000s you have artists like Jeremy Deller staging battle re-enactments of clashes between miners and police officers, like Blast Theory projecting a video game onto a sheet of water, where eventually a character reached through the water and took you through to a room where you learned about the Iraqi war victim you were just targeting in the game. Like Escape from Woomera, which used a mod of an existing war game to model an attempt to escape from an Australia refugee internment camp.

One of the things I hope I’ve achieved with this residency is to examine how the contemporary tools of games and interaction fiction can be used in socially engaged practices.

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Verbatim

Someone who visited the exhibition at the Teviot Centre on Friday said to me “would you call this a documentary game then?” and actually I wouldn’t. There’s something about documentary (typically) which often tries to vanish its process and its editorial methods (obviously not all documentary, but as an form it can often work like that) it’s really important to me that this is not presented as a Factual Experience. It is based on real life, but it is a particular guided experience of that.

Any good scientist knows that the act of observation affects their experiment. In the same way I believe any ethical artist working in a socially engaged context needs to be clear to themselves and to those who experiences what they make where the maker and the player and the participants all fit in the equation. For that reason I’d liken the work much more closely to that of Verbatim Theatre. It uses real life accounts and quotes – but those quotes and characters are always very clearly marked out. I am also present in the game, though, you are clear about my voice, there are passages in the game where I reflect on how my experience of the place is specific to the time of day I visited, my gender, ethnicity, language, time of year, all these things shaped who spoke to me, how they spoke to me, and how I responded to that. Likewise I’m making more than editorial choices, I’m making creative and evocative ones as well.

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Ethics

Any work that works within the realm of socially-engaged contexts always needs to ask – again and again – ethical questions of itself. As well as basic informed consent and just generally being a human who looks after other humans first and putting the work second when it needs to be, it’s important to me that the process shared my skills and craft in exchange for the stories people were willing to offer.

More specific examples of ethical decisions that I made were: placing myself as present in the game, so you’re clear that this is one reading, and not a ‘factual’ reading; making sure every participant who contributed to the work understood the context, and was able to say if they’d be happy for their first name to be used, almost everyone did but one of the Bengali Women’s Groups decided they’d like to be known under one pseudonym – and I also actually talk about that in the game – there’s a passage you can find which talks about the character ‘Mina’ as a stand in for those women, and why the choice of name was interesting.

Games can allow us to examine choice, systems, agency, co-habitation and implication in play in ways that other mediums can’t. However, if my game tried to intsrumentalise the people it encountered to a political point or ends (beyond explaining where I am, and my voice is speaking), if it judged them, or described them in ways that contained assumptions that I had no evidence to support, it would be hugely and irrecoverably compromised. It would be callous and cynical. If any game (in my opinion) sets out to ‘produce’ or ‘change’ the player (whether it be ‘happier’ or ‘more productive’ — on whose terms and by whose definition?) then it is a broken and dangerous thing.

You can create a system or a context and environment from which you hope things may emerge, but when you design a game well, or make any kind of work, you offer a starting point, a question, an in-between – not an output (which is different to an ending).

Finally, there’s a wider context here, about the politics and ethics of art in socially engaged settings to begin with. I’m well aware that I sometimes work with partners in housing associations or other organisations when working within communities who are playing a damaging role in the lives of many of those same communities – part of the social cleansing of London. Likewise art and artists often plays a role in gentrification. The basis for a lot of thought around socially engaged practices in our current society is one of ‘improvement’ – that you may enhance people’s sense of wellbeing, their confidence, their self-reflection, their articulacy and literacy; that – in short – you produce more productive citizens.

The reason a lot of my work is process-based, the reason I reject coercive socio-politically engaged work – is because ‘productivity’ is ethically problematic for me, and encoded as a virtue in part by neoliberal structures of work and wealth. Likewise who am I to parachute into a community and attempt to tell their story? Even if I discuss the difficulty of this as part of the work? I try and make sure I’m offering free accessible workshops in exchange but too many people are too tired, too busy, too poor, to sad, to unconfident to ever even walk through the door. Is this the best way I can be in the world? Am I helping the system by softening blows, when I should be striking at the system? Should I jack it all in and work in a refugee camp, or food bank? Should I be burning down parliament? I’m not entirely comfortable that my answers are right on this yet, and I will continue to ask them.

The future

Aside from the SHAN symposium discussing the projects and sharing what we learned with others involved in the project, mine does have a deliberate legacy – the game being online and persisting after the funded part of the project has ended. Likewise the game design guides, twine beginners guide, and Twine installations will be ongoing resources for the housing association workshop leaders. The game itself is now on the desktop (along with Twine and links to the beginners guide to Twine) of every community centre computer on the estate, and online for the general public to play.

Finally, and personally the most important next thing that I’d really like, is to find some money for is to work with a translator to translate the game into a further 3 languages. Translation is the biggest thing I would have changed about the process – to work in tandem with someone who spoke at least a few of the many languages spoken on the estate would have made a big difference. Particularly Bengali, as I worked with so many Bengali women as part of the project. I’m talking with SHAN, Poplar Harca, and trying to work out if we can find the funding to get that done before the end of the year.

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And finally?

I’d just like to say “thank you”. To Teviot, for every person who gave me a little of their time, and their stories.

 


Blog Post Twenty-Three: Recorded Conversation – What can art do for me?

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During Phase 2 of the Sheffield project, Ian Nesbitt hosted a number of recorded conversations with residents of Upperthorpe and invited guests in the project space on Upperthorpe Road. The final conversation took place on 1st December 2015 with the Shared Vision team and invited artists Ange Taggart, Emilie Taylor, Matt Harvey and David Bell from University of Sheffield. Below is a transcription of that conversation.

 

AT – Ange Taggart (My Dad’s Strip Club), IN – Ian Nesbitt (Shared Vision), RB – Ruth Broughton (Shared Vision), ET – Emilie Taylor (freelance artist/art therapist), MC – Mark Cotton (Shared Vision), PP – Phil Proctor (Shared Vision), DB – David Bell (University Of Sheffield), DR – Dan Russell (Social Housing Arts Network), MH – Matt Harvey (My Dad’s Strip Club)

 

AT: I really shy away from the term artist, because it means so many things. Some people think art should be beautiful, something that’s skilled, a painting or a drawing, and a lot of people struggle with the idea that it might be something else.

IN: Well one of the reasons that everyone is here today is because we are all creative in some way and one of the things I’m interested in is how making art, in whatever form, is good for us, good for the people we make art with, and good for the communities around us that we make art in.

RB: I suffer from anxiety but when I’m doing my painting it just goes away. For that moment when I’m doing it, I’m just thinking about the painting.

