Pupils, teachers and parents get first glimpse of new ‘floating’ artwork at Lansbury Bridge School

This week we unveiled a new artwork made by pupils working with our Artist in Residence for Schools and Colleges Cathy Cross at Lansbury Bridge School and Sports College.

Hanging in the school’s entrance hall, Circle Shadows Overhead is a large scale installation featuring 125 individuals ‘artworks’ made by pupils. Resembling clouds, the artworks changes colour with the light throughout the day and can be projected on to.

Cathy has been working in the school since September 2018, delivering sessions using low-tech gadgets and high-spec smartphones to show teachers and pupils how simple ideas can transform spaces. The pupils made each individual ‘cloud’ in small groups and pairs using fabric, paint and other materials.

The ‘clouds’ can also be projected onto giving pupils and staff the chance to curate the space with video, images and light.

As Artist in Residence Cathy explains:

“I wanted to create an installation that would unite the whole school community and offered a chance for me to get to know the pupils through creative immersive sessions. During the time we spent in the art room, we played with light and darkness, changed the atmosphere, slowed the time down to listen to sounds. By adapting the space we work in, we can change the mood, energy and volume of a room. We can see, hear and feel things differently.

“My aim was to enable staff to try new ways of working, and experience different responses from the students they know so well. By working on small surfaces with each class, I was able to build a larger body of work that each individual, pairing or class could own.”

Cathy installed the work over the weekend so that the installation was a surprise at the start of the day for both staff, pupils and parents/carers.

“This was always part of the plan, to create a moment of looking up and seeing what is possible. Creating magical spaces with the people who work, eat and play in them every day is always a privilege. I can’t wait to see what we can do with the space next!”

We’re thrilled to say that project has received an incredibly positive reaction from staff and pupils as Lansbury’s Deputy Head Helen Birkenhead explains:

“The whole process has benefited our pupils – from experiencing the new ambience in the classroom and collaborating with their peers to helping host the installation event. Our newly appointed Arts Ambassadors demonstrated confidence in welcoming guests, showcasing their work and eliciting feedback on the installation. Many have been inspired to speak to the attending artists about career opportunities. During lunchtimes it is lovely to see pupils looking up at the work; pointing out their individual contribution and watching the light (natural or projected) change across the surface of the hoops. It has also been rewarding to hear our pupils using descriptive and emotive language when describing the process and the finished installation.”

Our Deputy Director, Kat explains why being embedded in communities is so fundamental to the way we work:

“We are really proud of Cathy’s work with Lansbury Bridge. By using the artist residency model we can support her be truly embedded within the school community. The outcome of this kind of careful, trusting approach is the fantastic student and teacher engagement that shines through the work they’ve created. The creative journey that Cathy and Lansbury Bridge have embarked on together echoes our philosophy of co-production and reminds us why we place people at the centre of everything we do.”

Read more about Cathy’s work.

Lansbury Bridge School is a specialist provision catering for children aged 3-16 years.

Thoughts on TORCH

Did you experience the journey of TORCH through St Helens in November 2018? Created by ANU and the women of St Helens, the site-responsive production wound its way through the town from St Helens Central train station, to a house on Charles Street and then back to the Hippodrome bingo hall. Creative consultant, practitioner and critical friend of Heart of Glass Chrissie Tiller was one of 200 audience members, here she reflects on her TORCH experience: 

“I am standing in St Helens Central Railway station.  Having survived what feels like an endless saga of delayed and cancelled trains, I am pleased to see I have arrived in time. Enough time to find my way to the ‘Mexican café’ a man outside the pub is determined to convince me doesn’t exist.  Enough time to have a hot chocolate before I go out into the ‘weather’. Enough time to distance myself from London: to land in this town whose history, stories and social and economic realities have somehow woven their way into the fabric of my life over the past three years.     

“I am standing in St Helens Central Railway station.  A young woman I recognise, wearing a Heart of Glass vest, hugs me, checks my name off on a list and asks me to write down my name, gender and age.  I feel strangely ambivalent about sharing the latter, realising it has become something increasingly difficult to own up to; especially as a woman. And yet, as I begin to write about this piece, I recognise, that, like my gender and my class, my age threads its way through every moment of my response to this performance.  By the end of the evening, I feel I should have shouted it out: claiming a history that is my history, declaring my personal connection with these women and owning so many of these stories.

“I am standing in St Helens Central Railway Station.  Chatting with another audience member about the growing impact of austerity, the rising inequalities of world we live in.  A young woman approaches us. Somewhere on the periphery of my vision, I have noticed her struggling with the drinks machine.  She looks anxious. Out of time and out of place. She asks us if we have any spare change. Having handed in my bag to the stewards, I don’t have a wallet.  I don’t have any money in my pockets. And, although I know we are waiting for a performance, and I’ve already distinguished potential audience members and performers from those people who are clearly ‘just waiting for trains’, the young woman’s distress is palpable.  I am relieved when the person I am with finds some coins. My sense of guilt and embarrassment already hinting at an unsettling blurring of the boundaries between theatre and reality. Giving up on the machine, the young woman returns the coins and runs off in the direction of the road.  TORCH has begun.

“My sense of guilt and embarrassment already hinting at an unsettling blurring of the boundaries between theatre and reality.”

“A second woman grabs hold of us.  Out of breath and stressed, she is anxiously seeking the woman we have watched leave the station.  We have already told her which way she has gone before she shows us an identity card. Still caught between the world of St Helens and the world of the play I wonder if I’ve done the wrong thing?  What if this woman had been working for the Immigration authorities, for the police? What if the young woman running away had had good reasons for not wanting to be found? But, instantaneously caught up in the conventions of the piece, my companion and I find ourselves running with this second woman to her car, promising to help her look for the girl on our way to ‘the house’.  We sit beside and behind her. We look out of the window, as if we really hoped we might spot the girl we now know to be vulnerable and in need of support. She hands one of us her phone, chats with her ‘sister’ on speaker about getting her daughter ready for the school nativity play, about the effort she has put into the slightly disastrous gluten free gingerbread men. We have become her confidantes, complicit in her deceit when she discovers the ‘halo’ she has insisted is in the house, is in fact, on the floor of the car. Audience as witness to this woman’s world. A world of overworked and underfunded care services. A world where a mother can’t be there for her daughter’s big event. We are caught up in her sense of responsibility, the guilt she tries to push aside, her reluctant acceptance that she will never manage to be everything for everyone.

