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The Potting Shed – how and why?

cropped-thepottingshed.pngSomeone sent me a note recently saying how much they liked the sound of what I’m doing in The Potting Shed* and wondered how I got into it.

*The Potting Shed is the page on Facebook where the exploits of my freelance work are shared more frequently. It’s only a virtual shed at the moment, but it seemed logical: if you’re going to grow things you need tools and resources and a place to nurture them!

It was lovely to be asked ūüôā I had a little ponder and this was my reply. Perhaps you might find it interesting too?

Megan: 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

Hi Megan!
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 sometimes 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 them my way

CUExpo – canals and dams

Rideau canal house

The Rideau canal, near Charleston university campus – such a peaceful spot!

Ottawa in June was surprisingly warm! I really wasn’t prepared for it, having been to Corner Brook in Newfoundland two years previously, but it was, frankly, glorious!
Having the 2015 CUExpo in the nation’s capital was a wonderful opportunity to get to know more about the country and its heritage. The conference opened with a traditional¬†smudging ceremony¬†and the host for CUExpo made the point that the university and indeed much of the city was located on unceeded Algonquin land, one of the First Nation peoples in Canada.

The Great Hall at the National Museum of Canada

The Grand Hall in the National Museum. The totem poles are made from whole trunks of cedar wood and tell the story of a person’s life.

I was able to visit the National Museum in the French Canadian section of the city, and travelling on the bus enabled me to see a wide cross section of the city and what modern life is like for Canadians living there. I particularly enjoyed the enormous totem poles and the First Nation style of artwork, which was bold but also sometimes disturbing!

I was also very touched and challenged by the newly released¬†Truth and Reconciliation Commission report¬†summary which detailed the ‘cultural genocide’ of First Nation people’s which took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of these harrowing stories of young aboriginal children separated from their families and housed in institutional schools which sought to erase all their cultural heritage, was a shock to many Canadians, who simply didn’t know these things had even happened.

I went to the conference on my own, as a practitioner in my own right and was booked to do a storytelling session. This was instead of going¬†as a member of the UK Community Partner Network (UKCPN), which is how I’d been able to attend the previous conference in Newfoundland. It was nice to see some familiar faces and to learn new things about community engagement practice, but travelling alone to a conference is also hard work (especially for an introvert!) and I think it would have been nicer to be part of a group.

My storytelling session entitled The Castle of Mystery went down well and those who came really enjoyed it, which was great! Storytelling is part of my creative practice, and a useful way to both challenge and reflect back to people, some of the dynamics of an organisation, situation or project.

It was useful and interesting to hear about other engagement practice elsewhere, but to be truthful it was also frustrating because the university I’m connected to doesn’t have a coherent community engagement strategy, or a team of people who might push that forward. In each successive session I went to, I heard about Chancellors and Vice Chancellors and Faculty Deans who’d put their weight and support behind a community engagement initiative, with fantastic results. Sadly the university closest to me seems to lack that vision at the moment, and although there *is* work happening across the institution, it’s fragmented and lacks punch. And without the weight of the executive behind it, it will only ever be thus.

I completed my own paper, ‘The Greenhouse Effect’ about the value of community engagement and a potential strategy for working with local groups, for the faculty I’m working with, but regrettably, nothing further seems to have come from it. Again without the weight of leadership behind it, community engagement will remain ‘off the edge of my desk’ for most of the academics there.

In the meantime however, I am co-authoring a paper about community engagement with two colleagues from the University of Portsmouth for the Research For All journal, which will hopefully be published next year and I have been invited to take part in an Interreg funded project called PONToon. So all it not lost….perhaps rather like a canal boat, these things take longer to move and longer to turn than anyone could have expected!

The expanding horizon…

After I got back from CUExpo in Canada (which I’ll write about in a separate post) I was straight back into the thick of it – ‘it’ being the end of one project and the launch of two new ones.

Students at Charter Academy. creating minature stained glass windows for a quiet area at the school.

Students at Charter Academy. creating minature stained glass windows for a quiet area at the school.