ET: I think there’s something very absorbing and very playful about being an adult and really taking your attention right into one thing. To fully absorb yourself in something so that you forget everything else isn’t usually what’s expected of you as a grown-up.

AT: I’d say that primarily my motivation is to do it for myself and for my own mental health, because I can’t stand living in this world! Ruth, you talked about physical pain in your body but we’re all feeling pain with what’s going on in the world. Some things are completely out of our control so what I do is born out of that feeling.

MC: I’m unemployed myself – I’m on Job Seeker’s Allowance and I’ve got to look for work, so, you know, that’s not easy. It’s not good being stuck in the flat doing nothing. If you live on your own and things don’t look particularly promising then it’s not a good place to be so it’s good just to be able to get involved with something like this in the community that I live in and feel that I’m doing something that requires a bit of skill or art.

IN: One of the things that I think about is not about the mental health of an individual but the mental health of a community. Is it possible to understand the community as a body in the same way that a person is a body and a single mind? The first question I suppose is that if that’s something that’s applicable. If it is possible to talk about the mental health of a community, then how do we judge the mental health of any given community and what can we do about it? What processes might there be that we can engage in or set in motion so that those conditions improve?

PP: What saved Sheffield in the 80s was something called the Community Programme, where they put money into communities where people were unemployed and didn’t look like they were going to get jobs. Suddenly there were community newspapers, drama groups, all kinds of activity coming out so that when the other jobs were lost you already had something in place that picked that up. Then the government cut it but there was already this recognition that people had something in their own communities, there was something they could give to each other that was part of their community life. We have nothing like that nowadays to my knowledge, nothing at all.

At one point the city lost a third of its jobs over an eighteen month period – we were losing a job every five minutes of each working day of every week of every month. It was phenomenal devastation, but in the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and in the support agencies there was no evidence of people turning up for help – the communities on the hillsides were soaking up all that pain. That was in the eighties and then we saw in the nineties a sudden phenomenal release of creativity across Sheffield, with the music scene, the creative industries et cetera. It seemed to me that all the pain had been turned round, and people were starting to do things out of the pain of having lost work and having seen their communities devastated. For me that was, that was something amazing – the creativity had been given the freedom to come out and grow, and it did.

DB: In Latvia, traditionally, mental health is seen as something collective and communal. The idea that we have, that dominates today is that if someone is depressed or unhappy that’s an individual failing. In Latvia it was the opposite, it was that, you know, that mental health was collective and communal, so the, the condition was known as Nervi. Doctors would diagnose nervy in a region, so if, if jobs were lost or if there was police brutality they would say that the town is depressed or the town has Nervi. At the end of the Cold War when the healthcare market was opened up to foreign investment there was a lot of pressure put on the Latvian government to understand depression as something individual rather than collective, partly led by drug companies because they could sell drugs to individuals rather than this idea that you have to do something social. If mental health is seen as something collective then that’s the government’s responsibility, right – that’s a political issue – so the way they tried to get round the responsibility for this was to say that it’s an individual thing so this long tradition of seeing mental health as collective rather than individual is worth holding onto, I think.

AT: That’s like the medical model versus the social model. The medical model says that the problem is with the individual – “It’s you, it’s your fault, there’s something wrong with you” -whereas the social model says “Actually you’re OK but the environment around you is wrong and attitudes around you are wrong.”

ET: Throughout history communities of people have created framed spaces – they might be churches, galleries, theatres, cafes, anything. One idea in Art Therapy is within the framed spaces there’s another frame, so the community comes together and that ‘frame within a frame’ becomes the focus and collectively people can kind of outpour energy into that space. It can become a scapegoat or a talisman, but having this inner frame is how communities have kind of dealt with conflicting energies. Losing these spaces and losing funding for arts and for galleries and for theatres and for places within the community where that would have happened, I think does take away from being able to do that.

DR: Yes, I think an unhealthy community is one where people are stuck and don’t have access to those things and can’t express themselves creatively, with other people. I think collective creativity is a fundamental part of any civil society so I’m passionate about the need for art projects that involve lots of different people. It makes me sad at the moment though because I I also see that the other support structures around that, which allow it to happen, are all being eroded.

ET: We need time don’t we, and we need reassuring, especially in a society where things come and go so quickly. I’ve worked at drugs projects that have hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on them, were set up, and within a year and a half were taken away again. I think it’s very difficult for any of us to believe something’s going to be around for us to want to invest our time in it. Increasingly, funding asks for short pieces of work.

DR: I think another problem is the way that official bodies always focus on individuals when talk about how art is empowering. Here, people have come as individuals and shared individual stories but it’s been about the sharing, the collective exercise.

MH: What about how technology is changing the way communities can be built? Maybe you as a filmmaker (to IN) – I don’t know if you’ve got any views on that? I suppose what I’m referring to is the fact that you can make a film on your phone and wondering whether that’s leading to different forms of community developing?

IN: I think it could be a useful tool in that way, yes, but that doesn’t seem to be how it works. There’s no mechanism for that. I think that conversely, there is less trust now in someone filming something than there has ever been. I also think that online and physical communities are so different in what they achieve that there should almost be different words for the two things!

PP: Also, creativity comes out in so many different ways that you can’t just label it as art. I see all kinds of activity going on – it’s not necessarily ‘Art’ but people are being creative in their communities and that’s the same thing to me. It’s just having the eyes to see it.


Blog Post Twenty-Two: Sheffield Phase Two

In Upperthorpe, Phase Two was up and running with a dedicated group of residents much more quickly than in Bolton. The artist, Ian Nesbitt, followed up on various strands from Phase One, found some enthusiastic collaborators almost immediately and perhaps had a clearer idea of what he wanted to produce with people from the outset. In Bolton it was much more difficult getting access to the people we wanted to involve in the project, and Sarah was less inclined to stipulate exactly what the project was going to be due to the unknowns involved in the project.

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As in Bolton, the Steering Group was healthy from the start, but some people fell away over the course of this second phase, leaving the core group who were working quite closely with Ian. It was noticeably more difficult to get the sustained involvement of SYHA’s on the ground team, and as a result we worked with fewer SYHA residents than we could have. Instead, the project evolved into a more Upperthorpe (and Netherthorpe) wide endeavour.

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For our go-see trip we travelled over to Liverpool to see the then Turner Prize nominated (now Turner Prize winning) Granby Four Streets project between a Community Land Trust and some experimental, community-minded architects: Assemble. The passion and ideas behind the grassroots redevelopment scheme really appealed to the group. We also went to FACT to talk to the people behind Tenantspin, one of the best examples of community-led housing and art activity of recent times as well as take in a tour of ‘Build Your Own’ and exhibition that explored the connections between craft, technology and community.

