2016 has been such a mixed year for so many of us, its had many ups and downs - and I see such huge wonderful everyday strength in so many people around me. I'm lucky to work with such a huge variety of people from all walks of life and I learn so much from everyone around me.
As the year turns it always feels a time of deep reflection and contemplation, looking back over the past year and making plans for the coming year. This blog is always centred around my work - but like many of us, there are constant cross overs and blurred lines between "work" and "non work"; because inspiration, ideas, motivation and thoughts come from so many places.
This past year for me has seen some changes - some felt difficult at the time but actually (in the way these things often do) have enabled really fascinating new pathwyas to open up and brought many new things. As I've gone thorugh these changes there's been a lot of contemplation (alongside incredibly long hours of work), which now, as I look back, throws some important light on the vital need to take stock, gather thoughts and find places away from other things which enables thoughts to appear. We are all different in how we do this, for me, the walks in woodland or along hillsides are vital in this, as are the times at places like the Hay Festival and at little folk festivals - places where many subtle words of wisdom are found. I think its often key to find places and moments where the little voice on your shoulder - which is gently whispering in your ear - can really be heard.
Working in partnership with others is vital for me and this past year has seen many opportunities for some really exciting work, its been great to develop some new partnerships and also to deepen existing ones. When I think of partnerships I think of the others I've co-led projects with - but I also think of all the participants as we develop ideas together (this is a really crucial aspect for me) and I also think of the physical environment because this is a vital partner in the way projects and sessions unfold... And in this comes nature too, so much of my work is outside, so I'm constantly influenced by the light, the wildlife, the plants and the ways that all natural things interact. I might set out with the intention of working in a particular way, but nature offers something unexpected and a different path is explored... So with a group that might mean we find something unexpected and it takes our ideas and enquiries off on unexpected tangents.
There's been many changes this past year both nationally and globally and many bigger things have had a direct impact upon the people and communities I work with. I think as we move forward, although many of us feel uncertain about the future, we find a huge resolve to stick to our ethos and to undertake projects that seek to bring care, warmth, hope, inspiration, community and kindness into the world around us. We are determined to reach out to others, to forge connections and to build community links. I've been lucky to be involved in some wonderful projects this past year with such a strong heart and ethos, and wider than that I see some deeply inspiring examples of people using creativity as a means of forging community and extending acts of kindness.
In the UK there have been growing changes in education policy, in funding, in the way schools are structured and in funding for a whole set of creative initiatives. In recent years austerity cuts have hit the arts hard and have hit participatory arts and arts in education in ways that have had deep reaching consequences. But its not just the arts, there's so much affected by cuts to community, social, nature and well-being organisations and infrastructures. The climate in which we organise and run arts projects has changed much in recent years. Like many colleagues across the UK these funding cuts have had big implications for organisations I work with and many of us are developing and adapting the ways we work to address new issues arising around us.
I think the arts (in the widest way) are vital in our well-being and in our shared community, our celebration and in the way we question and understand the world around us. I'm deeply inspired and touched by the people I work with who ensure projects and initiatives are filled with space for questions, reflection, for ways of forming bonds with others and for ways of celebrating diversity.
amongst other things, during January I had the last few sessions of a forest school residency with a great group of young people at a pupil support unit in Derbyshire. There was also a lot of preparation for the Finland project... Sessions at Dunkirk included lots of work around woodland and stories.
a huge part of this month was taken up with the residential Erasmus + project in Finland (this was grant funded by an EU scheme to connect schools and communities) . There's a blog post I've written about this here, it was a deeply inspiring and moving project, it was an amazing project to be part of - significant because it was just one part of a much bigger longer term project. I also gathered a lot of inspiration up in the hills of County Durham with close friends watching the wild landscape and exploring. And Dunkirk sessions included lots of exploration of shadow theatre, of woodland and of outside spaces and the changing seasons.
Huge amounts of this month were spent editing the hours upon hours of film footage I had gathered in Finland. Its a huge task to collate this into short films - but something I really enjoy as the whole process is deeply reflective and there was so much about the work in Finland that was inspiring. The finished films can be found on this link here, on the project website. I think the finished films sum up much that I feel is important in this kind of participatory work.
I also co-led an inset for all the Dunkirk staff at the wonderful Lockerbrook outdoor centre in the north peak district, exploring ways the landscape can ignite stories, poems and questions.
as spring arrived so many things seemed to be changing all around, not all of it easy to process and at times it was hard to know where best to put energy! At the very start of the month I was still fiddling with final tiny tweaks to the Finland films, ready for these to be handed over mid April (I can't imagine what its like to edit a feature film!). I was busy also with the run up to Belper Arts Trail at the very start of May. A new set of sessions began in Leicester to photograph and film the Vista drama education project with young children - a really inspiring project.
The Belper Arts Trail took place at the very start of May, I was really thrilled to again be exhibiting in Oxfam Books, a great setting with a wonderful team there and I really value their ethos. Work in Leicester continued and there were many early mornings on Belper train station with some wonderful light and bird song! As well as the Vista project, I was working with the wonderful Mashi Theatre, photographing and filming the One World Evington project, really wonderful teams to be working with.
The Leicester work continued. Sessions at Dunkirk began to wind down as that residency drew to a close, there was, however, a full weeks residential project at Lockerbrook at the start of June, which felt deeply significant and some wonderful explorations took place - there's a blog post here. There was also a much needed bit of time for reflection, contemplation and refreshment of energy at the brilliant Hay Festival. Sherwood Arts Festival took place at the end of June in Nottingham, always a wonderful week long event to be part of.
