Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Feedback from staff training sessions

Just winding arthur+martha work down now, ready for our Christmas break. Gary Conley from St Helens Council just sent us some wonderful feedback sent by participants from the staff training sessions:

Hi Gary

...I found the sessions very helpful and relevant to me as I am commencing training in "Prepare to Teach in Lifelong they prepared me for the voluntary work which I am undertaking, in particular having the experience of going into a day centre occupied by service users was helpful this gave me an insight into what is is like to work with older people...

Lois was very inspirational in particular I enjoyed the embroidery session, as I hope to become a craft teacher, I found myself observing how she delivered the training and this has set the scene for what I could emulate within my voluntary group.  I have since purchased embroidery threads needles , scissors, linen and embroidery hoops so that I now feel fully equipped to try this out and I am thinking of different ways I could introduce embroidery to a group. 

Lois was enthusiastic and inspirational, and was able to convey so much of her experience, and it was very interesting to see the books that she has had published detailing her work.

All in all I thought the whole experience was beneficial and the opportunity was well timed with just starting out to develop a career in training Arts and Crafts.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity, it has been very helpful.

Hi Gary,

We really enjoyed the Arthur and Martha training, Initially we thought we
would not really be able to use any of the ideas, wrong, Margaret and
myself are going to be looking at incorporating some of the activities with
our Service users. I have already tried the creative writing exercise with
one of the service users.

We thought the training was just right and both Lois and Phil were very informative and gave us lots of ideas.

If any further training comes up would you please let us know.

Hi Gary,

For me, as a poet, the training sessions with the Arthur and Martha artists Lois and Phil, have given me an insight into how I can enhance my own workshops by including art techniques alongside poetry as part of my practice. It has also been interesting to find out how poetry exercises have been used successfully with groups of older people with whom I have started to work as a writer myself. Lois and Phil created a relaxed and friendly atmosphere while delivering informative and quality workshops and valuing the contributions and feedback of participants. It was particularly rewarding for me to be able to get professional advice and feedback on my workshop structure and practice from two established and highly regarded art practitioners at this stage of my professional development. I would recommend that anyone aiming for best practice in using art particularly with older people to take the opportunity to attend workshops or to shadow these artists.

Thanks for inviting me to the training

Tuesday, 20 December 2011


There's rain snaking down the windows and the wind is ice-flavoured. I'm in a cafe in Manchester, wishing my toes were warmer and less wet, but otherwise cheerful. It's the end of the year - arthur+martha will take a holiday interlude until our various projects start up in January. This blog is by way of a hello to the many people we've spent time with in 2011 - and with it comes the wish of warmth, emotional and actual.

It's been a bustle of a year - Lois and I started 2011 working with young carers in Warrington, a very sweet-hearted group, whose lives called on them to be adult beyond the capability of many grown-ups. Then we entered another and very different world, during our project with homeless people in Manchester and Bury. We invited homeless and vulnerable-housed people to customise tourist postcards of Manchester, showing an often unnoticed face of the city. This work was exhibited in the Bury Text Festival and on the BBC Big Screen in the city centre. Then in St Helens, working at Four Acre, we had the great pleasure of helping to start a creative group for older people, some of whom had become very isolated.

In all of these walks of life we met kindness, humour and insight although it sometimes had harsh surroundings. In fact, the remarkable grace that many people showed was both humbling and uplifting. I complain about wet feet, but am sitting in a comfortable room, within a comfortable life.

Despite their uncomfortable lives, participants often make pieces that are artistically ambitious, tough, fragile, funny and emotive. The fact that they may have been dismissed by society in general does not diminish their inherent talent. In fact the power of their work often derives from the outsider perspective that people bring and their determination to find a way to express it.

We would like to thank all who've made work and shared their humour, creativity, the day-to-day of their lives. We also wish to acknowledge the kind help of several individuals this year - Penny Anderson, Steve Giasson, Owen Hutchings, Joanne our poetical support in St Helens and Joan Birkett our artistical one, Gemma Cameron and finally Rebecca Guest, editor extraordinary.