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During Phase One I had been interested in where exactly the boundaries of Upperthorpe actually were, and Ian also investigated this, getting in touch with Eddy Dreadnaught, another Sheffield artist as he had previously walked the boundary of the area and made a map and short film.

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Ian’s approach was also to be film-based, but structured more like a relay, in that he set up ways of meeting local people, talked to and filmed this first group of people (many of whom were also on our steering group and were co-driving the project) and they then directed who the film would next feature. Regular weekly meetings in a shop space operated by Zest gave people a regular time when they knew where to find Ian, and when this activity was quiet, Ian went out and about into Upperthorpe.

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Ian fabricated a film cart, complete with camera mount, umbrella/parasol, and space for a projector. This acted as a point of curiosity to attract people. As he met people, built up a rapport and chatted to them, they often contributed to the project by saying something about the area on camera out on location, and sometimes became more involved by taking on behind-the-camera roles or inviting Ian to their home to do more in-depth interviews. As the ball started rolling more people became involved in the project.

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After a set number of open sessions, some of which preceded the monthly Steering Group meetings to allow people to easily become involved in the project’s running, a series of talks and lectures was planned with a little more publicity, as numbers had not been overwhelming at the open sessions. These talks involved guest speakers, mainly Ian’s past collaborators and featured open discussions on the nature of working in the way Ian does and the value of art. The audio from these events was recorded, often by Ian’s team of collaborators. Again, numbers weren’t high, but the people who attended were very keen and contributed to some excellent discussions.

The open approach led to more people becoming part of the film-making crew, going to people’s houses, and talking to people on the street, creating an interesting mix of public and private. The list of people to go and film grew and grew, and the project followed Ian’s plan: a period of soul-searching, wondering if it is going to work, followed by it all happening. New contacts took the film deeper and deeper into Upperthorpe, beyond the initial surface-scratches, and actually resulted in possibly having too much material, and having to say no to people. It would be good in future to have the resources to extend projects in these circumstances, as too much interest cannot be a bad thing!

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The shop unit didn’t work so well. A few people dropped in, but the cart, taken out and about was much more successful. It was difficult to focus on SYHA tenants, and similarly people from outside the area were keen to be involved, which raised the question: should we restrict people being involved who live outside of the immediate Upperthorpe area? Our approach has always been flexible in this respect. Although we have partnered with specific housing providers, we are interested in community wide activity, and not being restrictive. One thing we learned was that people discovering something themselves is much better than being pressured into attending, as people tend to have a much deeper engagement that way. The community in Upperthorpe is a segregated one, and if we worked solely with our partners residents, it would be harder to move beyond these segregations.

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In the run up to Christmas Ian’s regular sessions continued, and almost all of the material for the film was recorded. Since Christmas he has been editing, and a final event is planned in early March. There are also plans for further screenings and ways of continuing the project. I think that as a film-maker, Ian framing the project as a film-making one from the start was a good idea. It meant that people’s involvement was unambiguous, and communicating what the work was going to be, and be about was easier than a totally open project. Constraints are a good thing to be creative within. Despite some difficulties getting word about the project out, a dedicated core group of people came together following directly from work undertaken in Phase One and early Phase Two. More time for the artist to work on location would be good, and we need to establish a better way of moving projects on, as (similarly to Bolton) there were often painfully slow advances made between Steering Group meetings. Overall though, Sheffield has gone reasonably smoothly and I am excited to see both the final film and what might develop out of the relationships established in the future.


Blog Post Twenty-One: Bolton Phase Two

Phase two in Breightmet concluded towards the end of last year, and here’s my (Dan) take on what happened. The process Sarah Butler (the artist working with us and Bolton at Home) went through was far from smooth, but ultimately rewarding. Almost everywhere we work we get told “it is very hard to engage with people here”. We are used to hearing it, and always eager to try and find ways through whatever barrier stands in the way. In this case, things were initially even harder than anticipated. All artists working in this Bolton East Neighbourhood (and there are lots, due to Bolton at Home’s commendable commitment to the arts) are warned of the “Breightmet slump”: a heavy tail-off in interest following the commencement of a project, often in spite of positive noises being made by people about their potential interest in said project.

 

We were hoping that by working with different groups, both established and new, we could contribute positively to the situation the relatively recently arrived refugee population in Breightmet have found themselves in: one in which they are total newcomers to an area, culture, language and climate. Although there have been some stories of charming welcomes, there have also been some less than positive reactions. The aim was to work in a softly-softly way and look at universal themes and issues that effect people more broadly, rather than saying: “this is a refugee project, we are only working with refugees”.


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Having worked on the Social Housing Arts Network pilot project here, alongside enjoying a reasonably productive Phase One, I was optimistic about Sarah being able to hit the ground running. I was wrong to be so. Having done eye-opening refugee and asylum seeker training (learning about the difference between refugees and asylum seekers, the Gateway Protection Programme, and how to talk about these things), I was confident that the obstacles to meeting the people we hoped to work with would be limited. Again, I was wrong. Who would have thought that people who a) predominantly don’t speak English, b) don’t read English and c) can’t have their address or contact details readily shared would have been so difficult to get in touch with?

Out of necessity, the project developed via two strands. The first was the continuation of working with existing groups in Bolton. Activity was tested with the help of Jen Gilmour, an artist who is also on our local Steering Group. These sessions made Sarah’s face more familiar, allowed her to test some activities and started to shape a structure that the refugees might end up becoming part of. Not having been able to do any groundwork with the refugees during Phase One was really starting to show in our slow progress.

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Our go-see trip took us to In-Situ, a community-focused arts organisation in Pennine Lancashire, and the Breightmet residents who came along were impressed with the grassroots artistic work being undertaken in Brierfield Mill, library and a shop space in Nelson that was hosting residencies involving print and a community newspaper. Most of those who came had been involved in the project before, but one man found himself in the doubly strange position of not knowing anything about the project, or why we were on a trip in the first place. Patrick became a vital link between us and the Congolose community a little later in the project.


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We had successfully formed links with and between Bolton at Home, Refugee Action (providing a year’s support to all refugees housed in Breightmet under the UNHCR resettlement programme (http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a16b1676.html), BRASS – Befriending Refugees and Asylum Seekers – a Bolton charity, and other potential helpers, but still hadn’t solved the problem of access to the recent arrivals.

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In Breightmet, as in many parts of the country, the right to food is being tested. Food bank dependance is growing, and the knowledge to prepare nutritious meals is thin on the ground. Bolton at Home have several schemes to help address this in various forms: they work with Bolton Urban Growers to show how to set up raised beds in back gardens to grow vegetables; and they offer the Tea for Free meal-cooking programme to show how cheap doesn’t mean poor-quality when preparing meals. As food poverty is a widespread issue in Breightmet, we naturally aligned the project with these other schemes around food growing and preparation. Having worked with the powerful, uniting subject of food before, we were keen to pursue this angle. Sharing stories about food is a great way into a conversation and gives glimpses into different cultures that aren’t invasive or rude, and people are more often than not happy to open into conversation about it. Via Bolton at Home we finally managed to get an address list of people we were keen to involve in the project, and with a team of official and unofficial interpreters (thanks Patrick), started telling people about Sarah and the project.

