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Category: Somerstown Stories (page 1 of 3)

The Potting Shed – why and how?

Alas my potting shed is still a 'virtual' one, but maybe one day...

Alas my potting shed is still a ‘virtual’ one, but maybe one day…

I have a page on Facebook for my freelance work called The Potting Shed – Home of Apple Seed HQ. It’s not a real shed (although it ‘exists’ as a place on Facebook) but rather it’s a virtual shed. Given that my website is apple-seed and that I’m all abut growing great ideas then it seemed logical that a planting, nurturing, creative growing space should need a shed in which to house all these baby ideas!

I update the Facebook page regularly and its a quick way to link to the various projects I’m involved in, so if you want the latest news, its a good idea to look there:

Someone sent me a question via that page recently, and I wondered if some of you might also be interested in the question she asked and the answer I gave.

So here it is. It kinda sums up my raison d’etre – the reason why and how I do what I do.

If you’d like what you read and would like to find out if I can help you out, drop me a line:

Sharon, I completely love the sound of everything The Potting Shed does. How did you get into doing that? What is your background? (if you don’t mind me asking!!) xx
Thank you very much! I don’t mind you asking at all!
I’d like to say that it’s part of some kind of carefully planned career path…but that would be a complete lie! The reality is entirely more haphazard and accidental.

My background is in youth & children’s work. I’m a qualified teacher and youthworker, but I have a real passion for heritage, arts, communities and storytelling.

This means that I tend to get drawn to projects which touch on those kinds of areas…Children and young people are part of communities and they interact with and affect each other (whether they know it or not!) Heritage is about the story of a place and the people who have, or are currently living in it, and the arts (such as storytelling) is how we can share and explore the locality and community where we live and begin to understand our place in it.

I think my core motivation is around valuing people: I believe everyone has inherent value, because each person is unique. Our DNA, our fingerprints, the combination of character, personality, skills and experience are not to be found anywhere else, or in anyone else.
That makes you uniquely valuable and irreplaceable.

The work I’m involved in – which has come along haphazardly and sometimes almost by accident, doesn’t bring value or worth to the people or places I work with…but perhaps some of what I bring helps to draw out the value of what’s already there?

Does that make sense?

I love what I’m doing, even though at times it feels very stressful (like now when I’ve got two chaplaincy visits this week and an exhibition opening on Friday!!) and I miss being part of a team with other people. Being freelance can feel lonely and isolated at times and I sometimes feel like I bear a heavier responsibility than if I were an employee in a bigger company. There are times when I feel like I’m dangling on a string above a rather cavernous ravine, and it wouldn’t take too much for the string to snap…

But on the other hand it’s a tremendous privilege to be able to work with people and make a big/small difference in their lives! Who can say that they get to do that? I love the variety, the creativity, the opportunity to direct and hold and shape things…And it means I can be very flexible around the needs of my family, which is the most important part.
So that’s kind of it really….!
Got any more questions…do send ’em my way

New shoots!



Well, things have certainly been busy here at the Potting Shed over the last few weeks! A burst of feverish funding bids and applications have yielded some encouraging results…Here are some of the highlights:

Somerstown Stories project has been signed off by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This marks the end of the grant funding from HLF…but not the end of the project. On-going interest from the local community has sparked three follow-on workshops at Priory School, Portsmouth Foyer and Somerstown Adventure Playground. Each event has been tailored to meet the needs of the individual venue and are noticeably different in feel and approach. For the Adventure Playground, for example, we’re considering how a derelict piece of nearby land could possibly be transformed into a wildlife garden, and to help the children and their families understand what this could look like we’re borrowing from Helen Oxenbury’s ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ story, whilst we explore the nature reserve at Admiral Lord Nelson School in the north of the city. This piece of work is looking at Somerstown in the present, rather than the past, but during this period of regeneration it’s important to help local people make the connections that will help them participate more fully in the process of change in their area.

Somerstown Stories has also enabled me to develop stronger links with the University of Portsmouth, and I am now UoPportraitPUR300dpiworking alongside staff within the Creative & Cultural Industries faculty, supporting the development of their community engagement strategy. They want to specifically focus on an area which includes Somerstown and the city centre, where a lot of the University’s work is based, and I’m pleased to be able to be involved in this exciting piece of work!

It also dovetails very nicely with some work I’m doing with the National Centre for Co-ordinating Public Engagement, who are supporting the establishment of the UK Community Partner Network (or UKCPN) which is being set up to support organisations and practitioners such as myself who are working with universities on research and community based projects. The UKCPN is being funded by the Connected Communities programme which is in itself a new strand of funding with input from five of the major research councils in the UK. As part of my work with them, I will be attending the GUNI (Global University Network for Innovation) Conference in Barcelona in May 2013 to speak informally with delegates about the UKCPN and what we hope to do.

