Volunteer at A Madlove Take Over

We’re looking for a team of wonderful volunteers to support us during A Madlove Take Over during November 2019. Read on for more information and you’ll find an application form at the bottom of the page.

What is A Madlove Take Over?

Take Over is our annual festival that reimagines public spaces through art projects made with, for and about people in St Helens. This year we’ve invited artist and mental health activist the vacuum cleaner (aka James Leadbitter) to take over a vast empty shop and create a space for art, conversation and care, titled A Madlove Take Over.  The festival venue is Unit 2, Hardshaw Centre, St Helens (the old Argos store) and will be open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-6pm throughout the month of November. Read more about A Madlove Take Over here

Why volunteer at A Madlove Take Over?

There are lots of benefits to volunteering with Heart of Glass! Here are a few of the big ones: 

  • Have loads of fun and feel part of a team
  • Meet and chat to all kinds of new people
  • Give something back to your local area
  • Meet artists and learn about different pieces of artwork
  • Get training in your role
  • Gain experience and confidence in arts industry work
  • A contribution towards your travel expenses

What can I do as a volunteer at this event?

We’re looking for people to support us in three different volunteer roles. 

We want you to get the most out of your volunteer experience and so please let us know if there’s something else you’d like to try!


  • Welcoming people into the space
  • Offering and making cups of tea 
  • Introducing the space and what is available to experience that day 
  • Sharing information about upcoming events 
  • Having conversations and generally making people feel welcome
  • Signposting toilets, seating, access support 


  • Maintaining the Madlove Take Over Space 
  • Looking after the plants 
  • Auditing the artworks – checking if there are any issues, making sure everything is working and looking good, reporting anything noted to the Lead Hosts
  • Topping up materials, printing workshop sheets, making the space tidy and ready to receive guests 


  • Getting to know the space and the artworks in more detail
  • Assisting on tours 
  • Assisting with workshop sessions and events 
  • Assisting guest groups and individuals with the set-up of their community open sessions 

When? There will be 2 volunteer shifts per day, 11am-2.30pm and 2.30pm-6pm. We are flexible on how many shifts you would like to do over the month. 

We will only ask you to help when you can and we’ll never ask you to do something you don’t want to do. 

How do I apply to volunteer at A Madlove Take Over?

  • Attend an optional volunteer information session at 10am on Thursday 17th October at our office. Reserve your free place here.
  • Apply by completing this form.
  • You’ll receive an acceptance email from us. 
  • Attend a volunteer training session, dates TBC. 
  • Enjoy volunteering with us. 
  • Thank you party! Join us for a celebration on Saturday 30th November, details TBC.

Apply now! You can find the application form here.

Any questions? Please contact info@heartofglass.org.uk with any questions or queries.


Image: Stephen King

What is A Madlove Take Over?

Take Over is our annual festival that reimagines public spaces through art projects made with, for and about people in St Helens. This year we’ve invited artist and mental health activist the vacuum cleaner (aka James Leadbitter) to take over a vast empty shop and create a space for art, conversation and care. 

From 1-30 November, the vacuum cleaner is inviting us to be part of a Madlove’ Take Over. Together , we’re bringing 13 local, national and international artists and communities together to make exhibitions, films and new performances for this pop-up space in central St Helens – all aimed at supporting people’s mental health. You can find out more about this pop-up space here

Many of the artists and groups involved have struggled with their own mental health and now create amazing projects that try to help us care for ourselves and each other. Joining us for the Madlove Take Over will be:

– Acclaimed Indonesian artist and activist, Hana Madness, who will cover the town in colourful bipolar monsters

– Perrier Award-winning comedian, Kim Noble, will present his attempts to end his loneliness. 

– Local artist Hwa Young Jung is having conversations across the town to create a map of all the places in St Helens where you can experience care – from the friendly person working at the chippy to formal mental health support services. 

– Writer, artist and part-time superhero Jess Thom, aka touretteshero, whose comedy show  Stand Up, Sit Down, Roll Over proves it is possible to be both the most persistent heckler as well as the main act, and will open the festival on Friday November 1st 2019. 

