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Wah no kill, fatten

Wah no kill, fatten

It’s been a pleasure working with Patwah Media and Community Arts over the past few months as part of Telling – our Arts Council England funded pilot project.

Once we’d finished writing the story of Patwah, we provided Pauline, Sandra, Mareen and Mycall – the stalwarts behind Patwah – with a small commissioning budget to make some art which interprets the story we wrote.

What they decided on is very much a Made in Bradford production and all the better for that. The piece is written and performed by Mycall Isrell, filmed by Void Arts with sound recorded at Rubix Cube Music Lab. A link to the film is at the end of this post.

In the meantime, here’s a short extract from the Patwah story:

Though each person we spoke to had their own take on what Patwah is and why it is important, there was a strong sense in all of our conversations that connections are slipping away; that there is an imperative to provide opportunities for people to come together, to talk to each other and – as one of the people we spoke to described it – to make space for fellowship.

Early on in our conversations with people associated with Patwah, we noticed that themes of invisibility and voicelessness were discussed and returned to repeatedly.  One person asked us,

Do you know what it’s like to feel invisible?

 This was not a rhetorical question and it was one that Derrick was able to answer rather better than I – we’ll get on to that presently.

For my part and thinking back to those early conversations, I know that I heard what people said about feeling invisible. I listened and I took notes, some of which I underlined. But I didn’t understand how it might feel and I didn’t appreciate that it means being unseen, and – by logical extension – being unheard.

Or, as Mycall described it,

If you’re not visible, nobody knows you’re there.

 Like most of the people we spoke to, he referred to a process of dispersal which meant that over time African Caribbean communities in Bradford no longer had an established geographical base. It was only later on in our conversations that we began to unpick how and why communities might have become dispersed but the first explanation – Mycall’s – was perhaps the most striking,

The Black community just went, ‘Whoosh!’ Just scattered.

 It felt sudden and unexpected: as if you might wake up one day and turn around and wonder where everybody had gone. Mycall was not the only person we spoke to who expressed that sense of sudden atomisation.

As the community dispersed, so too did what Mycall described as visible symbols  of a Black presence in Bradford: the African Caribbean shops and businesses that were a feature of Lumb Lane and Manningham Lane have gone and that’s not all that’s gone and is missed,

It could be a group of Black guys walking down the road. For me, these things count. You know what I’m saying? Even if it’s not a conversation, it’s that eye contact…It sounds depressing but it is depressing.

Here’s the link to the film:


I, you and we

I, you and we

Funded by the Home Office and managed by Voluntary Action Leeds, Challenging Conversations aimed to support a range of interventions which encouraged young people to engage in discussions around post Brexit Britain. We were selected as one of the delivery organisations for the pilot project and our approach was to work with dancers from Phoenix Dance Theatre and alumni of RJC to answer the following question:

What needs to happen to make communities function as tolerant, welcoming, safe places?

In our final session, we were joined by Jess Mountford who made a live illustration which reflected a set of discussions around:

  • What principles should we live by as human beings and how should these be extended to others?
  • What diversity means and how it enriches a society
  • How ignorance can breed fear and misconception
  • How and why people might find it difficult to cross metaphorical and actual roads
  • What might be the benefits of crossing to the other side

The event culminated in a joint meal at The Tetley where we were joined by Tracy Tinker, Rehearsal Director of Phoenix and Kathy Williams, Artistic Director of RJC.

It feels as if we’ve just scratched the surface and there’s clearly an appetite for exploring these issues further. For more details about the programme of work, please contact us directly.

Thank you to all of the people who participated, to RJC Dance, Phoenix Dance Theatre and The Tetley.

Challenging Conversations

Challenging Conversations

Funded by the Home Office, Challenging Conversations is a pilot project which aims to test out new approaches to enable young people to have conversations exploring the complexities of inter community relations in a post Brexit Britain. Armstrong Cameron is one of six organisations selected to work with groups of young people aged 11 – 25.

We’ve chosen to work with dancers from Phoenix Dance Theatre and graduates of RJC Dance. We’ve asked them to join us in exploring:

What needs to happen to make communities function as tolerant, friendly, welcoming, safe places?

For our first sessions we explored neighbourliness before going on to think about what rights we felt we were entitled to and how these should be extended to others.


Cultural value from the perspective of 12 year old Leilani and 9 year old Avaiyia

Cultural value from the perspective of 12 year old Leilani and 9 year old Avaiyia

It was great to meet with Renee today, a long standing supporter and fan of Caution Collective’s work. Renee has known Christella  – founder of Caution Collective – for about thirteen years and since then, she reckons she’s attended all but one of Caution’s performances.

