Reaching Home, Reaching Out

Back in November I wrote about some dance rehearsals and workshops I had been documenting for ‘If I Could Reach Home’.  It was clear from the outset that something beautiful and vital was emerging.

The final performance certainly lived up to that early promise.  The result of the poetry workshops, dance rehearsals and careful choreography was a piece which showcased the beauty of classical Indian dance forms alongside the horror and heartbreak of modern day migration.  As so many of us struggle not to become desensitised to the human suffering on Europe’s shores, this was a very human and real response.

If I Could Reach Home at Rowheath Pavilion

Here is the film which documents the evolution of the project and which gives a few tantalising snapshots of the full performance.  I will be sharing those soon, so do check back if this whets your appetite!  For more information on Magdalen Gorringe’s work, including performance, choreography and her research work into Indian Dance forms in Britain, have a look at her website.

Untold Stories: sharing stories across the generations

This blogpost also appears on the People’s Heritage Co-operative website.

As part of The People’s Heritage Co-operative’s HLF funded project, ‘Untold Stories: Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1’, Year 8 pupils at Swanshurst School took part in a series of workshops with Rachel Gillies – Community Film Maker to learn how to conduct filmed oral history interviews.

The result of their hard work is 11 remarkable interviews with a range of people discussing their own experiences and the experiences of relatives in some of the major conflicts of the 20th Century.  From shelling in the trenches of The Somme to the shelling of Hartlepool, patrolling the Suez Canal to holding the line in Korea, back to the UK to the aftermath of conflict in people’s daily lives, including the reality of medical care, the interviews are eye-opening and frank.

Students took on a massive responsibility in helping interviewees share their often harrowing experiences.  Special thanks must go to staff at Swanshurst School and to former teacher, Doug Smith, who facilitated the project and who organises the school’s annual ‘Veteran’s Day’.  Thanks also to Veterans, School Staff and Lt Col. Steve Jeffery who were so forthcoming and generous in their interviews.

The quality of these interviews really does speak volumes about the maturity and sensitivity of pupils who were only born in the 21st Century.  They are ensuring the the lessons from previous generations are passed on.  And in a world that feels in a state of flux, what could be more important than that?

Editing Untold Stories

Back in September I joined with colleagues from ‘The People’s Heritage Co-operative’ to share the findings from our project, ‘Untold Stories – Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1’.  We launched a teaching resource and a film I had filmed and edited at Highbury Hall.  Ahead of sharing the oral history interviews from the project, here are some excerpts of a blog I wrote whilst editing the project film:

So here I’m sat at my desk, looking through scores of photos and hours of footage, wondering how I’m going to pull so much fantastic stuff together.  My job, you see, is to turn all of the lectures, interviews, workshops and explorations we have undertaken through our ‘Untold Stories’ project into a finished film for our launch on 13th September.

img_6975I have rich pickings here. Workshops where we delved into the archive to discover magazines produced by invalided soldiers, photos of injured servicemen following facial reconstructive surgery, lectures on the sheer scale of organisation required to ensure wounded soldiers were treated, genealogy workshops on tracing WW1 casualties, interviews with Korean war veterans, an interview with a serving Military Surgeon, explorations of Highbury Hall with a group of school pupils… it’s fair to say that we have been busy.

So perhaps for now I should just share some of my favourite snippets, and save the rest for the film.

img_7076My main involvement in the project has been working with pupils at Swanshurst School to teach them how to conduct Oral History interviews so that they are able to do their own interviews. Alongside former History Teacher, Doug Smith, and members of the People’s Heritage Co-operative, we ran a series of workshops to prepare the girls for interviewing war veterans during the school’s ‘Veterans Day’ event.

The stories that emerged over the course of Veterans’ Day really highlighted the variety of experiences. One gentleman spoke about his Grandfather being called up to serve at The Somme alongside his horse. Another interviewee highlighted a number of occasions when his father and comrades were injured in the trenches. Other interviewees spoke about more recent conflicts in WW2 and in the Korean War.

Whaimg_6965t was particularly striking was how much the pupils took away from the experience. Here are a few comments from pupils themselves:

‘You learn so much about where you live and what goes on that you feel responsible to continue this’.

‘I think that taking part in experiences like this can be even more informative than learning about it in lessons, because in this situation you’re learning more about actual people’s experiences’.

Of course I couldn’t share all of this without also sharing the project film itself!

Untold Stories: Birmingham’s Wounded Soldiers from WW1 from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

Babies, fonts, baked goods and ducks…

…all of which are linked and make perfect sense when making films with a talented, and very witty, bunch of young people!

Recently I’ve been working with the ‘Woodcraft Pioneers’ in Kings Heath, helping them to make a series of short films. Our starting point was that the group love a decent debate, so we decided to make it light-hearted by giving them some statements to defend through a short film.

We started off doing some basic film-making sessions, looking at how to use equipment and how to conduct interviews. Then it was over to the Pioneers to storyboard and script their own films.  A few highlights of filming included brawling babies, stalking ducks and a mass protest in the middle of Kings Heath Park.

So, a few weeks ago we screened the Premiere of our films, loosely based on the statements: ‘All babies should be taught to ice-skate – just in case’, ‘Comic Sans is the best font’, ‘All money should be replaced with baked goods’ and ‘Ducks are the most evil animal’. Unfortunately (as with most work I do with young people) I can’t share the films online, but hopefully these images give you a flavour of what has been a really enjoyable, if highly surreal, project!

Huge thanks is due to the fantastic volunteers who run the Woodcraft Folk group, a band of very creative, enthusiastic and supportive parents.

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Confessions of a lazy blogger

Hum – so it’s been a while since I’m blogged anything I notice.  I’ve not gone away.  Or at least I did go away, had a baby (yes, another one!) then got back to the business of making more lovely films, albeit on a part time basis.  Fellow travellers in the world of creative and freelance work will know that time is precious when small people enter the equation, so I’ve been head down in work when I’ve not had small children tugging at my legs (and sometimes even when they have been tugging at my legs!).  Sorry for the silence!

So, what to update you with?  Here are a few projects I’ve worked on to give you a flavour…

I’ve been so lucky to work yet again with the fabulous team at DanceXchange who as ever are doing pioneering work in bringing Dance to new audiences.  This time I documented ‘Strive’, a training scheme devised to support Dance Artists in their work with vulnerable and marginalised groups.  The rigor and thought that went into the scheme was fantastic, with plenty for me to take away and use in my own practice.

There have been some really powerful stories that I have been privileged enough to share over the past couple of years.  A series of short films for Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust focused on the stories of patients and carers to try to unpick what ‘care’ means to them.  From a mother of a terminally ill child to a nurse with an unapologetically forthright approach to delivering care, the films really showed how complex a subject it can be.  The films are now part of a package of training materials shown to medical students prior to placements.

Another project in Rowley Regis brought to the screen some research done by a group of adults with learning disabilities. They wanted to share their experiences and frustrations as they navigate their way through the many challenges they face in the day to day – including paying bills and filling in forms, finding work, doing shopping and paying for the Bedroom Tax.

On a much more lighthearted note, I continued my longstanding relationship with The Lichfield Festival by helping a group of young people film a series of shorts, all filmed at Chasewater Light Railway.  The filming was silly amounts of fun and hopefully that’s reflected in the finished films!

I have also been collaborating with other Film Makers – the very talented Sam Lockyer and James Watson of Iconic Productions.  We worked together throughout last Summer to film twelves short films for Nottinghamshire County Council, focusing on The Care Act and the range of services being delivered throughout the County.  You may recognise the voice on some of the voiceovers!

Right – back to it with an edit. And this time I will be sharing it widely when it’s done!

Playing Out

Back in August three roads closed to traffic in Kings Heath to allow kids (and willing adults!) to ‘play out’.  It’s something associated with a bygone era – all of those street games that were so much a part of our grandparents’ childhoods.  A new initiative, called ‘Playing Out’ is trying to create spaces for children to rediscover the art of play – and with it give them opportunities to meet neighbours, form new friendships and to gain a sense of belonging within their own neighbourhoods.

I filmed the event in August for a short promotional film.  There is now a large network of people – residents, play organisations, artists – beavering away to make sure that there will be plenty more events like this.  The film aims to give others inspiration to get their streets closed.  If you are interested then go to www.playingout.net or contact Louise Palfreyman – details at the end of the film.

Discover Dance!

I was a keen little dancer as a kid – ballet, tap, stage dancing.  A precocious little ball of energy, clad in pink lycra with hair in a tight, tight bun and face caked in blue eyeshadow on the stage of Aldridge Youth Theatre.  I loved it, and always get a tingle when I see others experiencing the liberation of leaping about, the point when they are given permission to let go of inhibitions and discover how joyous dance can be.

So how wonderful was it to document a project that encourages dance in the middle of lessons?  Yes, that’s right.  Dance in English.  Dance in Maths.  Dance in French!  And for that to be coupled with seeing professional dancers perform in the middle of your classroom?  To have the opportunity to go on a trip to see a live contemporary dance show?  Tingly.

‘Discover Dance’, a project developed by DanceXchange and Dance4, brings live professional dance to the classroom and uses dance to engage pupils in learning key subjects in a creative, exciting way.  It’s hard to visualise how dance can be relevant to learning about algebra, but as you can see from the film, this works.  Pupils use their bodies to explore concepts and ideas that may not make so much sense on paper.  It’s fun, and so, so liberating to push the desks to one side.  Pupils also have the opportunity to attend a live dance performance, to make connections between what they have learnt in school and the world of professional dance performance in professional venues.  Inspiring stuff.

I’ve been documenting the pilot project in two schools.  The short documentary is now doing the rounds of schools to encourage other schools to participate in developing the project further and bring this wonderful scheme to others.  I think it’s a great idea.  See for yourself.

Discover Dance from Rachel Gillies on Vimeo.

I’ve worked with the fabulous staff at DanceXchange before – their creativity, vision and commitment to advocate for dance as an art form is wonderful to be around.  Jane Ralls, DanceXchange’s Dance Development Director also provided me with this wonderful reference.

“Rachel Gillies is a wonderful community film-maker, demonstrating real ability to make people feel at ease with her presence and obtain exciting and relevant footage. As the film-maker for our Discover Dance project in 2013, she had a warm and friendly manner and was exceptionally flexible in approach. She did a excellent job of editing the material that she captured to create a snappy advocacy film for us to promote the project – and its already been used on numerous occasions. She would be a real asset to any education/community project – either to help document and evaluate work or to help with promotion.”

If you are a teacher and want to learn more then do contact DanceXchange (in the West Midlands) or Dance4 (in the East Midlands).  Teachers and pupils were raving about the project – I’m excited to see how it develops!

‘Looking After’ children in care

Life can be stressful enough for children and young people within the care system without being passed from pillar to post when it comes to healthcare.  The Looked After Children’s Nursing Service provides a ‘one-stop shop’ for health screening and support.

I worked with pupils at Firsbrook School in Quinton to produce a short animation to illustrate what happens at an annual check up.  The young people, themselves classed as ‘Looked After Children’, worked with their Art teacher, Richard Upton and myself to create the animation.  This involved discussing their own apprehensions and experiences of accessing health care and advice.  This formed the basis of the script which we developed into a stop frame animation, using characters the group developed themselves.

AnimationThe young people are given annual check ups by a specialist team of nurses, and they also have the opportunity to discuss health issues with a specialist paediatrician.  This means that their physical and mental health can be monitored and managed, and support can be offered where needed.  Files are kept in one place and the young person will usually see the same person each year.

This animation formed part of a further film, based on interviews with nurses, doctors and healthcare assistants within the Looked After Children’s Health Team.  This explains in some details what children and young people can expect.

Daisy Hale, Elliot Sturman did a sterling acting job undergoing a mock check, and Jennifer Smith did a fantastic turn as a Social Worker (maybe a new career beckons?).  Huge thanks to everyone within the team was brave enough to go in front of the camera!  Thanks also to everyone at Firsbrook for making me feel so welcome – staff and pupils alike.

Got your attention?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition which is hotly debated and widely misunderstood.  Where is the line between a ‘spirited’ or ‘badly behaved’ child and a child suffering from ADHD?  How can you tell?  Fortunately in Birmingham there is a service to which children can be referred in order to try and determine exactly that.

I was commissioned by Birmingham Community Healthcare Trust to develop a short film to outline what the ADHD Nurse Led Service does and to explain to parents, carers, school staff and school nurses how referrals can be made and how the assessment is conducted.

ADHD referral

1,000 DVDs were produced back in January (yes, I am incredibly behind in my blogging!), which are now being circulated in schools.  This is an important tool in aiding understanding of the condition and compliments the awareness-raising that the ADHD Nurse Led Service is already doing.

The film was produced in close collaboration with the ADHD team – Kim, Chris and Mel.  However, the real star of the show is Scrabble, Kim’s Springer Spaniel, who showed real professionalism in demonstrating some of the key symptoms of ADHD!

If you would like a copy of the film, or want to know more about the service then head to the service website for more information.

Monoxide Mole investigates

Over the past year there have been a number of really sad stories in the news about people dying as a result of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.  The tragedy of all of these incidents is that they are so easily preventable through a knowledge of the possible dangers and by getting appliances checked by a qualified and registered engineer.

In a bid to educate people on the dangers of Carbon Monoxide, the Gas Safety Trust funded Moseley Community Development Trust to work with local pupils at Park Hill Primary School to help spread the message.  Phil Beardmore, an expert on home energy issues (one of the many hats he wears!) developed a training session to teach adults working on the project what Carbon Monoxide is, what can make it hazardous, the signs of poisoning and how it can be prevented.

Gas Safety Project

This was a unique project as it was pupils themselves that took the lead on creating an advertising campaign.  I worked alongside the wonderfully talented and creative Sandra Taylor (formerly of the rather marvellous Playtrain organisation) to help the group develop their ideas, find creative ways of expressing what was quite a complex subject (especially for Key Stage 2 pupils!), and then to realise their vision through drama, narration, film and animation.

The result is a fun, informative film, developed and created by the pupils themselves which is now being shown in homes across Moseley.  The pupils learned new skills over the course of the project, but more importantly really took the message of Gas Safety on board.  1,000 DVDs have been produced to make sure that the message is spread far and wide, and the information is now available online on the Moseley CDT website.

Thanks to Sandra for all of her hard work co-ordinating the project, to Phil for his excellent training and support, to all the supportive staff at Park Hill, to Tony Thapar at Moseley CDT and to Ben Lister for his excellent work on the edit. Above all, well done to the pupils who put so much effort in and made the project such a giggle!