Thursday, 27 March 2014

ALBION: an everyday epic


ALBION, an epic tale of modern Britain is being written in tweets, with the help of young offenders, people with dementia, homeless people and other “outsidered” groups, at

The latest instalment is a collection of poems and tattoo designs made in collaboration with young offenders at HMYOI Glen Parva, which will start tweeting on 29th March.

Poet Philip Davenport from the arts organisation arthur+martha who devised the project commented:  “ALBION shares its origin with many of the oldest epics: it is made from the human voice. Its difference is that it allows the voices of the ordinary and the unheard to take centre place, rather than heroes, hobgoblins and kings. We hope to make something that speaks to us all – at a time when economic concerns are making society more fearful and less caring.    

“The young offenders’ work shows struggles for power and identity, created by young men who are literally locked away, but who are also locked into negative behaviour. Their pieces pay tribute to  people they care about most, describing dreams and some nightmares too. They are touching, funny, ambiguous and surprisingly vulnerable."

ALBION also includes work from homeless people in Greater Manchester, people with a dementia diagnosis in the North West and Derbyshire, people from economically disadvantaged communities in the North West and other groups. It will continue tweeting for over a year and will be launched as a book late 2014.

The Glen Parva workshops, which produced the material, were set up as a partnership between arthur+martha CIC, Rideout prison arts organisation and the Education Department of Milton Keynes College.  

This project is funded by the NALD.

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 (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation) is a registered charity that specialises in arts projects in the fields of crime, justice, punishment and the prison estate.

Monday, 24 March 2014


Press Release

"walk past a restaurant // smile @ them thats th mask // I wont let them see me hungry #rainer" (Tweet from Engels)

Tweet From Engels an 'anti-epic' poem made from encounters with homeless people by arts organization arthur+martha, will be projected onto the side of Manchester Town Hall on 29 March 2014.

The poem was originally tweeted and will now be projected as part of the Big Digital Project, alongside work from many Manchester communities.

The 'verses' are snapshots in text of homeless lives, in all their moods - joy, terror, humour, resilience, anger. Famously, Engels wrote about the harshness of 19th Century Manchester; people today who live a comparable existence are the homeless. The poem imagines a dialogue between Engels and the homeless people of Manchester. Interspersed through the poem is found material from Engel's correspondence with Marx, and his classic The Condition of the English Working Class.

"my friend got murdered ystrday backdoor open lights on = stoppd // that was th last time I // spoke 2 her he batterd her again #rai"

projected poem as part of the Stockport Big Digital event

Sound recordings made with homeless people in Stockport, Manchester and Bury will accompany the event.

The sound recordings were made at various homeless drop-ins: The Wellspring at Stockport, The Booth Centre and The Big Issue in the North in Manchester.

The Big Digital Project has been organised by the Let's Go Global organisation. TWEET FROM ENGELS is part of a wider epic poem, Albion, made in collaboration with marginalised people in the UK.

Albion has been funded by the NALD.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

A bowler for national occasions

Alice and Joan

Making Memories: Oldham
Hats are different in the 21st century. There's a social etiquette to the hats of the 1920s, 30s, 40s that is now gone. All those men wearing flat caps to the football, just look at the old photos. Hundreds of men in tweed caps, cheap, warm and waterproof. The women weren't allowed in some churches unless they wore a hat or scarf, to show respect. But hats were also a signal for celebration, going out on a Saturday night was topped off with a fancy hat. 

Today's sessions were themed around hats. The morning group were in a Residential Ward at Shawside Residential and Nursing Home and were dazzled by the wondrous hats that were brought in by our student volunteer Isobel and Gallery Oldham. The hats became a delightful prop for dressing-up, plus a stimulus for memories. They evoked early memories of mums and dads, all in hats from long-ago childhoods. They also evoked the social mores of the times, hats for religion, hats to show rank and status, hats that couldn't be afforded.


