The feel good factor

Here Comes the Sun, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

Hands sanitised, masks on, socially distanced, we sat and talked, we all took small steps together out of lock-down, a lock down state of mind as much as a physical one. ‘S’ explained how nervous she’d been coming in on the bus, going into the unknown- for all of us, it was the first time in a group workshop for many months.

Phil and I have enjoyed keeping busy working since the beginning of lock down, connecting with people, finding ways to support creativity via postal packs, the phone, and on-line. Today was something different, something very special, creating work for the collaborative quilt ‘Here Comes the Sun’, part of the Whisper to Me Alone project. The host venue was Back on Track, it’s an inspirational Manchester charity that supports people who have been homeless or had mental health problems.

Our theme is the sun, a symbol of hope and re-starts, of warmth and comfort, of gift giving, as one participant described; “The feel good factor”.

A seemingly innocent and simple theme, it still leaves plenty of room for the imagination: “You don’t see dawn in the city, you don’t see sunrises, the blocks get in the way.”

Then the joy of putting our ideas onto paper started, the artistic play. I took in one of my favourite materials, oil pastels and ‘Brusho’. Brusho is a fabulous highly pigmented watercolour powder, you mixed with water, or sprinkle. The magic of creativity with your hands soon took over, creating a hushed room, heads down concentrating, the outside world disappeared.

20 fabric packs were laid out for our group to choose from. One at a time we walked with favourite paintings in hand to find the fabrics that matched the colours, texture and mood of the paintings. One of the group had experience of embroidery, the others- this was something new.

There is something beautiful about the simplest of stitches, running stitch, it’s where most of us start off when we learn to sew, it’s probably the stitch that you started with at school. When you’ve got the right needle and a rhythm going, there is something almost mediative in the repetitive nature of stitching. Then comes; choosing colours, textures, thread thickness, stitch size, pattern- when written down or spoken these creative decisions are complex, however when we make them, they are often instinctive.

The group left with their hands full of threads, fabric and paintings, and full intentions to return in a few weeks for our follow up session. Returning to share and celebrate their sun embroideries, and welcome new participants to the making of Here Comes the Sun.

Thank you so much to everyone who came along to my first group session of Here Comes the Sun, and to Back on Track, who as ever made me feel so welcome, and everything so easy for me.

Lois Blackburn

Here Comes the Sun is part of the project WHISPER TO ME ALONE. It gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. The poems, songs and artworks will be launched as a twitter poem later in September. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

Swan-building

poetry, Whisper to me alone

When my brothers and sister and myself were little, mum would sit us round the kitchen table with bits of cardboard and paper and paints. We’d splash away together, making pictures, or building space rockets. It was her method of crowd control, it stopped us from arguing and getting into mischief. Mum would be there keeping an eye on us, while making the tea. 

They were some of the happiest times I ever experienced; a feeling of purpose and a feeling of belonging.

That memory flashed into my mind during the ICM workshop I was invited to last week. They’re a group of artists who hook up together every week to be in each other’s company while they create artworks. At the moment they meet on Zoom, because of the Covid restrictions.

The group was led by Dylan, who suggested swans as this week’s theme. (It’s important to know that Back on Track and ICM are based in the wonderful Swan Building, in Manchester.) While people drew swans, they chatted in a gently distracted way and I wrote down the sentences that jumped out, arranging the words into a poem. It was a wonderfully peaceful way of working together, full of little anecdotes and jokes and all the while the drawings came alive on paper.

Last swim of the day. Group visual poem 2020

Maybe because my own recollection of childhood was sparked, I particularly noticed people’s stories of their childhood — their encounters with swans, geese, and of course the ugly duckling story. Somehow the poem reflects the journey of the ugly duck, the journey we all make forward from childhood, trying to reach our full potential. 

After the poem was written and read back, Dylan was kind enough to make it into a visual poem of a swan, which you can see above. What you can’t see, but can only imagine, is the sweet-natured atmosphere of this group, who welcomed me into their little gang and for a while treated me as one of the family, while they made art together. 

Swan lovers. Anonymous 2020

Several organisations work together to support the art group:

Inspiring Change Manchester is a Lottery Funded Learning Programme. We work with people experiencing Multiple Disadvantages, who face barriers to accessing support and may be isolated within society. We follow a No Wrong Door approach, supporting people through a Multi-Agency Partnership that strives to be Asset Focused, Psychologically Informed and Person Centred. We are working to create System Change to tackle inequalities and improve people’s experiences in accessing the support they need.

Dylan Gwylim represented Self Help Services who are the partner providing the mental health element of the ICM project https://www.selfhelpservices.org.uk/

Paul Crudgington represented Back on Track www.backontrackmanchester.org.uk Several Back on Track learners have been involved with WHISPER TO ME ALONE.