“And then we are in the ‘safe’ house.  Finding the fuse box, she puts on the lights, sits us down and leaves as quickly as she has come into our lives.  But before we have chance to be in this space, a third woman grabs my hand, leads me up a narrow staircase, opens a door and we are in her bedroom.  Time has shifted for the two of us. She invites me to sit on the bed in this topsy-turvy, cluttered 1940s room and begins to speak. I find difficult to listen.  My eyes blur. I begin wrapping my arms tightly round myself. Because something else has changed apart from the time. This piece of theatre, taking place before only my eyes, is, ‘my story’.   Not in the sense this woman is me. But in the sense that she is telling me the story that has made me who I am. The story of an ordinary, working class girl who became herself, who grew into who she really was and, despite all that was wrong about it, had the ‘time of her life’ in the Second World War.

“I find difficult to listen.  My eyes blur. I begin wrapping my arms tightly round myself. Because something else has changed apart from the time. This piece of theatre, taking place before only my eyes, is, ‘my story’.”

“My Mum didn’t live in St Helens.  She didn’t become one of the Idle Women, working the barges while the men were away, whose stories Etta Fusi shares.  But, as a young woman of 22, she did leave the tenement block she still lived in with her parents, gave up her tailoring job in Burtons and joined the Land Army.  She discovered, like many of those who took on men’s roles at this time, that she loved being outside. Like Fusi’s character, she loved the sheer physicality of working the fields, the blissful sense of exhaustion she felt at the end of a day.  She loved being taught to drive and put in charge of delivering Italian and German prisoners of war to farms up and down West Yorkshire. She loved being asked to run a hostel of women: women who had been teachers, civil servants, even a debutante (who she told me proudly didn’t ‘last very long’). And, like the young woman whose story being shared with me in the privacy of ‘her bedroom’, she spoke about this time with a joy and sense of purpose that we rarely heard later as she brought us up on a council estate in Leeds.

“But this is not a piece that lets me dwell in the past.  In one of the shifting maelstroms from ‘then’ to ‘now’ to ‘another then’ that are part of TORCH, I am downstairs again; sitting and looking at a room that has once more shifted in time.  It is a room I both know and don’t know. I know the mirror on the wall, the standard lamp, the electric fire in the fireplace. I know the kitchen doorway, the sounds, the smells and the stories that hang in the visceral spaces between them.  And I knew a woman, who wasn’t Sarah Morris, curled up like a baby on the sofa, telling us of her struggle to get back her children. But I did know Mrs Trigg. A young mother who lived next-door spent most of her time wrapped up in a pink dressing gown like this pink dressing gown.  A young mother who couldn’t cope, and who in her desperation, began to think she had to stay inside because people were talking to her through the television. A young mother who nearly had her sons taken away from her because one day she fell asleep on the sofa, let a cigarette end drop, and almost burnt her house down; taking ours with it.  

“I knew my aunts and cousins’ houses and flats by the canal on East Street. I knew Mrs Farden, who came from Kippax, whose ‘bad boy’, son I beat up on the grass verge in front of our house because he tried to steal my bike.  I knew women who lived through hard times but somehow stuck together and became the glue for each other’s splintered lives. I knew the women who were sharing their stories with me in this room, and even if there was a blurring of times and places it didn’t matter.  Because the skin of this house held all of them.

“I knew women who lived through hard times but somehow stuck together and became the glue for each other’s splintered lives. I knew the women who were sharing their stories with me in this room, and even if there was a blurring of times and places it didn’t matter.  Because the skin of this house held all of them.”

“And even though I was already in London, standing outside the local Co-op collecting food and funds at the time of the Miners’ Strike, I felt I knew this woman from St Helens who now stood on the table speaking with such passion women taking on the struggle.  Women who saw it as a way of finding themselves and their strength and their vitality and their anger at the injustices of this world. And, because I knew, from other times, of how a mother might feel spending all day in a Social Security office or waiting for handouts from the St Vincent de Paul to buy Christmas presents for her kids, I also understood her daughter’s arguments about needing to get your men back to work.   I felt the pride of those women for whom the Strike, like the War, offered a sense of solidarity and empowerment. And I felt the hurt and pain of those who had had ‘Scab’ written over their doors because they had caved in at the end. Because the poor are always set against the poorest. Especially when Capitalism feels under threat.

“And, even though one part of me watched these women with the distance that being part of an audience creates, I wanted to take all these women in my arms and hold them.”

“And, even though one part of me watched these women with the distance that being part of an audience creates, I wanted to take all these women in my arms and hold them.  Standing in the kitchen with Gillian McCarthy later, watching the 1984 Queen’s Speech together on a black and white television, listening to her speak about the way her and her daughter, Niamh McCann, had been torn apart by the cruel aftermath of that strike I wanted to shake them both and take the Poundland Barbies she had bought for her grand-daughters and put them in their hands so they, and their Mum, would know how much she missed and cared for them.   

“But instead we watched in silence. None of us spoke about the incongruity of Diana wearing a flying saucer of a hat while she nursed her baby or Charles’ brusque direction to her to wipe off the puke.  Or the parallels and intersections between the life of this young woman abused by a whole family and the stories of the women in this house reverberated in the space between us.  But they continued to reverberate as this house began to pulsate with sound and we watched Nandi Bhebhe’s fierce, unflinching retelling through dance of the young woman who had finally found her way to the refuge.  We were filled with the rawness of her pain, but we also sensed her inability to stop and rest, her need to be somewhere other than this suffocating, pain-filled house, and when McCann despairingly accused us of letting her go, reneging on our promise to take care, we sensed it had somehow been the right thing.

