Hi all, hope you’re doing well.

A Book of Ours, Projects

Today blog for our project BOOK OF OURS, the medieval-style manuscript book, is written and illustrated with photos by the Booth Centre volunteer Sue Dean. She writes from the perspective of both a volunteer and participant.

Mondays with the arthur+martha group returned this week to the designs around the edging of the book, and to teach those who wanted to try Calligraphy. Several people wanted to continue with their partial complete designs around the edges for the book. Some expressed an interest in the beautiful designer writings of Calligraphy, while those who chose to continue their book designs were fairly quiet in concentration, asking few questions and mostly carefully bringing their imagined design to life.

We had pictures of insects, bugs and beautiful winged creatures to base our ideas on. The almost silent deep concentration was palpable. Meanwhile for those who chose the Calligraphy soon found this was much harder to master than imagined from the swooshing ease of pen strokes by the actual Calligrapher Stephen Raws. One or two mastered the basic idea and produced some excellent first attempts. For others it was much more difficult and not as expected from watching the Calligrapher write initially. Overall a quiet calm class with many happy faces at the work completed. 

The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

If you go out in the woods tonight

Necklace of Stars

A tale of frustrated villainy by Richard Owen

The wood had awoken to its usual night activity. There were scurryings up and down trees, calls of owls, snuffling and rummaging in the undergrowth; but even on this night, when the full moon cast its light and shade into the less impenetrable corners, the living sources of these sounds remained unseen. Only the trees seemed to be visibly alive, their knotted eyes following every movement, guarding the secrets of the night, warning off the unwary.

Big Bad Wolf sniffed his way along the floor of the wood


Watched by cautious onlookers up in the branches, Big Bad Wolf sniffed his way along the floor of the wood. He had a lot on his mind, so he was oblivious of the rustling of rabbits darting across the clearings and badgers digging in the roots. He followed the same path every night, pausing for thought at the same places. Things were not the same any more, not since the predatory animals had suffered a series of humiliations. He would habitually stop at the clearing where the third little pig had built his house of brick, the place where his grandfather had gained entry down the chimney and been boiled in a pot. He moved on to the cottage where his great uncle had almost got the better of Little Red Riding Hood, only to be foiled at the last moment.


He would often muse on the fact that it wasn’t only the wolf pack that had suffered from the schemes of lesser beings. He would come to another clearing and the mouth of the cave where Goldilocks, porridge thief and squatter, had taken advantage of the hospitality of the absent Bear family, but at least they had managed to catch her in Baby Bear’s bed. How she managed to escape was a mystery to all the woodland.

The Troll slept fitfully, his snores mingling with the resounding croaking of hidden frogs


On this particular night the Wolf made his usual stop at the rickety bridge under which the Troll slept fitfully, his snores mingling with the resounding croaking of hidden frogs in the little stream. He still had nightmares about the amount of time he had had to consider the wisdom of challenging Big Billy Goat Gruff as he described an elegant arc over his rickety bridge.


So while the woodland creatures went about their routines in disembodied anonymity, Big Bad Wolf sat on the rickety bridge, musing on the smug mockery of the Billy Goats Gruff, the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Bears, not to mention various huntsmen and woodcutters; and he listened to the pathetic somnolent ramblings of the Troll, a plan began to form in his mind. Why should these fairytale upstarts always win?


As he sat looking at the rickety bridge in the moonlight he noticed it was on the point of collapse, concealing a future nasty accident. And he thought how the woods held many dangers for the unwary and unprepared. There were paths overhung by branches from which things could fall; the same paths were criss-crossed by roots and fallen vegetation; there were hidden holes dug out by foraging paws and noses, many of them hidden by fallen leaves.


Big Bad Wolf considered the hazards of the wood and how it might be possible to harness them to reassert the rightful hierarchy of woodland life. It was time to restore the natural order of things. He picked his way down the stony bank of the stream and crawled under the rickety bridge. He prodded the Troll who awoke noisily and bad temperedly.


“I thought we might pay a visit to Daddy Bear,” suggested Big Bad Wolf by way of apology.
“I’ve got one or two ideas I’d like to run past you both.”

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Lorna’s poem started with one of these telephone discussions.

Moon

Necklace of Stars, poetry
 I’m a path of light across your room,
 up the wall, into the mirror and out again
 through the open window, into the garden

 now a negative, shadow on shadow on black.
 I’ll sit on a branch with the owl, show him
 the hummocking mole, slip in and out between trees -

 I’m a flitter, a flibbertigibbet, play hide-and-seek
 with your certainties. On the twenty-eighth day I’ll be gone,
 your world will turn black , you’ll walk into a door,

 stub your toe in the darkness, and the owl will call,
 a lunatic cry, from the asylum up on the hill,
 night after night. But if you look out, look up

 you’ll see my new crescent, delicate, small
 in the overall blackness, a fragile sign -
 and you’ll know I’m on my way back.