MASH is a charity providing a range of confidential and non-judgemental services to women working in the sex industry in Greater Manchester. 

The arthur+martha project WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers words and art from people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people in Manchester during lockdown. The project centres on journals of writing, art and song lyrics.

Last swim of the day. Anonymous 2020

Social dancing

Whisper to me alone
Social Dancing. Photograph by Sue Dean

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers experiences of people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations.

Phil writes:

The isolation that has come with lockdown has forced many of us to look at ourselves and try to understand some of our dilemmas. It’s brought the good and it’s brought the bad. For some it has felt like a prison sentence. For other people it’s been a kind of opportunity. Anastasia points this out:

“I’ve had the chance to slow down, to quieten all the noise around me. To still the voices of busyness and make myself be calm. I’ve been thinking a little bit zen these days. Taking time to exist. It’s a choice isn’t it, what you do with this moment. Maybe I’ll learn from it.”

The writing and art is part of this process, it can be a tool for holding those reflections, so they don’t just melt away but are kept and thought about. Making a poem now is like no other time in people’s lives. We’re also experimenting with making poems over the phone, the author speaking lines down to the scribe (myself) and an edit agreed by reading it back.

It’s a whole different time
It’ll be unique in the telling
A different way of looking
We’re thinking the new thinking.

Anonymous

July 13. Photograph by Sue Dean

In reflecting the world through writing and art, we look at it more closely. This can be a celebration as well as a reckoning:

The birds tweeting
The squirrels hanging out — see!
Small bird, one of the tiny ones
The owl’s fascination
The great grey bird on the canal
Encounter in the kitchen, a Queen Bee
(Got to be careful with that one)
The squirrels drop round our way
For nuts and
Since we’ve kept our distance
We’re not so close to each other
But then. I look again and
There’s a hedgehog.

Alan

And in making things, we also make ourselves.

“I’ve loved having this writing and art, it’s keeping me going. It gets stuff out of my head onto paper. The art process helps. And when I lose making art, it feels like I lose myself some days. I hang onto me through the images and the writings. It’s all you’ve got sometimes…”

Anonymous

Selfie with mask. Adapted photograph by Sue Dean

The lockdown photographs of Manchester that illuminate this blog were by Sue Dean, using her favourite camera, her phone. WHISPER TO ME ALONE is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include The Booth CentreBack on Track, Bury Art Museum and With One Voice arts and homeless sector global network.

During the first lockdown the Booth Centre ran an advice drop-in and accommodated people under the Everyone In scheme. At 11am every day they ran a Facebook activity session to combat isolation, which included the arthur+martha WHISPER TO ME ALONE 2-minute poetry videos.

I class myself as invincible

Here Comes the Sun, poetry, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers experiences of people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of many other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown. We’re using journals of writing, art, songs, phone conversations and embroidery. Here one of our Whisperers talks about being transgender and how attitudes have changed during Covid.

Jessica: 

“I class myself as invincible. It’s because I get so much crap every day, being trans. I am just being me, being myself, but they can’t stand it. I’ve been attacked so many times I can’t count. I don’t know why they can’t leave me to live my life, be the person I’ve always wanted to be ever since I was little.

“One thing I’ve noticed during the virus is people are more kind. They’re trying to stay calm, they’re trying to deal with this situation. It’s made them come out of themselves. They are listening to each other much more, trying to figure out what to do, how to survive. I notice these things.

Whisper to me alone – journal page by Jasmine

“It’s sad it’s taken the virus to make people more open-minded. I wonder if they’ll stay like that, or they’ll go back to what they were before? The traffic is coming back now, there’s thousands of cars on the roads, maybe everyone will go back to their old ways. Right now I’m not getting so much hassle and violence as I used to. I still can’t go out wearing a dress, I’ll get beaten up. But if I wear women’s jogging stuff, I can go outside and I don’t get too much abuse. Maybe they’re being kinder. Maybe they’re scared of catching the virus. But what comes next?

 

WHISPER TO ME ALONE is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include Back on Track, Bury Art MuseumWith One Voice arts and homeless sector global network and The Booth Centre.

During the first lockdown the Booth Centre ran an advice drop-in and accommodated people under the Everyone In scheme. At 11am every day they ran a Facebook activity session to combat isolation, which included the arthur+martha WHISPER TO ME ALONE 2-minute poetry videos.