The joy of putting on hats and the different personae that went with them was infectious - our morning was punctuated with giggles as well as hats.

In the afternoon, at Chadderton, the talk took a darker tone, of mill accidents and child labour, all spinning off this one topic, the hat. Here it was a badge of steadfastness and social position, earned through sheer hard bloody work. Sometimes literally bloody.

The names of hats have poems in them, listen: the bowler, the trilby, the panama, the Ascot hat, the homburg, the topper, and the trilby. With them come mind pictures and with the pictures, words. We made some little poems based on the number three (the number of the hat-trick) to give them a shape, which we'll share in a later blog.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

No longer earth bound

Much of the conversations on the project Stitching the Wars have been focussed on farm life, on Tuesday I met Margaret Bailey at the Hayfield Over 60s group, she introduced another view of the countryside...

Margaret Bailey with her embroidery

The Depression in the 1930s created mass unemployment and for many people the only release was to get out into the countryside for cheap and healthy exercise. The northern moors were strictly preserved for grouse shooting and this lead to demands for access and protest meetings in the Winnats Pass at Castleton and elsewhere. These protests lead to a mass trespass from Hayfield on to Kinder in 1932 and the subsequent imprisonment of some of the ramblers.

The Second World War intervened before legislation could be enacted but in 1949 the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed by Parliament. (from 'The History of the ranger service)

Margaret is a soft speaker and very modest, her reminiscences about the trip to the Palace was whispered...

'I joined the Rangers office when the land was made open to the public. The Rangers were there to make sure the Bill Laws were followed, and that was me, the first woman ranger.

I even found the fin of an unexploded bomb, poking out of the peat up there. They’d come on the moor  to to deal with it with no food, no drink- their excuse- the cookhouse was closed! They came up the hill so hot and thirsty. They exploded it, it was awful, smelly, a thick smoke, I cried- it left a great hole in the peat, a desecration of the moor. I tried to push the peat back with my feet, a lot of it up there is just bare peat, so beautiful.

It was a wonderful job, I was supposed to stop at 65, but they were so pleased with me I went onto 70. I loved it. Went to the Palace with my husband, met the Queen (lucky it wasn’t Prince Charles) she said ‘and what do you do?’ I had all these witty things to say, but they all went whoosh out of my mind. An MBE, it could have been any of the Rangers…

My favourite spot? On top of Williams Clough, you are no longer earth bound.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The smell of the country

There's been quite a smell wafting through the village of late, I suspect muck spreading is behind it- the smell of the country.... It might cause upset to the stomach, but it looks fantastic on the fields- I took a series of photos yesterday on the way home from my first session for the project Stitching the Wars,  at Caroline Court, the Age UK day centre in Hope, Derbyshire, the lines of 'muck' look like map contours, stitched into the hill side.

muck spreading

Reminiscence was gathered from the group, including Eileen who described herself as 'only 94'.

I’ve always been amongst farmers. The family are still farmers, the younger generation. One of my sons got killed on his own farm.

Granddads farm was near to me, cross two field and you were there. Animals, crops, spent a lot of time on the farm- over the back wall, a stile and you were there.

I’d help out with the crops and potato picking in the October holidays.  I was born in 1919, 26th November so you work it out. My father fought in the 1st World War, but didn’t ever talk about it.  Had to wear his uniform even to his wedding. Me granddad had horses and carts, used to dig gravel from Great Longstone Moor and cart it up to Haslop Station. Would do that every day, with 3 or 4 horses and carts.

People had to take care of things, just before my father died, he said ‘it’s a throw away time now.’

Annie Elizabeth

Teresa, (photo below) found great pleasure in arranging the pieces of pieced fabric, moving them into waves of colour reminiscent of flower arranging.

Most of the members of the group and the care staff got stitching the wool and the pieced patchwork quilt, time went quickly.

Ursula was born in 1924 and grew up in Eastern Germany boarded by Poland on one side and Czechoslovakia on the other. She happily translated words from her reminiscence into German, which at a later date will be stitched onto the quilts. 