“Then just as quickly we are back in the 1940s, running with Etta Fusi down a street at night where bombs had fallen, finding ourselves in a disturbing intersection between ‘now’ and ‘then,’ between St Helens the place and St Helens the women’s story, as we manoeuvred our way through a group of teenage boys, faces masked, who had strung themselves across the road in front of us.  My mind kept swinging between a 1940’s image of my Mum and her sisters’ arms linked in this way as they ran along the front at Blackpool and an article I had read on the train about the growing violence and the escalating suicide rates of young men in St Helens. ‘Now’ and ‘then’ kept shifting and colliding as we sat in the 1940s cinema refreshment bar in the Hippodrome Bingo Hall drinking tea and listening to Sonia Hughes’ own story.  Never quite clear whether her Greek friend, Theo, is real or not. Whether she can really read our future in our tea leaves. Responding to her questions about ‘truth’ and things we’ve regretted we never did. Stunned into deep and self-reflective silence by the question she leaves us with: ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid’.

“Like characters in a fairy tale, we stay with that silence, until we finally sense the spell has broken, and the four of us who have made up the audience for the past 75 minutes, begin to speak: in awkward and slightly hushed voices.  Because TORCH does literally take your breath. It takes time to emerge from the world it has created. A world that is your own but not your own. A world that is a constant whirlwind of ‘then’ and ‘now’ and ‘then’, but which finally places us firmly in the ‘now’ that is St Helens, with the voice of a local MP speaking in Parliament about the cruel effects of austerity policy and the number of children living in poverty and in need of care.   

“Because TORCH does literally take your breath. It takes time to emerge from the world it has created. A world that is your own but not your own.”

“TORCH is the recreation of stories gathered from the women of St Helens over two years:  of voices that are often unheard. But it is also, as Director Louise Lowe reminds us in the discussion later, a re-telling of the story of another Helen:  a woman of beauty whose mythological story of being raped, torn from her children and taken by force to a foreign land has been mediated and handed down to us by men. If TORCH does constantly remind us of these themes and realities in the lives of the women of St Helens, it also reclaims the stories of women who have fought against adversity by finding solidarity, women who work tirelessly to create spaces and places of refuge, women whose lives are lived out, un-noticed and un-recorded, in cities and towns across the UK. It honours these lives in the meticulous recreation of time and place formed and shaped by set and costume designers Maree Kearns and Niamh Lunny.  It honours them through Sinead Diskin’s sound design that subtly shifts our sense of place and time: continually reminding us of our role as listeners as well as watchers in this immersive experience.  

“If TORCH does constantly remind us of these themes and realities in the lives of the women of St Helens, it also reclaims the stories of women who have fought against adversity by finding solidarity, women who work tirelessly to create spaces and places of refuge, women whose lives are lived out, un-noticed and un-recorded, in cities and towns across the UK.”

“In the discussion afterwards, Lowe speaks about the spirit of inquiry that has united performers, creators, producers and designers in this piece.  She speaks about the almost athletic training involved in performing a piece that constantly needs to engage with the realities of the town as well as the constructed world of the house.  She and producer Lynette Moran tell us about the different journeys they went on while shaping what has become the final piece we see. A piece crafted to ensure each member of the audience experiences differently.  As part of that process Lowe mentions an idea she had, about collecting a hundred gestures. Gestures that reminded each of the women they spoke to of their own mothers. She raises her hand in a gentle motion. And I think about my mother, enclosed in some world of her own at the end, running her hands across her skirt, smoothing and smoothing the material, just like the young tailoress she had once been:  sitting at a sewing machine, creating a sense of order and neatness in a world that was just about to explode into chaos and turmoil.

“At a time when it sometimes feels like the world is about to spiral into another dark space, a time when our country is increasingly divided, across class, across gender, across race, across economic and social boundaries it seems to me that we desperately need to hear the voices and understand the lives that TORCH presents to us.  We need to find solidarity with those who matter and those who work for social and economic justice and change. We need to create theatre that is relevant, radical, political – and rooted in the experience of (extra)ordinary working class people who rarely see their lives on stage.”

“Like the women of St Helens. TORCH made me realise why I love theatre but also why, as someone who has been a theatre-maker in the past, I have stopped going.  I want to feel like I did when I got back on my train to London, that I want to go again. That I need to go again.  That theatre matters. “

Photo credits: Radka Dolinska

Reflections – artist Stephen King on the stories behind the making of Where Things Are Different

It’s January. It’s cold, dark and wet. We’re casting our minds back to this time last year when we huddled by the banks of the Sankey Canal to witness the opening of Where Things Are Different – a large scale outdoor photography installation made by artist Stephen King and workers from St Helens industrial past….

We asked Stephen King about the stories behind these visual stories…

Fun Fact: St Helens MP Marie Rimmer was not only the source of the anecdotes told by this first beautiful, poignant image, but the model in it!

“A dynasty in glass, residing in unity, celebrating collectively. Hearing the gathering and the roar the young girl watched the crescendo of the allied effort to protect the woodpile. Doors bubbled under the intensity and panes cracked in their frames with the proximity. Never any trouble.”

As Stephen explains….

“Marie was actually the first person I sat down with to discuss the material for the project. We were in the Beechams building for what was supposed to be just an informal introduction. However, Marie is a font of experience and as we got stuck into a long conversation (a few hours!) she painted me a vivid picture of what it was like being part of a large Irish family in a community of Pilkingtons workers. Marie fired so may anecdotes at me I was overwhelmed. Some were poignant, some tragic and mostly hilarious. I came away from that meeting appreciating her sense of her contentment and belief in the solidarity of the community she had grown up in. Not only the strength of family and  extended family that you called ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’, but even wider than that – a sense of how community drives her to this day.

This photograph was made with the aim of encapsulating this sense of confidence in community. I based it around a memory Marie has of herself as very young girl going along to huge community bonfires. Every few streets along, neighbours would build their own woodpile and guard it around the clock until it was lit. The conditions were so cramped and fires so large that the paint on the doors would bubble and glass would crack in its frames from time to time. She would happily stand in the doorway watching this event unfold. As she revisited this memory, Marie recalled there was never was never a police presence – events always unfolded peacefully and without trouble.

And on the staging of the image, Stephen recalls…

‘I regretted it. It took me a day and a half to paint the door and then try to burn and bubble it with a lukewarm blow torch! You can’t really see it so well, but when I look at this now I’m at least pleased at least I know that this finer detail is there… somewhere!’

Singers, comedians, strippers, magicians, you name it… club land was a career path for some. Barlow turned up, 17 years old in a little dickie bow and a smart shirt… nice lad, couldn’t sing to save his life though, so far off pitch it was painful.

A guy swallowed things and then regurgitated them in a different order and finished off with the snooker balls. He’d just swallow them down.

“what order do you want me to bring them back up in?”

Roy Rivers adapted his turn for clubland on this unicycle,

“what’s the round then?”

“clear the path”

His tray filled with beer… he went for hours, he never spilled a drip.

“We hosted some amazing get-togethers during the research period of this project,” explains Stephen. “And some of the richest tales that emerged were from the people who attended, worked and performed in the Labour clubs in the St Helens area. We would just sit with pots of tea and plates full of biscuits and the stories would fly across the table for hours. The random array of acts that did turns and the quirks of the people who let-loose in those places after a hard day’s work… just beautifully genuine. These clubs bred a whole era of entertainers who went on to be household names – Gary Barlow being one! Places where artists cut their teeth in front of a crowd. An audience would tell it how it is but at the same time support them as ‘one of their own’. This image is an amalgamation of many of these characters and stories. A creation where several personas, experiences and tall-tales crash together to produce a nowhere place, based on something, a passing reflection of recollection.

“First of all we needed a location for the shoot and the good people at Windle Labour Club kindly allowed us to use their bar for an afternoon… but then there was the unicyclist. We appealed on Facebook, Twitter and passed the word around that we needed a unicyclist, a taller order than initially imagined – especially once we explained what was being asked of them! Eventually we found the amazing Ryan Carruthers from The Circus House who was so talented, understanding and patient. He not only balanced on the spot in an ill fitted suit (on a unicycle) but also put up with these pool balls bouncing off his head, as we tried to fix the lighting so that the balls would be appear to be frozen in mid-air without creating shadows. Finding a unicyclist was so difficult that it put the shoot right back to the very last day possible. It meant that some of these brilliant participants / actors were called in literally minutes before this photograph was made so they really saved the whole thing. I’m glad they all liked apple juice as the beer taps were off!”

A man with white facial hair stands holding a yellow pot in a woodland scene with a camera over his shoulder. Another person stands in the background wearing a gasmask

Within the shadow of the Ravenhead Works, a boy and his friends would play in the claypits off Elm Road. The site of long-gone industries and the dumping ground of the recent, the clay would often give up its wealth of treasures. Gas masks dumped after the war, yellow pottery lemon curd pots from the original Clay and Brick Works and glass marbles – a bi-product from the quenching of spillage in plate glass production.

I met with local historian Mike Skidmore whilst researching Where Things Are Different and was completely bowled-over by the depth of this man’s local knowledge. He had a story about everything. Every place, every business, every building – and the facts to back it up. We talked for hours about the industrial histories of St Helens and the wider social implications of the towns ups and downs over the years. By the end of it I felt weighed down by the torrent of history I’d heard. However it was a personal story, just a passing anecdote, that stayed with me after our meeting. Mike told me about a place he and his friends would play as a young boy – just off Elm Road. They would go there to dig in the clay, and more often than not the land would reward them with mementos of its industrial past: glass marbles, yellow clay pots and, if you were really lucky, a gas mask! A few weeks later I arranged to visit the area with Mike, we walked for a long while as he re-acquainted himself with the landscape. While we walked he told me how these boyhood treasures came to be buried.

In the 1800s, the site had been a clay pit with a brickworks. Later Midland Pottery used it for the making of stoneware jam jars for Hartley’s Jam but mainly lemon curd pots. It was these deep yellow pots (sometimes fully intact) that would pop-up now and again. From the 1930s the site was used as a dumping ground and it was here that the detritus from many many years of the glass industry was sent. In the early plate-glass making process the molten glass would be squashed between two surfaces and some wastage would spill out from the sides, this would land into a bath of water. As the molten glass hit the cold water it would form natural spheres – marbles! Time passed and the glass industry grew so much in St Helens that the workforce encompassed most of the town, an industry in great need throughout the war years and hence a massive number of gas-masks. After the war these were dumped with the same 20th century abandon as all the other industrial waste.

It was lovely to walk this landscape with Mike and hear the full details behind the anecdote I’d heard just a few weeks earlier. As we trod the ground, it struck me how these details were being revealed to me like the earth had given up its treasures to the that boy fifty years earlier.

 

Protestors stand with placards a lady in blue walks through the crowd.

 

Lady Pilkington – the wife of Harry – ‘bore the brunt of the workers’ anger’. She made an unannounced appearance. Blue fitted coat, nonchalantly strolling unnoticed for half an hour, but as soon as the gathering began to disperse, she was spotted and drama began to unfold… Rank and file swarmed.

“would your old man work for £12 a week?”

Mavis (Pilkington) calmly exited through the crowd.

“A key thing that drew me to the idea of basing this work around the shared spoken word was how, with time, fragments of anecdotes can come together to become a kind of shared fact. This image is based on a tale I’d heard third-hand. I did see the story printed in a newspaper – many years later – but there was no shred of evidence that the event actually happened. No one I spoke to had witnessed it. Anyone who told or wrote the story ‘knew someone who knew someone’ who was there…

I wanted to shoot the image in this specific location. Somewhere just recognisable enough to be loosely placed but at the same time ambiguous. It took some time to negotiate shooting there and the time slot we were allotted was quite rigid. It didn’t give us much room for manoeuver…. I wanted to light the whole set (a very large area). I wanted it to look filmic, but not too professional. Kind of B Movie… in honour of the nature of the story – hence Lady Pilkington’s ill-fitting wig and coat. With around 30 participants, costumes, lighting to consider it was pretty tense. Then just before everyone arrived to the set it began to rain, like torrential rain. As we ran around wrapping all the lighting kit up in plastic bags – all our lovely participants arrived all nice and dry beneath their umbrellas. I had to break it to them all that we needed to do this without them and – bless them – they just put the brollies to the side and got stuck in. We shot a few options (some pretty out-there ideas involving pistols and smoke bombs!). I was conscious not to keep them all there in the rain but by the time we had finished it was dark and everyone was soaked… they must have been thinking what the hell had they got themselves into!”

A group of people stand and sit on the site of an classic red truck dressed in black and white stripes, with some in red. A man stands on a yellow exercise ball at the front of the truck. The truck is located next to a red brick building.

“As a little girl, the truck passed-by with all these convicts, I was so upset. Then another passed with devils on. Dad would say “If you do that again” the Devil would come and get me. It stays in your mind… A man carried a ball, running a distance and standing on it statue still until the procession caught up and then off again. Communities came together with ideas and elements of where you worked for carnivals and street processions. If they had a talent, or even just a bit of a talent, anyone could join in.”


As Stephen explains…

Along with the sports and entertainment clubs, it was the carnivals and street processions that brought people together and forged memories. These events happened often. Each street or workplace or organisation would prepare and bring to life its own themed float. The experience would captivate participants and onlookers alike.

 

“Enid recalled the delight she felt as a child watching these processions pass her house. She remembered the diversity of talent and the theatrical exuberance of the groups. One stood out in particular though. Seventy years later she still didn’t understand the significance but Enid was affected and had suffered nightmares about it….


“Again as it had been in previous images, several elements from different stories and recollections came together to make this piece. A lot of the elements came along by sheer luck. For example, I knew I needed some kind of vehicle so – naturally – contacted the the good people at The North West Museum of Road Transport in St Helens. They had just come by a flat-bed truck and had begun renovating it. It was perfect. But not only did it look perfect, it had the perfect story. The museum team had just found out that this actual truck was last used in the procession / carnival for the 100 year celebration of St Helens! This truck had just about survived the last 50 years and was now being lovingly resurrected to take part in the St Helens 150th anniversary events.


“The truck was just about ready in time for the shoot. Bright red and looking beautiful. However, the weather was terrible, it was freezing cold and the fog rolled in that morning. We questioned whether or not this was going to be possible. All the participants / actors arrived and I had to break it to them that I wanted them to ditch their coats and change into thin t-shirts. Thankfully they were all supportive. After a little unofficial road blocking I had to work really quickly lighting the street to counteract the effects of the fog and to make sure that no one got too cold…

 

“Not forgetting Owen – the man who balanced on the ball. He must have had strangest days work and never once questioned any of it. He was wonderful. He arrived that morning without really knowing what would actually be happening. But without hesitation he got his ball out the back of his van, whipped his clothes off and got on with it. Brilliant!”

Five men dressed in green clothing stand and kneel in a dark corridor, one tends to a pile of mustard coloured powder, there is a gorilla in the background
Stephen and the crew shot this photo in the depths of December 2017 at the site of the long-gone Beechams workers’ recreation ground. After finding it they had to gain access from the football club that now uses the site.

Their goal was to locate site of the long forgotten Pavilion – which burned down in the early 1980s. Cue lots of digging through undergrowth and piles of rubbish…. But it paid off – as they eventually came across the remnants of the old dance floor! ⠀

Stephen, the cast and crew returned a few days later at dusk to make the photograph – a fraught process with fifteen minutes of light left in the sky. ⠀

As Stephen tells it: “The participants who acted this out were just amazing and so patient as I ran around moving flashes, letting off smoke bombs and swearing and kicking things as I got further and further away from what I imagined the image would be. As with all these things we were gifted at the last opportunity – just as it was getting too dark to continue we got it! Thank you for not just going home as you should have!” This photograph amalgamates the stories of one man and his friends’ 30-year career at Beechams. It explores the diverse roles that he bravely took on. From making pills from its original black tar-like Aloe, coating them with yellow powder and then building a sports ground! ⠀

A group of men stand on a hillside. One group in overcoats are firing fire extinguishers in the direction of a group in blue boiler suits and white hats. One man in the background is wearing a white vest, dark trousers and black beanie and is holding a set of keys.
“The basis on which the idea of Where Things Are Different was built was from a concept termed Heterotopias. It is a concept elaborated by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe certain cultural, institutional and discursive spaces that are somehow ‘other’: disturbing, intense, contradictory or transforming. Heterotopias are worlds within worlds, mirroring and yet upsetting what is outside… These notions were never starker than when reflected upon the mining community.

Although the industry and its workforces where displaced, dismantled and sidelined, the communities are still present and very much lucid about their histories.

Still to this day high tensions and passions are played out in equal measure… And this was the strongest underpinning theme that bobbled beneath the surface of our good humoured discussions. A centuries-old community built upon hard work, camaraderie and solidarity had been to war – and sometimes with its self. They had clung on, weathered the storm and could now stand on weary legs and peer back, still together – but different.”