Happy winterlude one and all.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The relation of hard cash to the memory palace

My goodbye session at Chester Lane Library reminscence=art group. It's become ingrained for me to rattle up there on the bike, drink a cuppa while trying to tame my wildly disorganised papers and then welcome the group. My body will probably try to launch itself early out of bed next Thursday - and for some Thursdays to come.

My final two visits have been in part training sessions for Joanne, a local poet who has shadowed us throughout the St Helens project - and in part a broader discussion with the group about their aspirations. I will write about the training at another time, this account is about the legacy of the project, aside from art.

I believe we've left them something of value - namely this group, made of themselves. However they choose to use it, they own a little human network, full of possibilities. We talked about what these possibles might be and I listed their thoughts, then reflected them back.

I was very struck by how unassuming the group are about what they themselves have to offer us all - their reminiscence as art has had 3000 plus 'visits' on the internet and the poem iced onto Woolworths window in the town centre was seen and appreciated by hundreds and hundreds of local folk. People DO value these memories it's just that there's not a clearly defined outlet. Where do you usually go memory shopping? And to extend this metaphor, the appreciation of memory work doesn't necessarily show itself in terms of £££ sales, which is how we are taught to assign value.

Brenda used the phrase ‘group memory’ to describe the sense of a communal reminiscence – sharing memories as a way of energising them within a group. Every Thursday, Chester Lane Library becomes a kind of commune within the 'memory palace'. Turning them into art or poems passes memories to others outside, which is where Lois and I and Joanne step into the process. If you're outside, you can participate by reading or viewing the work, but can't reciprocate. It is the to and fro of the group that makes it such a source of human warmth, a fire to gather round. Brenda described it in precisely these terms: “The warmth. Telling stories and banter. Talking and doing.”

Such a thing is needed when you're pushed to the edge of social relevance, as many older people are. Sadly, the shape of loneliness is the negative image of the gathering, the shadow cast by the fire. Margaret commented: “As you get older, your brain becomes invisible. People don’t value your thoughts and opinions.”

One person talked about being at a wedding, silent and unacknowledged, because as the older relative she was considered unworthy of inclusion. She wasn't introduced to anybody, she was literally unobserved. The rejection stayed with her and depressed her for days afterwards.

If this little group helps to allieviate such biting loneliness, then it has value. If all our daft experimenting and wordplay and art-cake decorating and poem stitching has helped people to be seen and heard, then it has value.

We shook hands and they wished me well; I felt a heart-twinge as I looked back.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Enabling: Conference

Brilliant! Thanks so much Lois. Really enjoyed your workshop! It was so refreshing!
Val Hulme, Bolton at Home

On the 11th October at Bolton Museum I enjoyed listening to a morning of speakers at the Enabling: Inclusive Arts Practice for Public Health and Well Being Event. It was great to see what other arts groups are working on, share practical ideas and experience. Speakers included Clive Parkinson, Director Arts for Health, MMU, who typical to form, gave a great heart felt manifesto for arts and health. 

In the afternoon I lead a practical arts workshop Session to a group including Housing Officers, artists, arts officers... 

Many thanks, Lois. It was great to experience some of your work first hand and speak to you afterwards -  best of luck with all your future projects.
Sarah Crossland, Designer/Owner

I've been going to (and speaking at) quite a few conferences of late. Its been a really useful experience, at every event there is a mix of great and not so great speakers, and always lots of inspiration from fellow attendees. Its so important to get out and see what other people are doing, it seems particularly valuable right now in this time of economic crisis, that people are confident enough to share ideas, experiences and wisdoms...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Staff Training

Following on from our project in Four Acre, Phil and I have been asked to run some workshops for a group of staff from Care Homes and Day Centres in St Helens. 