Bauernhof, a farm, the whole farm the buildings everything. He had pherde- horses, kuhe- cows, schafe- sheep, ganse- geese, euten- ducks, huhner- chickens and two pferde- horses, that was about it. A fairly big farm. We lived opposite. The daughter, we went to school together, in the afternoon she went to collect the sheep and I’d go with her, to drive them home.  

If they had cows, they had a knecht, the one who has to see to the animals. Magd, is a women who has to do it, who milks the cows. Mother saying ‘get the milk, its time’ don’t go till half past 6, then the milk was fresh, sometimes it was warm. Delicious, so fresh. First thing when I got home a glass of milk.

Harte arbeit, hard work. We had chickens and 2 or 3 geese, those geese always running off along the river, had to bring them back along the road, used to be a performance. When my father had to kill a chicken, we all went into the house, then my father would say, ‘I’ve done it!’ and we’d go back outside to pluck it. Pull the down off for bedding, those pillows were so soft and full. 

Janet's stitched wool squares

Friday, 14 March 2014

Your own menu

Making Memories, Friday 7th March

The theme for the session was food from your travels abroad, and first tastes of foreign food here. I brought in Mediterranean bread, ciabatta bread, olives, sun dried tomatoes. bread sticks and some dipping oils. We discussed food stuffs that are familiar and are taken for granted in our modern world, for example curries- a firm favourite for many people-  but for most of the older generation I worked with today,  described as almost exotic and 'not for them'. As we get older for many of us we are programmed to the foods of our youth, to our traditional cuisine.

However, trying new flavours in familiar food stuffs worked really well- many people were squeamish about trying sun-dried tomatoes on their own, but happily munched on sun-dried tomatoes as an ingredient in the Mediterranean Bread. In both venues the staff said they would be trying this activity out again with different food stuffs. 

Taste is one of our most robust senses, although there is a small decline in taste in people over 60, older people need much more salt and sugar to be able to detect them. 

Trying the new foods out, stimulated conversations about first times for different foods and rationing... I feel its so important that with reminiscence activities we also also think about the future, you're never to old to try new things, and plan for the future- which takes me to the second activity- planning a perfect menu. 

The idea:

1. Prepare: gather together a range of 'vintage' and new menus, have a look for copies from your local cafe or restaurant and/or download ones from the internet.

2. Discuss then write down ideas for your perfect three course meal.  You can take inspiration from childhood favourites, or the fanciest restaurants, or family traditions... Don't forget to include a drink (or two)

selecting words from menu designs

3. Ask individuals to select words such as 'Menu' or 'Starter' from the 'real' menus, or printouts, then create a sandwich with a piece of plain paper at the bottom (cartridge paper or watercolour paper is nice) then a sheet of carbon paper then the printed menu on top.

4. Participants can then copy the selected word/s onto their paper. Encourage them to take different design elements and words from different menus to create something unique.

5. Finally participants can add their own choices to the menu, creating something truely unique.

6. Think about how these menu's could be used in a care setting or with family? eg. to help celebrate a special occasion?

hand writing the menu

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Friedrich Engels as a digital projection of the 21st Century

  TWEET FROM ENGELS, projected onto the old
Produce Hall in Stockport Market Place

We are delighted that the long arthur+martha poem TWEET FROM ENGELS was projected onto Stockport Market Place last night, as part of the Big Digital Project run by External Galleries - which featured works from several community organisations including Refugee Action, ARC and Pure Gallery.

Refugee Action, shadow puppet projection

Refugee Action

Sound recordings made with homeless people in Stockport, Manchester and Bury accompanied the  event, played from hidden speakers in Blackwells Cafe. The recordings used a soup tureen and a baby's high chair as sound resonators. A second showing will take place on 29th March, with projections made at Manchester Town Hall.


