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All at sea…

This morning I went for a walk with our beagle Cosmo. My husband does most of the morning walks during the week, but on Sunday’s he gets a lie-in and I get up early instead to walk with the dog.

We’re in that hazy time of year in the UK when summer has started to fade and autumn is getting into her stride – a wonderful mixture of warm sunny days, alongside the hint of crisp leaves and glowing colours, as the trees begin their slow hibernation process. (We also get days of deep, grey skies and sudden torrential downpours – usually just in time for the school run at about 3:15pm, but today was a good day!)

As it was nearly high tide, I decided to walk down by Whale Island, also known as HMS Excellent. The island is man-made resulting from historic dredging in the Solent, to make room for ever-larger Naval vessels. In-between Whale Island and Portsea Island is a narrow tidal inlet,  which I tend to think of as the remains of Stamshaw Bay. This small strip of water eventually links round to the Solent, further up the coast. There are a small cluster of fishing boats which appear and disappear depending on the tide and the type of fishing they do.

As my dog and I ambled along the path, I noticed a small, yellow fishing boat right up close to the shore line. I remembered that my husband had commented that he’d seen a fishing boat which had drifted up to the beach, so I went to have a look.

The little boat looked to be in good shape; the usual collection of barnacles and seaweed along its hull, but the bow was clean and clear and the mast and sails tidy and straight. Through the water I could clearly see the keel resting on the pebbles underneath and then I realised…

The boat wasn’t drifting. It was grounded.

The little boat was in good condition. It was perfectly able to sail. But for some reason, it had ended up on the beach, and now the water wasn’t deep enough to float it. Everything about it spoke about its purpose – it ought to have been sailing, gliding effortlessly on that smooth expanse of water. But instead it was motionless, grounded on a shallow bank of pebbles and rocks, which although small, had somehow trapped this vessel and made escape seem impossible. And that got me thinking:

How many of us are living seaworthy lives? 

How many of us are like that boat: fully equipped and able to sail, yet somehow grounded in our situations and circumstances, not because we can’t set sail but because we don’t believe we can.

In this photo, the tide hadn’t yet risen to its highest point. Another half a metre might be all it would need to get this little boat off the beach and back out to sea. How many of us are stuck in a place where we think we need an entire ocean to change things, when in reality it’s just half a metres worth?

Our perceptions affect our reality.

What we believe can have such a powerful effect on the choices we make. Those beliefs can stop us from applying for that job we really want, or standing up to that demanding boss. They can make us feel trapped and frustrated, when actually all we really need to change our circumstances, is a bit of a push to get us off the beach. Not an entire ocean. Just a bit of hard work.

The things is, for the sailor on the boat, it’s hard to see what the obstruction is, because it’s underneath the hull. That’s why we need friends and family to come alongside us.

Friends and family might have a different perspective. They can see through the water surrounding us and help identify what the problem is.

So what is it that keeps you beached at the moment? Are you so convinced that your situation can’t change that you can’t hear the voices of your friends and family? You’re a seaworthy vessel – what’s really stopping you from exploring your potential and heading out to sea?

 

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 🙂 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

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!

Playscheme story Day 5: Here and There and Back Again

It's loom-tastic!

It’s loom-tastic!

Sarah thinks she might be able to give the T.O.I.L.E.T. more thrust, but will it be enough to get them back to where they need to be before the universe unravels?

 

This is the final part of the story specially created for this year’s Playscheme. North End Playscheme is 21 this year and seeks to serve and bless families in the North End area of Portsmouth. Its almost entirely run by volunteers, many of whom are from local churches, who give up a week of their time to help provide a fun, safe environment for children to play and learn in.

 

 

Playscheme Day 3: Aunt Marge and the Myriad

Aunt Marge's cottage garden

Aunt Marge’s cottage garden

Doctor Woo and Sarah are pursued across the galaxy by the beetle people, but it seems only Aunt Marge can explain why…

(Part 3 of a 5 part series, specially created for Playscheme)

Playscheme Story Day 1: Sarah meets the Doctor

IMG_20140811_184630This year at Playscheme I have the delight and privilege of telling the story for the children each day. Linking in to the 21st birthday theme, I’ve created a brand new story about time travel and Playscheme’s past, featuring new characters: Sarah and Doctor Woo.