This was a very emotional, moving and poignant time as term drew to a close at Dunkirk Primary school in Nottingham, as sadly that also marked the end of the long term residency I have had there as artist / forest school leader. I've been working with the school for the past 9 years (it started off as a one day a week project for 6 weeks back in 2007 and grew through various projects into 3 days a week working with all classes across two campuses) and its been an amazing journey. Its not a proper "ending" but a move onto a different path as my regular work there now ends but I will be returning to work on specific projects and events. I was moved to tears by the messages from children and staff, so much to read through and look through, all hand made and all so personal and special. "You taught me how to use my imagination and how to protest"... "you showed us about nature"... "you taught me to express myself"... "you taught me to care for animals and nature"... Its very affirming and heart-warming... And the biggest part of all of it has been the collaboration and partnership working, its been so vital. Such unique projects created by a team of people, big questions about the world being explored and creativity being taken into wide realms where really crucial issues could be explored and imaginations ignited. Term ended with my head full of special thoughts of Dunkirk projects and ways to carry that work forward. I can't thank the team there enough for everything, they've been stunning to work with and here's to new pathways as we move forward.
And as July drew to a close I was really inspired by the two day outdoor cooking / food hygiene course I participated in (at Derbyshire Eco Centre) and that was immediately followed by heading up to North Yorkshire with Katy Doncaster to co-lead land art workshops at the Moors Centre as part of national celebrations about the creation of the National Parks.
a month of busily preparing new projects and partnerships, but with some time too for reflection and gathering thoughts and inspiration - back up in a different part of North Yorkshire with my family and then at Birdfair (a wonderful nature and wildlife festival full of talks and information and a bit of much needed campaigning too).
So many new things began this month, and the very first part of this was a great few days leading sessions at Dunkirk to explore ideas around journeys for their new curriculum work. This was immediately followed by exhibiting / running workshops at the Nature Connections Festival in Derby, with Katy Doncaster and Jo Galtrey (where we got to talk with Chris Packham (who is great) whilst soaked through from trying to finish setting our tent up at 7am). That in turn was almost immediately followed by exhibiting at the Melbourne Arts Trail (see blog post) and then that by co-leading an inset at St Peters Junior school in Ruddington with Katy Doncaster.
Really wonderful and significant new beginnings for me in September were the start of a long term forest school / outdoor education residency at Nethergate Special School and starting a post at Arkwright Meadows Community Garden in Nottingham (I'm there 12 hours each week). Both wonderful places, where I'm working with some deeply inspiring people. I'm loving this new work and planning projects, workshops and different strands of initiatives with everyone, huge thanks go to the teams at both Nethergate and AMC Gardens for making me so welcome and for so many inspiring things there. It also felt great to be getting to know new outdoor environments at the end of summer - its meant working with the spaces as the summer came to an end and autumn took hold - and then turned into winter. I adore watching the seasons change and its such a great way to get to know a space.
Back in Leicester, this time work with the great Spark Arts on a Diwali lantern project with Belgrave Road community centre, such a wonderful atmosphere and welcoming community. Katy Doncaster and I created autumnal wreathes and willow weaving in the yurt in the woods (which belongs to Katy's partner and is such a great space). Autumn began to firmly come into its own and the trees all around me in all my different work spaces were turning so many shades of orange-red-yellow...
Lots of planting (of bulbs, trees, garlic etc) took place, as the leaves fell we created so much leaf mould (we'll really use that well eventually), dens were built, food cooked on fires, new spaces developed and designs created for many exciting things. I began a series of after school forest school sessions at Cromford Primary School on a great site tucked away, those sessions have continued weekly with lots more dens and making of potions and using clay and cooking on fires...
As 2016 drew to a close there were some very busy times, and all of this illustrated to me what great teams I'm part of and just how hard everyone works and how much thought goes into different initiatives. We put the gardens at Nethergate and AMC Gardens to bed a bit for the winter (I was excited to see the vast amount of organic manure delivered to AMC Gardens by tractor!), we carried on planting saplings and making leaf mould and plant food ready to use in spring. At AMC Gardens we ran a great winter wreath making session - its so great using the produce there and working with what's immediately on the doorstep. I was also very touched by the huge winter feast the staff team created for the many volunteers who do so much for the community garden.
And there was also exhibitions at Belper Arts Christmas Trail and Number 28 (I show / sell work at Number 28 several times throughout the year, its a great venue).
Throughout the entire year there's so much going on to... I try and get out exploring with the camera as much as I can, and many of the images I take are then exhibited / sold and used in other projects and feed into all other elements of my work. I'm especially drawn to the ancient woodland which I'm lucky enough to live close to and watching this change throughout the seasons is fascinating. I learn so much from these explorations and I've had some amazing encounters with wildlife - it always feels such a privilege. It also feels important to me to keep my own knowledge of nature and creative possibilities with natural materials up to date, it feeds into all the sessions I run with groups and I hope thereby enables ideas to be shared.
I belong to Sherwood Printmakers, a lovely studio group which meets weekly in Nottingham (in Sherwood). We set the group up ourselves, there's only a small number of us and we share the print studio and equipment, which works out wonderfully. We each work on our own creations, but the nature of the group means we bat ideas back and forth, we share techniques and ideas and we organise joint exhibitions, its a great way of working and a wonderful group of people.
So, as the new year begins - here's to 2017 bringing time and space for creativity, for connections with nature, for peace, calm, warmth, for connections with others, for celebration and for imagination.