About Take Over
Take Over is our annual festival that reimagines the potential for public spaces through art projects made with, for and about people in St Helens. This year we’re building on Heart of Glass’ long-term programme of work which critically examines the structures which frame, inform and produce our experiences of mental distress. This programme includes major collaborative commission The Suicide Chronicles, led by artist Mark Storor, the first part of which features in this year’s festival. We are excited and honoured to be working with James, along with all of the artists, community groups and organisations in the creation of something very special for a Madlove Take Over.

A Madlove Take Over is curated and produced by Heart of Glass, the vacuum cleaner and Mary Osborn (Artsadmin) with the support and collaboration of individuals, organisations and communities across St Helens. The Madlove environment is designed and produced by Sascha Gilmour and the vacuum cleaner’s team. 

About Madlove

“It ain’t no bad thing to need a safe place to go mad. The problem is that a lot of mental health hospitals are more punishment than love… they need some Madlove”

Is it possible to go mad in a positive way? How would you create a safe place in which to do so? If you designed your own asylum, what would it be like? Madlove is artist the vacuum cleaner’s ongoing project about creating positive spaces to experience mental distress… and enlightenment. The project is bringing together people with and without mental health experiences, mental health professionals and academics, artists and designers – and everyone else on the spectrum. 


Samaritans: 116123 A safe place for you to talk anytime (24h, free).

Papyrus: 0800 068 41 41 Prevention of Young Suicide (free & confidential).

AMPARO: 0330 088 9255 Support for anyone affected by suspected or actual suicide.

Shout: text 85258 The UK’s first text support for anyone in crises, anywhere, anytime.


Suicide Prevention Available on Google Play and Apple App Store now.

Stay Alive App Packed full of useful information and tools to help you stay safe in a crisis.

Calm Harm App Tasks, information & support to help you resist the urge to self-harm.


We’ve moved! Heart of Glass has a new home in St Helens

We’re excited to announce that Heart of Glass has a new home in St Helens! 

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been busy moving into our new office space at 9-11 Haydock Street. It’s a location that means a lot to us and the arts in St Helens; it was previously the site of MASH cafe and art gallery, and is a great legacy for the Heart of Glass Ambition for Excellence programme HELEN having been the engine room for this activity and the home of Idle Women during this project. 

Now it’s going to be the Heart of Glass HQ and also the home of the brilliant Citadel Arts team; we couldn’t ask for better neighbours and can’t wait to feel all that creative energy under one roof! 

As you may be aware the Beechams Building is being sold. We’ve really enjoyed our time in this iconic building, it’s the end of an era for us, but as we move into our fifth year (happy birthday to us!) we’re embracing the change and all the amazing opportunities it will bring. 

We’re excited to be moving to a busy corner of St Helens that’s full of of well-established independent businesses like Cultivate, Bentos Lunchbox, Ba’Bursi Indian Restaurant and Bar, and Sabroso Tex Mex – it’s closer to the station, too.

Our new central, accessible and street level location will bring us even closer to all the communities that we work with, do feel free to pop in and say hello if you’re passing!


Our new address is: 

11 Haydock Street, 

St Helens, 

WA10 1DD


Our new phone number is: 01744 453163 

We’ve got a new look!

Heart of Glass is 5! 

In honour of this half decade milestone and to reflect the way our organisation has grown and evolved over the past five years, we are rebranding! It’s been a journey. Lots of people (maybe you!) have helped us distill who we are and what we stand for into our new brand, watch the video

Visually, we’ve got a beautiful new logo, typeface and this cool framing device – keep your eyes peeled for it on our Take Over festival brochure – available from next week.

We’ve kept the name. Which was a difficult decision because it’s a name that already belongs to a very famous song. But all of the alternatives we tried just didn’t stick. In fact they made us all fall in love with Heart of Glass more. 

Of course Heart of Glass is so much more than our name. It’s you: our partners, artists, collaborators. And the amazing art projects we make together. We really hope you like our new look and feel as much as we do. A big thank you to Claire, Vic, Cally and Steve at our agency partners True North for their amazing work. 