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We still hadn’t cracked it, but things were moving in the right direction. The regular steering group meetings would feature updates that moved us slowly along with the project, but optimism that a vital tipping-point was about to be reached was present at each meeting. Although we extended Phase Two, we still hadn’t progressed as far as we originally thought. The foundations of interesting work had been laid but the sheer amount of work and discussion that goes into advancing projects like this cannot be underestimated: the groundwork and building up trust between different parties that then allows stuff to happen can eat into the bulk to the project time. If we were doing the project again, Phase One would be much more significantly resourced in terms of time the artist spends on the ground, and Phase Two made longer. Having had a chance to reflect on the project, it would perhaps have been better if we’d encouraged Sarah to frame the project more around writing from the start. For all the connections made and interesting things done that weren’t writing, perhaps a more cohesive focus was needed.

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As such, the end of Phase Two and subsequently Phase Three seemed to rush by. Little by little things had been building up, doors were being opened one by one and other local organisations were lending support or working alongside us. Sarah began working specifically with Bolton Urban Growers, as they built raised beds in Congolese residents’ back gardens, and then on a series of meals. Either everyone we invited or absolutely nobody would show up to planned activity, despite word-of-mouth efforts and flyers printed in Swahili. The shared meals were the best attended and most fun parts of the project to date. The Congolose women (and their kids) showed everyone how to make fish stew, then the Chawla Family (featuring the indomitable Yashika, of our Steering Group) made a delicious curry that challenged some of the younger kids’ delicate taste buds. Finally, Steve from Bolton Urban Growers made the Lancashire delicacy potato hash. The idea was that Sarah would use the events to talk to people about their lives via the food, but this again was easier said than done.

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The end of Phase Two and the start of Phase Three ended up being used to talk to a wide range of people from all phases of the project, before developing a way of continuing the project into the future using writing as the medium but including food stories, growing tips and recipes, and leaving things open for new contributions.

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Something was needed to house the writing about food, and so The Box was devised. Initially described as a ‘deconstructed book’, The Box is a wooden case that houses beautifully designed recipes, growing tips and stories about food collected by Sarah over the course of Phase Two. There are multiple copies of each and people are encouraged to take away ones that appeal to them. There are also blank pages and rubber stamps (and an inkwell) so people can stamp their own template and write their own recipe, tip or story and add to the archive. Laser engraved into the box itself is information about the process. I worked with Sarah to visualise what the ‘deconstructed book’ would need to contain, what it had to do and how it might look, and then worked with Textbook Studio to design the components and printed material. Textbook mocked-up a paper version of The Box before M3 Industries finalised how the artwork could be cut, lasered and assembled from plywood.

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On reflection there was at times a disconnect between expectations, responsibilities and realities for ourselves, Bolton at Home, and the artist, with myself and Lou acting as an unwitting barrier between the housing provider and the artist. Bolton at Home has considerable experience of working with artists, but in the instance it was perhaps us that had the rapport that Bolton at Home usually has with the artist, owing to our pilot project and Phase One activity. With hindsight, Sarah could have been more integrated into the Neighbourhood East team (perhaps by a more structured Phase Two). The boundary between creative practice and community development was almost indistinguishable in places, which is dangerous as artists are not social workers and as important as arts projects in communities are, they are a vital part of a bigger picture: not substitutes for a broad range of support. As the project went on, the limitations of other organisations became more apparent, due to the multitude of cuts and threats faced across the board, which on top of other local authority cuts make projects like ours simultaneously more important and less viable, as they exist in a support-free void instead of complimenting a wide infrastructure.

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Bolton at Home’s refreshing approach entails having a dedicated Percent for Arts scheme, has Arts Officers and is very relaxed about testing new approaches. In Breightmet, the overall arts plan is the same as the overall Neighbourhood plan: getting more people engaged with Bolton at Home services. In this case, integrating refugees into the UCAN (Urban Care and Neighbourhood Services) was key. Art is one of the things they can draw on to achieve these aims. Bolton at Home go into things knowing they often won’t work then are pleasantly surprised when they do. This approach, unrestrained by targets, bums on seats or the looming prospect of failure is commendable.

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If we were to run the project in Bolton again, knowing what we know not, not only would we know how best to approach other organisations, but we’d also be more inclined to take a more active lead making sure that there is bigger-picture thinking going on.


Blog Post Twenty: Sheffield Phase 2 – Ian Nesbitt

 

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With the public element of phase 2 of The Shared Vision Project having drawn to a close just before Christmas, it’s suddenly possible to look back over the last 6 months and see that a lot has happened since the first blog post in June.

 

Back then, we began having open monthly meetings in the cafe at Zest, a fantastic and well-loved community resource at the heart of Upperthorpe. Gathering around the central notion of creating a film, or series of films, that would not only be about Upperthorpe, but made with and by the people in the area, possibilities were shared and ideas coalesced during these sessions about how best such a thing might happen. For me, the idea of best representing Upperthorpe as a ‘polyphony’ (many voices) began here, and it’s where the idea for the Videocart came from, of which more later. We also did other things including a circular walk around the boundary of Upperthorpe and a group of us visited the Granby 4 Streets project in Liverpool (which has since won the Turner Prize for its collaboration with Assemble) for inspiration and ideas. During this time, a core group came together to inform the direction of the project, get involved, and share their skills – the Shared Vision team!

 

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Art should not exist in a vacuum; if it does, it risks only being of interest to itself. For me, my practice has to co-exist with and complement my relationship to my environment. I try to understand my position in the process as someone who has a skill in a group of people who also have skills.  It is sometimes difficult to marry this approach with my training as an artist at university, which unerringly presents the artist as an auteur, whose vision should be absolute, but there has been a groundswell of socially engaged practice over the last few years which continues to grow, so hopefully these ideas are beginning to infiltrate even those hallowed institutions. In Upperthorpe I have met people with a wide range of skills, knowledge bases and backgrounds – among them artists, film producers, musicians, survivors of prison, drug addiction, the mental health system, activists, volunteers, carers, amateur historians, poets, and people with extensive knowledge of social housing – all with something to bring to the project, all of whose voices will be present in the completed work.