Heart of Glass team ups with The Citadel to give innovative family theatre a home in St Helens

We were terribly sad to hear the news of the closure of The Citadel building. The venue is a huge part of the cultural ecology of St Helens with a history that speaks for itself. Over the years, we’ve been lucky to have hosted many many special events there. We’ve plotted projects, made friends and developed a wonderful partnership that has brought some incredible theatre to St Helens through collaborations with producers such as Live Art Development Agency, Scottee and Turned on Its Head.

The show must go on however, and we are pleased to say we’ll be continuing to collaborate with our friends over at The Citadel to ensure high quality innovative family and young people’s theatre has a home in St Helens.

We’ll be working together to develop a programme of activity for young people and families – a programme will build the strength of our partnership (developed through the Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places programme).  We’ll also be hosting the Citadel team in our offices as they embark on this new phase in their organisation’s development.

Watch this space!

As our Director Patrick Fox puts it:
“The news of the building’s closure is terribly sad. The Citadel have responded to the challenges faced by regional theatres up and down the country with bravery and resilience. We fully support its strategy to continue in a new form and develop an offer for the Borough featuring the best practitioners in the field and bringing unique and quality work to audiences in a range of different spaces. We strongly believe that every community should have a stage, and we applaud The Citadel’s commitment to continue and find a new form and new stages. We look forward to the journey.”

Fay Lamb (CEO, The Citadel) went on:
“The Citadel has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support we have received since announcing the closure of the Citadel Arts Centre building. We are looking forward to continuing our work with Heart of Glass, and St Helens arts sector, as we embark on this exciting new phase of development for the Citadel Charity which will take our work with children, young people and families out to the public. We share Heart of Glass’s ambition to re-imagine the town of St Helens as the Arts Centre”.

For more information on The Citadel: www.citadel.org.uk

 

It’s a Wrap! Our 2018 round up!

It’s a wrap!

On Thursday 13th December, we gathered with friends at The Citadel theatre in St Helens for a right good knees up to celebrate what has been an incredible 150th year for St Helens and for Heart of Glass. Our friends at Eggs Collective invited their friends along to entertain us, sing to us, and make crowns with us – it was a wonderful night!

And there was so much to celebrate! This year has been a remarkable year for St Helens, which was named the inaugural Borough of Culture for the Liverpool City Region in its 150th year. Over 60000 people have taken part in events across the year, which began with public art at the side of the Sankey canal, and continued with a parade to celebrate the borough’s unsung heroes in June and an army of volunteers building a giant cardboard castle in August. September saw the start of a jam packed Take Over Festival in partnership with St Helens Libraries and Cultural Hubs, which included literature events with Frank Cottrell Boyce, film screenings with Maxine Peake, St Helens debuts and the return of old friends, collaborations with brass bands and older members of our community. In November, the award winning theatre production TORCH by ANU and women of St Helens journeyed through St Helens over two weeks, and at the start of December we gathered at St Helens Town Hall for the finale of St Helens 150, which featured an animation premiere and a schools’ lantern trail, and we watched as the Town Hall was transformed by a large scale light projection created by artist Simon Mckeown and BuzzHub St Helens Coalition of Disabled People. 

What a year it has been! Here are our highlights!

We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that has been involved with Heart of Glass this year, as a collaborator, an audience member or a supporter from afar. We wish you a lovely festive break and look forward to seeing you again in the new year!

We kicked off St Helens 150th year and our year as Borough of Culture with a stunning photography exhibition that loomed large over the Sankey Canal created by Stephen King and communities of workers from this town’s industrial past. © Stephen King

 

Our Director Patrick Fox introduces the third With For About conference in May this year.

On a very warm day at the end of June, the St Helens Citizens’ Day Parade made its marvellous way across the town centre led by Eggs Collective in celebration of the everyday heroes who make our town such a wonderful place to be! Video by Philip MacDonald, subtitles available.

 

In August, over 200 volunteers worked over a weekend to create St Helens’ very own Lost Castle, as part of the Liverpool City Region project led by renowned French artist Olivier Grossetȇte. © Stephen King.

 

As part of this year’s Independents Biennial, artist Kate Hodgson worked with a group of women from Parr and their children to produce a screen printed posters and tote bags. © Stephen King 

 

In September, St Helens Deafness Resource Centre celebrated its 90th birthday and opened its doors as part of Heritage Open Days 2018. The banner in the background was created by DRC members as part of the Connect. Create. Celebrate project led by artists Katie Musgrove and Alex Douglas. © Stephen King 

 

 

 

In late September, Take Over Festival 2018 began in partnership with St Helens Libraries. We were thrilled to hear Frank Cottrell Boyce read from his works in the same libraries that he used to visit as a child. © Stephen King 

 

 

 

In October, Selina Thompson presented the multi-award winning Salt in Parr Library as part of Take Over Festival. Salt. is Selina’s visceral, vulnerable and beautiful one woman show retracing of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle, from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica, and back. © Stephen King 

 

At the start of November, the opera-occasional, lycra-loving, black-beard, drag-diva Le Gateau Chocolat returned to St Helens to present a unique performance of his newest treat, RAW CACAO, in collaboration with a local brass band at St Helens Town Hall as part of Take Over Festival. © Victoria Tetley

 

One week later, we were back in St Helens Town Hall, which had been transformed into a Control Room for ‘Unexploded Ordnances: UXO’ by award-winning US performance troupe, Split Britches, as part of Take Over Festival. © Stephen King

 

Meanwhile, over in 20B Church Street, a large scale video work was being projected onto a shop wall as part of Take Over Festival. Artist Larry Achiampong made his St Helens debut with Sunday’s Best, a large-scale video projection which brings together the vivid sounds and images of praise and worship sessions in a Ghanaian community church. © Larry Achiampong.

 

In the middle of November, a sell out audience watched Funny Cow in Ravenhead Social Club and then welcome Maxine Peake and Frank Cottrell Boyce for a Q & A as part of Take Over Festival. © Radka Dolinksa.

