Sun is shining in Manchester

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

It’s been over 1/2 a year since my last visit to The Booth Centre in Manchester. So much is different, so much the same. The same friendly welcome on arrival, but with temperature checks and contact tracing, and due to current guidance, much fewer people in the centre. The staff and volunteers are well organised, everywhere is sparkly clean, the atmosphere calm and purposeful.

My two workshop visits are to create art and poetry for Here Comes the Sun, quilt, part of the Whisper to Me Alone, project. On a large table, I display a small selection of the 90 embroidered suns that have been made for the quilt, fabric packs and art materials. We’re trying new ways of working with the Sun quilt, a face-to-face and remote working, learning much as we go. One of the beauty’s of the project is how immediate it is to understand- the sun is symbol that is familiar in every culture, it’s approachable and accessible to everyone. The subject matter can be treated as light as a feather, or analysed in depth.

Roy (pictured above) approached his embroidery with his usual gusto, his resulting painting is rich and complex, he’s going create a stitched version next week.

One of the embroideries I brought in to show to the group was designed by Sue Dean, who in happy coincidence was there in the centre. She had previously created a series of sun paintings, which had been stitched by volunteers. She had seen a photo of the finished embroidery, but not the embroidery in the flesh, her absolute delight in seeing the embroidered version was obvious.

For some of our group, there isn’t a safe place to go home to and sew, so their paintings and materials are stored for next week. Others leave with packs of materials, creative ideas and promises to return next week.

And I leave with a belly full of good lunch, and a sense of relief, hope and optimism. It’s the Booth Centre way.

Thanks so much to Merida Richards for allowing me to work alongside her pottery session. I look forward to hearing more about her work with the fantastic Venture Arts next week.

Lois Blackburn.

Here Comes the Sun, is part of 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. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

Press Release

Necklace of Stars, poetry, Projects, quilts

Arts Derbyshire – A Necklace of Stars

Following on from the success of the first phase of A Necklace of Stars, we are looking for older adults who are housebound (aged 65+) from across Derbyshire to join us in a creative writing and embroidery project.

Andrea Lewis, Shooting Star

Arts Derbyshire is running a remote embroidery and creative writing project where participants receive weekly* one to one phone calls with artists ‘arthur + martha’. The artists will guide people through the process of creating beautiful embroidered stars or creative writing themed around lullabies, for free.

The embroidered stars will be brought together to create a quilt which will be exhibited alongside the creative writing and lullaby soundtrack around Derbyshire’s cultural venues in 2022. 

A Necklace of Stars hopes to increase confidence and wellbeing, reduce loneliness, forge connections and re-ignite creativity.

If you are interested in taking part in this project (whether you have no experience or plenty), or know of someone who might enjoy getting involved, please contact Sally Roberts on 07395 904386 or email sallyartsderbyshire@gmail.com 

A Necklace of Stars is an Arts Council England supported collaboration between Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health, Derbyshire Library Services and arts organisation arthur+martha. 

* Weekly phone calls for approximately 4 weeks or until you are happy with the work you have created.

Michael’s Star

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.

A-Z of Childhood

Necklace of Stars, poetry, quilts
A memory alphabet, by Tony Shelton

A for Aeroplanes. I drew hundreds, but only going from right to left.

Birds. I knew only blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons, robins on Christmas cards, and
the starlings which invaded to summer feast on next door’s overgrown cherry tree.
All the rest came much later. I was a city boy.

Class. What class are we? I asked my father as he read his Daily Telegraph. Working class,
he replied in a flash and turned to the Daily Mirror. It was good enough for me.

Death: When the old king died, I didn’t know what to feel. What was he to me? When my
father died, I didn’t know what to feel. He just never came home from hospital. I think I am
now ready to get to know my father.

11-plus. My first life hurdle. My first taste of anxiety, with the threat of failure and
condemnation to the notoriously rough Rowan Road secondary modern. And my first sweet
taste of success as I stop, halfway up the stairs, to tell my father that I have passed, and the
only memory I have of his praise.