For the first time this year I hope to record each day’s story and then share it online, and through Playscheme’s Facebook page. Although the onsite recording didn’t work quite so well, here’s a retelling of the first part of the story, which I hope you’ll enjoy!

 

Happy Birthday to School!

An aerial view of the M275 before the flyover was built. You can see the large outline of St John's church by the newly formed Rudmore roundabout.

An aerial view of the M275 before the flyover was built. You can see the large outline of St John’s church by the newly formed Rudmore roundabout.

You’ve probably noticed, that I have a bit of a thing for heritage and history. Whenever I’m in a place, I just notice things about it – architectural features, signs, alterations and it starts my brain whirring…I wonder about the people who lived there, or the chain of events which may have sparked change…and I wonder about what was there before…

 

For me it’s all about the story.

And so it is that I appear to have sparked off another history-hunt, this time in Stamshaw, which is in the north-west section of Portsea island. The local Infant school building was built in 1899 and will be 115 years old next year, so I proposed a local heritage project, using this event s a catalyst to explore the local history of the area. The school were really supportive an I’ve been working with the Headteacher and key staff to develop a new community project which launches on 19th June. 

We’ve already been provided with some amazing archive maps and found some great photos in the City Archives, but what

The section comes from a larger map, dated 1952. It shows the outdoor swimming pool, which is located roughly where Stamshaw Park is now.

The section comes from a larger map, dated 1952. It shows the outdoor swimming pool, which is located roughly where Stamshaw Park is now.

we really need are photos and stories from local people to make it come alive.

To this end we’ve sent out press releases to local news groups and through social media, to promote the work and invite local people to take part to, by sharing their stories and memories.

The project will run over the course of a year, with three focused ‘Detective Days’, the first of which takes place in two weeks time. The children will begin by exploring clues to the past which can be found in their own school building. In the autumn term they’ll be going out and about in the local area, to find evidence of the past from present day buildings and sites and in the Spring term 2014 the school hopes to invite in local people, former pupils and staff from the school who can share with the children their own memories of Stamshaw. The project will culminate in a birthday party celebration, where the children can share the journey of learning that they’ve been on over the previous year.

The school has already been awarded a small grant towards the project from the Nelson Community Panel, and this will help pay for materials and resources which will be used during the project.

If you know anything about Stamshaw’s history (either the school or the area) that you think might be useful to the project, please can you drop me a line in the first instance: sharon.court@gmail.com

The school will be setting up a dedicated webpage and email address shortly, and they also hope to have a ‘postbox’ in the school office, where local people could drop things in.

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: http://ow.ly/gzbKr 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

 

 

Story Telling Club – always nice to be appreciated!

One of the authors reads his own work in print!

Over the summer I compiled an anthology of original stories written by 6 & 7 year old children from Stamshaw Infants School. They were members of the Story Telling Club, an after-school club which I ran on a voluntary basis for my son’s school.

Around 13 children took part in a series of  5 sessions, and of that number, 10 children managed to complete and illustrate their own unique story (one or two dropped out due to illness or other commitments).

I took the freshly printed books (courtesy of Blurb.com) into school on the first day of term, and the Headteacher was delighted! So much so, that she wrote me a lovely letter, and this is what it said:

“Thank you for the lovely books from the Story Telling Afterschool Club. I felt I must write to say what a wonderful outcome for the children and a special memory for them of their time here at school. It is a superb collection of stories and writing. I really do appreciate all the effort you went to in the organising and ordering of the books.”

Since then staff who have children at the school have also approached me to say how pleased their children were with the books. For my own part I’m very pleased that the children and the school have been so delighted with them, and I hope I get the chance to develop and refine the ideas I trialled at Stamshaw Infants.

 

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© (www.storycubes.com) 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: www.somerstown-stories.org.uk 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.

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