You’ll notice our website is staying the same for now. It will change to reflect the new brand in the coming months. We’ve had a few technical issues with it too that are now fixed, but if you’re having problems getting information please email lauren@heartofglass.org.uk

Gallery: Radio Local St Helens LIVE by Hunt & Darton

On Saturday 29th June 2019, dynamic and deadpan artist duo Hunt & Darton broadcast their new hyper-local radio show -#RadioLocal – LIVE from Church Square and WA12 Radio for 12 hours! They were joined by a whole host of St Helens local legends over the day and we enjoyed DJ slots from BuzzHub’s Media Group and guest artists. See our local legend and guest artist hall of fame here and a behind the scenes gallery of BuzzHub’s takeover prep here. Thanks for tuning in!

Photo credits: Stephen King.


Lunchtime on Radio Local and local legend Gary Conley samples pie and chips provided by Lily’s Victorian Tea Room as part of the Radio Local lunch review.
Local legend Gary Conley samples pie and chips provided by Lily’s Victorian Tea Room as part of the Radio Local lunch review.
Live artists Cade & Macaskill prepare for their guest DJ slot on Radio Local: the Barry & Barry show.


Cade of live artist duo Cade & Macaskill presents the Barry & Barry show live on Radio Local.


Macaskill of live artist duo Cade & Macaskill presents the Barry & Barry Show as part of Radio Local.


Live artists Cade & Macaskill present their guest DJ slot on Radio Local: the Barry & Barry show.


Hunt (R) & Darton (L) model their Radio Local headwear – full points for those who spot that these are actually TV aerials!


Hunt & Radio take some time in the Radio Local (very) green room!


The Radio Local (very) green room!


The roving Barry & Barry show.


The roving Barry & Barry show on Radio Local.


Garth Musk of WA12 Radio, which streamed the live Radio Local show from 8am-8pm, chats to hosts Hunt & Darton.


Pillar of the St Helens art community and close friend of Heart of Glass, Mike Lindley, takes to the mic for his local legend guest slot on Radio Local.


Mike Lindley introduces his Desert Island Discs selection during his local legend guest slot on Radio Local.


Mike Lindley introduces his Desert Island Discs selection during his local legend guest slot on Radio Local.


Special guest Mollie helps Bridget and Bernadette to present the B.A.F.T.As – aka. the Brilliant And Fabulous Town Awards.


Mollie helps Bridget and Bernadette present the B.A.F.T.As – the Brilliant And Fabulous Town Awards.


Plant swap time! Hunt tries to find somebody to swap this plant for their plant!


Plant swap – no luck just yet!


Members of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group take to the mic for their 30 minute take over.


Members of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group take to the mic for their 30 minute take over.


Helen takes to the mic as part of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group’s 30 minute Radio Local take over.


Cheryl takes to the mic as part of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group’s 30 minute Radio Local take over.


Finn takes to the mic as part of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group’s 30 minute Radio Local take over.


Members of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group take to the mic for their 30 minute take over.


Local legend Cllr Bisi Osundeko, Labour Councillor for Parr in St Helens, joins Hunt & Darton on air for her guest slot.


Local legend Cllr Bisi Osundeko, Labour Councillor for Parr in St Helens, joins Hunt & Darton on air for her guest slot.


Did you add a line or two to the Radio Local Soap Opera? Or catch it being read on air at the end of the day?


Hunt chats to guest Mollie in the Radio Local (very) green room!


Radio Local production manager, Rachael, delivers her news.


Weather report time with Hunt!


Local legend and Chief Executive of the Citadel Arts Centre, Fay Lamb, takes to the mic for her guest slot.



Gallery: Radio Local St Helens Workshops with St BuzzHub CDP

Members of the media group at BuzzHub St Helens Coalition of Disabled People collaborated with Jenny Hunt of Hunt & Darton to prepare for their guest take over slot during Radio Local St Helens.

Many of the group are already seasoned radio DJs – catch them on Halton Community Radio – and so the two sessions were spent refreshing skills in introducing songs, creating on-air games and perfecting the art of banter! 