 

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In September, we launched the Shared Vision ‘Videocart’ (like an ice-cream cart with cameras and microphones attached to it), which we have since been using to wheel around the area and stop to talk to people. At the same time, we also started holding weekly drop-ins at our temporary project space on Upperthorpe High Street – sharing tea, biscuits, conversation and local knowledge with whoever popped their head in.  Throughout November, we held a series of recorded conversations on issues relevant to the project to which we invited guest speakers. The themes were ‘Social Housing’, ‘Community’ and ‘What can art do for me?’ and the best bits will be shared in some form.

 

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So what now? January and February is for editing, and then emerging to share our results on Tuesday 8th March. The screening will be an opportunity not just to watch the film, but share food and hear more from people who have been involved in the process. The film will take the format of an imagined walk through Upperthorpe, dropping in on people and places along the way, and the videocart will be transformed into a projector trolley. That’s as much as we know for now!


Blog Post Nineteen: Sheffield Phase 2 – SYHA

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I started the journey of improving our customer’s access to arts and culture over 2 years ago, about the same time my husband and I started the adoption process! Both journeys are now coming to a natural transition and as our organisation is responding to the news that we have been awarded external funding to continue our arts and culture programme, I find myself preparing for adoption leave …… both events seemed unreachable at the start.

In 2013 when we began the Moments of Joy programme, there was little scope for arts and culture as mainstream provision at SYHA. Previous work in this area had largely been opportunistic and not always directly correlated to customer health and wellbeing outcomes. Throughout the duration of the programme we have witnessed a positive shift within the organisation. Staff at all levels is more open to arts and culture as a different way of engaging with customers and achieving outcomes.

Through our involvement with Social Housing Arts Network SYHA has come into contact with a number of Housing providers who have well embedded, mainstreamed arts and culture programmes, such as Bolton At Home. Even these organisation face culture change opposition to this agenda and that SYHA has moved on this trajectory is a positive development and one that we feel we will continue to progress on.

Our experience tells us that both the process of engagement and the end product must be high quality. If customer involvement or participation feels poorly managed or tokenistic, then customers disengage due to feeling that they are part of a “process”. The quality of the actual produced art is also critical to the impact of the project: for customers to feel proud and a sense of achievement the art they produce must be high quality. Ensuring high quality involves recruiting well established and highly regarded artists and working with them to determine the standards for the project and expectation of the brief. We know that customer expectations and aspirations are often pitched quite low when it comes to this type of activity and in order to encourage higher expectation and push the boundaries of normal practice it is useful to have a template for design and introduce high quality examples.

 

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This is why we were so keen to be involved in the Social Housing Arts Network project and why I will be returning from Adoption Leave for one day to attend the showcase event of Ian Nesbit’s work in Upperthorpe. Ian’s story telling approach and the way he lets the customer journey evolve is what particularly drew us to him. Also we had dabbled with film as an engagement tool quite a bit at SYHA, on other previous projects and though our work with open Cinema. Film is certainly something we felt connected a lot of our customers and our staff and we were keen to test this further.  Ian work at Upperthorpe has taught us a lot about the community there. One of the biggest challenges has been engaging the SYHA tenants that live in the area. Although a high concentration of our stock is in Upperthorpe compared to other areas of the city, our homes are still only a small representation of the overall community. By the nature of Ian’s work, the project has engaged people from across the existing community networks but only a small proportion of these are our tenants. However, there is a legacy to this project that SYHA will be able to utilise for further engagement work. It also enforces to us that you can’t always engage communities in parts, that not how communities work with one another. Although our tenants live in a small concentrated area, the community cohesions in Upperthorpe are more complicated than that. This is why Ian’s work across the whole community alongside the main community resource, zest has been critical to the representation of this project.

 

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I absolutely have to be there to see the unveiling of all the hard work.  It’s not been an easy journey for Ian and us. We’ve learnt allot about our appetite for this work and the difficulties of engaging hard to reach groups amongst our general needs stock. But one thing we are confident of at SYHA is that Ian’s work is as inclusive as it can be, is driven by the community and will be high quality and high impact.

SYHA has secured funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation to deliver a one-year test and learn Phase two programme with Darts and Yorkshire Arts Space, starting in April 2016.  This will test three more pilots (arts & craft, dance and music) and develop our evaluation methodology.  If the programme is successful, it may be possible to bid to Paul Hamlyn Foundation for an extended 3 year programme that builds on the learning from and seeks to embed the Phase One and Phase Two pilots. We couldn’t have done this bid without the learning from our involvement in Social Housing Arts Network and we wouldn’t have had the motivation without their support.

It is inevitable that the current economic climate and impending challenges the housing sector faces will impact on the appetite and means to deliver programmes such as this. However, there is an argument that this type of activity becomes even more critical for our customers considering the times of austerity they face and that it is our job to find resourceful way to continue programmes such as this. So I know that my work on this project isn’t yet done and when I return from my adoption leave in late 2016 I hope we will be evaluating the impact of the next phase of pilots and writing a new proposal for a longer term commitment for access to arts and culture for all.

Zoe Oldfield, Enterprise Programmes Manager


Blog Post Eighteen: Wayne Sables – Commissioned artist in Edlington, Doncaster

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My name is Wayne Sables, I work with technology to engage communities, promote debates, answer and create more questions, animate spaces and create site specific work that engages the audience through their smart devices and live experiences.

 

I’ve worked in a community context for the past 15 years. Recently I’ve undertaken some professional development that has primarily focused more on working within a social housing context. I guess it was serendipitous when I saw the social housing arts network brief pop into my inbox. After reading it it echoed everything I believed in as an artist and seemed like it would not only challenge me and offer a chance to experiment and test my work, but offer the chance to work with a community that I feel is often misunderstood (oh and it is it was in my local town which is actually really nice.) So I applied! I guess its obvious from this blog that I was successful. It’s been an interesting journey so far, I’ve met some very passionate people from the community and am really looking forward to getting cracking in January.

 

I approach all the work I undertake in the same way really, open, transparent and honest. If I can’t do something I learn how, if I don’t know something I try to find out. Fundamentally I believe that to create a positive impact you need to give the ownership of a project to the group, and that’s what I aim to do.

 

I come from an ex mining community and have seen first hand the devastation that can follow when a community’s spirit is taken away. The arts for me are not only a way to engage in something positive but a way to rebuild a sense of self, to inspire, empower and excel.

 

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Over the past few years I’ve found myself actively looking to work in a more organic, process based way and have been fortunate to have worked in some amazing communities (Edlington being one of them). In 2013/14 myself and a college received a commission to work on the White City estate in Maltby through South Yorkshire Housing Association. Whilst there we engaged the community in a digital arts/gardening programme that was aimed at raising aspirations, empowering the community to work together more and to begin looking at a healthier lifestyle. I’m also currently involved in a creative development programme called ‘PolyMath’. Through ‘PolyMath’ I am able to test my practice and approach in different social housing environments as well as create some amazing digital work with those communities.