TWEET FROM ENGELS intercuts interviews and poems from people currently homeless in Manchester with writing by the 19th Century social reformer Friedrich Engels. Many people who live on the streets today have the same life expectancy as workers in Victorian England.

Sound recordings played in soup tureen

The sound recordings were made at various homeless drop-ins: The Wellspring at Stockport, The Booth Centre and The Big Issue in the North in Manchester.

The Big Digital Project has been organised by the Let's Go Global organisation. TWEET FROM ENGELS is part of a wider epic poem, Albion, made in collaboration with marginalised people in the UK.

Albion has been kindly funded by the NALD.


A red cross

Stitching the Wars: Workshops 

During the Second World War fabric and clothing rations were just as severe as food and fuel. The 'Make Do and Mend' campaign encouraged thrift and recycling- sewing patches on elbows and trousers, darning socks, making peg rugs and patchwork quilts. From the Canadian Red Cross, Britain received patchwork quilts for evacuated and homeless families. The wool pieces embroidered together with a bright blanket stitch by Maureen on Monday evoked the red cross for me.

red cross quilt detail

Maureen with her wool quilt 'red cross'

Mondays session was with the 60 Not Out group at New Mills Volunteer Centre, the session mixed reminiscence and embroidery. The subject of THE LAND, and how it was impacted by the war brought a range of responses: 

Was born in 1931. Everything was done by hand, we had a mixed farm, poultry and pigs. No pay, hard conditions, ill treated, slavery. You could have servants as well, that was cheap labour. All ill treated and abused. My mother was 6 when her father died, killed when felling a tree. Had to move get out. The family was all split up, my mother was taken by a pub, told she was going to ‘play with the children’ but wasn’t, she would get up at 4 o clock, gather the spittoons from the saw-dust covered floor, empty those, clean them out, clean the floor, ready for 6 o clock. Families had to give children away, they’d send them out to work rather than go to the workhouse. They dreaded the workhouse.

Most were turned out at 13, would have to go out to work. My brother had to leave home at 15, work like a slave. They’d give the children away if the father died.

My fathers uncle had 6 children all given away when his first wife died. Then when the next wife died he gave away another 7 children, gave them all away.

Many people talk of farmers having to supplement their income with a second or even third job:

My dad always did 3 jobs, had the farm and saved up for a horse and cart, everything was carried by horse and cart. In 1936 the jubilee year, he put in a contract to be the ‘muck man’, carting out the toilets. A drum on wheels, he called it the ‘jubilee mug’, for shovelling shit. 

Our toilets where up in the field next to the pig plate, a pail with a slate over it. On a winters night, light a storm light and always wave it about to scare the rats away.

Other members of the group had opportunities to work on the land, but decided on another path.

Born 1921 after WW1, working on the aircraft, called up in my teens. Could have gone in the Land Army, but wouldn’t be doing with cows… 

stitched piece work

On the tables I arranged piles of the hexagon and triangular pieced patchwork, left without instructions, to see what people would do. I was delighted to see without prompt, people picking them up and arranging them into patterns. When given a needle and thread, pieces where sewn together. As I hoped the quilts are beginning to take on their own lives.

Flo with her embroidery
Yesterday Phil and I worked with the Age UK Bakewell group, again we mixed reminiscence, embroidery, with the addition this time of some aural history. Flo carefully wrote out her name to be embroidered, the word taking on a range of meanings when in the context of THE LAND quilt...  the flow of water, the flow of time... Audrey challenged her self to have a go at the 'wheatsheaf' style embroidery, half remembered from childhood. 

Flo's embroidery

Audrey's 'wheatsheaf' embroidery

We finished off talking about the process of embroidery and stitching, from the mundanity (although for others it was a pleasure) of darning socks, to loosing oneself in creating something from nothing...

You’d buy different transfers, buy them in the shop or buy material with the pattern on, or you’d do it free hand. The fabric would have a blue line printed on, the pattern gave you no idea of the colours, so you did your own. You’d split the silk into 3 and 3. those silks cost 3 ha’pence each.

