Hedgehog Helpers are go!

Back in February I wrote about an exciting HEDGEHOG related project that I had in the pipeline.  Well, I’m thrilled to share the finished film – it’s going down a storm with the kids who made it, their classmates, teachers, parents and the super people who worked on the project.

Mr Griffin from St Albans RC School receives a hedgehog friend from Julia from the Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery.

The film is the culmination of a partnership between Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery, The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, Birmingham City Council Park Rangers and pupils from St Albans RC Primary School and Woodthorpe JI School to give ‘Help for Hedgehogs’!

The short film was made by pupils at both schools, and I gave hands on support along the way, as well as editing it all together. It is packed with information about how YOU can help encourage hedgehogs into your own garden and neighbourhood. Hedgehog numbers have declined dramatically in the past 50 years – unless communities take urgent action we may witness their terminal decline in our lifetime.

This project has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and took place between August 2016 and July 2017. 

Really enjoyed my child taking part in the hedgehog project.  It has made us all curious as a family to do our bit to help the hedgehogs, but also spread the word to others.  This project has built confidence and self esteem in the children, strengthened relationships for all involved, promoted curiosity in nature and started a very special journey for children, families, schools and their communities.  It is a joyous project that should be rolled out and continue to be funded to help many more.  Thank you.

Anyone for tea and cake?

On Thursday I will be representing the People’s Heritage Co-operative at Arts Connect’s Artist and Teachers Tea Party.  It’s an chance for teachers to explore opportunities for commissioning creative projects in schools which can enhance the school curriculum.  I’ve blogged about some of the projects I’ll be showcasing over on the People’s Heritage Co-operative blog, including giving a sneak peek of the Women’s History Birmingham project pictured above (more on that soon!).

If you are in any doubt as to how important the arts are to education then it’s well worth 20 minutes of your time to watch Ken Robinson’s TED talk: Do Schools Kill Creativity?  In his talk he outlines the importance of encouraging young people to access creative learning opportunities.

If you are a teacher and are interested then book online.  The event runs from 3:00pm-5:30pm at mac Birmingham.  Come and say hi – there will be cake aplenty!

Sparklers – a beacon in their communities

Last Summer I was asked by Balsall Heath Children’s Centre to document their ‘Sparklers’ parent peer mentoring programme.  Now, the Children’s Centre’s Stay and Play groups have been like a second home for my little family and I over the past few years, so I am slightly biased when I say that their vision and provision for local families are excellent.

‘Sparklers’ are a group of parents in Birmingham who are doing dynamic, life changing work in their local community. Through parenting classes and peer support they are pushing themselves to take on important roles as mentors whilst assisting other families through signposting.  The project, which is a collaboration between Balsall Heath Children’s Centre, Washwood Heath Children’s Centre, Clifton Primary School and Approachable Parenting, has been recognised at a national level through the prestigious ‘Nursery World’ awards. This is their story.

Feasting on Brain Food

Freelancers may recognise the conundrum.  We get to pick and choose projects, working nomadically, taking inspiration from those we work with, learning new skills and forging new relationships.  But getting tantalising tastes of what others are doing and not having our own roots can be a frustrating experience.

Over a decade into working in this way, I’m seeking a way to develop projects with more depth, more impact and longer term relationships and collaborations.  That means standing back and asking some important questions.  How can I be braver in using film and media (or another medium altogether?) to tell stories that matter?  How can I find co-conspirators and collaborators to develop projects which are genuinely participatory and have a positive impact on people’s lives?  What is it that I do well and what is unique about what I do?  What skills am I lacking?  How do I define what I do when my interests seem so broad and hard to pin down?

Lately I’ve been investing some time in trying to find answers to some of these big questions.  The first step was actually articulating some of this to people around me.  It turns out I have some very wise and inspiring friends who were able to see a perspective on my work and career that has eluded me whilst in the midst of raising two little ones.  Special thanks goes to Jane Ralls for her excellent coaching session, Sandra and Lee at Friction Arts for insisting on making space for me to get curious and Aimee Green Bourne for prodding me to play.  Note to self: meet up with friends more.

The next step has been to enrol in some more formal learning around leadership, participatory arts practice and facilitation.  I am on the cusp of completing Arts Connect WM’s ‘Arts Leadership Development Programme’.  Learning about the journeys of other ‘Leaders’ in the Arts and Cultural sector has been really inspiring – I guess that’s why I’m determined to share my own thoughts, to throw open the conversation a bit more.  There is so much to learn from others in the arts, yet we usually just see the finished product, rather than the journey that people have made.  That’s the bit I want to learn more about, warts and all, and I hope to interrogate people a lot more in the near future!

I have some rough ideas of next steps that I’m not quite ready to share – there are a few more courses and conversations planned in the near future which will help me decide on what happens next.

I’m curious as to whether any of this resonates with anyone else reading this.  Where are you on the journey, what have you learnt along the way and is there value in sharing your own journey with others?  I’ll be sharing updates from time to time, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Transfer Co-working space

Recently my lunches have got a lot more interesting.  Instragram-able even.  Not that I would expect people to get too excited by what I’m putting in my belly when I’m at work.  However, what it does represent is something very exciting happening in the way I work.

You see, over the past few months I have been co-working out of The Transfer, a co-working space within The Old Print Works on the Moseley Road in Balsall Heath.  Co-working involves pitching up in a shared office space to work for the day and paying a daily, weekly or monthly fee to do so.  It can be as flexible as you need it to be, which is so important for freelancers as work shifts and changes.  There there is tea and coffee included, and a variety of spaces to nestle down.