Blog Post Seventeen: Edlington Phase One

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Here’s another Phase One blog post, the last one I’ll be doing as after this all four locations will have appointed an artist and the project will be well and truly underway across the country.

 

In Doncaster we are working with St Leger Homes, and it’s very interesting as they don’t have a history, as an organisation, of working with artists. As such, it’s been imperative to talk to a wide range of staff members and explain what the open, process-led approach means and what might happen as a result. The organisation is keen on finding out how artistic approaches can become part of their everyday running, which is a very refreshing attitude at this time.

 

The other interesting thing about where we are working in Doncaster is that the focus in on community that doesn’t yet exist – new homes are to be built but haven’t been started. Our job is to weave the threads of activity in the surrounding area into a project that is open to the new arrivals down the line. Edlington was chosen as a focus for the project in part because it has an unfairly negative reputation, and in part because of the changes that will occur when new homes are built.

 

As with the other Phase Ones elsewhere, a Steering Group was established with St Leger staff: Judith Jones, Carol Higgins, Jane Davies, Dave Wilkinson, and members of the community have joined following Phase One meetings. Sam Sidall from Edlington Community Organisation who do an awful lot in the village, Maureen Tennyson of the Friends of Martinwells Lake who likewise have been heavily involved in positive new directions for the area, Eric Kydd  from the Swallowdale Committee, Ted Price from the Edlington Lions (Ted also delivers the local newsletter – very handy), Sophy Sylvester from DARTS, the arts organisation in Doncaster and someone she recommended get involved who has contributed to past projects, Joyce Gessler.

 

Frank Arrowsmith of the Yorkshire Main Commemorative Trust provided a great overview of the rise and fall of coal mining in the area, and I also met with Youth Worker Dean Mangham to explain the project to him.

 

As alluded to in mentioning the Swallowdale Committee, there is already an extra care facility – Swallowdale – on site, and a relatively new library, health centre and supermarket. I met with several Swallowdale residents who had good ideas for the project, and we’ve been using the library for meetings and will hopefully run more activity there in the future.

 

There is also a beautified former brick pit (Martinwells Lake) and a lot of community activity around it, people who have overseen the renovation of this troubled spot into a well used site of walking, fishing and summer activities.

 

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The people of Edlington have been the most forthcoming about the project by far – volunteering ideas on what we should be doing and even asking steerage group members to be kept in the loop. I think this is down to a shared desire by almost everyone we have met so far for a positive future for the village, and an eagerness to explore ways of getting to this future. There are different agendas in the village, as there are everywhere, but it seems like most people are pulling in the same direction.

 

There is also more openness on the part of St Leger staff, for two reasons. The first is a genuine interest in seeing how our approach, and the previous experience of other Social Housing Providers and art projects, can lead to interesting things. The second reason is our first contact at St Leger was the Chief Executive, and her opinion carries weight!

 

Unlike in the other locations we held back some of the Phase One activity until after the lead artist was commissioned. We realised that if we ran the project again, Phase One would be longer, and perhaps overlap with the commissioned artist starting work. Having experienced postponed or cancelled meetings at the other locations and had half-full days as a result, when some key contacts couldn’t meet over the summer it was decided that those meetings should just be rescheduled later in the year.

 

As such, after commissioning Wayne Sables, we met again with Dean Mangham the Senior Youth Worker for Doncaster. He currently delivers four hours a week in Edlington and we are looking at how to supplement this with our activity, and make use of their youth centres on wheels.

 

We also met with Beryce Nixon, the executive head of Hilltop and Victoria Schools to see how we can work with them.

 

Wayne and I met with Rob Red and Leigh Calladine from the Hilltop Centre and found out about the vast range of activities they currently do, and ways we can work with them (Leigh has also recently become a member of the Steering Group).

 

We belatedly brought the PIN to Edlington for the ECO Christmas Fair, just as Storm Desmond was gusting and drenching the country. We managed half a day of great conversations with local residents before our giant map blew away.

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As I’ve mentioned, people seem really enthusiastic about the project, so much so that our steering group is being asked for more information in the street! Building up relationships and talking about the  project with people is a big part of the preparation for launching activity, so although there isn’t much to show for the project yet, connections are being made and ideas are being shared. People within the steering group have met who previously hadn’t, which make me hopeful that new projects can spring from ours. I look forward to seeing what happens next.


Blog Post Sixteen: Interview with Wayne Sables

 

Here’s another video by artist and producer Ed Pink, this time interviewing our Edlington artist, Wayne Sables.

 


Blog Post Fifteen: Poplar Phase One

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Here’s a blog post about the first phase of our project in Poplar – specifically focussing on the Teviot and North Landsbury estates. Both these neighbourhoods are areas that Poplar HARCA asked us to look at as there has been a lot of activity elsewhere in their three square miles of East London.

 

These areas are somewhat cut off: the DLR line divides Teviot from Landsbury (the two are joined by a horrifically ugly bridge); Limehouse Cut provides a barrier to the north, the A12 and Blackwall Tunnel are to the east and the A13 further to the south. Canary Wharf and the wave of silver loom beyond the A13. A lot of people live with in a 20 minute locality.

 

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As in Bolton and Sheffield we established an open Steering Group with initially just ourselves and Poplar HARCA staff. As the first phase progressed other people joined and together we went through the process of writing and circulating a brief and selecting an artist to work with us in Poplar. Most of the activity in this blog took place between April 2015 and the summer.

 

Paul Augarde, our main point of contact at Poplar HARCA started the ball rolling. He is interested in how to regenerate the area for everyone and sees HARCA as an alternative to developer-led regeneration. A lot of our conversations were about working alongside existing plans, and as such I talked about linking up with the Poplar and Bow Green Network spearheaded by Ana Mae Contreras-Ramirez and the Listening to Teviot project undertaken by Julia Rodrigues. Both these women work for Poplar HARCA on initiatives that give Teviot residents opportunities to get involved in their community but also aren’t totally insular. Ana Mae’s aims are to “change place for better for those that already live here”. We discussed how these networks can be used as starting points to try and reach people who’ve fallen off the radar, the middle ground between hard to engage people (a concerted effort is already being made for them) and those already actively involved in Teviot life.

 

Also involved in steering group activity was Jeannie Harrison, the CaN Area Coordinator. Her patch includes three area centres: Teviot, Landsbury and Aberfeldy. There is a lot of activity at the Teviot Centre for us to tap into.

 

Through Ana Mae I was introduced to Kolpana Begum, a local resident and part of Landsbury Garden group, and Suriya Tuku, who runs City Wood with her partner Danny on the other side of the A12. City Wood works on projects involving recycling, art and community organisation.