You’d while away your Sunday, I wasn’t allowed to do anything but sewing or reading a book or visit Church- 2 or three times on a Sunday. My parents they were extremely strict, Victorian. Wasn’t allowed to go anywhere till I was 19. Couldn’t wear make up, only ‘loose women’ wear lipstick. I made up for it later.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Full Flair Buttercups

Lois writes:

Thursday last, was spent on the project Stitching the Wars, with the In Tandem Group at The Farming Life Centre, up at Blackwell, in the Peak District. With me were three retired farmers and Carol the 'Health Trainer'. The session flew by as we discussed the memories of war time Derbyshire, and its impact on the land and people. From one gents ARP warden/publican dad, circulating gas masks round the village from his pub,  to the fattening pigs for the Fight for Food, to Sterndale Church loosing its roof when a bomb landed, to stores of bombs as tall as men on Moneyash to Ashbourne Road, all finished off with beautiful descriptions of the colours that make up this area- 'the full flair buttercups'.

During the session I shared the quilt samples I've been preparing for the sessions. The wool quilt, uses a mix of fabrics associated with the countryside; recycled herringbone jackets and tweed trousers, jumpers that have been dyed and felted...I've used a range of techniques with the intention that there will be something for everyone to have a go at- whether that is selected fabrics to sit next to each other, or working on something more dextrous such as embroidery techniques, smocking or darning.

needle felting felted jumpers and tweeds

The inspiration for the wool quilt has come direct from the Derbyshire landscape, field patterns taken with aerial photos or from hill sides. These will be stitched into with words, and abstract shapes, reflecting the memories and texture of the land.

detail of the wool quilt, stitching in progress

As with the pieced quilt that I've been sampling, my expectation is that the work will change and grow with the various groups that will work on the project. 

The nature of embroidery itself has been a rich subject matter for the groups so far, recalling when darning of socks was a necessity, stitching tablecloths a hobby, and careful embroidered samples made at school under the keen eye of the teacher- I'm sure my samples would have been frowned upon.

darning sample
As an artist collaborating with groups to make new works, I need to find methods that suit my skills and my personality, the wool quilt is succeeding so far; I aspire to neatness, but fall far short, so have to adapt techniques accordingly. I have a love in colour, dying the fabrics for the quilts- a pile of recycled charity shop shirts and jumpers in co-ordinating violets or olive greens has brought me considerable joy. I'm experimenting with new techniques such as needle felting and re-visting a world of embroidery, half forgotten from my degree. What a delight.

dying charity shop shirts
wool quilt samples


Friday, 7 March 2014

We spent the sub, we spent it in good cheer

The Alzheimer's Society group, 'Memory Lane' in Glossop were the first to host workshops for the new project Stitching the Wars. 

Over the next two years we will collaborating with older people in Derbyshire, creating artwork and poetry from the reminiscences of the First and Second World Wars. This year we are focussing on THE LAND, stitching together a living, emotional document of that time, contrasting the so-called gentleness of rural life and traditions, with the hardship and the need to change. 

So how to turn memories into artwork, an artwork that many people can contribute to according and adapted to their different time and health constraints? We have decided to follow up on the successes and learning from the project the warm and the cold, in which we collaborated with homeless people to make a embroidered quilt. 

One of the techniques I've been sampling is the traditional English Patchwork technique of 'pieced patchwork'. Patchwork has been practiced both as a practical and decorative craft for centuries re-using  scraps of fabric into precious quilts. Paper pieced patchwork has fabric wrapped around paper cut to exact size and shape. A wide variety of shapes are used, however the hexagon shape is the most common, you can see mine below in one of the many different patterns I've been sampling.

Sampling different layouts for the 'pieced patchwork'.

One of the attractions for me to the technique is the reverse of the quilt, the paper holding the hexagon (or other shape) together gives space for writing; a single word, or fragments of reminiscence, sewn  together in unexpected at times random patterns, reflecting the transient nature of the conversations had during the project, many voices making a whole. Well thats the theory. 