You may know The Old Print Works through one of its many tenants – the cosy community Ort Café, the Artist led exhibition space at Ort Gallery or Sundragon Pottery.  Or perhaps you’ve been to one of the events here (monthly Muzikstan nights are highly recommended!).  It’s a work in progress as the community of freelancers, makers and creatives try to breathe new life into an old industrial building, but this is the vision…

If you haven’t yet explored the Old Print Works, we are an eclectic and growing bunch of makers, doers, designers, artists, musicians, teachers, dreamers, builders and thinkers, sharing our skills and art and creations with the community in an even more eclectic and exciting space. The Old Print Works is full of studios, galleries, spaces and surprises – both indoors and out.

For me, it’s a small haven, a cosy place to hide away and be productive which is right on my doorstep.  There are so many little hideaways here and it’s full of greenery.  Tea and coffee are on tap, and the sustainable ethos of the place means that there is a mish-mash of furniture and decor, giving it a really homely feel.  I’m even managing a weekly lunchtime swim across the road in Moseley Road Baths whilst I still can!

I’m not really one of the ‘doers or thinkers’ here, but I do enjoy being around people with a ‘can-do’ attitude to making the building viable and vibrant.  It’s very much what Balsall Heath is about.

Which is where my lunch comes into the equation.  Co-workers gather each lunchtime for a communal lunch, tucking into food prepared at home or bits and pieces grabbed from nearby shops (cheesy naan bread made in front of you in a tandoor oven at Kurdistan Mini Market anyone?).  In the Summer bits of fruit, veg and herbs are picked straight out of the garden at the back of the building.  Everyone contributes something and somehow the result is always greater than the sum of its parts.  It’s also a chance to get to know co-workers, catch up with each other and step away from the screen properly.  The upshot is that my time at the computer is far more productive, even if I feel like I’m being really indulgent by stopping for a sociable lunch.

So, given the option of staying at home trying to work, sitting in a café trying to make a Cappuccino last a few hours or coming to a dedicated, friendly and affordable co-working space I think it’s an obvious choice.  Come along for a free trial and see what you think.

Help for Hedgehogs

Some of my favourite projects are the ones which pull together lots of the things I love.  Last year I worked as a Community Engagement Officer for The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, and found myself in the lucky position of concocting one such project.

‘Help for Hedgehogs’ is a Heritage Lottery Fund funded project, focusing on Hedgehog habitats and activity in and around the beautiful Brandwood End Cemetery in South Birmingham.  The Friends of Brandwood End Cemetery have worked incredibly hard over the years to develop and celebrate the Cemetery, but wanted to focus on practical steps that they could take to support wildlife in the area.

The result is a project which involves conservation work such as creating bug hotels and hedgehog homes, alongside small mammal surveying, art and craft activities, informative talks, knowledge sharing, school workshops and, naturally, community film making.  Emma Sargent from The Wildlife Trust has been working alongside some of Birmingham’s Park Rangers to deliver some really exciting, hands on learning.


I have been working with pupils at two local schools – St Albans and Woodthorpe Primary – to document the project.  Starting from basic film-making workshops, the pupils then went on to film on location whilst their classmates built bug hotels and hedgehog homes.  It always astounds me the speed of the transition between kids nervously approaching a tripod to taking responsibility for directing a shoot!  Some members of the crew conducted interviews and presented to camera.

We hope that the final film will carry key messages around what people can do to encourage hedgehogs, a rapidly declining species, into their gardens.  The three key messages are:

  • Leave areas wild to create spaces for hedgehogs to hibernate
  • Encourage tasty bugs into your garden by leaving log piles or making bug hotels
  • Cut holes in fences to allow hedgehogs to travel safely between gardens – they travel around 2km per night!

To help The Wildlife Trust map out hedgehog activity there is now an online tool to report sitings.  I’m quite chuffed that my parents have recently been able to record a live siting in North Walsall!  Go to http://www.bbcwildlife.org.uk/hedgehogsighting and record any ‘hog siting’!

The film will be screened in early June – more details to follow nearer the time!

#keepswimmingmrb

Anyone who has read the blog for a while will know that I’ve spent a chunk of the past ten years championing Moseley Road Baths, a Grade II* listed Edwardian Swimming Pool in inner city Brum.  It’s a spectacular building, full of marble flooring, stained glass, original tilework, huge steel arches and wooden panelling.  It houses old ‘slipper baths’ for washing, which were used up until 2004 and closed during my brief stint working on Reception in the building.  It even has a steam heated drying rack, a remnant from its former days when the public laundry was a busy and important amenity for the local community.

But really those bits are incidental.  What really makes the space so alive and vital is the way it embraces the local community.  It’s not just somewhere to swim, it’s a real community hub.  Many swimmers have been coming for decades.

The Friends of Moseley Road Baths wanted to capture this, so asked me to make a film as part of their ongoing collaboration with the World Monuments Fund, since Moseley Road Baths was listed on their 2016 Watch List.  The resulting film was used to kickstart a month long social media campaign to show some love for the building before the scheduled closure in Summer 2017.

If you need that again, here’s the deal…

  • Share online through words or images why you want to swim at Moseley Road Baths
  • Use #keepswimmingmrb – and #moseleyroadbaths if you can too!
  • Share the posts that are being put up by the Friends of Moseley Road Baths and spread the love!
Moseley Yoga want to #keepswimmingmrb

To see the results, head over to the group’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.  And don’t forget to contribute and share!

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.