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…
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.
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.
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.
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
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 http://www.portsmouthfilmsociety.org.uk/ using footage that is in the care of the Wessex Film Archive http://www3.hants.gov.uk/wfsa.htm
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: http://www.somerstown-stories.org.uk/?page_id=100
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: http://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/learning/15605.html
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 http://www.janekilford.com/ and Julie Graves http://www.artwanted.com/artist.cfm?ArtID=5843 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 http://www.port.ac.uk/departments/academic/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.
Great article about the Somerstown Stories project and the work done at Somers Park Primary, in the local newspaper: http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/lifestyle/tn2-saturday/a-weekend-with/colourful_history_of_a_community_celebrated_1_3227477
So pleased that it reflects the project so well and all the hard work that the school put in!
And so we move on to the next exciting chapter!
I am on the brink…of submitting the HLF bid for Somerstown Stories. I met with Jan and Esther today to review the text for the online form. Jan suggested only one small addition, which was a very sensible one, so other than that, we’re done.
The budget seems fairly modest for a project of this scale, so we agreed to increase the amount of money for training for staff and volunteers, and also for resources and the contingency. Currently the budget stands at around £21k, with around half of that being the Project Leader’s time, at a 1.5 days a week. Even with the proposed increases it’ll still probably come in at just under £30k, and yet hopefully we’ll have involved at least eight venues across the locality and reached hundreds of people. One might consider that to be a bargain!
I also managed to meet with Amanda Burgess from the Omega Centre today. We’ve been trying to arrange a meeting for ages and knowing I was due to be at SPPS I rang Omega on the off-chance and managed to get a meeting in, before my meeting at the school.
The Omega Centre is a key venue in the area. http://www.omegacentre.org/
Its one of the oldest buildings in the locality and emerged mostly unscathed from the bombing raids of the Second World War. It was previously a school, and there are people living in the area now who used to teach there. The building is now leased from PCC by the WEA (Workers Education Association) which is national organisation with branches across the country. Their primary goal is around education and training, and Amanda was very pleased to for the WEA to have the opportunity to engage in the project. She explained that they could run a literacy course based around local history, and because it was literacy based, it would be free to take part. In addition she said they could offer cooking sessions and art sessions led by their Art tutors.
The building itself has very good facilities including a cafe, a large hall with a built-in projector and a range of different sized rooms. Amanda had already undertaken some research into the history of the Omega Centre when the WEA first took on management for the site, and she has a really interesting range of photographs which I haven’t seen before, and which she was very happy to share with the project. I’m really pleased that we can get Omega Centre on board and I think they might be able to provide an exciting and unexpected range of activities and events.
Amanda also pointed me in the direction of the Motiv8 section of the building, which I confess I’d overlooked before. I popped in and managed to chat with one of the staff briefly, but the person I really needed to see, Sarah Morris was on leave, so I’ll need to follow her up when she’s back. The Motiv8 team in Somerstown are keen to involve their young people in practical projects that make a visible impact on the area such as the Garden of Eden which saw a team of young people involved in revitalising a derelict piece of land next to St Peter’s church: http://www.youtube.com/user/CommSpaceChallenge?feature=mhum#p/u/9/3utmzhbgd4U
The Somerstown Stories project could lend itself very well to a specific piece of work that this group might be interested in…I’ll wait to see what my meeting with Sarah Morris reveals…