All SaintsHowever, history is never too far away, and two more community heritage projects have emerged at Stamshaw Infants School and All Saints church. All Saints is a classic Victorian church which was built in 1828. They want to re-order part of the interior of their building and I’m supporting them with the fundraising element. One of the funders they’ve applied to is HLF and part of the bid includes some ‘taster Victorian Day’ workshops which are being tentatively planned with local primary schools, in order to draw out some of the valuable heritage of the site. I also plan to link these workshops to the nearby Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum, which is less than 5 minutes walk away.

Stamshaw Infants School building will be 115 years old next year and I approached them with an idea IMAG1828about doing a local history project, exploring the history of the area and inviting collaboration from local residents and former staff and pupils. The school are really enthused about the project and again I’ve supported them in putting together a funding bid, to enable this project to go ahead. In many ways it’s like a slimmed down version of Somerstown Stories, with one notable difference in that it’s the area in Portsmouth where I live. If the funding bid is successful the project will include 3 ‘Detective Days’ where the whole school will be engaged in activities linked to the local history of the area and the entire project will culminate in a summer Birthday Party, inviting parents and residents to see the results of the children’s year of enquiry.

And last, but by no means least, I also doing some work for Portsmouth Anglican Deanery, researching and developing a model of Chaplaincy for Further Education providers in Portsmouth. There are two colleges and 3 private schools currently offering sixth form provision within the Deanery and the FE Chaplaincy project sets out to consider the needs of these different organisations and suggest ways in the which the resources of the Deanery (both lay and ordained) could meet those needs. This research also includes an element of face-to-face work at Portsmouth College, which I’m looking forward to!

So, plenty of seedlings to nurture over the coming months! Don’t forget to visit the Facebook page ‘The Potting Shed’ for more regular updates and insights or to connect via Twitter: @sharonaverona

Sharing stories

Somerstown Stories has a will of its own.

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant has been completed, and so technically the project should be finished…except it isn’t.

I was delighted to be invited to speak about Somerstown Stories at the U3A (University of the 3rd Age) Local History group this afternoon. Around 40 were packed in to the Albert Stanley room in Southsea Community Centre, and I was pleased to learn that this was the largest turnout they’d had for a while!

I spoke for about an 45 minutes on the history of the area, and people spoke to me afterwards saying how much they’d enjoyed it. I also met Sonja, who started her teaching career at Stamshaw Infants – this will be very useful, as I’m hoping to run a similar but scaled down version of the  project at Stamshaw Infants as part of their 115th birthday celebrations!

Fresh out of the box! 30 limited edition hardback copies, ready for collection!

Fresh out of the box! 30 limited edition hardback copies, ready for collection!

The other exciting thing that happened today was that the limited edition copies of the Somerstown Stories  book are now ready for release! 30 hardback copies were paid for by the grant, and will given for free to people who requested a copy. Most of these copies have been allocated, with one or two still to find a home. After that, a paperback version will be available via the Somerstown Stories website. It will be sold at cost-price, as the HLF prohibits us from making any profit from their investment. I am very pleased to finally see the book ‘in the flesh’, as its taken around 1oo hours of  my time, on a voluntary basis, to get the book finished. I felt strongly that Somerstown as a community should have the best quality book I could manage, but it was a very lengthy and involved process and its quite a relief to see it finished!


Review of 2012

2012 certainly has been an eventful year here at the Potting Shed! There have been lots of memorable events over the course of the year and some exciting things to look forward to. Here are some of the highlights…

Somerstown Stories - a project devised by Sharon and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Somerstown Stories – a project devised by Sharon and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund

January saw the start of the wider community phase of Somerstown Stories. This project had already been nearly two years in the making, so it was both daunting and exciting to see it hit the streets of Somerstown.

Work continued from the highly successful launch of the project at Somers Park Primary School during the  preceding autumn term. The opportunity for partnership work was very exciting, and a wide range of local groups and organisations got involved including Southsea Community Centre, SureStart, Portsmouth Film Society, three local churches (St Luke’s, St Peter’s & The Kings Church), Omega Street Centre and two separate departments (Architecture and Creative & Performing Arts) within the University of Portsmouth.

Visitors at the Museum of Somerstown

Visitors at the Museum of Somerstown

During the course of the project we realised there would an underspend in the budget, but we quickly put the money to good use by running some extra events and funding a book*. One of the best events was the Museum of Somerstown – a temporary exhibition in an empty shop in Somerstown. We saw over 200 visitors over the course of the four days it was open – a fantastic response, aided in no small part by a great article in The News and interviews on Express FM.