 

After 2.5 years of research and preparation, TORCH, a site-responsive, all-female theatre production by ANU Productions and women of St Helens began its journey through the town in November. TORCH was directed by Louise Lowe and commissioned by Heart of Glass, ANU Productions and idle women as part of the Helen project, which responds to an urgent need to address violence against women in all its forms; the systematic, the structural, the domestic and the social. In this photo, actresses Gillian McCarthy and Nandi Bhebhe start the performance in St Helens Central station. © Radka Dolinksa.

 

TORCH was performed to 200 audience members over 2 weeks, with 4 audience members per performance and 4 performances per night. It received 5 stars from The Stage and 4 stars from The Guardian.  In this photo, actress Etta Fusi recounts the story of an ‘idle woman’ who worked on the region’s canals during the Second World War. © Radka Dolinksa.

 

At the start of December over 500 people braved the wind and the rain to watch St Helens Town Hall be transformed by a large scale projection artwork titled We Are Still Here  created by artist Simon Mckeown and BuzzHub St Helens Coalition of Disabled People, as part of the St Helens 150 final event. Photograph by Andy Salkeld – © Simon Mckeown
It’s a wrap! On 13th December we celebrated what has been a wonderful 150th year for St Helens with A Royal Wrap Party, hosted by Eggs Collective and friends at The Citadel. © Stephen King

 

 

 

 

Corrie star joins line up for the Wrap Party

We’re thrilled to say that comedian, TV presenter (Channel 5’s Celebs On The Farm and ITV1’s Zoe Ball On Saturday & Sunday) and Coronation Street actor Stephen Bailey will be joining the glittering line up for the Royal Wrap Party on Thursday 13th December.

Stephen has a friendly and open brand of gossipy humour that has made him one of the most sought after acts in UK comedy today. He recently supported Katherine Ryan and Jenny Eclair on their UK tours and will embark on his own brand new solo tour in spring 2019.

The Royal Wrap Party is our FREE (tickets required) thank you to all the communities and people who’ve joined us on the 150 journey. Hosted and curated by our inimitable Party Political Artists in Residence (and Television Award nominated!) Eggs Collective.

The night will also feature performances from St Helens’ own Kitty O’Shea and a drum troupe from OLC Productions. There will be competitions, crown making with Manchester’s Mighty Heart, an interactive stall with visual artist Amy Pennington and a well stocked bar, plus a disco with dance floor classics from DJ MissBaxter2U.

As Eggs Collective put it, “We’ve had such a fantastic year in St Helens as Party Political Artists in Residence. We’ve met brilliant, creative people in our high street pop up shop, danced through the streets to celebrate the Unsung Heroes of the borough in the St Helens Day Citizens’ Parade, been thoroughly out-karaoked and even persuaded a hall full of dignitaries to play the kazoo. The Royal Wrap Party feels like the perfect way to end the year: a fabulous party packed with comedy, music and prizes, with a generous dash of glitter thrown in for good measure.”

Strap on your dancing shoes, St Helens – we’ll see you there!

Book tickets here. 

BOOKING NOW: Artist Professional Development Workshops

Booking is now open for a series of six practical artist professional development sessions for artists working within socially engaged practice. Hosted by Heart of Glass in collaboration with Mark Devereux Projects, the sessions will take place in St Helens between November 2018 and April 2019. You can find out more about the programme and Mark Devereux Projects here, or follow the links below for details of each workshop and how to book.

  1. Planning your project
  2. Talking about your work
  3. Finding the right opportunity
  4. Funding and fundraising
  5. Working with contracts
  6. Collaboration in the field

Location
Heart of Glass, Old Beecham’s Building, Water Street, St Helens, WA10 1PP

Times
10am – 4pm

Costs
Season Ticket – all 6 sessions: £135 (£108 concessions: students, senior citizens & St Helens based artists)

Individual sessions: £25 per session (£10 concession for students, senior citizens and St Helens based artists)

Heart of Glass is proud to be based in St Helens and is keen to support the development of artists living and working in the St Helens Borough. All artists with a St Helens postcode are eligible for a concessionary ticket rate.

 

 

Watch the video: St Helens Day Citizens’ Parade

On 30th June 2018 the St Helens Citizens’ Day Parade made its marvellous way across the town centre in celebration of the everyday heroes who make our town such a wonderful place to be!

Featuring local community groups, the Mayor and Mayoress, musical performances and vintage vehicles from the North West Museum Of Road Transport, the parade was led by fantastic performance artists, Eggs Collective, to Church Square, where a mass-karaoke took place.

It was a day full of very special moments and now you can re-live it, thanks to this all singing, all dancing video created by the wonderful Philip MacDonald. Subtitles available.

We hope you enjoy!

 

 

 

Sound City on the Farm – book your free ticket now!

We’re excited to be collaborating with the UK’s leading independent festival for new music Sound City to bring a family fun filled day of music, entertainment, food and arts to the beautiful Inglenook Farm on Sunday 16th September, as part of the 150 year celebrations of St Helens. Book your tickets to Sound City on the Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The free event will take place as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the borough of St Helens. A year-long celebration of art, music, theatre, culture, cuisine, sport and community, that is undeniably St Helens.

Sound City of the Farm the latest adventure from the award-winning Sound City continuing its aim and passion for putting a spotlight firmly on the creative, music and artistic talent across the North West, with a focus on St Helens and surrounding areas.

Sound City On the Farm will be a one-day event, taking place in Inglenook Farm, St Helens from 12:00 – 19:30. Live music from the region’s most exciting emerging talent in the form of Sly Digs (Warrington), Scarlet (St Helens), The Racket (Widnes), Rival Bones (St Helens), Katie Mac (Knowsley), Mamatung (Liverpool) & Tracky (Ormskirk).