From my point of view what I wanted was the up-skilling of staff who deliver art activities in homes and day centres, and the raising of the bar in the area of creativeness with the overall purpose of giving the service users the feeling of well being.

The feedback I have got from the participants have been very positive indeed. They are enjoying the pace and the atmosphere of the sessions and are liking meeting other people from similar working environments who they can share not only ideas with but practices as well.  The staff enjoyed the card making session and also the discussion about art and its role in well-being.
I believe that your sessions are more than meeting my goal.

Gary Conley
Cultural Co-ordinator

St Helens

Each of our workshop sessions had a different theme, the first looking at Felt Making and how it could be used with participants with a wide range of different skills and abilities.

The second was a look at how we can use Art Postcards in participatory arts, for example adapting the picture and its meaning with paint, collage or scratching. We also used the art cards to start a discussion about engagement with art, or what might be called art appreciation. For this workshop I was inspired by the work done by MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art, New York) who have done some wonderful work with people diagnosed with Dementia engaging them with their collection. There are some very useful free downloadable PDFs from their website.

The third week we investigated embroidery and how it could be used with participants. I invited people to look at embroidered samplers for inspiration, and to try out some ideas for themselves. (pictured in this blog) The room fell silent as the group got totally absorbed in the activity. Like many of the older people we work with in hospital or care homes, many of this group hadn't done any embroidery since school and it came as a revelation. Many of the group left with their samples in hand, explaining they were off to do more at home. Another very satisfying day.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Dinner Bell

I loved music at school, my favourite musical instrument? the dinner bell. George White

On Thursday morning Joanne and I joined the arts group at Four Acre Library, St Helens. Next week will be my last session- and I am getting serious pangs of sadness. I've been getting so much from this 
group- an education and lots of laughter. 

Joanne and Marion

This week my task was siting back and observing how Joanne got on with facilitating the group. This isn't such an easy job for me, who likes to be in control... as I sat burning to ask questions myself and wanting to join in with my take on the conversation! and it was such a fascinating conversation. We were discussing schooling- the realities for children during and into the 50s.

6 on the backside in front of the whole class if you were naughty Eddie

What struck me again was all the wasted talent and crushed aspirations. A story I have heard before (my father-in-law won a scholarship to a grammar school and couldn't take up the place as his parents didn't have the money for the uniform) was repeated here today, Joan had won a scholarship;

We couldn't afford the clothes, couldn't afford the equipment, the headteacher said to my mother 'you can't afford to come'. Joan

Brenda, Marion and Sid
Marion whose parents did manage to borrow enough money for her to get her uniform, spent the whole time in one oversized coat, brought large when she started school (I never grew any taller than that first day) recalled feeling she never fitted in with the people from the middle class backgrounds. She was always aware of her frayed and darned cuffs. She would run the gaunlet of the other kids going to the local schools, who teased her 'lend us your hat, we're havin soup tonight!' She felt she didnt fit in anywhere.

Norma and Eddy

After the very lively reminiscence, the group used their memories to effect in acrostic poems. The fantastic legacy of the project here is a lively enthusiastic group, who seem willing to try any art or poetry exercise presented to them. Who support each other creatively and socially, and who will continue to meet up weekly long after I am no longer part of the group. I'll miss them all.

Monday, 10 October 2011

circular poems in cycles

As part of the Four Acre project, with St Helens Arts Service, Phil and I are offering training and practical skills for people who want to run art/poetry workshops. Last Thursday, local poet Joanne joined the Chester Lane Library group for some hands-on experience. 

We played with ideas of circular poems, based on the morning reminiscence about Royal Jubilees. We  catered for all points of view on this topic - Royalists and Royalty-dislikers alike.  Most people present were too young to remember 1935 when George mk 5 had his Jubilee; however, many had some memories of the 1977 (Sex Pistol soundtracked) Silver Jubilee. The 2002 one seemed to pass us all by.  The inspiration for the circular poems came from Jubilee souvenir coins - and the notions of societal hierarchy that we inherit.