 

It was the above group that oversaw the recruitment of artist Hannah Nicklin, but I also met with Rosie Whitney-Fish at Spotlight, and when she left, Daniel Rose, Spotlight’s director. Both were very helpful and hopefully we’ll be able to work with them to get more of the younger generation of Teviot to the excellent new creative youth space.

 

I also met Garry Hunter, an artist who works at Trinity Buoy Wharf. As part of the Open Poplar network he told me he’d be running the Blue Anchor pub, just North of Teviot, which has two bedrooms: one for a manager, one for a resident artist. We discussed potential overlaps between our projects. I also chatted to Simon Terrill, who was living in Balfron Tower and knows the area well. He was part of the Balfron Season art festival. Moving on from the artists I spoke to arts organisations Space Studios and Bow Arts. Marcel Baettig at Bow gave me an overview of their activity in the area, and Anna Harding and Fiona Fieber from Space Studios were keen to support us especially in our dissuasions about the role of socially engaged practice. They have a studio on our doorstep: Brickfield Studios. Interestingly it used to be home to East End Offset, the printers of the Socialist Worker, the Morning Star and Private Eye. The Boy’s Brickfield Nights is about the area, punk fans.

 

Later in the summer we did a day of activity around the Teviot Festival, a long standing community event. We mainly wanted to have a public presence in Teviot and introduce people to the project. We made badges with kids, mapped where people had come from, did some printing based on historical Teviot Festival images and talked to people about getting involved in the project. We met someone with an archive of old photos of Festivals gone by in 70s and 80s, and there is lots of good historical stuff in the Archive Library in Bow. There is lots of rich political history, including the Poplar Rates Rebellion, when councillors went to prison for defying central government, and strong existing community activity.

 

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The pressures and challenges in housing in the UK are noticeably amplified in London. As such, there’s been more focus on the role of art and arts projects in these environments, and some criticism that basically states that any artistic activity is the agent of gentrification, which I’d refute. Art can indeed aid changes that include higher rents that price whole swathes of the community out of areas, but it can also work against these mechanisms and help people understand the reasons behind things. It isn’t inevitably complicit in the march of capital.

 

When setting up the Social Housing Arts Network we wanted to work in a range of settings, and it was us who approached Poplar HARCA about working together. Just because gentrification is a hot potato doesn’t mean that artists should steer clear of working in areas where it is apparent. Poplar HARCA is experienced in working with artists across the spectrum, and our project has provided an opportunity for them to experience what a longer-term social project can look like and mean.

 

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This Phase One has been the most difficult to pin people down. Whether this is because the London hustle and bustle is more intense than the rest of the country, I’m not sure. It has also been difficult to get Londoners to venture North. It is so great that it’s impossible to leave?

 

As in Sheffield a good overview was gained, but there wasn’t enough time to look that bit closer. This gives the commissioned artist lots of possibilities, but puts the onus on them to decide where the focus should be, again meaning that we can can’t work with everyone spoken to during Phase One.

 

With hindsight perhaps we should have left some Phase One time over and overlapped with Hannah Nicklin’s first stages, but all in all some good starting points were identified and I’m excited to see what comes next.

 

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Blog Post Fourteen: Bolton Phase 2 – Bolton at Home

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Looking back at what we’ve done in Breightmet over the last 12 months or so, it seems we’ve achieved a surprising amount. This week sees Bolton at Home’s SHAN showcase event taking place, marking the culmination of the SHAN project in Breightmet, but by no means the end of the work that the project has helped to kick-start. Around this time last year our steering group was in the process of recruiting an artist and agreeing a theme for the project, which was based on what Bolton at Home’s Neighbourhood Management East team knew about the neighbourhood. Breightmet is historically (96%– 2011 census) a predominantly white neighbourhood, which has quite suddenly faced a relatively large number of refugee & asylum seeker families being resettled in the area through the Gateway programme. The project could, we thought, help ease the transition for both communities.

 

Bolton at Home’s Neighbourhood Management East team comprises a Neighbourhood Manager, Housing Arts Officer, Community Development Officer, Health Development Worker, UCAN (Urban Care & Neighbourhood Centre) Manager and Project Officers, and Admin Officer. In 2009, when the team first moved into the area, we quickly discovered that one of the best ways to engage the local communities was by offering events that brought families together over food. What we didn’t realise was how important a role ‘food’ would play in bringing people together for this project.

 

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After we’d commissioned writer Sarah Butler, it was pretty easy to put her in touch with Breightmet residents through the community groups that Bolton at Home already supports. However, even with the support of the whole Neighbourhood Management East team, it took a good few months for Sarah to start to engage the new refugee communities effectively. What we quickly realised was that ‘bringing the existing and new communities together’ would be much more of a long term ambition and the short term challenge would be to engage these new communities in a creative and constructive way.

 

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It seems the winning formula in this case was simply getting hold of an interpreter, a list of names and telephone numbers, a (Congolese) community link and a very local venue. When we’d finally established a small, regular group, Sarah organised a ‘tour’ of their local area, which would take in key sites such as the community allotments and Breightmet UCAN Centre, which offers individual support that is tailored to the multiple needs of each person who walks through the door. We had no idea that food and food-growing would turn out to be so central to the success of the project. We could see immediately that the predominantly Congolese refugee families were excited by the allotments and interested in growing their own food. During those first few visits they even taught us a few things about food-growing – who knew that pumpkin leaves could be more appealing than a pumpkin!?

 

On the back of this, Sarah planned a number of food-related events: the first where the Congolese women cooked traditional Congolese food for the community; the second where a family of Indian asylum seekers cooked chicken curry with and for the Congolese families; the third session was organised because the Congolese families told us they wanted to learn how to cook ‘English food’, so they learned how to make Potato Hash (a traditional Lancashire dish). They enjoyed that, but next time they’d add tomatoes.

 

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Some of the families were interested in growing their own food and we put them in touch with Steve Jones from Bolton Urban Growers – who was already working with Bolton at Home to provide food-growing expertise and support to Breightmet residents – and Steve worked with them to create raised beds in their gardens. We also established a working relationship with BRASS (‘befriending refugees and asylum seekers’) and helped develop a weekly ‘Conversation Café’ at the local children’s centre. This weekly session is helping participants to improve their English and has enabled us to more easily promote services and activities, including a recent visit to the Octagon Theatre for over 40 adults and children for a ‘Bolton International Writing Project’ showcase event.