 Lorna Dexter 24.10.20

“This poem came out of a prompt from Philip, suggesting we write a lie
about some solid heavenly body – the sun, moon, stars, Milky Way, etc.
Although I love the sun, thrive on its heat, come alive in the summer, the
moon’s phases have always had a strong effect on me, altering my hormone
levels every month. At full moon I’m speedy and active and wakeful,
sometimes not sleeping at all. At the dark of the moon I’m dozy, depressed,
with no energy, bumping into things.

“In his prompt, Philip had used the word ‘flibbertigibbet’, which I love, for its
complexity, the music of its repetitions and its silliness. I looked up its history
and it means ‘foolish woman, talking nonsense’ – so I had to incorporate that !
Which probably led me to instinctively give the Moon that voice, talking to me.
Of course the moon’s changeability is not a lie exactly, it’s just the way the
relationship between the sun, moon and earth, three very solid ‘realities’, seems
to us from our shadowed position on earth, only one of several realities.

“So this poem includes all my feelings about the moon – its strange transforming
light at the full; its very real effect still on my body and mind, no longer a
menstruating woman; and her apparent changeability.

“I live in the country, and my bedroom looks out on the garden, with big pine
trees beyond the wall, where the owl sits and calls, and I have a wide view of
the night sky, so the scene in the poem is very real, not a lie at all!”

Lorna Dexter

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – post and phone conversations. Lorna’s poem started with one of these telephone discussions.

STREET ART PHOTO BY SUE DEAN

A pandemic epic

poetry, Whisper to me alone

#WhisperToMeAlone is a twitter stream of pandemic poems and songs, which give tiny glimpses of homeless and vulnerable lives, in rooms, on streets, isolated in hotels…

Phil Davenport and songwriter Matt Hill have worked with homeless and vulnerable people since May, to make the WHISPER poems and songs, over the course of many phone calls. The songs include recordings of phone calls, impromtu performances and snatched conversations.

“These conversations have gradually turned into a wide ranging poem of many voices, many experiences combining into a remarkable song cycle. All of WHISPER is full of life, full of humour and determination, in the face of this disease. And it’s inspiring, it’ll give any reader or listener the strength to keep on and learn from what’s happening around us. Sometimes life’s biggest lessons come from unusual teachers.” (Phil Davenport)

(Main image – Manchester street art, photographed by Sue Dean)

The project will be tweeted on 15 October and exhibited at Bury Art Museum next year, alongside an an embroidered quilt stitched with participants’ words HERE COMES THE SUN.

Poems, art and songs from WHISPER TO ME ALONE will be tweeted daily at from 15 October onward at https://twitter.com/whisper2mealone

WHISPER TO ME ALONE is funded by Arts Council England and partnered with The Booth Centre and Back on Track in Manchester. Photography throughout the twitter poem is by Sue Dean. Other contributors include members of the Inspiring Change Manchester group, associated with SHELTER, and MASH (a charity providing non-judgemental services to women working in the sex industry). Visual tweets were designed by the poets Tom Jenks and Nathan Williams.

Philip Davenport is a poet who co-directs the arthur+martha organisation with artist Lois Blackburn. For the last decade they’ve collaborated with Manchester’s homeless community. During the pandemic WHISPER TO ME ALONE has resulted in poems, songs and an embroidered quilt. Matt Hill is a songwriter who explores people’s experiences to co-write songs — with prisoners, asylum seekers, people experiencing homelessness, and others.

With royal approval…

Necklace of Stars, poetry

“As patron of the Queens Nursing Institute, Her Majesty thanks you so much for your poignant verses…”

(Letter from the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting Philippa DePass)

We are delighted that Necklace of Stars poet Neil Sessions has been commended by Buckingham Palace for his poem giving tribute to NHS nurses during the pandemic. It was the first poem he read to Phil in their first Necklace of Stars phone conversations – and now his work bears the seal of royal approval. Phil’s notes from the cheery conversation give a flavour of Neil’s mood: “Royal consent! But I’m not going to be big headed about it. I’m biting my lip as I tell you…”

NHS nurses

I call you little angels
That shone so bright
As you stood by your patients
On those warm summer nights

Words have no meaning
As life was slipping by
But there was love and compassion
As the nights whispered by

May each nurse remember
How they helped them
Slip into that heavenly night
With their last breath we all say good night.

This is why you carry a halo
So you can shine some more
To help all the sick people
That need your love and warmth.

Thank you
God bless you all.

Neil Sessions
Example of a Royal Seal, from the previous Elizabeth.

“I’m very uplifted to be acknowledged by the Queen for this poem, it’s a big honour. The poem has appeared in newspapers and magazines and online and all sorts. It is my way of thanking the nurses who look after us all. They bring you into the world and it’s often a nurse who holds your hand when you finally say goodbye. Many people who’ve had Covid describe the nurses as angels. This poem is meant for the nurses who don’t hear the NHS clapping or words of thanks – because they’re still too busy working. It’s passing on appreciation, from the heart. I’ve put a lot of heart into my poems because I’ve needed to, its my way of finding release and of reaching out to people.”

Neil

A Necklace of Stars, working with older people in Derbyshire, is supported by Arts Council England, Arts DerbyshireDCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. This project is particularly aimed at countering isolation; during the pandemic we’ve been working using distance methods – phone conversations and post.

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.