Joanne talked people through the circular poem idea, then together we helped participants create the circularity of their own short verses. Norma took it in her stride, delighting in the wordplay and helping the others with practical solutions. Sid gave us all much to laugh about as he recounted the celebration of Lady Di's wedding, where as he puts it  'I imbibed to much alcohol'  and ended up losing his teeth  I'm pleased to say they were found the next day in the rockery, they went straight back in, without any further pause for breath. And they still look alright to me.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Big Draw

The Big Draw event at St Helens Central Library went really well. In a drop in session in the main library space, I worked with 29 children, parents, grandparents and carers aged from 2 to 85.

Part of the success was down to having a strong but simple idea to work on- something that participants could get hold of and understand easily. Using the theme of dreams of flying, participants drew a feather (bird, angel, dinosaur...)  on one side of a swing tag, and on the reverse wrote a line describing a flying dream. If no dreams could be recalled, then a word that described what it would feel like to fly. The labels then were attached to wings I had made prior to the workshop.

I love to see how given the same tools to draw with, the same material to draw on, everyones drawings are so different, reflecting their personality, their mood, their idea of a feather...

The alternative activity was creating paper-cut feathers from tissue paper, old magazines, wrapping paper etc. A simple task, but one participants seemed to thoroughly enjoy. Many were taken home, the remaining were attached to another pair of wings. 

Friday, 7 October 2011

Czech Conference

Work from our recent project A Little Sentence, is going to be shown by artist Sarah Butterworth in the Czech Republic during a conference held in Most, the Usti Region of the Czech Republic where there is a relatively high crime rate. 

It is being held by the social and psychological centre O.sMOSTY. The conference will bring together youth workers, teachers, artists and prison workers wishing to discover innovative ways of working with prisoners and young people at risk of offending.

If you'd like to find out more about the conference it's on but all in Czech!

Library of Dreams: The Big Draw

Tomorrow, Saturday 8th October, 11.00 till 3.00pm, you can join me and other artists to celebrate The Big Draw 2011, in a day of dream themed drawing activities on paper and screen. The family activities will take place at the MASH Gallery, St Helens Central Library, St Helens.

I will be sharing the space with artists from Library of Dreams, who are running monthly workshop sessions, hoping to collect, share and interpret the dreams of mums, dads, carers, grandparents, children.... and express them through the arts.

The theme for my drawing and making will be dreams of flying....

Monday, 26 September 2011

Combating older people’s loneliness and social isolation

In November Owen Hutchings from St Helens Arts Service, Phil and I will be of to London to talk at the Bloom conference: Combating older people’s loneliness and social isolation. November 8, 2011

Loneliness and social isolation are among the greatest sources of misery for older people living in the UK today – one in 10 older people say they suffer from "intense" loneliness and more than half of people over the age of 75 live alone, according to research by Age UK.

This Bloom conference sets out fresh objectives and provides practical guidance and inspiring examples from a range of settings for providers and commissioners of care and support services for older people – to enhance family relationships, encourage love and friendship, and promote community involvement and engagement.
You can find out more and book at place by following

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Yarn bombing

Yarn bombing otherwise called guerrilla knitting or graffiti knitting has hit my local town of New Mills, Derbyshire with a splash of colour and laughter. The practice is believed to have originated in the U.S with Texas knitters trying to find creative ways to use leftover and unfinished knitting projects... 

Many shop windows have been adorned with knitting, with displays of knitted fruit, cakes, bikes and sausages in associated shops.

This wonderful knitted graffiti has been made by the Woolly Wanderers, and is showing between the 10th and the 25th September. You can find out more about them at

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Little Sentence: Platform Gallery, Leicester

The exhibition at the wonderful Platform Gallery, Leicester is up and running and gaining some really positive attention. The exhibition of tattoos on paper: words & art from young offenders, seems to be doing everything we hoped it would- giving a voice to people, challenging pre-conceptions and stimulating conversation.