Fire. Father should have known that stretching the Daily Telegraph across the newly laid
fire to encourage combustion was risky, since fire engines were a common sight in our road.

Games. Wednesday afternoons meant rugby, being crushed in mud at the bottom of a
heavy scrum, the acrid smell of the paint factory in the air, or cricket, suffering with the
streaming eyes of hay fever. The dread grew from Monday onwards.

Hard times. In 1947 my father and I trudged through the snow, pushing my old pram to
collect coke from the gas works, pausing on the way back for my reward, a brawn sandwich
in Sam’s Wonder Café.

Ignorance. When a tall, slim young woman called Freda came to stay with us in our
holiday caravan, I accepted it as normal until, years later, I saw the photograph of the four of
us and put two and two together: a ‘friend of your father’s’ mother would have said; if I had
asked.

Justice. I avoided Mr Bacon’s blackboard ruler, Miss Dooner’s slipper, the flying
woodwork tools of Mr Woodiwiss, the Head’s cane and the boot of blind Mr Judge but I was
once pulled up by my hair and slapped on the leg in the playground by Mrs Wilson and for a
moment, felt proud.

Knowledge. I knew things, I collected facts, swapped them, argued about them but I
never knew how to think.

Lino. We might not have had carpets but we had modernistic lino, light brown with lines
and squares, a Mondrian floor, a trendy choice of the young couple my parents must once
have been.

Mitcham Common. A paradise of long grasses, bushes, scattered trees and The Swamp,
where we waded in wellies, looking out for frogs and the boa constrictor, and became lost for
a timeless moment.

Nails: When Michael Naylor changed seats with his twin sister Anita so she could sit next
to me, she took my hand under the table and dug her sharp nails into my soft palm until she
saw the first tears. I didn’t know why. I still don’t. My first encounter with conspiracy.

Out. Out of doors, out with a friend, out on your own, looking, finding, watching, wandering,
wondering, out of contact, out of sight out of control, out of this world.

Posh Helen Bowdon lived in a posher-than-average house, had a queen voice to match
and was always picked to play the lead in the school play, until the year when the part went
to Yvonne Wilson who lived with her mum in a cottage and wore a gypsy ribbon in her hair.
Helen Bowden fled weeping, locked herself in the girls’ offices and wouldn’t come out. She
was still there when the bell rang and all the kids stood outside chanting La dee dah la dee
da, Come on out wherever you are until it was time for tea and she could creep home.

Quadratic Equations. Maths x 2 + Thursday mornings = fear + loathing.

Robin Hood. My Saturday evening Marxist hero with his band of men and own jolly sing-
along song.

Spheksophobia. I helped father dig the potatoes at the end of the garden until a painful
sting sent me crying indoors and caused a life-long fear of wasps.

Tooting. My Casablanca with its fabulous Moorish Granada and the exotic market, full of
large pieces of meat, strange things to buy and the echo of men shouting.

Underpants. Why do I have to wear pants? I asked. To stop you getting spotty, said my
father.

V-Bombers. Vulcan, Victor and Valiant roared over the air show runway, bringing father
and son closer in a communion of awe.

Winkle Pickers. At 15, I took the part of a teenager and bought impossibly pointed shoes
and yellow socks that glowed in the dark but no-one seemed to notice enough to
compensate for the pain.

X-ray Eyes. I always wanted the see-through vision of Superman but all I got was a
xylophone.

Ynot. It was an embarrassingly long time before I learned to write my name the right way
round. It now makes a memorable password element.

Zoo. Every child should remember a trip to the zoo. I don’t, though I know I was taken. I
have let my parents down.
Embroidery from The Great British Tea Ceremony, St Helens

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 embroideries that illustrate this blog post are images from The Great British Tea Ceremony section of the arthur+martha book THE WARM /&/ THE COLD. They were made by the Four Acres community in St Helens.