The FE Chaplaincy project packed up its’ stuff and moved in with the Deanery Youthwork project and in August 2015 I was appointed as the Creative Engagement practitioner for the newly merged¬†Youth Chaplaincy¬†project. Seeking to bring together the best of both worlds, Youth Chaplaincy works in local secondary schools and colleges and the aim is to ‘create a space for the bigger questions in life’. ¬†More about that in another post!

Children weaving into the community tapestry, one of the activities which took place during LoLou Morris' residency.

Children weaving into the community tapestry, one of the activities which took place during LoLou Morris’ residency.

In addition, I’m delighted to say that the Liturgy Project was also finally brought to birth, but it’s now known as¬†Viewpoint. Based at¬†Portsmouth Cathedral, the project aims to explore faith and spirituality through the arts, and the Cathedral link takes you to all the blog listings, which take you through the journey the project and its artists’ have been on. More about that in another post too!

One of the noticeable changes in recent months, is my decision to give more time over to my own creative practice. This is hard as there’s always a list as long as my arm when it comes to ‘paid work’ and always something else ‘more important’ which I feel I ought to be doing…

But the truth of it is that making makes me happy, and when I’m making it helps with my sense of calm and peace and also enables me to have more ideas which feed into the projects I’m working on. You can find some of my making here on Instagram

So here’s to doing what you love, and being happy whilst doing it!

The Castle of Mystery – raising the portcullis on community engagement

The Rideau Canal, showing Ottawa locks and the Canadian Parliament building

The Rideau Canal, showing Ottawa locks

Well, after a hectic week of travelling, listening, talking and sharing, I’m back from my trip to Ottawa. I had a great time and met some interesting people, but I’m also glad to be home again!

I’ve never been to Ottawa before and I enjoyed wandering round parts of the city in-between conference sessions, exploring some of its history, as well as acquainting myself with the history of the nation itself. The Truth and Reconciliation report on the indigenous people of Canada was on the brink of being released at the time of my visit, and even to an outsider, it feels like this¬†will be a momentous and sobering moment for a nation which views itself as ‘Canada the good’ and has, on the whole, a well-earned reputation for kindness and generosity. I think its going to be a tough road ahead for Canadians of all descent, but also perhaps a hopeful and honest one. You can find out more here:¬†Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission


The reason for visiting Canada was so that I could participate in the biannual C2UExpo conference, which took place this year at Carleton University. This year the conference organisers have made an effort to include local colleges as well (hence the C2 title adaptation), and we had the opportunity to visit Algonquin College, which, like much of Ottawa, is sited on unceeded Algonquin land. (The Algonquin are an indigenous people group who originate in this part of Canada). In 2017 the conference will move to Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.

There are increasing efforts to make universities more accessible and for research work to become increasingly more grounded and relevant to the felt needs of local communities – hence the idea of castles and raising the portcullis. This isn’t always easy, and the university might often find itself pulled in different directions between the expectations and standards of academia and the aspiration for more engaged and diverse community engagement.

However, in varying ways, individuals, teams and departments are seeking to find more creative and reliable ways of

The Great Hall in the Canadian Museum of History. The Hall houses a number of original Totem poles, carved from single trucks of cedar as well as a wealth of First Nations artefacts.

The Great Hall in the Canadian Museum of History. The Hall houses a number of original Totem poles, carved from single trucks of cedar as well as a wealth of First Nations artefacts.

doing this in a wide range of fields and disciplines, and we heard a lot about this during the 3/4 days of the conference. One of the things which really struck me was the reality that unless a Vice Principle or someone else at executive level within the institution, pro-actively takes up the mantle of community engagement, then this kind of work is resigned¬†to being ‘off the edge of my desk’ and will never achieve the quality and impact which such work is capable of. There are many universities within the UK who fall into this category, and whilst the REF Impact agenda* did something to raise this issue and force universities to engage with it, there are still wide-ranging disparities about the effectiveness of this work.

*The ‘Impact’ agenda refers to a decision made by UK Funding Councils, who fund universities, that up to 20% of their core funding would only be awarded on the basis of community engaged research work¬†

There are challenges to forming mutually beneficial and sustainable research partnerships, not least becoming acclimatised to the different cultures and practices found within universities and community groups. This is something of what my story ‘The Castle of Mystery’ aims¬†to highlight. I told the story to a room of about 30 people on the first full day of the conference and I’m pleased to say that it was very well received, which was very encouraging!