Photo credits: Stephen King.

A lady in a pink top and dark trousers explains a task to a group of men wearing blue, green and black tops and who are sat around a table.

A young man in a grey hoodie and blue jeans is stood up and using a camera to photograph some sheets of paper on the floor.

Three pieces of white paper arranged in a vertical line detail the order of a radio segment, they include a jingle, an introduction and banter.

A young man in a green hoodie reads a sheet of white paper that details his introduction to a radio show.

A wide shot of a mixed group of young adults working at round tables and looking at sheets on paper.

A group of three men sit opposite each other round a table with a radio microphone on each side. A man in a white t-shirt is adjusting a microphone.

A young man in a green hoodie reads from a sheet of white paper into a radio mic.

Two men, one wearing a green t-shirt and the other wearing a black T-shirt sit facing a women wearing a pink t-shirt on a table. They have a radio mic in front of them.

A woman in a pink top and dark trousers hands a microphone to a man in a white top. He has a radio microphone in front of him.

Four young men sit facing each other around a table with microphones either side. A man in a white t-shirt speaks into the radio microphone, smiling.

A lady in a pink t-shirt speaks to a group of 3 young men who are sat around a table.

A man wearing a hearing aid speaks into a radio microphone. He is sat at a table.

A woman with brown hair wearing a grey hoodie speaks into a radio microphone. There is a young man in the background.

A young man in a black hoodie and wearing a navy blue cap speaks into a radio microphone. There are black wires and a pair of headphones on the table in front of him.

How to nurture a social arts ecosystem

“Maintaining these delicate ecosystems is no easy task”: artist, programmer and writer Harvey Dimond reflects on their experience of our recent series of Artist Professional Development workshops for socially engaged practitioners, facilitated by Mark Devereux Projects and guests. Find out more about this series here

Imagining socially engaged practice as an ecosystem is a useful way of understanding the checks and balances, the pressures and strains of working within this field. There is a fine and precarious relationship between each element within this ecosystem, and each must be cared for, nourished and sustained to ensure the sensitivities of all participating are championed. 

The Artist Professional Development workshop series at Heart of Glass became an important part of this ecosystem, a means of establishing contact, acknowledgment and sharing, as well as giving attendees crucial access to professionals and experts in the field of socially engaged practice. The creation of this space, where anxieties and concerns could be worked through in a holistic and encouraging way, is sadly still very much lacking within the UK. Maintaining these delicate ecosystems is no easy task, and guidance, support and affirmation should be a frequent and important part of the career of every socially engaged practitioner – regardless of what context they are working in. 

Now, many of these artists may not even see themselves as socially engaged creatives. The field is so expansive that it’s often difficult to put a finger on what a socially engaged practitioner actually looks like. The workshops helped to unpick some of the ideologies, philosophies and contemporary developments in the field, giving greater clarity to what a successful socially engaged practitioner  could look like. This included providing clarity and guidance on more technical concerns, such as funding and contracts; both vital aspects of working in this field, but also some of the most daunting tasks due to the lack of access to expert advice.

The lack of infrastructure and support in the UK means that these issues are usually faced by socially engaged artists only when they’re right there, staring them in the face.They have to think on their feet, often with nobody to turn to within their own organisations or networks who has that experience and expertise. This is especially true given the unique and complex needs and desires of each individual and each community that a socially engaged artist engages with. Having these professional and shared knowledges will certainly prepare the participants for when these challenges become apparent, and they will be able to confront them with agency and confidence. 

The current political climate in the UK is also spawning new pressures on socially engaged practitioners. As austerity continues to drain public and social services, the role that socially engaged artists are needing to fill is expanding and becoming more and more challenging, especially in locations where political rhetoric has sewn division. Although the loss of permanent, government-funded community spaces can never be replaced, the creation of temporary spaces can provide a refreshing and radical fluidity for communities to collectively re-organise and re-imagine – and socially engaged artists play a key part in this work.

