Cheerleading in my community

I’m a big advocate of amplifying the good stuff – examples of connection, creativity and kindness – there’s a lot of it about. Not only is it important for showing positivity and celebrating the best of what is happening, it can sometimes be that chance bit of information which is the spark for change in someone’s life.

Over the past few years, I have been developing a local media website into a resource for both residents and community organisations in Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook. Balsall Heath Neighbourhood News Online lists local events, a Directory of community organisations and a news page featuring items that will be of interest to local residents.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the site has supported volunteers from Balsall Heath Mutual Aid through sharing timely and accurate information from trusted sources on a Covid-19 Support page. This has enabled them to signpost people in need of support to the correct service.

Content can be added directly by anyone, before it is moderated and posted live. Posts are also shared widely through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If you, or someone you know, lives locally, please take a look and make use of the site. Plans are afoot to develop the project into a broader community media project, so do get in touch at contact@neighbourhoodnewsonline.com if you are interested.


More recently, I have been appointed as the Co-ordinator for Hall Green Arts Forum. I’m really keen to champion the Arts and Artists across the Hall Green Constituency, so in a similar vein, I have developed a website, www.artworkshallgreen.co.uk to list who is doing what across the constituency (covering the neighbourhoods of Hall Green, Sparkbrook, Springfield, Balsall Heath, Moseley and Kings Heath).

The hope is that the site will develop into a useful resource for Artists to link directly with one another and with local residents. There is also room for interviews, features, reviews, links to events, opportunities or funding and anything else which may help to fill an information gap as Artists develop their practice and networks.

Within the next couple of months, you will also begin to see Art Works commissioned and supported work appear on the site. There are some lovely projects in the pipeline which we’re looking forward to starting as soon as Covid-19 restrictions allow.

As with Neighbourhood News Online, this website will be the sum of its parts, so do contribute generously if you have content that you can share. You can add details to the Arts Directory or Events page by following links to a simple form on each page, or e-mail hello@artworkshallgreen.co.uk. We also have a monthly newsletter featuring a wide range of news and paid opportunities that I’m aware of. Sign up here.

It’s so important at the moment, when arts and culture is struggling, that we nurture our creative community, celebrate one another’s achievements and give each other practical support. Let’s be cheerleaders for one another.

Screening of Fingersmiths’ ‘My Mother Said I NEver Should’

Fingersmiths Theatre are launching their new website with a screening of their filmed performance of ‘My Mother Said I Never Should’ which I was involved in filming in March 2020.

The play follows the relationship of three generations of women over several decades and is performed by a cast of deaf actors using both BSL and on-stage subtitles.

Back in March, after the government told audiences to stay away from theatres, Fingersmiths Theatre made the decision to go ahead with a closed door performance in front of the cameras at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Sam Lockyer of Iconic Productions and I were treated to a personal performance by a talented and passionate cast and crew who stepped up amidst the looming dread of lockdown.

You can view the full performance from 7pm on Thursday 19th November as part of the launch of Fingersmiths Theatre’s new website. It is fully captioned and some parts of the performance feature BSL. Head to http://www.fingersmiths.org.uk/ to join in the screening.

More than a moment

The West Midlands Arts sector has launched the #MoreThanAMoment pledge for radical, bold and immediate action, to dismantle systems that have for too long kept Black artists and creatives from achieving their potential in the arts and creative industries.

I’m very grateful to those who have done the work on this and are creating guidance for us all to ensure we do better.

As a creative professional who got into this to help to raise the voices of less advantaged groups through media, More Than A Moment is really welcome – and a real challenge for me to consider my practice. How am I representing Black people through my work and how am I creating space for them to own their narrative? Plenty more listening and learning for me to do on this journey of allyship.

100 Stories Deep

100 Stories Deep is a community storytelling project that tells 100 stories over 100 days by artists and creatives from across Balsall Heath and Birmingham.

Led by Balsall Heath based Arts organisation, The Gap Arts, and supported by Arts Council England, 100 Stories Deep was an ambitious project, completed during Spring and Summer 2020 in the midst of lockdown.

Each story is completely different – and is chosen by each individual artist of creative. I was invited to tell a story and chose the book ‘Child of St Kilda’ about the last people to live on the remote Scottish island of St Kilda before the community was evacuated. It follows the story of Norman John Gillies (no relation) and is wonderfully told and illustrated by Beth Waters.