As promised, the audio version and the script are available below, and if you ave any comments or feedback, please feel free to drop me a line: or via Twitter @sharonaverona or Facebook: The Potting Shed on Facebook

listen to ‚ÄėThe Castle of Mystery‚Äô on audioBoom

The Castle of Mystery script

Up, up and away!

A while ago someone asked me about my fundraising efforts to¬†attend CUExpo2015, the bi-annual university-community conference in Canada.¬†I explained that whilst I’d had¬†an encouraging level of interest in my online auction, I hadn’t raised enough money to be able to go.

“Unless something falls out of the sky,” I said, “It looks very unlikely that I’ll be going.”

Part of the famous Ottawa skyline, showing the Canadian Parliament building

Part of the famous Ottawa skyline, showing the Canadian Parliament building

Well, late last week something¬†did fall out of the sky and I’m delighted to say that I’ve been awarded a bursary so that I can go!

The CUexpo conference is taking place at Carleton University in the capital city of Ottawa. It runs from Tues 26th to Fri 29th May and I’m going to be doing a storytelling session on Weds 27th starting at 11am. This is one of a number of concurrent sessions running throughout the conference. The story I’m going to tell has been specially written for the conference and is called ‘The Castle of Mystery’. It tells the story of a girl named Lily and her experience of encountering the Castle and its occupants for the first time. Those of you familiar with trying to navigate the complex nature of a university might find some intriguing¬†similarities between Lily’s experience of the castle, and your own experience of a university.

The story script and audio version will also be available here on the website, after the session.

Find out more about the conference here:

Online auction: catalogue of items

This entry contains details of all the items available in the online auction and will be updated regularly, so remember to scroll down and see what’s new!

Just as a reminder for the reason behind all this making: I’ve been invited to do a storytelling session at a university conference in Canada in May this this, but I need to raise the funds by April 6th! I am therefore creating and auctioning a range of unique, handcrafted items, as well as stories and audiobooks, to raise for the trip.

If I’m unsuccessful in raising enough money to go, I will contact the highest bidder for each item and offer it to them at a special price, so¬†you’ll still be in with a chance to own that special something you had your eye on!

Thanks in advance for all your support!


a-forest_sunlight-1573690Day 1: Audiobook recording of ‘Emi and the Lion’. Starting bid ¬£20, Link to hear the first chapter here:




bed glass candle holders

Day 2: Trio of upcycled beaded glass candle holders ‘The Elements’ representing earth, fire and water. Bidding started at ¬£8 and will close at midnight on Mon 16th March, We have a bidder on this item already but there’s still time!



coastal maps series

Day 3: ‘Coastal Maps’: a series of framed maps embellished with real seashells. Bidding starts at ¬£20 for the set. Other images can be found here:¬†





swirl clay pendant

Day 4: ‘Swirl’ handmade clay pendant with leather lace. Bidding starts at ¬£3




P1070229Day 5: ‘Peonies’- pair of candles in matching ceramic candle holders with white/lilac design. Bidding starts at ¬£8 for the pair






Day 6: (This is the one you’ve been waiting for!)

Original short story, recorded and delivered either on CD or as digital download, including 3 elements of your choice. I invite you to suggest three things and I will create an original story which includes those three things* The story will be delivered within 5-10days, exclusively to you. Bidding starts at £30

*family friendly suggestions please ūüėČ

P1070201Day 7: Holding cross Рhand-finished in either white or terracotta clay. There are a range of designs, as shown on the Facebook page. Please specify if you have a preference. Bidding starts at £5

Online auction launched!

And we’re off! The online auction ¬†is officially launched tonight, with a mouthwatering taster of the first item on offer: a limited edition recording of¬†Emi and the Lion. As you will remember, I’m auctioning a number of handcrafted items and stories* to raise money for my trip to Canada – I’ve been invited to do a storytelling session at the CUExpo university conference in Canada, but I need to raise funds for travel and accommodation.