The aforementioned pressures have meant that artists working with communities are now having to be at once activists, advocators, curators, educators and fundraisers – and this is not always conducive to the success of community-based projects. This role can become too fluid and too expansive, something which Stephen Pritchard warns of in his 2018 text Caught Doing Social Work (presented for Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Italy). This becomes the case especially when artists become instrumentalised by corporations, who sometimes push artists to go above and beyond their duty. The final workshop with artist Shaun C. Badham addressed this issue. While it’s important to recognise your own strengths, it’s also crucial to be self-aware, and to understand when you need to step back and pass responsibility on to others with more expertise and experience.


The scope of the workshops was certainly UK-wide (as was evident in the array of participants, who travelled from across the UK), but by focusing on the arts in the North-West, the workshops became a refreshing antidote to the usual focus on London. The workshops certainly highlighted the versatility and strength of the arts in the North-West, and the array of artistic activity here is an excellent model for areas of the UK which experience under-investment and a low level of engagement with the arts. The workshops had the ability and the space to appeal to artists working in an array of contexts and geographies, whether urban or rural, solo or collective, funded or voluntary.

A key commonality between all the participants was a recognition that these forums for discussion are really crucial, but still all too rare. 

Although workshops and forums for socially engaged practitioners do exist in the UK, they are few and far between, and are often one-off events with a limited ability to create a legacy or a support network. The Socially Engaged Art Salon (SEAS) in Brighton has created a space for such conversations to happen, as well as an inclusive programme that focuses on the desires of the local community. In the North-West, The University of Salford’s MA in Socially Engaged Arts Practice (with Community Experience) is an exciting development in the field, providing an academic rigour and the opportunity to provide much needed resources in the region. 

Unfortunately, socially engaged practice as a methodology is still barely visible in British arts education, let alone encouraged. When it is, art students are taught to privilege their own outcomes and trajectories as more important than of the desires and needs of the communities they collaborate or work with. Curriculums in British art education are devoid of concerns around ethics, power dynamics and exclusion, discouraging capable students from undertaking socially engaged work. It is perhaps then not surprising then that such little infrastructure exists for socially engaged practitioners. Arts institutions and elite universities themselves are renowned for being shockingly distant from their local communities – this was very apparent in the aftermath of the 2018 fire at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), where the local community were left in the dark for weeks with no dialogue from GSA.

Taking part in the workshops, I felt the most interesting conversations revolved around the philosophies and ideologies behind socially engaged practice – particularly around the role of the artist, and how to remove the hierarchies that can dominate socially engaged projects. The term facilitator is becoming increasingly prevalent as a way of democratising practice, as it suggests that an artist is drawing on pre-existing strengths within a community to facilitate change, rather than being the sole, original creator. By becoming participants themselves, the hierarchy that seeps into so many of these projects can be disrupted and dismantled. This ideology was very much at the core of community arts projects in 1970’s Britain, such as Jubilee Arts who were based in and around Birmingham.

 The legacy of collectives such as Jubilee Arts can be seen in the work of design collective Assemble who became known for their work with the Granby Four Streets neighbourhood in Liverpool. Their 2016 Turner Prize win was a pivotal moment for socially engaged practice in the UK, giving these community-based practices visibility and agency. Despite the different contexts in which Jubilee Arts and Assemble worked, there is a shared acknowledgment and drive to work as an ally to communities, and a desire to push back against potential instrumentation by corporations. The ambiguity of the artists within Assemble, and their role as facilitators and co-producers allowed them to eliminate hierarchies and distance surrounding artist and participant.

Harvey Dimond (b.1997) is a British-Barbadian artist, programmer and writer based in Glasgow, UK. Their work seeks to imagine Black queer futures in Scotland through a studio based practice, exhibition making and community projects.

All image credits: Stephen King.





With For About: Art & Democracy – an illustrated round up!

Last month (on European Parliament election day), artists, practitioners, educators, researchers and arts producers from across Europe and the USA, joined us at Ravenhead Social Club (the last Pilkington Social Club) in St Helens for our fourth annual With For About conference: Art & Democracy.

If you joined us, thank you for being part of a very special day. As one attendee reflected “It made me think about what we do and why”, while another told us “it felt like we were creating a vision for humanity”!