 

It may seem like a perfect outcome, but it’s been bloody hard work for everyone involved. It took a good few months to find a way to engage the new communities, and it didn’t seem at all easy or ‘perfect’ when Pearl and I were running around after 20 Congolese children while each holding a baby (we booked crèche workers for the second cooking session) and it’s always quite stressful wondering whether you’ll be welcoming 0 or 50 people to an event. Everyone who works in this neighbourhood experiences the ‘Breightmet slump’ and this project was no exception. We had ‘0’ on more than one occasion. ‘Stay on the f*cking bus!’ is our manager’s motto.

 

The Housing Percent for Art service was established in Bolton Council’s Housing Department (now Bolton at Home) in 1997 so it’s no big surprise, and very easy for us to say, that it has confirmed our expectations and belief that process is more important than product, but it has. Two days before the final event, the whole team feels that we have accomplished more than we ever anticipated and the showcase is another opportunity to bring together the diverse communities that now make up Breightmet over food. We’re all intrigued to see the final ‘reveal’, however, especially if the artwork is as beautiful and useful as Sarah’s concept. What’s great about the SHAN project, from my perspective, is what we can learn from our different approaches, the successes and challenges (especially in the current financial climate) and how we might establish, develop and sustain a Social Housing Arts Network.


Blog Post Thirteen: Bolton Phase Two – Sarahs reflections on working in Breightmet

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There is something magical about planting a tiny seed in damp soil and then watching it grow. There is something magical about picking food you’ve grown yourself – a fresh green courgette, a cheery red tomato, a delicately curved bean. There is something magical about taking a pile of ingredients and bringing them together into a meal to share.

 

Throughout 2015 I have worked with local people in Breightmet, Bolton – with long-standing residents and newly arrived refugees – exploring their stories and responding to their interest in gardening and cooking, in sharing food and skills. Commissioned by social housing provider Bolton at Home, and arts organisation GUILD, I have linked up with existing work around food growing and cooking in the area, and initiated new activities, led by a group of refugee women, mainly from the Congo. Together we have cooked ugali and african-style fish and meat; indian curry and the lancashire dish tatya’ash. We have planted tomatoes and chillis, beans and broccoli; built raised beds in some of the women’s gardens, and planned growing projects for next season. We have explored Breightmet together; done our best to communicate without a common language; laughed; made friends.

 

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The idea for the final project ‘product’ has developed out of these activities and conversations. It will be a kind of ‘deconstructed book’, bringing together stories, recipes and growing tips from Breightmet residents and Bolton at Home staff, along with some of my own writing, inspired by the experience of working in Breightmet.

 

Ten women in a tiny kitchen. The air smells of oil and spice. On the other side of the window, the children run and yell and laugh. There are stages: washing, chopping, slicing, bashing, boiling, frying, stirring. I have bought the wrong kind of cassava flour, but the right kind has been fetched. I watch it fall, like sand, into the water; watch it change, thicken, cling together. Use your hands, I am told. Take a piece between your fingers, dip it into the gravy and eat. It is softer and sweeter than I expect. Comforting.

 

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Things that take time:

Knitting a jumper

Making friends

Feeling safe

Thinking of the right words

Waiting for a decision

Learning a language

Cooking a meal

Working out the best thing to do

Getting to know a place

Growing a plant from seed

Flying from Burundi to Bolton

Finding your feet

 

Things that take no time at all:

Losing everything

Knowing if you’re welcome

 

I am currently working with designers TextBook and fabricators M3 to create a mobile book/box/creative station (I still don’t know what to call it!), which will house paper, stamps and provocations to create new content for an ever growing book of recipes, growing tips and stories. People will be able to take away recipes and growing tips that appeal to them, and leave their own in exchange.

 

Growing|Cooking|Sharing (that’s what I’m calling it at the moment…!) comes at the end of my work in Breightmet, but it is intended as a beginning: offering the ingredients to collect and share new stories, recipes and growing tips. It has been a real privilege to get to know this bit of Bolton, with its hidden allotments and diverse inhabitants. There is knowledge and passion and potential here, and I hope that Growing|Cooking|Sharing will continue to bring people together to share knowledge, talk about food, and be inspired by each other.

 


Blog Post Twelve: St Leger Homes and the SHAN project

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St Leger Homes are delighted to be part of the Social Housing Arts Network initiative and we are just embarking on our project. We have an exciting new build development in a village in Doncaster called Edlington where we will be managing 106 new build properties as a rent to buy scheme. The scheme is a really big venture and something really different and that is why we wanted to do something distinctive, unique and exciting around engagement to help regenerate and bring together a new community with the existing community of Edlington. Edlington has lots of history and culture and we want to build on this and make Edlington a really thriving place to live.

 

As an organisation we have vast experience in community engagement and we are proud to have delivered some really successful projects such as our local food growing project and our Fairshare project. This new project with SHAN is daring and creative and we can’t wait to see what can be achieved.

 

Susan Jordan

Chief Executive, St Leger Homes of Doncaster

 


Blog Post Eleven: Poplar HARCA

London, United Kingdom - Saturday 25 July 2015, Harca - Teviot Festival.

 

Poplar HARCA is delighted to be working with Social Housing Arts Network in Poplar, East London.

 

Poplar is a special area. It is undergoing large scale change, with new residents coming in to join a strong and empowered community with a rich heritage. That change offers considerable opportunities and we are dedicated to ensuring that those chances are exploited and embraced by both established and new local residents and stakeholders, in a sustainable way.

 

One element of this is embedding arts and culture in the fabric of the local community. This includes ensuring access to world class and established institutions, whether for education, work or leisure. However, more importantly, that art and culture happens in people’s own communities, in their social groups, driven by and representing them. That art isn’t seen as something that only happens elsewhere, in the rarified institution or the trendy artist’s studio. Rather that it belongs and is accessible to everyone, on their terms.

 

And vitally, that it speaks with their voice. Too often projects which purport to represent communities undergoing change, actually patronise and exploit those communities, regularly being more interested in securing suitable examples for their own predetermined hypothesis.  Too seldom is the work, its inspiration, meaning and direction, derived from and progressed by the communities themselves.

 

Social Housing Arts Network and their project in Poplar is helping to redress that balance. We are thrilled that artist Hannah Nicklin is spending the next 6 months engaging with individuals and groups in and around the Teviot Estate. Hannah will be holding workshops and training sessions with residents, but also just listening to their stories and helping them weave their tales into an online tapestry representing the vitality of the community.

 

The other powerful element of Social Housing Arts Network is the connections it has and continues to forge between housing providers across the country. Creating the beginnings of a network which will grow to influence and inspire other players in the sector.

 

This is a challenging time for housing providers with numerous policy, market and financial challenges to contend with. However, it is absolutely vital, especially at this time, that we work with a range of partners to embed art and culture within the shifting fabric of our places. That we maximise the power of creative activity to give voice to local people, and continue to build strong, cohesive communities.