Threadwork

Necklace of Stars, poetry, quilts
Below an old tree,
among fallen leaves,
thread wraps a root
to weave a web about
life’s woodenness.
Thread reaches out,
across low hollows,
into farther woods,
to feed new bodies,
form new fruit.

Linda Goulden

I can’t imagine not wanting to write, but the pandemic silenced me for awhile. I felt so stupid, fuddled by all this – and I feared that what I wrote would be trivial. Trivial in the face of what’s happening. And I possibly still think that. But I’m writing despite it.

You’ve really helped me get started again. I wouldn’t have approached poems like this. It’s all seemed so freeing. And lately I have been able to go back to older unfinished or unsatisfactory poems and work on them too.

I’ve stopped thinking in terms of  “When this pandemic is over I will…” Last year I was travelling and thought this year I would travel more and be at more poetry readings but maybe I won’t. Maybe I won’t ever be able to travel again. I’m coming to terms with that.

It’s a funny feeling being an older person right now, after the lockdown. I see people living much more freely than I do, some recklessly. And I don’t live like that. It’s watching the world come alive and it’s not happening to me. I still need to be careful for my own health, cautious. People might think I’m over anxious, but I don’t. I’ve bought some masks and tried them on but I haven’t been anywhere I need to wear them yet.

We always did live in uncertainty, it’s just we were very good at not noticing.

You have to be conscious now, you have to be careful in this time of Covid. If you’re pretending things are normal that takes energy as well. And I feel a funny anger about the difference, about having to manage this situation, about how tiring life has become.

I feel exhaustion some days, certain days. I don’t know when they’ll arrive, or why. It is not easy to tell whether it is age, ailments, lack of fitness or the situation. I suppose if you keep yourself tense you tire yourself out. Yesterday I disappeared, I was lost to it. I wasn’t relaxing, I’d been holding myself too tight. Even meditating it took much longer to relax. Mind you, even before COVID I was trying to arrange that any busy day ‘on’ was followed by a quiet day ‘off’.

Linda

Writing takes a big chunk of my day, it’s very important to me just now. What am I writing? I’m living in the past, not the recent past which is full of grief for me, but the past of childhood. I’ve stepped beyond the grief and gone right back to something that’s relatively harmless. And going back to these memories helps me to know myself, I see aspects of the child that are in me today.

I think in snapshots, the little images that come to you when you start to dig around in the back of your mind. And the writing is a system for helping me to dig out these memories, I want to get to the core of the memory in my head. I’m very careful about how I describe them, making every word count, so the images are clear. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing who you were as a child. These things have been in my head for decades, but they’ve been asleep. Now I’m awakening.

Tony

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.

Andy says hello

poetry, Whisper to me alone
Andy’s WHISPER journal, opening pages.

It’s one of those days that is so hot it hushes the city. Even the cars don’t seem to have the energy to honk their horns. The Booth Centre in the centre of Manchester is busy, but everyone is heat stunned.

I’ve here to jot down conversations and then rearrange the pieces with the speakers to make something new. I’m working alongside Briony from the Stitched Up Co-op, it’s her session and I am a kind of sideshow. People settle into the trance-like ritual of stitching, making cushion covers, embroideries, repairs…

I see a familiar face, one I’ve not seen in months. It’s Andy and we sit together to catch up and to make a piece. He’s been filling out his journal for our WHISPER TO ME ALONE project, he talks me through the journal pages, explaining his thinking. We are both wearing masks and so of course the chat turns to how strange it is, to be half ourselves and half medicalised.

The poem gradually finds its shape, other people chip in the occasional line or observation but the thread of it is held by Andy. When I read it back to him eventually, he nods brisk approval.
“It’ll do, Phil. Keep up the scribbling. I need a smoke.”

Reading it back, it contains all sorts of echoes for me. He mourns friends who are lost to the lockdown, scattered across the city in anonymous hotels, or simply gone into thin air. It throws a bit of dirt at politicians in general and our lot in particular. And underneath it all, under the mask, is an individual, who recognises danger but refuses to not be himself.

