Feltham Arts Programme
February to July 2018
We’re pleased to be one of three arts companies delivering activity as part of the inaugural Feltham Arts Programme. We work with different groups of learners, aged 18-21, one day a week for six weeks and invite in a range of writers, poets and visual artists to work with the group and inspire them to create their own letters, poems and artworks. Work is then shared at the end of the six weeks at a showcase for family members. With permission, copies of the work are shared externally to challenge assumptions people may have about young people living in prison. All work belongs to the creators and is kept in a portfolio which they can use, display and share to celebrate their achievements and highlight the personal development they have made through the course, some submitting their work to a range of creative competitions.
February to May 2018
We’re working with two groups based at The Firs in Claygate and Fenner House in Walton-on-Thames, both independent living schemes for those in later life. Some of the residents have moved into the area to be nearer their families and we hope this project will enable new friendships within each residence, as well as build new friendships in the other setting. Each group works with an artist, poet Maureen Jivani and artist Sarah Bennett, to explore aspects of life and/or creative prompts to inspire words, visual arts and crafts. Our prompts have included favourite recipes, our idols and what makes us laugh. Some of the group members have linked up with a person in the other group as a pen pal. We’ll be having a special event for the two groups to meet at the end of May, some meeting their pen pals for the first time.
Tate Exchange, Tate Modern, London – 15 May 2018
We ran a workshop as part of the Flourishing Lives event at Tate Modern on Tuesday 15th May 2018. Flourishing Lives is a coalition aiming to transform the older people’s wellbeing sector by bringing together progressive people and organisations to establish a shared vision for excellence in the provision of services for people aged 55+. Tate Exchange at Tate Modern is a space for everyone to collaborate, test ideas and discover new perspectives on life, through art.
Poems by Post
In 2017 we were pleased to be working with The Royal Star and Garter Homes in Surbiton. This programme was inspired by the thought that creative outcomes may differ if stimulus was sent postally rather than electronically. Twelve residents of the home worked with lead artist Tom Mallender to share stories and memories that were important to them. These were then used as a stimulus for poetry, which was posted to six other poets across the country from London to Newcastle, who produced work in response. The residents were also paired with pen pals from Hinchley Wood School, who worked with artist Rachel Turner of Bounce Theatre. The older and younger pen pals shared stories and compared notes on school life, fashion, work, friends and families. The project culminated in over 35 poems bring published in a dedicated anthology and the pen pals meeting at a tea party hosted by the local MP.
“I started this project assuming I would be writing about total strangers, but as the weeks have gone by, I have started feeling very differently about them all. I know these people by name. They are familiar to me in a way they wouldn’t be if they were simply a few tweets and an emoji, or half a dozen Facebook posts. Even if we never physically meet, we are not strangers any more. We have travelled together. I had forgotten how good it is to write letters and how much these things matter.”
Catherine Edmunds, Poet in Poems by Post
As part of testing whether there was a demand for what we could offer, we ran pilot workshops in a range of settings in London and North Surrey. We brought together Emberbrook Care Home in Thames Ditton and Princess Alice Hospice in Esher with younger pen pals pupils at Hinchley Wood Secondary School. All three groups enjoyed weekly workshops on different themes led by artists Yero Timi-Biu and Vanessa Kisuule and wrote letters to their pen pals. Some of the children walked past the care home on their way to school but had no idea what went on inside or who lived there. Connecting through letters proved to be a great way to challenge assumptions, on both sides, and find commonalities. At the hospice we worked with a group of day patients who were pleased to make new friends with their pen pals. One of the hospice patients commented, “It’s hard as you approach the end of your life as people want to do everything for you. It’s a basic human need to want to be useful and helpful to others but that’s taken away from you. This project gave me a real chance to help someone else by sharing my life experiences with a young lad and offer him advice. It was brilliant when I heard back how useful it was to him and how much he appreciated it. You don’t expect to make new friendships when you’re terminally ill. This was a breath of fresh air.”
We were delighted to be working with this inspirational programme in both 2016 and 2017. Based in Kingston-upon-Thames, Anstee Bridge provides a weekly support programme for young people aged 15-16 who have become disengaged with education. It offers a range of support including creative programmes designed to boost self esteem and confidence. In 2016 writer Lauren Brown worked with the group to reply to letters from people in the community and create a giant thank you letter (and matching giant envelope!) for the Anstee staff. The group also articulated their dreams, hopes and wishes for the future, which were then tied to balloons and sent off into the sky.
In December 2017 a new group worked with artist Danielle O’Shaughnessy, they received and wrote back letters to people in the community and worked with local florist Johanna Pedrick Flowers to create Christmas themed flower arrangements. Accompanied by a note of kindness, their arrangements were then gifted to strangers that they selected in Kingston Town Centre. It was great so see the joy this brought to the shoppers and visitors who were lucky enough to be selected. More importantly, it demonstrated the power of giving a gift to a fellow human being just because it was a kind thing to do. It was empowering for all the participants to see social action in full effect and its positive impact.
In the summer of 2016 we worked with patients on the dementia and surgical wards of Kingston Hospital. One of the participants was a man recovering from a brain injury. Through exploring memories, poems and letters he shared stories of his time growing up in Ghana, which our lead artist, Tom Mallender, turned into evocative poems that he was delighted to receive. On the surgical ward we heard how the kindness of an amazing nurse made a huge difference to one of our participants, who felt less alone because of her actions. He had real pleasure in writing his letter to the nurse who had helped him.
Tom Mallender led an INYBB group at Response Community Projects in West Brompton. Response is a community centre which provides a safe space for social interaction, learning and improved wellbeing. For our writing group of ten, we created a link with the local homework club and set up some new pen pals for our participants, who had come to London from Iraq, Spain, India, Switzerland and France and had so many rich stories to share. We were bowled over by the stories of courage we encountered here. We enjoyed writing our own poems inspired by images and sharing words on the people and places that were important to us.
The Marylebone Project in West London provides long and short-term beds to homeless women and essential services for those women using the rough sleeper’s drop-in. It provides education, training and employment opportunities and a range of programmes to support independent living. Writer Lauren Brown worked with some amazing women at The Marylebone Project in Autumn 2016. We shared salutations in seven languages, wrote to our younger selves and wrote to women who had inspired us and told them the positive impact they’d had on our lives.
Artist Jennifer Seajay led letter writing workshops at Wellness with a Goal, a programme for adults living with and recovering from mental illness in Walton-on-Thames. In a workshop where we aimed to help others through a letter, one of the participants wished to write to a young prisoner. He himself had served time at Pentonville Prison and wanted to give hope to a young man in the same situation. This letter was to spark the start of our relationship with staff at HMYOI Feltham, leading to it being one of the key strands of our current activity. Snail mail serendipity in action!