The reverse of the paper pieced patchwork, with fragments of reminiscence typed and handwritten.
As the project progresses we will start working with more groups of people who will contribute their own ideas on the content, their stitching and design suggestions, the quilt will take on its own life.

Non of our group in Glossop had made a living from the land, but all shared some experience of it. Three had been evacuated during the war, 1 to Blackpool, 1 to Broadbottom, 1 to Hadfield. The country made a big impression on them as youngesters. At nine years old Brian did a milk round on the horse and cart, In theory we were allowed to drive the horse, but in practice it did its own thing. The horse led the way, plod along then stop, plod along then stop.

Brian Brodrick

Brian recalled with a smile a less gentle experience of country life: Collecting potatoes, for work experience. 6p with all my earnings. Was soaked through, they tied a sack to me back, put a nail through the sack instead of a button, picking up the potatoes with me hands. In me school shoes up to there in muck, slave labor for the lad.

He also shared memories of his alcoholic grandfather, Albert Kellet. Once he was sober he was alright, but everytime I went to Grandmas she had a black eye. Grandfather was always scrapping, a split lip… he was a brilliant joiner, but not when he was drinking.  He taught Brian the poem he holds in the picture below.

Brian Sawyer recalling his Grandfather.

The pieces that the group wrote will be scanned and printed onto paper to make the pieced quilts, stitching them down for another day. 

sampling the LAND quilt

sampling- flipping the back and the front. 

Thanks goes for the warm welcome I received from the group at Memory Lane, for everyone to share their memories, spoken and written and to Meena for a constant flow of tea, biscuits and good cheer.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


Making Memories

Phil writes

It's difficult to comprehend the toughness of life for some of the people we encounter. Here, Doreen gives an account of her childhood with a mix of despair and a glimmering affection. This piece is verbatim from a conversation, arranged into loose 12-line verses. The poem is part of a wider collection we are putting together, an epic poem called Albion. 


a ration book and no money and air-raids and
to be honest, life, I found it hard
secondhand clothes, me mother and father
go up and see him, collect five bob
weren't a pleasant life where
Mother sent me
in the rain
shoes with holes, cardboard in the bottom
never had no fruit, a tiny bit of butter, dimps
how we lived, thought I'd forgotten

all that
it's gone, it's a different chapter
running errands for Gracie Fields
(our house next to the stage door, Oldham Theatre Royal
me dangling me legs over the wall)
Mario Lanza he were there looking young, Tommy Trinder
they'd buy me all sorts, chocs
they were lovely people
the stars
always holes in me shoes in the 30s
but I love

comfortable, it tastes comfortable
never known anyone not like chocolate
it doesn't love me though, puts weight on me
comfortable, Shirley Bassey, Arthur Askey
used to go down to the Wharf, to line up for everything
two potatoes
three apples
if you had a banana couldn't have no orange
marshmallows don't mean much to me
lined up for fruit in Higginshaw, lined up in all weather
secondhand clothes off a Tally Woman
always holes in me shoes in the 30s

collecting cinders at Lower Moor
cinders on me back cos we had no coal
oh it were heavy, dirty
weren't as clean as I should've been
secondhand, they'd class me as a tramp.
Council clogs, bloody uncomfortable
at the Seaman's Mission and Boundary Park the workhouse
she did laundry for the hospital
Mother'd take me and I'd sit
under the table while she washed, ironed
we had a room at aunty's; glad I got

weren't as clean as I should've
secondhand clothes off a Tally Woman
Mother'd have an old man at the door
chat to him
sure she gave him a kiss or two
cos he gave her his money
but they were lovely, the stars
and I were such a pretty girl, strawberry blonde
they loved me, sent me for errands
next to the stage door at Oldham Royal
dangling legs by the stage door, remember
the past is the truth.