Doorways

Whisper to me alone

Our Covid Journal project WHISPER TO ME ALONE has been up and running a few weeks now. It’s a project that is growing quietly, as people gather ideas for their diaries of words and pictures. Below is the first of the artworks, from Jasmine. A haunting little pencil sketch, it’s an archway that seems to invite us to step in and yet at the same time is a barrier, a secret place.

This project of telephone calls and “one-to-one workshops” is full of fascinating conversations, of insights, openess, and the occasional blind alley. During the calls, I have got a notebook to hand and when it seems important, I scribe down what people say and then read the notes back to them. It’s a way we’ve worked for years, catching words from the air before they disappear. Here, discussing the effects of lockdown, is Anastasia:

We’ve lost so many lives to Covid. It is a catastrophe. But it has also led us to compassion, gratefulness and more humanity. The appreciation of little things that we can’t have right now. Things like hugs. We are missing contact with other people and finding new ways to connect. With each other and with nature. I’ve been looking at flowers, watching the birds.

We’ve actually got time during the lockdown. We have been given time to stop and stare. There are less cars on the road, less pollution. You can see the stars.

Anastasia

WHISPER TO ME ALONE gathers experiences of people who have experienced homelessness — and the experiences of other vulnerable people — in Manchester during lockdown, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. 

This project is supported by Arts Council England. Partners include The Booth CentreBack on Track, Bury Art Museum and With One Voice arts and homeless sector global network.

The seeds of your thought 

Necklace of Stars

Phil writes:

For years, arthur+martha have run workshops in which a group of people sit around a table to make art and poems together. In truth, these aren’t just workshops, they are also talking shops, they’re about being in one another’s company.

Right now, this is not possible. We have to work at a distance so that we don’t spread the virus. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I ring people and we talk one-to-one, sometimes for a long-ish while. And although I miss the chatty groups, I’m starting to appreciate other qualities of distance working.

One-to-one conversations give people time and space to reflect. To question exactly what it is they’re interested in, how they write about it, to face the things that they are dodging, to appreciate strengths they took for granted.

Below, Margaret’s powerful trio of poems Dandelion time talks about exactly this struggle, to find a pattern in life, compassion and understanding in what can look like chaos. It’s a brave and rather beautiful documentary of the life of the heart. She starts by simply watching the dandelions – these very same dandelions that filled the air when the virus epidemic started. The dandelions become a symbol, they are blown by the wild winds of life and love. They’re also the seed of her daughter’s life. Then in the final section she opens her window to let in whatever life brings along next. This is a heartfelt journey, facing fears and delight equally — and it embraces both.

 

Dandelion time

 

Part I

Invading gardens

littering the roadsides

dandelions wait to tell the time

 

The tic toc of the clock

releasing seed heads,

thoughts that fly

 

It’s bare pincushion head exposed

reveals a Fibonacci spiral

nothing random here.

 

Part II

 

My thoughts take root,

bed down in my house,

the collected chaos of myself

in notebooks and files,

the library of my life.

 

How shall I bring order ?

Unlike the dandelion

my life has been

without a grand design

no Fibonacci sequence.

 

You blow the dandelion to

the tic toc of your own time

letting your seeds of thought fly.

 

I pressed my wild flowers

into heavy books

catalogued on library shelves,

crushing out the colour,

wanting to hold them fast.

I fitted passion into form

hoping to make it last.

Love and marriage

the one fought the other

the other always won.

 

My daughter you are the flowering

of that explosive mix, grown up,

un-afraid to puff your cheeks.

 

Part III

 

Your

seeds fly

through my door

opening windows in my house

as you wait for me to come outside

inviting me to take another chance at life and blow the dandelion clock.

 

Margaret Gosley

 

image1

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha. The poem and dandelion photos are by Margaret Gosley.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

Happy?

Necklace of Stars, Projects

 

How are you coping

As we go through lockdown?

Perhaps you are lonely

Perhaps you are sad

Yet be consoled; this too shall pass.

 

Annie Carter

 

While we have been working on the poems for necklace of stars, the Covid virus has kept everybody shut away in their own little worlds. For some this has been a shelter and a relief, for others a prison. This time alone, or else in small family groups, has forced people to look at themselves and think about who they are. And the question of happiness has come up over and over. When I ring up participants I very often ask how are you doing? And they want to know about me — how is it today?

Questioning happiness, contentment, the striving to find peace, is traditionally the business of poets. And so some of the pieces we’ve gathered for this lullaby project are not lullabies at all, instead they address fear. And the writers look very deeply to see if they can find peace, either in themselves or in the world around them.