Really great exhibition - the subject matter of the different artists was thought provoking, sad at times as well as humorous, all looked really stunning in black ink lines. Would really recommend a visit   William Caxton

...I think the pieces will have a positive effect on a wider audience understanding some of the thoughts of the young offenders who created them. Carolyn White looks really professional and the setting is a superb space to show the work. Each piece drew me in and made me think of the 'untold' background story to the words and images created here. Matilda Arnold

To read more comments, and to make some of your own, please visit: To view more photos please visit

The exhibition will run till the 2nd October.

"GROW ROSES or you are wasting time & time is the one thing you never get back." (Participant, HMYOI Glen Parva 2011)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Enabling: Inclusive Arts Practice for Public Health and Well Being

In October I will be running a workshop event at the Conference, Enabling: Inclusive Arts Practice for Public Health and Well Being. 

Enabling: Inclusive Arts Practice for Public Health and Well Being
11th October 2011
Bolton Central Museum

Bolton Council Arts Development Service invite you to an event to promote inclusive arts practice for public health and wellbeing and to inform your future decision-making and development  in this growing area of work.
In the current changing economic climate, with a move to the big society, localism bill, shared services, personalisation and opening up of services for commissioning opportunities, there is a need to equip organisations in the third sector, arts and creative industries with the knowledge needed to ensure they are able to keep up and exploit new opportunities to their fullest.   The day will cover inclusive arts practice, how to be tender ready and win contracts in health and social care and how to navigate the emerging health commissioning process.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A LITTLE SENTENCE = Tattoos on paper: words & art from young offenders.

On Tuesday, Phil and I went down to Leicester to set up a new exhibition showcasing our recent project with Young Offenders...

An exhibition of tattoos designed by young offenders to explore and explain their lives opens at Pedestrian Gallery in Leicester, UK on 14th September to the 2nd October 2011. Private view Thursday 22nd September 5.30 to 7.30.

In summer 2011, young offenders in HMYOI Glen Parva used the stylings of tattoos to design images and poetic statements. Tattoos contain some of the most powerful statements that people make - layering words, image and identity.

Through a combination of writing and art workshops, participants pinned their feelings down on paper, to be seen and appreciated by the wider community in Leicester. They pay tribute to the people they care about most, describing their dreams and some nightmares too. They are touching, funny, ambiguous and surpisingly vulnerable. 

The project was a partnership between arthur+martha CIC, Rideout and the Education Department of Milton Keynes College.  arthur+martha work with people whose voices might not be heard – homeless people, school pupils in danger of exclusion, older people in healthcare, holocaust survivors and others. Rideout, the commissioners of this project, have facilitated creative work in prisons for over a decade.

A Little Sentence is part of The Truth About, Rideout's programme of work in which professional artists are commissioned to develop new artworks that arise from spending time working with prisoners. The Truth About has been funded with support from the European Union (DG Justice), Simplyhealth, and Arts Council England. Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation) is a registered charity that specialises in arts projects in the fields of crime, justice, punishment and the prison estate.

"GROW ROSES or you are wasting time & time you never get back." (Participant, HMYOI Glen Parva 2011)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

pic'n'mix part 2

good old FW always been here 2/6
picknmix rummage
elastic for yr knickers 1/-

On Saturday pic'n'mix went truly interactive: we invited shoppers, staff on their breaks, children and their grandmas to add to the icing poem, celebrating memories of Woolworths, at St Helens.

if you didn’t have any money 3/6
you could spend hours in
/- Woolies = where I first tasted
a quarter of allsorts a quarter of buttered brazils £sd

Five large glass doors were covered in coloured iced drawings and writing, featuring sweeties, buttons and bows, records, Ladybird clothing, cutlery, pots and pans and 'much, much more'.