Here’s a short film (made by our partners and friends Axisweb) with interviews from some of our speakers and attendees. We were also very lucky to have Lancashire based illustrator Emmeline Pidgen live documenting the event. Here’s an illustrated round up of the sessions with thoughts from writer and attendee Natalie Hughes….

Session 1: Artist as Political Actor

Chair: Ailbhe Murphy

Contributors: Jonas Staal, Larry Achiampong, and Heather Peak Morison.

Jonas Staal stood before a hundred people to deliver a speech about the future of democracy. Explaining how he assisted in creating a model parliament for Rojava, part of the Kurdistani autonomous region of Syria, Staal said that within art were the mechanisms of emancipatory politics. Following on from Jonas, Larry Achiampong, delivered a powerful presentation that asked us to consider the effects of what we produce: ‘You don’t just get to make stuff and then walk away!’ he said. Achiampong explained that the artist has the privilege of being able to ‘move between spaces and situations without being labelled as ‘crazy’’.

Session 2: Art & Disability Justice

Chair: Dr Janet Price

Contributors: Gemma Nash and Lani Parker

“The disability rights activist Lani Parker called for us to dismantle power structures by building ‘real solidarity across hierarchies’ – and to actually mean it rather than spouting its rhetoric for performance only. Parker reminded us of art’s responsibility to recognise and give up power rather than create a system of consumption, and the importance of asking ‘who is the art for?’, ‘what is the political reaction you want?, ‘who gets the recognition?’.”

Session 3: Public Realm – Erosion of the Public Sphere

Chair: Susanne Bosch

Contributors: Prerana Reddy (A Blade of Grass), Brian Harnetty, Rick Lowe,  Jeanne van Heeswijk, Deidre Figuerido and Amy Twigger Holroyd.

“Splitting up into six groups we were led through activities in listening and discussion by either Rick Lowe, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Brian Harnetty, Prerana Reddy, Amy Twigger-Holroyd, or Deirdre Figueiredo. In these smaller gatherings we examined the erosion of our public sphere, the effects of this, and how to turn this around.”

 “I followed Jeanne van Heeswijk out onto the social club’s playing field to sit in the sunshine and discuss the question: ‘What does it mean to become a collective at the end of time?’. The answer: we must engage within the social practice of ‘Commoning’: i) act, ii) take care of one another, iii) recognise that we are together, iv) cultivate a shared understanding that fosters collective ownership.”

#dearsthelens “What would a child-friendly town look like?”

Are you a young person living in St Helens? We can’t wait to hear from you!

Inspired by our ongoing projects with schools and young people, we are teaming up with St Helens Council Children’s Services, and YOU on a long-term project with the aspiration of making St Helens a ‘Child-Friendly Town’.

We need you to lead this journey and find out: ‘what does a child-friendly town look like and feel like to live in?’

You can share your views on #dearsthelens postcards bring distributed to schools and community groups across the borough, by filling in the Google Form.  Follow the #dearsthelens journey via the social media channels below.

Find out more about #dearsthelens project here.

Pictured: Young people present on the steps of St Helens Town Hall, as part of the Army of Beauty. 

Reimagining the ‘arts centre’

We invited writer Lyn Gardner to experience TORCH and find out more about our work in St Helens. In her article she explores how, by working together, we can turn every wall into a canvas and every space a stage….

In the faded tea bar of the bingo hall in St Helens a woman is pouring us tea. It is hot and strong, and it is served with a question: who would you be if you were not afraid? This is part of Torch, an intimate, and endlessly revealing show created over a two- and- a -half year period by ANU Productions with the input of over 30 women living in the Merseyside town of St Helens.

Torch is a piece which draws with painstaking love on the lives of women living in the town over several generations. It is a piece which does not take place behind the closed doors of a theatre or arts centre, but which is fully visible on the streets and on the concourse of the local railway station. It blurs the boundaries between art and life, artfully mingling the two.