This original audiobook is available to the highest bidder and the bidding for this item closes in one week at midnight on Thurs 19th March. Any bids received after that time will not be considered.

To give you a taste of what’s on offer, this is the first chapter:


There are three more chapters after this, detailing the further adventures of Emi’s search for her mother and the Castle Libretta. The complete audiobook can be¬†sent on CD or available as a download and the starting point is ¬£20. Bids can be submitted by email to me: and I will post updates about the latest bid periodically, so people can increase their bid if they wish to.

Good luck and I hope you enjoy the story!

*in a few days there will be the opportunity to bid for an original, specially commissioned story where YOU get to choose part of the elements of the story! Keep checking back for¬†more info…

I’m leaving (hopefully) on a jet plane…

This candle holder was hand finished with individual glass tiles and is one of the items on offer.

This candle holder was hand finished with individual glass tiles and is one of the items on offer.

It’s strange sometimes, the opportunities life throws at you.

Nearly three years ago,  I applied to go to a small summit about university and community engagement, prompted by someone I knew at the University of Portsmouth. I was accepted and my attendance at that summit sparked a whole new set of friendships and a fantastic introduction to the world of community engagement.

As it turned out, I was already involved in community engagement – I just hadn’t realised it.

Since then, through this work, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in sessions and workshops at two national and two international conferences. The¬†most recent was the Engage conference in Bristol in December 2014, where I did a storytelling session, and you can find out more about that here:¬†

At the Engage conference, I met up with some of the lovely folks from Canada, whom I’d met at the CUExpo in Corner Brook, Newfoundland in 2013. One of them, Maeve Lydon, asked me if I was planning to attend again in 2015. I explained I’d been thinking about it, but not yet applied. She encouraged me to do so, and reminded me I’d better get to it sharpish as the closing date for abstracts and submissions was just a few days away…

I applied, suggesting I could do a storytelling session, and to my surprise I was accepted!

However, now I have a new challenge: I need to try and raise around £1,800 in order to be able to go.

To this end I’ve decided to organise an online auction, featuring, handcrafted gifts, original framed photographs – and – for a¬†limited number of very lucky people, a completely unique, specially recorded story, featuring ideas or themes chosen by them.

This holding cross is made of clay with a matt varnish. It features the "exit velocity" symbol

This holding cross is made of clay with a matt varnish. It features the “exit velocity” symbol

The idea is that there’ll be a gallery where you can see all the items on offer (with new items being added periodically) with a suggested starting price. Bids can be submitted by email and by the closing date set for each item, the highest bidder wins, just like ebay. The only difference being that bidders won’t be asked to send¬†any money until I’m sure that I have enough to cover the cost of the whole trip. I won’t accept¬†people’s bids¬†unless I know I can go.

This is where you come in: I have a list of items available, which will go up on this website in the next couple of days, and I hope you might consider bidding for them. But in addition: what would you like to see? I’ve shared a lot of images of things I’ve made via the¬†The Potting Shed – Apple Seed HQ¬†page on Facebook. If there’s something there that you’d like to bid on, let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

I’ve got just over¬†eight weeks to raise the funds necessary. Let’s see what we can do!


The Reindeer Rescue

“It’s that time of year….” says the song, and thus we find ourselves getting swirled along with the mad preparations for Christmas. I do enjoy the festive reindeer-silhouette-mdseason, and when I can, I try¬†to take the ancient, more unhurried and reflective path of Advent, rather than the slightly more frenetic path to Aldi. Easier said than done, you say (and I’d heartily agree with you!).

However one of the things I also try to do during this season is give things away – not just presents but my time, and this year, as with last year, this has been¬†in the form of an original Christmas-themed story which has been told to the children at Isambard Brunel Junior School. I haven’t always recorded my stories, but I thought I’d give it a go this year, not least so that a certain young chap named Malachi can enjoy it whilst he’s in hospital awaiting surgery.

So to Malachi and the many other children and adults excitedly awaiting Christmas, here’s a festive themed story which I hope you’ll enjoy ūüôā

(The keen-eared among you might notice the odd wrinkle here and there, but given that it’s a 45 minute unscripted recording made¬†in one sitting without a break, I hope you can forgive me!)



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