quarter toffee treacle
thought I’d die happy
licqorice stringing ~
MUST GO Woolies goin cheap sweets in cellophane 6d
lollies in cardboard 3d
aniseed balls last forever =

The artwork attracted a constant flow of people, wanting to join in and share stories. Woolies is a communal memory of more than a shop: the danger of steeling sweeties from the pic 'n' mix, or a meeting place for a first date, or where 'my mummy worked', or the counter where you got your first school uniform, or where you went because you couldn't afford anything better.

walk around town with our eyes open
[we think but]
look up see the beauty see 2/6
hooks + eyes press-studs + rings

As the day went on the windows filled, I was kept busy getting extra stocks of icing, while musical floats went by as part of the Street Festival celebration.

Ella singing =
“Diamond bracelets Woolies doesn’t sell BABY”
stood outside /- it was raining
2oz sparkly bling

While Phil and I led the icing crowd, volunteers from the Four Acre group looked after a large stall showing the embroidery, ceramics and other artwork they'd helped to create; they invited the general public to create their own poetic doilies and decorated biscuits. Over the two days the team of volunteers helped 100s of people create their own artworks to take away. Thank you so much Marion and George, Brenda, Marion, Norma, Eddy and Joan.

More photos from the day can be found at
To read about the rest of the project at Four Acre, please look at our other blogs...

FINAL lost in the age of retail parks OFFER
in Ladybird clothes in white kneesocks
stood in Woolies doorway.

(Group poem
Chester Lane Library
1st Sept 2011)

Monday, 12 September 2011


On the 2nd of September as part of our project in Four Acre, Phil and I took to the streets, to make an installation on the windows and doors of the disused Woolworth Store right in the heart of the shopping area on Church Square, St Helens.

pic’n’mix transformed for a couple of days the sadly neglected face of Woolies into a joyful, witty, poignant work of self-expression, straight from the community which this store once served. The poem lasted as long as the rain held of, and sticky fingers resisted.

This piece was jointly composed by the Chester Lane Library art/reminiscence group in commemoration of Woolworths. This poem was one of the outputs of community art/poetry workshops commissioned by St Helens Council and delivered by arthur+martha in 2011.

pic’n’mix was written in icing sugar, in reference to Woolies sweet counter and had a hugely welcoming and enthusiastic response from the public. Some comments from passers-by were incorporated into the piece.

The poem is one single line that stretches along the bottom of the entire shop front, so that the reader has a sense of walking through the piece, into an earlier era that exists now only in memory. It is a work of collective reminiscence, verbatim from the Chester Lane group – it is literally the voice of the community, celebrating their past and also subtly reflecting on the transience of all things.
The work layers together the everyday poetry of conversation and the act of memory: childhood nostalgia, oral history, humour, anger, celebration, commemoration. A coming together of many individuals. The poem marks a shared past, not only of people in St Helens, but of working people across a whole century in all their tragedies and triumphs.

if you didn’t have any money 3/6
you could spend hours in
/- Woolies = where I first tasted
a quarter of allsorts a quarter of buttered brazils £sd

Friday, 9 September 2011

Four Acre Tea Party

I've just loaded onto our portfolio site taken last week at the sunny Four Acre Tea Party event. Here are some examples...

Joan and Phil

Mayor Tom Hargreaves signing embroidered tablecloth

embroidered napkin

teacup and saucer with reminiscence and tablecloth 

embroidered bunting

library group at the tea party

some of the 'working worms'

 Kathy Johnson, Head of Libraries in St Helens said of the project " is a wonderful project, you have really tapped into something special. Well done to you!

embroidered tablecloth (detail) 

for more images please go to:

Thanks must go to Owen Hutchings, Jill Lynes of Re-New, All the members of 'The Up Plonky Activities Group', the Working Worms, Pat and Les Andrew and Mayor Tom Hargreaves.