Somerstown Stories as a project continues to generate interest, particularly through the Facebook page and there are plans to carry out some follow-up work in partnership with the University of Portsmouth as part of their community engagement work.

One of the authors reads his own work in print!

One of the authors reads his own work in print!

Other projects this year included Storytelling Club at Stamshaw Infants school. This involved running an after-school club for 5 weeks, helping the children to explore facets of storytelling and then to write their own original stories. These stories were printed in a specially made book, entitled ‘The Story Chest’.

I also had the opportunity to get involved in a cultural Olympiad project called  Dysarticulate. This was supported by legacy funding from the Creative Partnerships programme.

A ring of flags at Portsmouth High School

A ring of flags at Portsmouth High School

Working with local artist Jon Adams, I ran workshops in four different schools, facilitating flag making, using pages from recycled books. I can honestly say that every flag was unique and there were so many different ways to approach the work! Everyone was included, no matter what they felt their artistic skills were like.


The summer saw a change of pace with a return to North End Playscheme. This week-long children’s activity scheme has been running for nearly twenty years and is almost entirely staffed by volunteers. Here I exercised my storytelling skills once again with a suitably Olympic themed tale of daring-do entitled: “Lucy and the Race to Save the Olympics!” Lucy is a character I created years ago for a similar playscheme in London, and she often features if I’m doing a serialised story, as this one was. The afternoon saw a subtle shift from Storyteller to Administrator and First Aider, but as you might expect, Playscheme is always “all hands on deck!”

The autumn term has seen several days unpaid work go into finishing the Somerstown Stories book, which should be available in Jan/Feb 2013. There has also been some work for the University of Portsmouth, beginning to develop some community engagement work, and for the embryonic UK Community Partner Network  a national group, supported by the National Centre for Co-ordinating Public Engagement (NCCPE) which seeks to nurture and support community groups and organisations who work with universities:

2012 has been a diverse year, and in a climate of spending cuts and increased pressures on education and the arts, it feels like no small achievement to have made it this far! 2013 is full of curious uncertainty, with ideas in the pipeline waiting to come to fruition. To find out more you can also visit the new Facebook page: which also includes information about my photography and textile craft work or follow me on Twitter: @sharonaverona

Late summer splendour - original image taken by Sharon Court

Late summer bounty – original image taken by Sharon Court



Ghost Writing

No two weeks are ever the same in my world, and the summer break is no exception – in fact in some ways it’s even more pronounced! Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy variety in my work – it’s one of the reasons I work freelance, but it can occasionally make you feel a little dizzy!

Last week I had the pleasure of volunteering at North End Playscheme, which I wrote about in my last entry. Despite the odd rain shower and even a power-cut on the last day, adults and children all had a fab time! Lucy and the Race to Save the Olympics went down a treat with children and grown-ups (which is always nice!) and Uncle Trevor the aeronaut seemed to be a big hit! Hoot Hoot!

However, this week I’m turning my attention to books: two in fact. One isSomerstown Stories, which is the book of the project and the story of the area*. The other is a smaller, far more personal little book comprised of original stories from the children of Stamshaw Infants School’s Storytelling Club.

For five weeks in the summer term I ran an after-school club, with around 12-14 children aged 6 and 7, to develop their storytelling skills and write their own story. We used freeze frames and storyboarding to break the story down into sections and help with sequencing. The children played with Story Cubes© ( and Story Pegs as well as listening to music to give them inspiration. Despite a very tight timescale all but one of the children managed to produce an original piece of work, and I was very pleased with the variety and degree of imagination they had. The stories are being compiled into an anthology and each child will get their own copy. I hope that it’ll inspire them to keep writing, and maybe they’ll be the next generation who could give JK Rowling or Philip Pulman a run for their money!


*The Somerstown Stories book, relates the story of the area as I’ve discovered it. It would be difficult for it to be a complete account as I haven’t been able to interview every single resident! However hopefully it will provide a good flavour of the area as it’s developed over time. The book is being paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund and will be free to the public. It will have a limited print run, and people can apply for a copy through the website: A copy of the book will be allocated one per household, on a first-come-first-served basis. We hope it will be available in early October.

Pop-Up Shops, Social Media and a Story for Bus Drivers ;)

Since my last post, I have been engrossed in Somerstown Stories, which will be coming to an end during September this year. It’s a rare and special opportunity I think, to be involved in a project such as this, and to have the freedom and flexibility to explore some of the new and unexpected doors that have opened up along the way.

