For what it’s worth

Necklace of Stars, poetry

“Aha! Good afternoon. Very nice to talk! You’re the first voice I’ve heard today…”
(Participant)

Since the Spring, the Necklace of Stars project has reached out to older people in Derbyshire, using phone calls to write poems and make embroideries. Today I was struck again by the value of these calls to all involved, to me and to the people I speak with. In this time of restrictions, it is a wonderful luxury to spend time in the company of new people without worrying about masks and viruses.

Several people I spoke with today have been isolated since the beginning of the year. Their seclusion has continued for months, and for some it feels unending. This is no longer about simply contracting an illness, it’s about living in a new way, especially for older people. And this new way of living needs to take into account emotional lives as well as physical health.

Whether Forecast

I’m cooking up a kitchen storm, lighting a flare,
leaving the doldrums in the yellow chair.
I’m braving a peasouper, blithely unaware
of fusing blue sky thinking to navigate the dare.
And if I reap a whirlwind then I’ll take to the air.
It’s time to break through the heavy side layer.

Linda Goulden

Out of my seven calls on this day, three people told me they’d had very limited, or no, company since February.

Out of my seven calls on this day, three people told me they’d had very limited, or no, company since February. To be isolated for such a long time is akin to solitary confinement in a jail. That particular punishment is meted out because it is so psychologically devastating. If we have any hope of getting through to the other side of the pandemic without a great deal of damage to everyone’s mental health, then we need to deal with the urgent need people have for human connection.

And sometimes that’s a phone call to discuss that poem you wrote about your grandma wearing a polka dot bikini, or astrophysics and its relationship to God, or childhood journeys to adulthood, or an argument with your big sister when you were eight years old.

How much is a poem worth? Well, that’s a big question, as Hamlet would say…

The Way

I talked with me today
and we agree: the way
we say that we must be
must be the way to be.

Linda Goulden

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.

Part of something beautiful

A Book of Ours, Projects

“I’ve turned something nightmare-ish into something else. That experience of being homeless, which I’ve never talked about. A lot of my friends didn’t know it was happening. But now those memories have become part of something beautiful. At first after the workshop I felt emotional, then over the week the feeling changed and I thought, “Wow!”

The workshops, making the illuminated manuscript, have been the favourite thing I’ve done here at Back on Track. For me they’ve meant more than anything else, they’ve put me in touch with my own history. These memories stirred up and made new.”

 (Anonymous)

 

The manuscript making workshops at Back on Track have been a delight and a quiet haven for making. Every week our little gang of participants has gathered to painstakingly add the next words, the next artwork. Each page carries the imprint of hours of concentration. These tiny six-word inscriptions are often thought over long and hard. And then the writing is itself an exploration. For some, writing is done without hesitation, a skill completely taken for granted. But for others in the group, the act of writing is a challenge that needs to be met and overcome. The minute incidents on the page, the slips, the smudges, the shaky lines, show the struggles.

 

“I’ve never written like this before. Never had the time, or had these great pens. I like choosing the colours and then I get started. I take it slowly, slowly and the words come. Look at me now, I’ve learned from it. Better now than I’ve ever been.”

Patrick

 

Many of the pages contain the work of several people, layered together. Their words sometimes connect up, to make unexpected and moving narratives. A celebration of autumn leaves falling leads into the death of a beloved father. An account of being homeless, living in a car, leads into a line about the seasons being on the move. 

The artworks are especially enriched by collaboration, weaving of colour and image and symbol. Today in our last session, a small insect was drawn onto a panel of gold and fruit made awhile ago. It was the tiny missing element that made the whole page come alive. A careful use of muted red brought the black and grey of a winter’s page into sharp relief.

Jan detail

As we’ve worked on the Book of Ours, people have found their preferred method and style. And they’ve brought their own ideas. A knowledge of Viking history, a church oriented childhood, a feel for colour, an eye for design. And as we’ve seen above, the experience of being homeless. All these things have been brought to the Book of Ours and it is richer for it. And we’re grateful.

Today was the last workshop at Back on Track for this term. It’s been a pleasure and we are already looking forward to the next.

 

Would I change anything? No, it’s been alright, in fact it’s been really good. When you’re here for the next workshops, I’ll be here too.”

 Chris

Chris

 

Workshops took place at the Booth Centre day centre supporting people who are, or have been homeless, and Back on Track; a charity that supports people who are going through recovery or rehabilitation, having been through problems including homelessness and mental health. Partners: The Booth Centre, Back on Track, John Rylands Library, the British Library, Glasgow University and Abbey St Hildegard, Germany. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

July- Lawrence

Quietly loved

A Book of Ours, Projects

Today’s sessions at the Booth Centre were both popular and the big, bustling groups added more to the ever-growing Book of Ours.

On days like these, the little details can easily get lost in the busyness. And it’s these little, intimate details that are in fact the key to this book. If you look at almost any page you’ll find self-revealing moments of extraordinary power and poignancy. Here is someone writing of their spirituality, a little description of a personal saint, over there is a gloriously colourful autumn leaf, with the words, “On the quiet, I’ve always September” nearby. Here is the date of someone becoming homeless, and over there a recent marriage proposal. Here is love, there is abuse.

 To sit with people as they make these tiny worlds and talk about them is moving beyond words. We come along to these sessions as anything but “teachers” — quite the reverse. Over and over again, we learn.

April 1-15th 

This arthur+martha project is the making of an illuminated manuscript, with people who have experienced homelessness — at the Booth Centre in Manchester and other support centres. It gathers together significant events, dates, people, celebrations and memorials, all in one book, giving a wide cross-section of hugely individual lives. Our hope is that by doing this we reassert the identity and the individuality of people who are sometimes dismissed as “homeless” when they are so much more.

 

Supported by HLF.