And, as is the way of all things, just as peace arrives, it leaves again and we see the world in conflict once more… and the words of lullabies mean more than simply finding sleep, they mean finding harmony between ourselves:

 

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye

Sleep sweet to my lullaby melody

Dream of your place in the Galaxy

Safe from the chains of old slavery

May your life be filled with sweet harmony

And your fantasy never lack sanity

May you never be plagued by poverty

May you reach for the stars as your destiny…

Hush-a-bye baby, hush-a-bye.

 

Annie Carter

Joan B, embroidered stars

Joan Beadsmore, embroidered stars for Necklace of Stars, quilt. June 2020

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

 

 

Spring Greens

Necklace of Stars

“I’m still tired, but feeling positive now. I really appreciate this, the chance to write the poems. When life has been harsh to deal with, it’s helped.”

(Participant)

One of the things I have witnessed over and over again is that making art, writing poems, stitching embroidery, can help to unpick despair. Nobody really knows why, there are lots of theories. At times making a poem or an artwork is simply a distraction. It takes the mind onto other things, stops those restless thoughts chasing each other and becoming frantic.

Art can also help understanding. Writing a poem gives your thoughts new shape and perhaps allows new answers. An artwork is a representation of the world and connects you to it more deeply. Slowing yourself down to the intricate pace of an embroidery gives you time to meditate and find a richer texture in the whole of life.

“I’m feeling my way forward, using my poems as a guide.”

(Participant)

Making things not only shows the exterior world, it also reflects the inner life and makes it richer, brighter. If you can, take a little time to live with the prose poem below. It’s a celebration of trees, the wonderful, familiar friends that I often don’t give a second glance. But here they’re transformed by the poet’s eyes — into furniture, into children begging for pennies, into a swirling cloak that becomes an old coat, or into old pale bones against a winter sky. As well as trees, all the seasons of human life are in this little poem and so it helps me to appreciate my own. And for the makers of such work it is transforming too…

“I found this to be very useful. More than useful, brilliant in fact.”

(Participant)

 

Spring Greens

 

The Hollies are still wintergreen, come spring, leathery, shiny-tough, reliable as upright chairs in their utility upholstery.

Plum and cherry let the March winds take their snow and ruby blossoms from them, holding out small fingers for their fee, which came in copper verdigris and silver tarnish, well-used coins and promise of paper money for the fall.

Oak begins leafing out from nowhere, fine, fresh, lettuce-like, so young.

Sycamore sings, spreading hand spans which unfold into a summer cloak whose generous swirls conceal old mossy coat.

Beech, whose bones arched stark against the pale, cold, winter sky, now shimmers in the heat, the flesh full, lush, deliciousness.

 

Linda

 

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.

 

All these things whirring

Necklace of Stars, Projects

For some people, lockdown is a blessing and for others it’s a struggle.

On the face of it, we have peace and quiet and an ever-stretching holiday. But underneath those things are nagging worries: fear of infection, fear of unemployment, fear of those around us, fear stoked by the media…

“All these things whirring.” (Participant)

And yet birds are singing, the air is purer than it has been in decades, the roar of traffic and the thunder of aeroplanes has quietened. The timid creatures that we share our world with have started to assert themselves again. Carparks have become wildlife habitats, the woods and moors are a sunshine paradise.

Today my phone calls with participants in the Necklaces of Stars project reflected the strange doubleness of this time. People have thrown themselves into making poems and songs. They have space and quiet to concentrate and so they dig deep, take journeys, into their deeper selves.

 

fine stitching, star, Joan

Detail, embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

 

Their poems appear in the Inbox each day. They’re funny, sad, thoughtful, kind-hearted. Some of them have pasted a grin on my face, others touched me beyond words. It’s good work. And they are rightly excited:

“I have never had this feeling before, where I have let the poem take me over. This time I’ve trusted it and jumped in. Let the form take me and learned from it. I used to treat poems like they were a competition to win, a test. I didn’t ever really let go. Now I’ve got many, many ideas, and I want to do them all…” (Participant)

 

“I am so pleased, so very pleased, to have done this, I was unsure at first but I’ve loved it. I had doubts about myself and my work, felt silly and slow. It’s wonderfully reassuring to be told it’s good, to know it’s reached someone else.” (Participant)

Today also brought tears and shakiness from some. The disquiet underneath the quiet is taking its toll. For those who are isolated alone, solitude weighs heavily on the heart. What is life if it isn’t shared? The missing are missed terribly.

 

And so we talk about…

 

Hope to see your face again in the mirror

On reflection let’s hope the sadness is gone

From the dark shadows where hope is fading

Replaced by radiant rainbow beams of hope.

 

Tricia Clough

Joan B star embroidery

Embroidered shooting stars, Joan Link, A Necklace of Stars 2020

Today’s blog was written by Philip Davenport, arthur+martha.

A Necklace of Stars, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service.