Check out the full playlist here: https://bit.ly/2XpohDy

Postcards from the Plot

So many of us are seeking ways to connect with others and with nature in the midst of lockdown. We are appreciating the power of art, culture and creativity in providing solace and hope. So it has been an absolute pleasure to take this into my work through supporting Boundary Way Project in their new project inspired by Boundary Way Allotments, Postcards from the Plot.

‘Postcards from the Plot’ is a creative project that explores the meaning and importance of allotments today through activities, workshops and inspiring stories from growers in Wolverhampton and beyond.

The project explores allotments as a place for creative inspiration and a resource for artists, their role in sustainable food production and as places to connect with other people and with the natural world.

I have been assisting Artists in creating short instructional films on how to use natural materials to get creative. They feature botanical inks, printmaking, anthotypes, herbal remedies and a delicious curry.

I was also invited to collaborate with ‘Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists‘, AKA Black Country poets Emma Purshouse, Dave Pitt and Steve Pottinger, to illustrate three poems inspired by Boundary Way Allotments. They are beautiful reflections on the space, the changing seasons and our relationship with nature’s cycles and challenges.

A huge thank you to Moya Lloyd for her vision in devising this project and pulling together an application in the middle of lockdown. I spent my first day filming outside of my own four walls post-lockdown with her and Holly Pleydell on the plot where both they and plotholders made me feel completely welcome. What a great community.

This project is made possible through Emergency funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery Players.

Arts Connect Thrive Bursary

I have been selected as one of the recipients of the Arts Connect WM 2020 ‘Thrive Bursary’ to research and develop a digital tool as part of my own work in heritage and learning.

In light of the growing movements around social justice, young people are raising questions around their Rights as citizens.  There is a real need to understand the link between how individuals experience Rights, where those Rights are enshrined in law, and the movements that brought those changes about.  How can we make this subject less abstract? How can we link it to social justice struggles today? Can we learn anything from previous struggles?

I have been working with historians and community groups to explore the history of political representation and rights in Birmingham through managing a Community Heritage project, Represent, for the People’s Heritage Co-operative.  Through working with two Artists, we have considered the relevance of these stories today and created a number of textile works which interpret these stories for others.  As the project comes to an end, I have been considering how this research can be brought to new audiences, to engage young people creatively in this important topic.

Following attendance at a number of Arts Connect WM’s Digital Pick and Mix events, I have been considering how John Sear’s approach to utilising digital narrative games could be used to bring themes around democracy and rights to life.  Allowing players to inhabit a role within a game could transform an abstract topic into something real and relevant.

Here’s what I will be exploring over the coming months:

How can digital tools develop and support an understanding of the link between real people’s stories, their Rights and how those Rights came about?

This will involve:

  • Development of an Interactive Digital Game to help young people in schools and other settings understand the history of British democracy and movements for Equal Rights.
  • Personal development through learning from John Sear how to employ digital tools to curate stories and engage new audiences.
  • Building on research from The People’s History Co-operative’s ‘Represent’ community heritage project.
  • Linking with South Birmingham Woodcraft Folk’s ‘Venturers’ group (aged 9+) to develop and test the tool – from initial research, to testing and developing the game and gaining feedback for evaluation.
  • Presenting the findings to Birmingham Cultural Education Partnership to further a conversation as to how we can utilise Interactive Games within the area’s museums and develop digital practice in community heritage projects which work with young people.

If you work in education or with young people and have an interest in this topic, do get in touch – I’d love to hear your thoughts and learn more about what you are already doing to navigate this topic!

Title image: Piece from ‘Represent’ project banner, created by participants at Edgbaston Community Group, led by Artist Carolyn Morton.

Creative Communities Fellowship

I am thrilled to finally be able to share that I have been accepted onto the Creative Communities Fellowship. Over the next year I will be joining 24 others in Yorkshire, then the USA(!!!?) to develop some ideas I’ve been plotting and planning!

I am one of 25 creative entrepreneurs working to drive transformational change in their communities through the power of arts and culture. From Edinburgh to Brighton, Fellows were selected amongst communities throughout the UK to explore proven tools and frameworks with faculty and form a community of practise, enriching projects that advance a more equitable world.

The programme includes online learning modules in addition to two in-person convenings; one at an incubator-like environment in Yorkshire and one at a summit of arts and culture leaders in the United States.

