On a day of sorrow

Necklace of Stars

Making poems by phone during the pandemic

Phil Davenport

“I think it’s helped me deal with lockdown. It’s helped me sound out what I’m thinking. I’ve been chasing a little flicker of understanding. Trying to think and digest and let it filter in. Or else you drown in your own thoughts, don’t you? If you’re left alone with them too long.” M, participant quote

Necklace of Stars was a project designed to reach out to isolated older people in Derbyshire, with home visits to make poems and art. But when the pandemic started at the same time the project launched, the whole thing was at risk of being cancelled. It took a few deep gulps to move the project from face-to-face workshops to working over the phones. Now the home visits wouldn’t occur — but would phone workshops be anything like a substitute, for participants and for me? 

With poems, we question, reflect and reconstruct ourselves. They’re an internal communication, with the self. They are also a messenger sent out to the world to say “I am here”. They tell stories, histories, fantasies, truths and lies; poems can strip away illusions, or pile up mysteries— sometimes all in the same verse. Poems have been around a long time, for good reason, however they’re usually considered to be a luxury. In lockdown, poems became part of the rescue package. 

Being alone is not a bad thing per se — it’s only by spending periods diving into your internal world that you’ll find space to hear yourself and find time for that voice, once formed, to be articulated. Spare time was forced on us in 2020, so this was a great opportunity to write. Learning to write is partly about learning the art of solitude. To make things that require time and repay it with depth and resonance. In this way, perhaps the pandemic could be turned to advantage? 

The Necklace of Stars theme of childhood lullabies, stories and the night sky was a great stimulus for some of the writers:

“There is an aura off the starlight, it’s very powerful. It draws us to it, gives us peace and makes us feel our place. Now I’ve got the time I’m coming back to those questions. Instead of taking life for granted, I’m exploring it. Opening my eyes to the starlight. If you can’t see it, you can’t write a poem about it.” N, participant quote

But other people wanted a different kind of space. They needed to address what was going on in the world immediately around them and in their own heads: 

“Stories come into my head. All the different ways people have reacted to this time of isolation and shielding. Each of us has a different idea of how we can react to now and how we can rebel. I’m trying to write about how this situation affects each and every one of us. This project is about the stars leading us out of despair. Demonstrate or rebel, and then everyone knows you still exist.”

J, participant quote

The workshops were often customised to people’s individual needs and if possible I tried to build in progression and a sense of challenge. For some people talking and writing became a way to unburden, and a way to make sense of Covid. But the deal was struck that some of the work had to be frivolous and jokes were a necessity.

Being solitary meant that some aspects of life were magnified. Older people often carry grief, for lost partners and friends, and part of travelling into memory meant encountering these presences. But in the case of T as with several others, we then moved onto the memories of childhood for a minute exploration of that part of life.

“The virus makes you go into memory because the future is so uncertain... 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.”

T, participant quote

Out of these encounters came a wealth of deeply-felt writing. If you go to the arthur+martha blog you’ll find poems and testimonies there; a mirror of the moment. The emotional intensity of the work was part of the intensity of this time and it made the writing shine. It was wonderfully uplifting to witness people alchemising something bright out of this dark moment. Some poems were modest little meditations on the garden, the neighbourhood, yet they were a big refuge. Here, seen on a local river:

Such a little duck,

holding her own in that strong current,

such determination to rid herself

of whatever was troubling her –

mud, weed, algae, parasites 

Minutes went by – then suddenly she stopped,

stood upright, shook off the last drops

from her feathers in a shower of light…

leaving a clearer space in my mind and eyes.

(From On a day of Sorrow, Lorna Dexter)

When I finally stopped in Spring 2021, I felt like I’d run a marathon — exhausted but also with a sense of achievement. In a grim year of lockdowns, fear and loneliness, this small glimmer showed itself. There’s a detailed evaluation of Necklace of Stars by researchers from Nottingham University and this independent evaluation showed that people benefitted from the calls. So did I — in this time of the plague, I was able to be useful, by means of (of all things) poetry.

This is a shortened version of an essay (also used for a case study) written by Phil Davenport for the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance www.culturehealthandwellbeing.org.uk

A Necklace of Stars is a meditation on childhood viewed from the other end of life. Alongside poems, songs and embroidery themed around childhood lullabies, we’ve invited written responses to the pandemic, so that people can share their experiences as an antidote to lockdown loneliness. 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.

WAKE WITH THE SUN IN MY MOUTH. The big book launches at Manchester Cathedral.

A Book of Ours

A BOOK OF OURS is finally in the world, you can visit it in person at Manchester Cathedral for the next 6 months until March 2022, before it goes onto John Rylands Library for its place in their permanent collection — and in history. Because this is a big, big book containing many lives in an untold history: the story of British homelessness.

Manchester Cathedral, 14 October 2021. From top left: Chris Keane, Christine Johnson, Philip Davenport and Lawrence McGill, Calligrapher Stephen Raw (in green) sharing the book with audience members, artist Lois Blackburn showing a golden page from A BOOK OF OURS.

“This book, here you have our world at your fingertips. Damaged in every bloody way, look at the state of us. We are terrible and we are beautiful.” Chris Keane

On 14 October A BOOK OF OURS was launched with readings, singings and an official welcome of the manuscript into the Cathedral by Canon David Holgate, who also blessed the book for good measure!

The experience of homelessness is usually shared quietly, person to person, through private conversations that disappear into the air. And as a rule, these experiences go no further. In A BOOK OF OURS, such quiet conversations have finally been recorded on a page, using the exact words of the tellers. And not just recorded. Here they are given rich colours, decorated in gold, and most importantly of all they have been given time — time to be heard, time to arrive on the page, time to be witnessed for their own beauty.

While the world was going into lockdown it was a great antidote knowing that poems were still being written, songs were still being sung over the phone and artworks being made — those little conversations were still happening. This book is constructed with paper and ink, yes, but really its materials are memories and hopes, jokes, worries, grief, joys, the things that make us alive.

WAKE EVERY MORNING CAN’T BLOODY MOVE

Wake in the darkness of me

Wake with the sun in my mouth.

A BOOK OF OURS Calendar, lines from October.

We’d like to thank all who came to the Cathedral on 14 October for such a big-hearted reception to A BOOK OF OURS. The performers Chris Keane, Lawrence McGill, Andy Crossley, Joan and Christine Johnson all shone brightly, illuminating the pages with deep feeling. Thanks is due to all the makers. Thanks also to the Booth Centre and Back on Track for their extraordinary help for nearly three years, and for the support from the Cathedral and John Rylands Library where A BOOK OF OURS, a book of homelessness, will have its permanent home.

Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. We wish to acknowledge the unswerving commitment and belief of the Heritage Lottery Fund and all National Lottery Players for making this piece of homeless heritage possible during difficult times.

The launch was reviewed in The Meteor online news co-operative here and a short video documenting the event is here.

Binding A BOOK OF OURS – by Mark Furness

A Book of Ours

Bookbinder Mark Furness describes making 100 loose pages into a book that medieval monks would have recognised…

We are delighted that A BOOK OF OURS has been finished and now has a handsome leather cover, designed to last for centuries. It will have its final home in John Rylands Library, alongside neighbouring manuscripts that are hundreds of years old. A BOOK OF OURS contains a history that has not previously made it into official records — the histories and experiences of people who’ve experienced homelessness.

Mark Furness: Books of Hours were often personalised small books, lavishly decorated and bound, devotion equating to the wealth the owner spent in the books creation.  Popular in Medieval times when book production was generally located in monasteries and centres of power, the most robust method of binding was of a Gothic structure. Inspired by such works in the John Rylands Research Institute and Library, I was asked to bind the pages in a form appropriate to that inspiration.

Fully sewn and bound in leather with wooden boards to control the strong but restless parchment that was used for the pages, it seemed the most appropriate structure to use in binding A Book of Ours.  Not only for the historical simpatico but the larger format of the pages would benefit from a binding that is so strong. The main hurdle was taking the individual pages of the project and making them sewable. The solution is a guard book structure; strips of paper are added to the edge of each page, they are folded, providing the folded edge to sew through and the excess paper compensating slightly for the overlap of page and strip.

Creating the Guards

The paper stock used for the manuscript was a combination of 130-190 gsm paper, written and decorated with a variety of paints and inks.  The paper is fairly rigid, which is fine, but for a book the pages need to flex; when the book opens the pages need to rise up from the spine, to splay and lay flat. The guards were constructed from 90gsm Fabriano Ingress paper, a fine quality paper with strength and great flexibility, of an off-white/beige colour. In this arrangement the sewing passes through four layers of paper in the guard, a good amount of paper to sew through that allows the sections to sit close together and not have the sewing span large gaps. Guards are attached to the verso (backside) of the pages.  No decoration is obscured and the when the pages are opened it won’t pull against the adhesion between guard and page.

Each page is glued in sequence, the setting of the first page in the section guiding the addition of each subsequent page. From 100 pages this made 25 sections, each section took about 15-20 mins to set as it had to be done precisely, but even with such precision the sections will be variable in their height. The guards are trimmed to match the page edges. All the sections were placed on the sewing frame and sewing cords placed evenly spaced along the spine of the manuscript.

Covering the Book

Being such a large book, finding a piece of leather large enough to easily cover the book meant it would have to be calf leather.  A Gambetta skin in gold was ordered from Harmatan, split to a thickness of about 0.9mm.  The covering leather works best when the spine of the leather runs along the spine of the book. The leather is cut to size and the edges and areas of overlap from the turn-ins on the spine are pared thinner. 

The spine of the book is lined with paper to even out the surface and give the leather a clear surface to adhere to.  It is then ready to apply the leather to the book.  Being such a large book the process of covering was difficult with just one person, taking pictures during the process was limited. With the book complete the title panel supplied was pasted into the recessed panel. A label in gold foil on tan leather was added to the spine: A BOOK OF OURS.

Timings

Preparation of sections – 9 hours

Sewing – 7 hours

Board preparation and attachment – 6 hours

Leather preparation and covering – 4 hours

Finishing – 4 hours

Total binding time – 30 hours

Original page from A BOOK OF OURS

With thanks to all National Lottery Players and the National Lottery Heritage Fund who made this project possible.

We tell it with a big heart

A Book of Ours

A BOOK OF OURS illuminated manuscript, made by people who’ve experienced homelessness and other vulnerable people in Manchester, is currently being exhibited at Bury Art Museum. On 9 July a group of the makers (and others) from the Booth Centre and Back on Track came to see the exhibition. A selection of 20 pages is on the walls and in cabinets — only a fraction of the whole number of pages which will be bound into the book. Here below are photos from the day, plus some of the group’s comments:

“When you look at this work, you don’t see the circumstances of the people. You don’t see how they were living or how they was suffering when they made these pages. You’ve got to look deep inside these pictures and these words. Then you get the true story of what is being told here, it is told as it is, it is the truth. I have witnessed it. There is a fearful judgement put on people when they live homeless. But these pages don’t say it’s good or say it’s bad, they just say it exists. They are stories deserving the telling.”

Above: Roy, Kayleigh and (in bottom right photo) Shannah, Bury Art Museum July 2020

“I don’t read so well, it takes me a while. It’s brilliant to have the pictures as well as the words, then I can guess bits of what’s going on. The colours dance for me. Now I did get that poem about Dolly Parton, I love her songs, she comes on like a joke but she sings the saddest songs. I’m looking at this one here and I can read all these words myself. They speak to me about suicide. This is how it is when there is no road left to go. Looking at that page made me feel something, to be honest it made me feel terrible. But then two pages along down is this one about hope. The one about the Satellites coming. I like hope coming in at the end. It’s part one and part two of a story. That’s how it seems to me.” Anonymous

From Office of the Dead, A BOOK OF OURS
From The Joys, A BOOK OF OURS

“Phil, it looks great. You know that and I know that and now everyone else can see it. I’ve come a long way to see our story on the wall. All the gang here, we look like bankrobbers with our masks on. Makes me smile, we look so dodgy. And the gang has done great, every single one of us. We made it together, the Collective. Here we are together again, I’d like to have a picture but they’d probably arrest me. Wouldn’t be the first time.” Chris

“It makes you feel good at the time when you’re doing the art, you get lost in it. And then when you see it again, like this. I don’t have the words. And other people’s work too, all those people from the day centres. It can be a lonely world out there — when you’re really out in it, when you live outside. Sometimes, times like this, you’re not so alone.” Anonymous

From The Joys, A BOOK OF OURS

“People never knew about us. Never knew it was there did they, this story of ours? It was written by a bunch of down and out pissheads, as people call us. Bums, to put it mildly. But I been round this gallery today and we’re in there too now — and we are just as good. With the top artists and sculptors. We tell it with a big heart. A bunch of down and outs is what you get called. The harsh judgements. And sometimes we judge ourselves even harder. When you’ve lived this life, you don’t feel always good about yourself. Know what I’m saying? But here — you do feel good. When you ask me is telling this story worthwhile, I don’t even hesitate. Of course it is, of course it is!” Roy

A BOOK OF OURS, Bury Art Museum

Gallery photography by Julia Grime. Page close-ups, Lois Blackburn.

People who have experienced homelessness, and other vulnerable people, have made a medieval-style illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS describing their lives, hopes and dreams in a 2-year project in Manchester, which had its public debut at Bury Art Museum in May and runs until July 2021.

This arthur+martha project took place at the Booth Centre, Back on Track and other support centres in Manchester, along with virtual workshops with (Invisible) Manchester and Inspiring Change Manchester. Much of this work has been inscribed into the illuminated manuscript, and many extra pieces are to be found here on our blog and as songs in a forthcoming CD. The book pages and songs were made collaboratively by people with lived experience of homelessness and other vulnerable people 2019-21.

Supported by Heritage Lottery Fund

Jakir and Phil, pondering

Skyward

Necklace of Stars

The story of a dream, by Jenny Pederson:

Some dreams stay forever; this one keeps hunting me. Tonight it has returned once more.

Cobbled streets, dimly lit by gaslight, empty of people save for me and the Pride. Magnificent animals, but terrifying. Houses with doors locked against me. Alleyways twisting, turning, each one leads me to a dead end. The Pride closing in, softly padding toward me. I scream nothing but silence. Then with no warning I’m lifted by unseen hands, that lift me gently skyward.

Below me the Pride are roaring, angry. Tonight they will have to go hungry. Laughing at their dismay I fly high over the rooftops to the sky above where there is light, beautiful starlight.  I fly without a care, for no one can hurt me here.

Faceless shadows appear around me, delicate, weblike, and take my hands. Ethereal ladders appear for me to climb, and as my feet take their first steps upon them, I follow where shadows take me.  

Excitement builds, then great sadness bringing tears on and on I go, ladder to ladder, each one revealing a familiar face long passed from my world, and greatly missed. When will this end? 

Now stars are becoming brighter, shadows are breaking away. “ Wait don’t leave me.” The sound of laughter lingers, as each one darts away, and I’m left alone. It’s too much! Take me back. But then in the distance I see her, her arms outstretched as she draws nearer,  then she’s in my arms and the moment we have waited for is finally here.  “Mama?” 

We cling together. Cheated of the life we should have shared together. Finally I see her face! Reaching out to touch her cheek. I cherish the feel of her skin: warm, young,  and beautiful. She is my Sara, I pray we will be able to speak, there is so much I need to know.

Far below, the Pride are stalking me again.    

Jenny P

Further added thoughts on self doubts

I have always been scared of doing things wrong. (Good old school.) So to be part of the Necklace of Stars, is wonderful but at the same time terrifying. Someone once said (in fun) — “You are small and insignificant.” I laughed it off at the time, but it’s not how it really felt when you have anxiety, depression etc.  I started to write down how that had made me feel – and opened a floodgate of thoughts and words,  I found a different part of me, one I didn’t know was there at all. Now after many years of self doubt,  I actually like the person I have become. I still make mistakes and dwell too much on the past, but my writing helps. I really hope you give it a try, there’s nothing to be scared of. You may surprise yourself, just like I did…”  

JP

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.

Reasons to be a Rebel. 1,2,3…

Necklace of Stars

Reflecting on life in my bunker away from the world during lockdown has allowed feelings and thoughts buried deep to come to the surface. Until now my life was one of conformity, politeness, working, paying taxes and being an upright member of society. Trying to be an accepted member of the community, listening to views but rarely voicing mine for fear of upsetting people.  I wonder if I have become a sheep, wanting to be liked at the cost of losing my identity?


Agitation stirs within and realisation dawns.  Feelings of rebellion bubble to the surface, time has come to break free from the constraints imposed voluntarily and be free.  Boring and safe need to be replaced by daring and living life to its full.  It’s time to be a rebel and stand out from the crowd, to fight for what I believe in and not be frightened to express my views. Rebelling will bring value to my life, breaking from routine, creating magic and excitement. All good reasons to be a rebel 123… 

Drink pepsi from a coke bottle.

Seven people meet in a house. 

Sit in a pub after 10.

Sing and dance inside a building. 

Walk the opposite way in a one-way supermarket.

Eat After 8 Mints before eight.

Touch what can’t be touched.

The short story Reasons to be a Rebel 123 is by Jo, from her series of written rebellions.

This whole project is called Necklace of Stars. For me the stars are treading the way forward, leading us out of despair. For people who are forgotten, if you demonstrate or rebel, then everyone else is reminded – you still exist.”

Jo: “These stories just come into my head. They describe the different ways people have reacted to this time of isolation and shielding and the politics behind it all. Each of us has a different idea of how we react to now and how we can rebel, if we choose. I’m trying to write about how this big situation affects each and every one of us as individuals. This whole project is called Necklace of Stars – for me the stars are treading the way forward, leading us out of despair. For people who are forgotten, if you demonstrate or rebel, then everyone else is reminded – you still exist.”

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 safe distance methods – phone conversations and post. This project is an opportunity to explore creativity, playing with new approaches to art and breaking down boundaries. At a time when many people are isolated at home, the imagination is still free.

Become your own Stargazer

A Book of Ours, poetry

Who do you reach out to in these troubled times? During the lockdowns and the isolation and the paranoia, loneliness is at an all time high. The people you care about have become precious beyond price.

Today, our workshop (12 Oct) at the Booth Centre was all about these connections. The things that affirm life when there is too much death in the air. And so we talked about the people who matter to us and the chains of connection between us, the exchange of love, of kindness, of energy.

From myself to my mother
My friends and philosophers
Writers, Gaia, God
Neologists
Positive energies
Enlightenment, direction
In the stepping stones of progression...

But this is love in times of survival, not love as a luxury…

Flower pink fingers… Anon. 2020

In other words, we were writing love poems. But this is love in times of survival, not love as a luxury or as a romantic drama. And so as to make it more universal, the loved ones were given the names of favourite flowers. A lover, a granddaughter, children, friends, ourselves, our spiritual guides, our spirit selves — they became an orchid, a rose, a pink flower, a whole garden, a lily. Which is where we came in…

Elevate the Lily
Lilies of innocence and beauty
I can see -- there is Lily now, on
My pink 
Lily-pod floating.
Follow the Lily and become your very own
Stargazer.

Poem by "K"

Volunteer Sue Dean took the photos of people’s hands as they wrote their poems during this workshop: Sue also jotted these notes:

“All were keen to get their thoughts, memories or hopes onto paper As much or as little help was gently provided, making it a very chatty session with Social Distance observed. Some came out as poems, or songs with distinct lines and chorus. Some more private for them alone. All seemed to have enjoyed the session and would be returning…”

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.

A river crying

poetry, Whisper to me alone

My last Whisper workshop at the Booth Centre, a remarkable place which offers advice, activities and support to homeless people in Manchester. I’ve been here on Wednesday mornings for the last five weeks, making poems with people. As they take part in the arts activities, I work alongside, writing down the stories they tell me. Sometimes it’s easier for people to talk while their hands are busy with sewing, or pottery.

This week I spend time with S, who wakes up with a poem in his head pretty much every day. He told me that his grandpa was a singer and so he is used to words carrying more than every day meaning, they can also be music, love tokens, or religious texts.

For S, the Psalms from the bible are everyday reading. I’m not a religious person, but I grew up with the Old Testament and the Psalms in my ears, and their subtle rhythm runs through a lot of what I write, even now.

S told me that he often has a phrase running around his head and he’s got to write down, to quieten it. The line that he showed me is the refrain in the poem down below, the crying rivers. As we spoke, of the conversation broadened out to the world he sees around him right now. For him, the pandemic is a biblical plague, a visiting of justice.

I read the poem below to him and he said, “Exodus. It means come forth.” And so that became the title.

As I’m finishing up this blog, I’m sat in the Booth by the piano. The place has been cleaned up ready for tomorrow and there’s a quiet buzz of conversation between two of the volunteers. Someone is whistling and banging a mop bucket. Outside, the rain is droppping in biblical amounts and I wait for my moment to cycle home.

Exodus, come forth
 
First will be last
And the last first
Whatever is for you
Receive it
The lonely rivers cry to the sea
Wait for me, wait for me
 
Don’t hold onto
An argument like it’s yours
Let go
It has no worth
The lonely rivers cry to the sea.
 
I don’t think the world will ever change
There is evil, destruction
All of King Pharaoh's
plagues
The lonely rivers cry to the sea
 
Do you remember the first stars in the sky?
Remember your first step on the Earth so fair?
Say you don’t remember, but you were there.
 
Lucifer will rob you blind
Will feed you on death
The plague of frogs of locusts
Leave them behind
 
Let my people go
Let go, it has no worth
 
The lonely rivers cry to the sea
Wait for me, wait for me.

"S"
Photograph by Sue Dean, 2020

I’d like to thank Merida Richards for allowing me to work alongside her pottery session — and for being so encouraging of this collaboration.

The long twitter poem Whisper2meAlone will begin transmission soon; it will include excerpts of the poems and writing from the project as well as songs and hand-drawn emoticons.

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. The treated photo is by Sue Dean.

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

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.