The Museum of Somerstown is one such door, and whilst it was never part of the original plan, I think it’s probably been one of the most successful features of the whole project. Steve Bomford and Daniel O’Neill are the faces behind NebMedia, a successful Portsmouth based social enterprise, whose focus is making the most of the variety of new media that’s now available to us. I commissioned them to run some kind of evaluation event as part of the closing stages of Somerstown Stories, and #MuSo was the result.

Drawing on their background of photography and utilising their considerable knowledge and social media networks, Daniel and Steve have transformed an empty shop on St James Road into a temporary museum, and by the end of the weekend, it may have welcomed over 100 visitors.  With the help of the fabulous Sarah Dyer, (a student volunteer whom I met whilst she was on Industrial Placement at Enterprise car hire!) visitors are invited to explore the maps and photographs of Somerstown, and the feedback, both in person and via the Facebook page, has been very positive! Having the opportunity to have a virtual presence running alongside a physical space has been very successful and the two mediums, whilst obviously very different, seem to compliment each other well.

I have never attempted an empty shop/pop-up shop project before, but this whole experience has been so positive (especially the part where the owners, Guinness Hermitage, allowed us to use the space for free!) I would definitely consider it again.

In other news, I have been preparing my new story for North End Playscheme which runs from 6th-10th August at Mayfield School. The scheme has run for over ten years and provides 5 days of safe, creative and fun activities for primary age children, out of a large marquee on the school field. They also have a Parent & Toddler tent offering play, crafts and stories for 0-4 year olds.

My husband and I had been involved in Playscheme in the past, as team helpers and for two years as the Stage Team, leading the fun and antics in the main tent and with myself as a storyteller. We also helped with planning on the Management Team, but we haven’t been involved for about 4 years now, since my daughter was born. This year however, circumstances have settled themselves in such a way that we can get involved again, and I was delighted t0 be invited back again to tell a story to the 100 or so children who’ll be attending that week, including my children.

Usually, if I’m preparing a new story to be told to a group, I will road-test it on my children first – see which bits they think are funny, which bits seem to drag or don’t flow as easily. Once  I’ve refined it I can then tell it to the group it’s intended for. Often I’ll tell stories on the bus, as it makes the journey less boring, and in the past it has been known for other passengers to listen in and even occasionally comment on the fact that they were enjoying it!

Today was one of those days 🙂 I was telling the first part of the story to my children while we were sat on the two seats closest to the bus driver. The story features Lucy, (one of my favourite characters that I have a collection of stories about) and a host of new characters including Rob, Lucy’s classmate, Florence Harding and the dastardly Marcus! We’d got to the bit where the main plot driver was being revealed and Marcus dreadful scheme was being unfurled, and I paused to ask my son to press the bell as we were soon getting off.

To my astonishment the bus driver suddenly called out: “You can’t get off yet! I want to know what going to happen next in the story! I’ve been listening for the last 15 minutes!”

Priceless! I laughed very loudly (and probably embarrassed my children) and continued the story until the very last minute until we got off the bus.

So, for the driver of the 40, who dropped off the storytelling lady and her two kids on Winston Churchill Avenue this morning: Thanks so much for your encouraging comments! The story is currently titled: Lucy and the Race to Save the Olympics and I’m planning to serialise it here each day, (after I’ve told it to the children!) I hope you enjoy it, and do invite your family & friends to read it too!


Did you know that certain plants can only be pollinated by bees? One of which, I believe, is the fabulous apple tree! Artificial pollination was found to be unsuccessful and bees are considered to be – the bees knees!


There have been LOTS of things happening at the Potting Shed  recently – hence why the blog has been quiet the last few weeks. Here’s the buzz on what’s happening currently:

Somerstown Stories

  • The project is in its final phase, but shows no sign of slowing down! Somerstown Museum is part of this: a temporary exhibition in an empty shop in St James Road, just off Winston Churchill Avenue. A preview evening will be on Thurs 19th July and the museum will be open to the public Fri 20th – Sun 22nd July. It’s being run by those talented chaps at NebMedia: More info to follow.
  • In addition there is a final exhibition taking place at Central Library in early July which will promote the Somerstown Archive which will be held and managed by the City Museum and Records Office. There are also plans to produce a book documenting the story of Somerstown and the project itself.
  • Year 9 students from Charter Academy and Priory School are taking part in a specially designed charette led by Post-Grad Architecture students from the University of Portsmouth, who will be sharing their knowledge and skills on Somerstown. The School of Architecture students have been focussing on Somerstown this year in their studies, redesigning significant elements of the area and some key buildings.
  • UK Community Summit – linked to Somerstown Stories, I’ve been invited to attend the first UK Community Partner Summit, which aims to build resilience and strengthen relationships between universities and community partners:

Beyond Somerstown Stories, there are other interesting and intriguing things happening:

  • Storytelling Club – this is a five week project running at Stamshaw Infants school. By the end of the project the children will have explored freeze-framing, storyboarding, and used Story Pegs and Story Cubes
  • Interpretor/Demonstrator at D-Day Museum – working with children to understand and explore the significance of the D-Day landings, using the Overlord Embroidery and artefacts from the period. Enjoyable, engaging, sobering and thought-provoking, I’m enjoying  the work there and the chance to inflict my feeble French on some very patient teachers and students from Caen!

There are other potential projects in the pipeline, but I’m always interested in hearing ideas for new pieces of work, so if you’ve got an idea, drop me an email: or call on: 07986-674709

Somerstown Stories – the story so far…

The first drop-in exhibition/workshop event took place on Tuesday last week at the Omega Centre. We didn’t have high numbers, but those who did come along  had some interesting stories to tell about their own experiences of Somerstown. I was able to interview someone during the event, and have arranged interviews with others to document their stories. This phase of the project will naturally include gathering (and transcribing) some oral history interviews which is, I believe, where the real treasure will lie.

This was  followed in the evening by an archive film screening of Portsmouth, hosted by Portsmouth Film Society using footage that is in the care of the Wessex Film Archive

Meanwhile the Somerstown Stories website, also includes details about the great work that took place at Somers Park Primary School in the Autumn term last year, when the teachers and children were engaged in their part of the  project:

Overall the project is now in its wider community phase, and local people are getting the chance to go on the same journey of exploration. As I start to gather oral history accounts from local people, these along with the photographs and maps will be catalogued and collated into the Somerstown Archive which will be held and managed by the Local History Centre

This means that the conversations that are being started now can continue after the project has finished, and the material will be available for other people to access and add to.

Part of this second phase series of events includes a creative workshop being led by two local artists: Jane Kilford and Julie Graves who are also planning to do some preliminary work with the children at Somers Park, inviting them and their families to bring an object from the past into school to share with others and to use as a prompt for telling their own story of Somerstown.

Meanwhile, Julie has enabled me to make a link with the University of Portsmouth’s School of Architecture Her husband Francis is an architect and senior lecturer and his current cohort of students are engaged in a project whose theme is the redesign of Somerstown and some of the key buildings within it, including the churches of St Luke’s and St Peter’s. This is a beautiful overlap for me, and so I was able to attend the students mid-term review on Thursday of last week and see and hear first-hand their ideas and visions for the area. It was fascinating to see an area I’m so familiar with through someone else’s eyes. Francis has kindly invited me back to speak to the group about the Somerstown Stories project and share some of the resources I’ve found and what I’ve learnt so far. I was impressed with the breadth and depth they are required to consider and include in their planning and I’m looking forward to teaching and learning more about Somerstown with them.


At long last I’ve managed to set up a slideshow of some of the many photos of Somerstown that I’ve been collecting for the Somerstown Stories project.

Take a look and tell me what you think:

Any comments or further info about any of the picture would be gratefully received 🙂

How is an iceberg like a cake?

I’m on my way to a meeting – the first of many this week, about Somerstown Stories. It’s another one of those ‘behind-the-scenes’ meetings. Important – necessary in fact, if we want the project to run smoothly and be a success, although it can sometimes feel like I’m spending more time ‘meeting’ than ‘doing’.

It occurred to me that project management is rather like an iceberg: 75% of the work is below the surface, unseen. And yet projects are so often rated or valued on the 25% that’s visible above the water, which is a shame, because the work that goes into making something a success is very often disproportionate to the event itself.

‘But how is an iceberg like a cake, and what’s that got to do with project management?’ I hear you ask.
Well, in my mind sometimes the best bit of the project is the ‘people’ bit. The time spent with real people in real communities, sharing stories and experiences, trying and learning new things together. That’s the ‘visible’ bit. The 25% above the water. Or, if you prefer, the icing on the cake.

Now, you need the cake: you need the substance, the infrastructure, the planning and resources to enable the project to come together…and some of the greatest achievements of you and the people you’re working with will happen during that ‘cake’ period…and probably only a few people will realise or appreciate just how much work has been done and what’s been accomplished.

But I’m still inclined to think that the icing bit is best because that’s the part where we get to see if all our hard work has paid off, and that’s the place where our dreams become reality.

Working with real people in real communities isn’t easy. But it is very valuable, and cake without icing would be a bit dull – don’t you think?

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