The Unusual Arts Sourcing Company will deliver an arts programme including life drawing, poetry, interactive audience participation acts, alongside the Artslab who will bring a crafts workshop to the site, creating musical instruments from recycled materials.

Entertainment and attractions for younger children, families with food, beverages and market stalls will keep all visitors happy as part of a mini festival experience to close the summer.

Free tickets for this event will be available from 10am, today (Tuesday 21st August) from Eventbrite. Limited to 450, please act quickly if you are hoping to attend as this event will reach capacity quickly!

“We’re delighted to work with Heart of Glass to celebrate the 150th anniversary of St Helens. At the heart of Sound City is the belief that the world’s best music comes from within 30 miles of where we are located in Liverpool. Discovering and unearthing the most exciting musical gems from around our great city region is what drives us and St Helens has nurtured world class talent and creativity, including Jacqui Abbott of world conquering group, The Beautiful South and Nick McCabe of critically acclaimed The Verve. It’s brilliant to work with Heart of Glass who share the same passion as us and to create a live music and entertainment event which celebrates the greatness of St Helens.”
Becky Ayres-Bewick, Sound City MD

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Sound City and Inglenook Farm on this unique event, and excited to work with such a diverse array of artists to make this day one to remember. We believe that art belongs everywhere, in taxi cabs, empty shops, disused factories, in our streets and on the farm! Art creates possibility, and a way to experience and view the world differently, which is something that Sound City have been doing for years, and so we’re delighted that this collaboration will be our first foray together into making sure that live music and live art play a part in shaping our borough in the future!”
Patrick Fox, Heart of Glass, Director

 

Announcing our autumn/winter season!

We’re thrilled to announce an exciting autumn/winter season of events and activities as part of the St Helens 150 celebrations. The programme, which runs from September – December, will round off a year of amazing events and artistic interventions !

This year’s headline events include: family friendly music event Sound City on the Farm, performances from St Helens son Frank Cottrell-Boyce, a brand new site specific production from multi award-winning theatre company ANU, a Northern premiere of veteran American performance troupe Split Britches’ Unexploded Ordnances, an extraordinary projection mapping experience from Simon McKeown, and a conversation with actress Maxine Peake.

We’re particularly excited to share the programme for this year’s Take Over Festival, in partnership with St.Helens Libraries through their Arts In Libraries programme Cultural Hubs. For eight thrilling weeks art, culture and pop-up performances will be igniting the streets and the spaces of St Helens. No location is off limits as we invite artists to showcase new and engaging work in libraries, shops, labour clubs and marketplaces.

St Helens 150’s edition of the festival examines the idea of identity. In a world where the only constant thing is change, what does that mean to our sense of self?

Tickets on sale from early September!

Watch this space!

Take Over Festival 2018 key highlights:

Son of St Helens and celebrated children’s writer, Frank Cottrell Boyce will deliver a series of readings and talks for children, families and everyone else.
11 and 13 October, Rainhill and Eccleston Libraries, FREE, booking required

Sound City on the Farm will see the festival decamp to the beautiful Inglenook Farm bringing with it a host of breakthrough Northwest bands, delicious food and drink and a host of family friendly activity.
16 September, 12pm – 7.30pm, Inglenook Farm, FREE, tickets on sale from 22nd August

Award-winning US performance troupe Split Britches will present a North of England debut of their show Unexploded Ordnances. Combining a Dr Strangelove-inspired performance with a daring forum for public conversation, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) explores ageing, anxiety, hidden desires and how to look forward when the future is uncertain.
8 November, 7.30pm and location TBA

The critically lauded  Selina Thompson presents the multi-award winning Salt  – her visceral, vulnerable and beautiful one woman show retracing of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle – from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica, and back.
20 October, 7pm, Parr Library, £6, £5 (St Helens Library Card Holders, £3 (concessions)

A screening of Funny Cow, followed by a Q&A with the film’s lead actor Maxine Peake who stars as a mercurial female stand up in Adrian Shergold’s unflinching drama about the 70s northern club circuit.
12 November, 7pm, location TBA.

Digital specialist and DaDaFest Artist of the Year, Simon Mckeown is working with the local disabled community to present a fun, exciting and visually poetic spectacle inspired by the town. We Are Still Here will use the complex Victorian facade of St Helens Town Hall as its canvas. Featuring massive super-sized outdoor projectors, next-gen digital mapping software, and immersive soundscapes.
8 December, St Helens Town Hall, time TBA

Deaf artist Aaron Williamson will set up his new durational performance piece Stall of Warm Handshakes on market day. Inspired by the history of the greeting and in the context of Trump’s absurd, elaborate misuse of the handshake, Aaron will work with the public to objectify and explore the various techniques and meanings of handshaking.
Thursday 25th October, St Mary’s Square, time TBA.

And more to be announced!

Other exciting stuff happening this autumn:

Internationally acclaimed theatre company ANU present a brand new work for St Helens. TORCH will blur the edges between the real and imagined, tearing through St Helens town centre in a high octane, blistering unrelenting journey. Part of the Helen project.
Dates and locations in late November TBA

As part of the national Heritage Open Days artists Katie Musgrove and Alex Douglas are working closely with the local D/deaf community to explore how our identity, personality and sense of self is an exchange that relies on visual cues such as symbols, gestures and body language.

7-9 September, Deafness Resource Centre, times TBA

A brand new monthly night, I Heart Thursdays is a chance for audience to to meet artist, creatives to engage with communities. Expect talks, screenings, dinners and just about everything in between. The series kicks off with Heather Peak Morison, Studio Morison hosting a dinner with Dr Caroline Fuchs, The Design Museum, Munich as they discuss her new commission for St Helens, Bliss Park and her current commission in Munich, I’ll Be With You, Whatever. The second event will be a special scratch night of new performance work by some of the best local creative talent, curated and hosted by St Helens’ very own Kitty O’Shea.
Thursday 27 September and 25 October, exact time, location and tickets TBA