We’re hiring! Children and Young People’s Producer opportunity

We’re looking for a Children and Young People’s Producer to join our team in St Helens full-time. Read on to find out more about this exciting opportunity. 

Children and Young People’s Producer: Full time (£24,359- £29,958)

We are Heart of Glass, a St Helens, Merseyside-based arts organisation delivering Creative, People and Places in St Helens and a wider programme of socially engaged practice across the Liverpool City Region.

We believe that art has the power to bring us together and create change, for the people of our community, and the place we call home. We unlock stories, reimagine public spaces, ask awkward questions and forge new connections. Why? Because we know that art can transform lives and deeply affect our relationship with the world around us. Art is the starting point for each and every journey.

We are looking for a Children and Young People’s Producer who will work with the Director and Head of Programme to develop a unique and distinctive programme that will engage young people in rich and diverse cultural opportunities through the delivery of high quality and ambitious collaborative arts projects. Programme areas include young people with disabilities, young asylum seekers and refugees, young carers, independent young people and schools.

We are looking for someone who enjoys making new connections with people, can think on their feet and find creative solutions. This is an exciting and challenging role for someone who has enthusiasm and passion for the work we create and is seeking an opportunity to develop and grow their experience in producing great art with children and young people.

Heart of Glass is a busy working environment, managing multiple projects at any one time, so the role will require you to be a self-starter, used to making decisions and thinking creatively. You will be happy working on your own and within the team. You will have prior experience of working on art projects with children and young people in both community and educational contexts.

To download the role information pack and application click here.

Contact:  lindsey@heartofglass.org.uk

Closing date for the post is 12 noon on Monday 16th September 2019.

We’re recruiting! Assistant Producer opportunity

We’re looking for an Assistant Producer to join the Heart of Glass team full-time. Read on to find out more about this exciting opportunity. 

Assistant Producer 

Full time (£19,806- £23,649)

We are Heart of Glass, a St Helens, Merseyside-based arts organisation delivering Creative People and Places in St Helens and a wider programme of socially engaged practice across the Liverpool City Region.

We believe that art has the power to bring us together and create change, for the people of our community, and the place we call home. We unlock stories, reimagine public spaces, ask awkward questions and forge new connections. Why? Because we know that art can transform lives and deeply affect our relationship with the world around us. Art is the starting point for each and every journey.

We are looking for an Assistant Producer who enjoys making new connections with people, is happy popping along to a community meeting for a brew and a chat, can think on their feet and find creative solutions, can spin a few plates at once and gets a kick out of administration.

Heart of Glass is a busy working environment, managing multiple projects at any one time, so the role will require you to be a self-starter, used to making decisions and thinking creatively. You will be happy working on your own and within the team. You will have some prior experience of working on art projects in a supporting role and be able to demonstrate a good understanding of administrative tasks.

This is an exciting and challenging role for someone who has bounds of enthusiasm and passion for the work we create and is seeking an opportunity to develop and grow their experience in producing great art within a community context.

For the job information pack and application details, click here.

Contact: lindsey@heartofglass.org.uk.

Closing date for the post is 9am Wednesday 4th September 2019

Image credit: Rob Battersby

 

 

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.

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