UK Creative Community Fellows programme fees are underwritten thanks to generous funding through Arts Council England Transforming Leadership Programme and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch).

I’m so excited to meet the rest of the cohort!

#UKCCF #NASCCF

Full press release here: https://www.derbymuseums.org/news/25-arts-culture-entrepreneurs-selected-for-uk-creative-community-fellows

#WeShallNotBeRemoved

Today it has been wonderful to see the tag #WeShallNotBeRemoved gaining so much traction to champion the voices, the work and the rights of Artists with disabilities at the moment.

The Disability Arts movement has made huge gains in raising the voices of people living with disabilities, as well as using innovative, exciting approaches to art and performance. With the impact of Covid-19 on both the Arts and on people who have health issues, it’s so crucial that these Artists and Arts organisations can continue to thrive.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Fingersmiths, Extant and Deaf Explorer for commissioning me in the past to document some superb work. I’ve learnt a great deal about creativity, communication and accessibility through being part of these projects. We are all enriched through the graft of people who really raise the bar to make art accessible and inclusive. We are so much poorer without these important voices.

I highly recommend streaming Graeae Theatre’s ‘Reasons to Be Cheerful’ for a glimpse into an inclusive world where deaf, visually impaired and disabled performers take centre stage. ‘Crip Camp’, currently streaming on Netflix is also important viewing – it tells the story of America’s Disability Rights Movement and how its leaders were shaped by being in a space which allowed for their creativity and self expression. Now is the time to amplify work of such organisations so that these voices and this talent is not removed. We must make space for people living with disabilities to be seen and heard at a time when so many are in isolation.

In Her Shoes

Needing a boost? So many people are quite understandably feeling frustration, anger and pessimism in the middle of lockdown. This may be a welcome antidote….

Before lockdown I was privileged to take some photos for In Her Shoes. They are a dynamic and extremely talented team of women with a passion for raising up women through the medium of music.

We work with women and girls to share and celebrate our commonalities and differences through participation in music and wellbeing activities.

In Her SHOES

‘What Community Means to Me’ event brought together women who have seen the darkest of days – be it through homelessness, living in conflict zones or their experiences as refugees. They performed songs written by members of the group during a series of workshops with women linked to ASIRT, Refugee Action West Midlands, The Malachi Trust, George Dixon School, St George’s School in Ladywood, Amal Women’s Group and The Choir with No Name.

When we lift one another up and focus on glimmers of hope we create communities of care and support. More than once during lockdown I’ve thought about, and drawn on, the strength of these remarkable women.

Katy Bennett from In Her Shoes has put together this film using photos I took at the event and one of the many uplifting songs performed on the day.

Jess’ Journey – and a journey of my own

A few weeks ago we premiered ‘Jess’ Journey’, a film I created with women at Elysium Healthcare‘s Arbury Court and Geese Theatre Company.

I laughed so much over the course of the project, shared in the participants’ journeys and I’ve come away with even more determination to make Participatory Arts the force it can be.

I’m emerging from a really beautiful space that was co-created by patients, hospital staff and some highly skilled, talented and experienced facilitators from Geese. A space of trust, care, respect, joy, experimentation, learning and so much more. It’s potent and important.

The project came shortly after a wonderful ‘Gathering’ with ArtWorks Alliance at the Liverpool Philharmonic. I recently joined themas an Associate, and it’s been wonderful to finally find my ‘people’.

We are a group of organisations and individuals with a passion for participatory arts and an understanding that working together to strengthen support for those working in the field will bring benefits for everyone involved.

ArtWorks Alliance mission statement

The Gathering was a welcome space to think about the ingredients needed to make my own practice as participatory and inclusive as it can be. It’s an ongoing journey of learning, experimentation and reflection. It involves making the case for working in a particular way, some risk taking and seeking out opportunities to work collaboratively.

I was also able to combine my trip to the North West with a visit to the People’s History Museum in Manchester. As well as taking in the stories of ‘ideas worth fighting for’ over the past three centuries, I was able to reflect on how the exhibitions had been curated. This will feed into the next phase of the ‘Represent’ project which I am managing. The team will be developing a pop-up, interactive exhibition of our research and artwork created by two community groups with Artists Carolyn Morton and Jo Löki – we’re brimming with ideas!

Next month I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts at an ArtsConnect WM Pecha Kucha event. More reflections and some musings on some recent reading will follow soon as I develop my presentation…