It takes us into an ordinary terraced house where in an upstairs room a woman joyfully tells of the freedoms that WW2 brought to her, we are ushered into a kitchen where it is 1984 and the Miners’ Strike is testing friendships, and into the front room where it is the present and a woman weeps because her children have been taken into care. It gives us time to reflect on what we’ve seen and our own lives, and it does it through theatre, tea and empathy.

There is often no better place to begin to make change than over a cup of tea. Tea goes hand in hand with making time and listening and taking care. About creating mutual trust. All are at the centre of Heart of Glass, the innovative agency for collaborative and social arts practice which is becoming embedded in the fabric of life of the Merseyside town of St Helens.

St Helens is a town whose history is in mining and making. It was built on coal (an industry that endured until the early 1990s) and for generations it thrived on the making of glass. But like many northern towns it has been in industrial decline for many years resulting in high unemployment, poverty and a breaking of the social ties that bind people together. Lives have shattered.

Heart of Glass’s profound proposal is to bring the town together and get it making again, although in this instance what the town is making is art. An art which is hyper-local, genuinely collaborative, and which helps people have both the agency and the opportunity to explore their own lives and make change within themselves and their communities. It is a form of gentle activism, and one that takes its time and takes care. It doesn’t try to coax people into taking part, it makes the offer and lets them decide for themselves.

If many an arts funder has come up with the idea that building an arts centre in a town may increase arts engagement and bring about other social benefits, then Heart of Glass offers a far more radical vision.

It is one which asks what happens when you turn an entire town into an arts centre, a place where every wall can be a canvas and every space a stage?

A place in which people’s lives are reflected back to them through long term, fully embedded arts projects? What effect does it have on artists and their collaborators? What happens when people of all ages are empowered to explore their own creativity? Can you change the entire narrative that a town has about itself? Can an arts organisation be generous enough to ensure it is part of the story, not the story?

With projects such as Your Name Here in which St Helens residents were invited to nominate a local person after who a park should be named, to Brass Calls — a collaboration between French and Mottershead and the local Haydock Brass Band — Heart of Glass has begun to explore those questions. It already understands that change happens from the ground-up and that it is through making local connections and local relationships that real change happens. That takes time and lots of cups of tea.

Louise Lowe, the artistic director of ANU, has drunk hundreds of cups of tea with local women from midwives to local councillors for the making of Torch, and Mark Storor is doing the same during a 12-year project (now into its third year) working with children, young carers, the police and particularly with older men.

A 12-year project not only represents an act of faith in a world where arts funding is only awarded either for short term initiatives or in four-year cycles but in the case of Storor’s project with middle aged men it represents an act of faith in the future in a town where the mortality statistics for older men are grim. In effect they are trying to out-run death. Three years in and they are succeeding: nobody involved has died.

Storor says that he is not interested in reflecting negative statistics back at the town, but he is interested in creating sustained relationships with people. For him that means moving to St Helens to live side by side with them.

This is a million miles away from the kind of participatory arts projects that sees a bunch of artists being funded to parachute into a place they have never visited before, make a piece with local people and then get the first plane or train out and never return. Instead it is about understanding that trust only comes when you have built a broad, deep and sustained relationship over a period of time and many cups of tea. This is not just an art practice but a way of life, and one that like much of Heart of Glass’ work is focussed on process not project, because it is in and during the process that change really happens.

A great deal of art which comes under the banner of collaborative art claims inclusivity and agency for all involved but in reality, only reproduces the power structures of traditional arts practice and values the contribution of the professional artist over the contribution of the community.

Heart of Glass loves and cherishes professional artists whether they are local or international. But it also understands, as its director Patrick Fox says, that the people of St Helens are its most precious resource and “our future is bound up with theirs.”

The aim over the next 10 years is to make St Helens a nationally and internationally recognized centre for socially engaged artistic practice. But what Fox and his team know is that Heart of Glass’ success will be measured not by what it does for St Helens, but the impact that St Helens and its community has on Heart of Glass and its mission and process.

In the St Helens’ bingo hall long after Torch has finished we sip our tea and we talk about our lives. Complete strangers suddenly brought together by the stories we have witnessed and shared. It is in these moments that change begins to happen.