Red Dragon Zippo

A legal necessity, masks
I fully agree.
We just started too late and now the Dragon is here.
Listen to the ministers every day
A political mask. “Have a cigar old boy.”
Puff! The House of Commons is virtual
Defeated by the Dragon.

A mask changes you and now
I too am dragon-like
A dark persuader.
My neighbour says, “Andy you look better
Masked up.”
Cheeky sod. But I can’t smoke, can’t breathe
And the air has been sold off.

Cigarette butt in the night, a red jewel to see by.
All my pals, all my villains, where are you now?
Rich man, poor man, beggar man and thief
(especially the last two)
I salute you my lovelies
The subways are still open, though.

Pain in the butt, a mask
But it prevents people
Sharing spray with me.
Lean in
I’ll whisper fire in your ear…
Strike a spark, breathe it in – who am I?
Zippo with a red dragon
Tells me I’m more handsome in a mask.

Andy

As I cycle home from the Booth, I look out for faces I know. It’s difficult to tell these days because there are so many masks. I wonder if Andy would recognise any of the folks I pass by? Shoppers, office workers, rich man, poor man… Andy says hello.

WHISPER TO ME ALONE journal by Andy

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, using journals of writing, art and song lyrics and phone conversations. Supported by Arts Council England, partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.

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.

Wake up to rise

Necklace of Stars

Widow


Dream, my dear wrinkly, in your lonely king-size,
Dream of using his feet to warm your own icy bones,
Put your arms round his flesh; arms, belly and thighs.
Dream of him living, his grunts, laughs and moans.
And may your dream end before you wake up to rise
From your untidy bed and the stab of him gone.

Tony

Tony: The virus makes you go into memory because the future is so uncertain. I plunge into memory and yet it’s distorted. The memories are juggled, they recede if I don’t want them, distant things seem like yesterday. A wonderful, happy day with my wife before she died. A day at the beach, seems so close and yet it’s a decade gone. I used to write for her and she used to write for me. So, to put poems on this blog is luxury. To write for someone else again...

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 featured image is an embroidery panel stitched by Joan B for the Necklace of Stars quilt.

How the moon shines on the hunter’s gun

Necklace of Stars

The first winter was a long dark winter
After my first wife died: so
I wrote poems. I’ve lived it
Every word of what I tell.
A walk through the cornfield
Lose myself on a lovely day
The corn sways every way.

There’s not many remember a skylark song
I do and women cry for it.
Poetry is written in all ways
I’m a simple country bloke, I spell
The heart.
On a hail-y night in a winter farm
Shut my eyes and I’m there in the storm.

Shut my eyes and see
Taurus the Bull: how his horns shine bright
How The Plough stands out with great form
Shivering and quivering with great delight
How the moon shines on the hunter’s gun
And when we run
You’re beside me on the river in the summer sun.

Neil

Phil writes:

We are entwined with memory. The memory of our parents, school days, a dreaded teacher, a first kiss, a marriage, a child, a death. How we carry those experiences and use them to understand the world — well, let’s just say that’s a life’s work.

The poem above came out of a conversation about this balancing act. When is memory too much of a burden? When is forgetting too much of a loss? During the phone calls that have sparked the start of many of the Necklace of Stars poems, I keep a writing pad by my side. In this particular case I jotted down the conversation and read it back to the speaker. We talked about it and he thought it needed a bit of “twitching” and some polishing too. He suggested some rhymes, hooting with laughter at my Southern accent as I read the lines back to him to check them. Here it is now, twitched and polished. It’s not completely his poem and not mine, it’s somewhere somewhere between the two.

A Necklace of Stars has led us into the night time, the time of dreams, illuminated with stars. It’s easy to get lost in the night, but for all of us, the stars help us to find our way. If you look for them, they’re here in this poem, shivering and quivering with great delight.

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.

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.

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.