In common with everyone else we’ve spoken to about Caution, Renee spoke about a sense of family and a feeling of being transported by the performances; each artist is allowed to shine without dimming others’ light.

Renee’s daughters – Leilani and Avaiyia – joined us. They, too, have attended lots of Caution gigs and have themselves performed with the Collective. We took the opportunity to ask them what they feel art can do. Artists and theorists could perhaps learn a lot from their responses. Leilani first:

It’s to make people happy…I also feel it’s a form of meditation in a way. It’s calming but it can be reckless. You can do so many things with art.

Avaiyia added:

There’s calm art and there’s wild art…When you do art and it comes out the way you want it to you feel happy and it feels like something to be excited about. It helps you to breathe. It helps you think more. I just love art – it’s wild and amazing.


“Does it engage? Does it create lasting change?”

“Does it engage? Does it create lasting change?”

As part of Telling,  we recently met with Douglas and Lorain, both artists working at Biasan – a project which supports refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in Bradford.

We talked about the work that they do, why they do it and what they feel it brings to the people they work with. The work at BIASAN takes place in a small room filled with lots of people on a Thursday afternoon. There’s no formal session plan and attendance varies from week to week. Under these conditions:

You can’t be precious about the work. Sometimes I’ll put something on the table that I’ve been working on for two or three hours, knowing that a five year old may come along and splash paint on it.

Often, Lorain and Douglas are working with people who are experiencing enormous challenges. What, we asked, them, can art do under those circumstances? Douglas reminded us of the potential value of the arts, quoting a 13th century Persian poet:

If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a hyacinth.



Diamond in the dirt

Diamond in the dirt

As part of Telling, we ask the organisations we’re working with to suggest people we should talk to who might help us tell the story of their work.

At Patwah’s suggestion we spent an enjoyable hour or so talking with Ashford Graham – Francis, the man behind Bradford’s RubixCube Music Lab.

Ashford sees his role as unearthing and nurturing ‘diamonds in the dirt’. He’s been rapping since the age of 12 and feels he was made to do this work,

When I do other jobs I don’t feel like I’m useful. I’m not helping anyone else; I’m only helping myself.

Now 29, Ashford supports younger creatives who are just starting out. RubixCube Music Lab is a commercial business but it’s about more than that:

When I look back at what I’ve done it makes me think it’s about more than just money. I’ve got a lot of the youngsters believing in the music again – they’ve got an outlet.

Funders and academics and artists have spent a lot of time trying to crystallise what it is that art is for. Ashford expressed art’s value as well as anyone:

It allows us to be true. I see it as truth and expression of your soul… I see musicians and creative people as society’s consciousness. They say it how it is. They express human experience.


A great day in Leeds with Caution Collective

A great day in Leeds with Caution Collective

Our first session with members of Caution Collective.We talked about how the Collective was formed, how it’s been sustained over many years and why members stay involved and engaged. We learned about depth and layers and how audiences connect with the work. Someone shared with us ‘the simple truth about musicians.’ Looking at the photograph we took on the night, it brought to mind another photograph of great musicians.greatdayinharlem-2

Telling: our first get together

Telling: our first get together

A good place to start

Hosted by Professor Kevin Hylton, our first Telling Summit took place at Leeds Beckett University on 7 December 2016.

Joining us at the event were representatives from all of the organisations we’re working with, namely:

BIASAN from Bradford

Caution Collective from Leeds

Patwah Arts and Media from Bradford

60 Seconds of Shakespeare from Leeds

We were also delighted to welcome our friends and supporters, Bobsie Robinson from Bradford Council and Jane Earnshaw from Leeds Inspired.

The event was a first opportunity for everyone to meet and share and to begin to think about what it is we mean when we talk about storytelling and evaluation.

We all left with lots of questions, some answers and a strong sense of joint endeavour.

Over the next month or so, we’ll be talking and listening to artists, participants, audiences and others as organisations’ stories begin to unfold.

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A glimpse of the consultation work we carried out in St Paul’s, Bristol

A glimpse of the consultation work we carried out in St Paul’s, Bristol

Video of St Paul’s consultations

Back in April 2016 as part of a larger options appraisal, we conducted two consultation exercises in the St Paul’s area of Bristol. Attended by activists, artists, politicians, funders and interested members of the community, they were designed to be highly participative and to enable individuals to have their voices heard.

Both events were well attended and proved successful in capturing feelings about the Carnival – past, present and future. Backed up by an online survey which was completed by almost 200 people, case studies of large outdoor festivals and interviews with key players, the events provided us with the material we needed to present a comprehensive report which set out a number of options for a reinvigorated, vibrant Caribbean Carnival.

The Carnival Commission made a video of the consultation events and you can see that here: