After the Fire…

When I became a councillor, just a little over a year ago now, 8 days into being elected – we had some fairly bad localised flooding in my ward. Poor soil quality mixed with heavy flash flood rainfall events repeatedly over a short amount of time created chaos across Adwick, Woodlands, Highfields & Carcroft. I found out the hard way. I hadn’t even had my induction training at that stage. Thrown into, the literal, deep end.

Flooding in Doncaster, unfortunately, is no longer a shock. But a result of a volatile climate from climate change. I was quoted in the FreePress last May saying “I knew there would be flooding, but I didn’t expect it to happen so early and in the summer.

Now with 2 flooding experiences, & a microburst/mini tornado that damaged over 37 people’s roofs (including my own that we’ve only just found out due to another issue) under my belt in only 14 months – I did not expect to add wildfires onto that list of things I’d be experiencing in my own ward, & surrounding areas, as events resulting from the climate crisis.

You may remember a post I did a few months ago about Community and Practice & the year anniversary of becoming a councillor. I shared how the community – old and young – had come together, very excitedly, to help plant the 20,000 baby trees on Bullcroft Pit Top. It was an immense few weeks, with so many engaged local groups. I even got the kids to name the trees they planted (many named them after TikTok stars, ha!). It was great.

That was one thing that felt really productive.

It was intergenerational. It tapped into a multitude of worries that the residents have. For young people: it was more homes/protection for wildlife and helping against climate change. For older folks it was to help with air pollution & to grow a green forest paradise – it showed that the council et al. were investing in us. It was a thing that spoke to everyone. Which is unusual. It was one thing I was really proud about to have gotten so many people to help, and it was almost effortless (which again, is rare).

Most people enjoy green spaces. Tending to things helps us feel like we’re doing good, learning new stuff and clears the head. I remember in March, with the perfect clear skies, overlooking rich grassland and thinking how it’ll look in 20 years time. A small forest.

Cut to this Monday. When I saw on email & heard on the radio that the Bullcroft Pittop was on fire. I held my breath & hoped it would only damage a small part of the land. Reading the fire service report in the evening, I should have known that 9 fire engines meant it was REALLY bad. But I’m a creature of denial – or more hopefulness in this case. Willing it to not have damaged everything we had done. I went to bed, sweated my ass off in the heat & hoped for the best.

Then a resident forwarded me a link to the Telegraph (of all news sites!) of photos of wildfires across the world, destroying homes, towns, swarths of forests and farmland. And there around number 12/20 was Carcroft. Nearly all of it decimated. Black where it was once green and yellow. A massive swath of land. Gone. Not only our trees, but the homes for the rabbits, the biodiversity that existed already. Gone. In only 2 hours.

That hit me hard. I’m not ashamed to say I cried. I stared at this photo of the damage taken from the sky. Trying to take it in.

We are all connected. And our work together on this site, and knowing it’s importance to the earth as well. Every decision we make, affects a multitude of things, with knock on effects. This fire might have burned something I don’t physically own – but it is a community space, so feels like it’s happened to all of our back yards.

Frustrated I emailed my communities lead, pissed off that I had to find out the extent of damage on a news site & not by anyone in the council or partners. It turned out they didn’t know about this either.

I realize now I wasn’t pissed off at that really; I was just angry and upset at the loss. At the hope I had sat with that the fire would have only hurt some of the area.

My heart ached. Imagining all the hard work of Doncaster Council officers, the team who planted a huge chunk of the trees and lots of local community groups who helped plant these trees and looked after them. This activity and those trees, it had grouped us together. It gave us a shared purpose and belonging.

So this fire felt personal.

When I reached out to friends, feeling a feeling I don’t really think I’ve felt before – one friend in particular : Emma, spoke about how fire is primal. It’s visceral and totally reminds us of our fragility & dependence. I think this was it. I felt so vulnerable and another type of grief i’ve not experienced before directly.

Fire eats everything that gets in its way. It’s quick, it’s silent, it can kill you even if you can’t see it. It destroys lives, leaving nothing in its wake – not even a toothbrush. It is absolutely terrifying. Turning everything into black ash.

The devastation, the fear, the displacement, the uncertainty.

It happens every year, across the globe, and it’s getting worse and scarier as the forests are drier and the winds fiercer.

We weren’t alone in being on fire in Doncaster, or even South Yorkshire. In fact, I think we got “lucky” this fire started on Monday & not on Tuesday as we might not have had access to 9 fire trucks to confine the blaze to the wild land & not spread to the train tracks or very close nearby houses. My sincere gratitude and indebtedness for all our Fire services hard, life threatening, dangerous and hot work in the hottest temps ever in the UK.

I’ve been trying to imagine the stress of adjusting to such drastic and sudden change if fire took down your neighbourhood, never mind having to maintain work and school schedules. It’s a real thing that is happening here, in the UK now. Not just saved for California or Australia, or India, etc.

An amber from a BBQ or cigarette etc can travel 5 mile distances.

We now need fire bans starting strong and early, as this is no longer something out of the ordinary.

I biked it over to the pit top some 36 hours later, once the weather had cooled down.

It was like walking onto a dystopian movie set/scene. Like when Simba returns back to the pride land and everything is dead from fire, in The Lion King.

The place was eerily quiet. No dog walkers. The land under my feet – rock hard, dry and cracked. Even though there were 9 fire trucks worth of water there earlier- everything was dry as a bone. The smell of smokey fire-ness filled the air, and got stronger the closer you got to the main scorched parts. It made my eyes itch.

I walk across the charcoaled blackened land. I hear the loud crunch – like the worst version of frost under foot or the beauty and magic of autumnal crispy fallen leaves, but the polar opposite of that. Each step creating clouds of dust. Like the biggest bottom of a throw-away BBQ. Each bit, I stop walking and I inspect the left over trees and branches in the ground. I have no idea what I’m looking for. Are they still alive?

I kick the ground and see that under the charcoal, that it’s still the yellow grass closest to the ground. I don’t know if this is good, or if it’s still dead? Is the damage more superficial than deep into the ground? Is the land traumatized now? My bright orange socks turn black from the ash.

I see the community grief written on multiple of Facebook posts and groups. It re-happens over and over again as more residents see and discover the damage themselves. I get tagged into them.

I get emails from residents begging me to not let this land become a waste land.

I grew up, until I was 6/7, in Carcroft. i lived most of that time on Repton Road which sits just infront/behind the land. Growing up, the Bullcroft Pit top was in it’s first re-growing stage after decades of mining industry and the waste and damage that came with that.

We often look back to the past with rose-tinted glasses. In the mid 90’s that pittop was indeed flytipped like crazy. Some of my most earliest memories are of us running through long-ish grass and muddy banks – over big pipes, metal structures that stuck out of the ground, barbed wire, sharp things, burnt out car doors or car seats and more. It was a junkyard playground to us, but I imagine an eye sore for residents. But 1 summer, a kid got trapped inside a thrown out freezer/fridge. We weren’t allowed to play up there anymore. And not long after that, we moved.

I can’t let us go back to that status quo. Not after the hope and happiness and fun that the new 20,000 trees brought.

I looked through my Power of Place homework assignments. Re-skimming through my sketchbook and assignment reading to look for clues of what do we do first in the smoke’s wake. There’s gotta be something about starting from literal ashes?

I then get some kind of answer/prompt in week 11’s reading. I realize that the fire has helped the community recognise that this area was/is some of our wealth. And us, community members can steward and grow that wealth. Even in situations where it has been badly degraded, people who are willing to align their efforts toward creating well-being for all, human and nonhuman alike can regenerate it.”

As the reading read, all communities have the potential to develop this wealth because it arises from their nature and from their spirit rather than their affluence.

I loved the bit about it coming from their spirit, and not affulance. The question here that i now have is: how do I access more trees, and build their capability to grow this wealth in ways that benefit everyone and keep it safe for the future?

In the wake of devastation, it is a chance to rethink, reflect, replant, regrow, have more say on the design – and design it regeneratively with the community from the beginning. Add in education. Add in wildflower. Add in more chance for biodiversity than it would have had before. Add more systemic integrity into it all.

This area suffers from flooding. Design it to slow and clean the flow of surface water into Carcorft & Skellow and help prevent flooding by holding rain water on the hillside for much longer than it would take to travel via roadways and drains.

Looking for a silver lining, even in the collective grief we have, I research and reach out to landscape and horticulture designers/experts. They tell me that nutrients released from the burned material, which includes dead plants and animals, return more quickly into the soil than if they had slowly decayed over time. In this way, fire increases soil fertility—a benefit that has been exploited by farmers for centuries.

For thousands of years, agricultural development was very slow. One of the earliest agricultural tools was fire. I remember seeing an exhibition, years ago in the USA, about how Native Americans used fire to control the growth of berry-producing plants, which they knew grew quickly after a wildfire.

Several plants actually require fire to move along their life cycles. For example, seeds from many pine tree species are enclosed in pine cones that are covered in pitch, which must be melted by fire for the seeds to be released. Other trees, plants, and flowers, like certain types of lilies, also require fire for seed germination.

How do we regrow and build in climate resilience and education into this process? As things get hotter, and 85% of all wildfires are started by humans. All of this is my/our new challenge.

(Not that I needed any more on my plate than I already had.)

I always think about timing. I knew this would be a wild time to become a councillor: in the middle of a pandemic, into 12 years austerity, a growing cost of living getting more expensive with endless wage stagnation esp within public sector, a care (of all types) crisis… topped off with a climate emergency. But sometimes things work out that we’re in the right place, at the right time for reasons unknown to us. When I started Power of Place, I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. But I’m really happy to have some of the tools to help from this class, to reflect and understand what first steps need to be taken.

The collective challenges we are all facing are monsterous, scary and can at times feel powerless. Where even good work gets destroyed by things out of your hands. But I know that my area, and people in general, are resilient and as we saw from the covid pandemic. Most people will do the right thing to take care of others.

It is, whether we like it or not, a massive wake up call to us all.

I would have given anything for this land to not have burned like this. And so soon after all the 20,000 baby trees. But we will rise, with the earth, from the ashes like phoenix – and take stock of what we have, what needs to change, and regrow back, with more green play, more community collectivism, more climate resilience and integrity and activism built into our communities and assets.

After the Fire we will make time to reflect and grieve, but to also regrow, together. Thrive with integrity, to create more wholeness.

JOY! Observations about Play & Coming Together

This past weekend has been one brilliant ride. I write this post with a face that is red & a bit sore from the winds we endured for hours in setting up, playing, and then clearing up. Despite the volatile weather – over 350 people turned up. People laughed, screeched, ran around for hours, had fun, made lots of things, gave ideas, told us stories & concerns, and met new people and had new experiences. And many stayed for the whole afternoon – which was amazing and even unexpected.

Today I’m feeling very tired, and still a bit overwhelmed from holding it all together – a throat still sore & hoarse from talking to so many people, but I do think Arty Party in the Park was a “success”. Even today, as I met with other councillor friends in the ward next door, one of my residents working on the bar congratulated me on how much she had a great day yesterday and how packed it was. It’s kinda wild getting recognized out and about, and in a positive way.

Now I have millions of post it notes, drawings, collages, and photos of 3D sculptures to interpret and curate together. And I can’t wait to see what Raj Media has done for us after capturing the whole 3.5 hours on film. Whilst there’s some practical stuff to take away from this day, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of things from the many conversations I had, what the artists reflected back, and the observations I had when setting up and cleaning up.

One of the questions I kept getting asked was (along the lines of!), “it’s great that you put on these like festival events – but why do you do it like this? as it must take much more work?”

And they’re not wrong. It does take LOADS more work than saying, “hey! let’s meet at the library and sit in a quiet space and let me harvest your ideas/experiences in a 1.5 hour time slot.”

In our Power of Place class last week, we were talking about the difference between Vitality and Viability, and their relationships together and to people and place. We had to, in a random pair, talk about vitality and viability in places that we know. Luckily I got paired with an awesome Donx person who I have worked with before, so we both knew exactly the places that we were talking about.

Before I started doing this course, I knew that we were missing some vitality- some energy- around my area. I had tried and tracked patterns, inefficiently. Even though I wasn’t aware that’s what I was doing. I was looking for patterns/things/issues that might explain why we were doing the things we were doing. Or rather not doing things. Why was my casework & issues way different from my friends in Roman Ridge? For example? There’s only a field that separates us after all, and that’s it. But it’s a HUGE difference in the type of work and demand on us as councillors that we get (I get way more complex, life changing, social infrastructure issue stuff). I thought a lot about the Inverse Care Law, but applying it across community/civic as well as health care. https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/articles/inverse-care-law

As an artist/designer – I know that making something “an event” is powerful. It’s about giving – and not just taking. This is important to note when we are asking people to give us their time and trust us. Time is one of our most valuable things that we own, not everyone has the luxury of using it how they’d like. So when we do “an event” – it means the people coming get more than just a cup of tea. And you’re way more likely to get people come to you.

But it’s also about doing these things where it gives an injection of “ALIVENESS” and keeping that aliveness going. Whether that’s the Pizza Party, the Arty Party!, Our future Library take over, community gardens designing to tree planting and lessons and more. It’s this keep coming together that makes people feel more alive themselves. It’s showing people that our ideas and dreams are viable. Doing it across things/different areas and places helps people link spaces, ideas, places together. And builds the capacity for on-going regeneration into it.

This very playful arty way of organizing helps the communities begin to unravel our perspectives/ideas/experiences on everything from social dynamics, identity, public space, and see these patterns for themselves.

I was really lucky that we got the Moving Museum by Doncaster Library & Museums on the day. I met Doncaster Heritage at the Health & Wellbeing Board where they said they’d like to get more engagement and visitors in Adwick/Woodlands. Of course I was like HIIIIII! At the Arty Party, they ended up having to make like 300 badges ha! They worked like troopers. But what a brilliant opportunity to showcase their services and offer, in that environment. Again, it’s about placing things with energy and not being stand alone.

I saw that we don’t need physical embedded infrastructure to have fun and make play. In fact, the artists spaces and the pop up stuff like swing ball, making cardboard sculptures, writing on the floor with chalk and lego were some of the most attractive. Even dogs loved swing ball!

Our data from the day ended up mirroring – almost like for like the research from Make Space for Girls. There was a gender difference in what was made, drawn, played with and requested. Older kids and girls love swings and want more swings. They also want spaces away from the small kids, and the parents of small kids want the older kids to not be on the same equipment.

When we were setting up, older boy kids came into the playground – loved making loads of noise on the chain bridge and basically played tagg around the playground. They basically don’t need play equipment but obstacle courses and climbing walls and parkour stuff. When people started to arrive, they quickly jumped ship. They later came back as we started winding down – and eventually took over the whole playground and area – loads of 13/14/15 yr olds – just as the sun was setting. Long after the kids & parents had gone home.

Again, they didn’t play on the equipment except making noise on the bridge and swings. But loved the objects we hadn’t got to yet to pack up. Others climbed the walls surrounding the park. Again – only reinforcing the need to have more stimulating and physically demanding structures to explore other than walls and roofs of buildings they shouldn’t be on.

Whilst all this was happening, my friend’s wind tent was still up, and the girls went in there to chat and hang out. In the park. One thing that came up loads from girls was wanting tree houses – there’s something about the physicality of space but that’s not one of those horrible ex-band stand style structures that councils love. There is something about the design and material of things we use that reinforces behaviour in people. No one tried to do anything wrong to the gentle fabric of a tent.

Accessibility and sensory things were the HUGE topic. Again, things that aren’t necessary play equipment which people love or don’t think as a play tool – was water. Sprinklers/water fountains. This can be easily seen outside the Civic Building, in town, where if the sun shines (even if its cold!) or when it’s hot (even if its cloudy) people – of all ages! including adults, will run through the fountains. This is a type of play. And it’s important.

Seating! It doesn’t matter who you are – seating is important. But it doesn’t need to be benches, or not benches as we know it. It can be deck chairs! Lounge chairs? hammocks, tree swing seats, picnic benches, seating that’s built into play equipment or the walls. But more of it.

To me, ‘art’ and ‘community’ and ‘councillor’ and ‘play’ are natural bedfellows as both are processes by which we make sense of the world.  Play is an inherently political act because – like public or participatory practices – such practices are never too far away from questions of power, authority or a way to imagine a different world. It is this fact that I always wonder if our chronic under investment in play spaces and space for play is in part to un-sharpen our want to be part of or critical engagement in democratic participation.

One of the artists/designers/play specialists/stirrer who we were super lucky to get to run her amazing spaces and conversations – Emma Bearman – asks the best questions about play and life and politics. It is these parts that sit so close together.

As I look to help my community see, feel, hear itself again, and slowly give us all the skills to build a regenerative vision for us here. There’s no coincidence that the artworld has been using play as a theme a lot in its exhibitions, as noted by amazing artist Anthony Shrag, and that’s probably in response to us all needing to have space to breathe, to be, to not care, to not be productive, to be with one another, to help us become more hopeful or involved again.

To quote Anthony Shrag paraphrasing the artist David Sherry, while play is most certainly a piece of nonsense, it is also most definitely a serious piece of nonsense that is worthy of exploration.

(brilliant journal edition on Public art and play: https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/rpad20/12/1)

And that’s what Arty Party in the Park was about. It was both consultation, idea making, appricative inquiry, but also just about re-falling back in love with space and doing nonsense. But it is that nonsense that somehow makes the most sense and helps to make some space for us to truly BE, our authentic selves. Connect with story, earth and self. To experience PURE JOY.

A massive HUGE thanks to everyone, especially all of the artists/designers who came and did their magic, who helped to make this happen. Team work makes the dream work!

Keep it locked here as we figure out what’s next and an exhibition.

TO JOY!

All About Hope! 1 Year of Being a Local Councillor.

In 1 week’s time, I’ll have been officially a councillor for 1 whole year. WILD.

I still can’t quite believe it. The time has gone so fast and yet slow at the same time. SO much has happened and achieved, and so little at the same time. These juxtapositions are normal, I think? Adjusting to the rhythm of local authority and community life.

My 1 year experience has evolved as I’ve learned more about things and gotten a bit more confident. That confidence comes from the vision we’re making as a ward. It’s a lot of 2 steps forward, 1 step back. You have to be persistent and patient, and I think it helps to keep being a bit naive. But we’re *slowly* moving in the right direction.

Through this process, I am learning that one of the common denominators for fostering change, growth, and our most meaningful experiences is hope, a belief that things can be better.

This is no small thing, is hope. Not everyone has it, some people previously had it but then that hope was squashed by people taking their support and position for granted. This makes it even harder to get people back into the habit of dreaming and hoping. As a resident recently told me, “it’s the hope that really kills you“.

I think we rely a lot on hope and goodwill. But one thing I’ve been thinking about as a councillor is what actually goes into hope?

[H] uman Challenge

First, a challenge must exist. But not just any challenge, a human challenge — something that is shared by a group and meets a deep, felt need. Human needs might revolve around issues like belonging (love & community), security (safety and care), or approval (career and personal growth). They relate not just to the local community/residents, but to me and all the people who work at the council & the partnerships, and the lands we live on. We are all human/alive after all.

[O] pportunity

Secondly, we must believe that there is a real opportunity to make it better.

We feel we have (or can find) the resources and abilities that give us a fighting chance to actually address the challenges that we’re surrounding with. This will come with a clear vision, working across different people, an understanding of the field, and surrounding forces, and tangible ideas for what it will take to bring this hope to fruition.

[P] ersonal Care

Third, there needs to be a feeling of care. Our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual states must be tended to, or else, hope will dwindle. It’s hard to have hope if you can’t stay awake/ or sleep/ or eat, are super stressed, or can’t think straight day-after-day. This is harder because of the surrounding forces that are harder to tackle. But having systems and people who look out for your personal care, and help you feel cared for, we can begin to build the hope needed.

[E] ngagement

Lastly, there needs to be engagement with others — a sense that you’re not alone in this effort. Even if no one else has this hope, being able to share it and be accepted for having it will fuel your hope. Engagement can come from friends, loved ones, colleagues, your councillors, residents, general public or even external inspirations. We have to feel some sense of community. Each person can find and define that in their own way. Without it, hope will be under threat of shifting to loneliness and discouragement. This is something that is always ever present, especially when teams are burnt out.

As a councillor I witness that hope impacts every interaction and action. A lack of hope and it dwindles into jaded responses/lack of actions. A hopeful interaction goes so much further and everyone goes away feeling better. With Hope, we pursue experiences that are generative and filling — leading to better lives, relationships, and better work.

I’ve been trying to learn to have more of a ‘growth mindset’. Having a growth mindset has also proven to help create more trusting, inclusive, and diverse workplaces. In short – a more hopeful culture.

We are all a mix of growth and fixed mindsets, and while we might like to think that we embody a growth mindset all the time, chances are that a mischievous fixed mindset creeps into our thought patterns more than we realize. Being a councillor asking for stuff to happen has helped me see my fixed mindset a lot more often than I knew. And can sometimes see myself slip into more transactional demands than I’d like.

When I do that, I don’t account for people’s vulnerabilities. I realize that for people to be able to push the boundary of what they’re capable of, they need two things.

First, they need to be able to fail every now and then. If there’s no room for that, how do you improve/innovate? And if i keep making you do some dull process/job – we might not see another perspective/issue/opportunity. Equally, please don’t keep using the same tool for the same longstanding issue, and expect a different outcome.

And we also need to understand better that when we’re entering new territory, we may have to fail a lot before we to get something good. But as long as we incorporate what we learned into our next attempt, then the failure is worthwhile. As is the way in art practice!

this is an adapted drawing about doing PHD Viva – most of it stands for this except apologetic/laid back (depending upon context).

There have been many more things I’ve learned. Too many to write about without boring everyone silly. But here’s some of my favourite things I’ve achieved so far. Some of these will look like a 2 minute job. Like, what’s the big deal about that? But everything below has taken A LOT of work / emails / being cheeky asking, to happen.

And whilst I am obviously taking some credit for this. The real credit goes to all the officers and council workers on the ground who have made it happen. They work hard in applying for funding to try and fix our roads, get those extra things which we wouldn’t have without them often being stretched. And here I am asking them to do *ANOTHER* thing on top of everything else. I am always aware of this. I know how hard the majority of folks work across the council, and I am in awe of it all.

Between us we run on mutual respect and trust. They have to trust that what I am saying is a genuine need, and I have to trust what they’re telling me is true when they say something’s out of stock or not their responsibility or doesn’t satisfy funding needs. Sometimes there’s communication fails. And as with hope, I do trust and respect my colleagues so much. I always think it’s a wonderful privilege to get to learn so much from the officers. Whatever specialism they have, they know it inside and out. The curious cat in me wants to take every director/assistant director/officier out for a coffee and get to listen and learn from everything they’d like to share about their life/experience/learning/work/research. For now – I get to learn some of it bit by bit, email by email, teams meeting after meeting, advise/project by project.

Here’s my top things we’ve done over the past 1 year!

In no order.

WE GOT ADWICK PARK PLAYGROUND PAINTED THIS WEEK.

This was my first email i sent as a councillor. Then I realized I had no idea what was the best way to update the playground and that decision shouldn’t be me or the council. it should be the community. So we got this fresh lick of paint to see us over to the decisions being made and funding rewarded. Fun fact: This playground is OLDER than me!! And as you can see, was over due a paint.

Before:

AFTER: *love heart eyes*

And OFC we’ve got ARTY PARTY IN THE PARK on the 11th June 2022, that will be about designing the extension of this playground and reimagining our park and play spaces led by artists, designers and play specialist (Plus general gala party community get together). This is possible because I wrote us an Arts Council funding bid and absolutely made up that it was granted!

I got this path re- tarmac’d after 12 YEARS of it being rough AF. 12 years! (It’s the only path next to the very busy A638)

I said to myself, if I achieve only one thing – it’s this! It used to be like riding up/down an actual rocky mountain. I used to imagine what it would feel like for kids in pushchairs.

Before: (Images from google maps 2009 – Jan 2021)

AFTER! (Now) (Was done in 2 weird parts)

Our first cycle path!

It’s been controversial for the car-centric, and some of it could have been done a bit better by using local knowledge to foresee some of the things – but it gets used loads and it’s wild that it’s our first & only cycle path in our ward! We’ve put lots more down for any future funding that comes up. I’m so passionate about making the roads safer for people and cycle lanes are a great way! See the before, look at how tiny that path was.

Before

AFTER

Adwick Park Memorial Garden Clean Up

When I was elected, I got a lot of emails about the state of our local parks. One area, in particular, was the Memorial Garden in Adwick Park. A beautiful area, peaceful. It used to be a pond when I was a kid. Now a rose garden. But when I was elected it no longer looked like a rose garden. It had gone WILD. With its wildness, came lots of ASB from young folks – who smashed bottles and chucked sticky drinks over the memorial stone. Disrespectful but to them it looked like an unkempt space. The “broken window effect” in action.

Thanks to Streetscene & community payback working with us – it’s been restored and new plants back. The ASB has disappeared (touches wood!). Amazing what making things look cared for can do.

BEFORE (July 2021)

AFTER ( April 2022)

We stopped Welfare Hall from being sold at auction (for now!)* & reignited the communities collectivity and imagination!

This is/has been of my steepest learning curves. And one of my most stressful, and constant, and time-consuming projects. BUT I’ve been blessed with incredible goodwill gestures from residents helping me communicate it across the community – to an almost endless list of officers and professionals who gave up their time to help us figure out potential solutions/plans or what to do next. Turns out if you’re cool with asking for help (nicely) and have the right team with you ( Ed Milibae ) with HOPE then great things happen. Even if they’re not directly the solution. I have learned SO much. And even written a proper business plan, which is mad.

Many many thanks to everyone who has helped, you know who you all are. I’m indebted to your time and support.

Before:

“The community aren’t interested in it anymore”

AFTER:

20,000 new trees! At Bullcroft Pit-top, Carcroft

Now, I have nothing to do with this. All the work belongs to Tim Newton and all of his team and partners. They’re amazing!!! BUT I did get loads of people networked together, and got LOADS of kids out planting trees. They’re so passionate about climate action, protecting wildlife and the earth. Talking to Tim made me realize that this is an incredible opportunity to do a regenerative project up here. So with our new found connections and passions realized – there’s going to be some cool stuff happening up here. Keep it locked!

Before (way before most of us were born)

AFTER

Community Gardens, carcroft

If you’re looking for community action and love growing/gardening/outside space – get in touch with me. This project sits quite close to my heart and we have local schools involved/interested. Imagine a community pumpkin patch! Or local garden, or maker space, or whatever. This project sits in a middle of an area which has high rates of mental health diagnosis and social isolation. Partly driven by unchecked crime in the area, alongside a series of other issues. If we can get positive activity happening here – i want to test to see if it improves 1 or some of these feelings/issues. A girl can hope, right?

Highfields Lake Clean Up & Future Parks work!

Highfields Country Park is a beauty. Everyone loves it. For different reasons. Some people like to fish, some to play, some to run and walk dogs, others to ride their illegal quad bikes all over it. Because of some of its complex ever lasting ASB going on, it’s not made to shine like other parks are around Doncaster. We’re slowly changing this. We have active community groups now, re-thinking about the eco landscape and kids and activities, and we’ve had Streetscene and Community Pay Back do some incredible work over the winter. We’re SO grateful for all of their work. I suppose it might look to some, streetscene are just cutting grass and emptying bins, etc. BUT IT’S SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS. It genuinely breathes love and live back into the area. It makes such a paltaple difference when a job is maintained and done right. Getting to hear more hopeful things from residents, how they feel about themselves and this area now it looks cared for again. and ofc – lots of less emails for all of us is always a winner Ha!

I can’t wait to work with my residents on the Future Parks funding vision this summer. Including young folks across the age spectrum!

Before:

AFTER:

Helping Raise Money for Food Banks

I wish we didn’t need food banks. My ward area has so much deprivation going on, we need 3 seperate foodbanks! We will do anything to make sure people can survive and thrive. Getting access to one of these foodbanks means our communities team can identify people where we might be able to offer more support if possible. I’m always so damn proud of what our communities team and communities do as they pull together to help people. We know, intutiatively that together – we all grow more if we grow and are happy and healthy together. That’s what I love so much about Adwick & Carcroft ward residents. And I’ll do whatever it takes to help.

I’ve spent my time raising £1000+ of my own money, and food from partners, from selling cool arty stickers and tshirts and then some of my ward budget. We ended up – on Look North and BBC because our local food banks are pivotal parts of our community and doing urgent & important work and making a huge difference.

SO-MANY-GROUPS

We’ve managed to support and get people together, to feel empowered enough to drive projects, lead people and ideas, use their own time to be community leaders/activists. Becoming good role models for others… influencers!

This has been incredible to witness. From Friends of Highfields Lake, Friends of Welfare Hall (who have expanded their remit for woodlands), Adwick&Carcroft for playgrounds, Project Highfields (who are young late 20’s energetic women), Adwick Communities (now building infrastructure in adwick park), New TARA groups, new neighbourhood watch groups in Carcroft, Skellow Action Groups, and so many more.

More Projects

There’s so many more things I could write. But some I can’t talk about yet, some aren’t finished, some are a legal nightmare such as trying to get a path built that was agreed by developers that have not been honoured. I chose the above specifically because you can tangibly see how changing the infrastructure, the landscape, and getting people to drive those changes adds to an ever-changing landscape of hope, democratic involvement, growth and positive change.

I think we often forget that when we’re surrounded by things that are damaged, not as cared for as they used to be, and don’t change over a long period of time, it seeps into confirmational biases and our behaviours. It’s our story of separation locally that has gained roots and grown deep down.

So now, with help from so many people, i’m trying to lean into our Story of Separation. A year spent trying to understand what it is, what people believe we need, sowing the seeds that things can be different and hopeful. We can collectively dream and ask for/ do things that are bigger than what we’d normally think/do. But understanding that it’s more likely to happen if we have open conversations about it and that it fits a regenerative vision. That it’s not all in parts. We think in wholes.

That slowly we can build these parts into wholes together. Even as I look back on the above there comes out a theme of play, safety & health, green/nature, community, space that connects them all together. That’s not by mistake. It’s the glue that holds us all together and creates space to dream.

What a 1 year of my life! PHEW. I might take a nap now. A reminder:

Here’s to HOPE.

Thanks to everyone who has made dreaming and hoping easier/possible. Especially to all my colleagues, y’all are awesome.

To the next 6 months/ year!

Every Where Is Some Where

Every Where Is Some Where

Throughout our lives, we will come to find ourselves in a lot of different places

a lot of different rooms

a lot of different corners

a lot of different wheres

This week will be the 17th year of being in our council house – our home after experiencing months of real homelessness growing up. It hits differently this year, after working as a councillor.

Now, 17 years is quite some time, and it’s also a weird amount of time to bring it up. Every time April passes, I always give this anniversary a nod. A strange time. I sit out in the garden, look at the house and think it all through, grace my gratitude to the house & system that enables it, for being able to still be here, and how it is – essentially – our home. It’s seen some stuff. And it’s been here for us through all the deaths and illnesses, the hard times and the good.

when i was younger, my father made us homeless (it was really complicated but basically, in the end, it was us fleeing a very, long term, violent domesticated living situation. My mom, my bro and i left our home, a banged up car packed full of suitcases and some boxes.

i don’t remember the packing, but i do remember the leaving. it was chilly and wet in Doncaster. In the beginning of a blistery November.

The interesting thing is, when you’re made homeless – the act of being homeless doesn’t naturally give you enough points for a council house (extremely flawed). So we were officially homeless, without enough points for *any* house, and not enough £ to rent privately. the plan was to move in with my nan and her 1 bedroom house, and later friends whilst we figured it out. Unfortunately, my nan’s private landlord found out we were overcrowding & threatened to make her homeless too. So after xmas we left. We ended up sleeping in the car a few times, and ended up in temporary accommodation which would change *daily* across South and West Yorkshire for months, and i overstayed my welcome at friends houses – all whilst I was doing my exams at school. I actually got elected as a youth councillor then too. which is pretty mad. (Please note that NOW if you’re a victim of domestic abuse, you’re dealt with in a much more compassionate, and much faster, safer way! fantastic work locally here)

I remember pulling up at my nan’s super small house. There was heavy air when we parked the car in a new driveway.

my mom and i were both crying, for different reasons, but also some of the same ones. and then, as sure as the first hand clicks from 12 to 1, it all seemed insane and hilarious — the clothes we brought with us, the rain, the escape from a shitty situation, the stupid little banged up car.

‘we’ll laugh about this some day’ my mom said and we both laughed.

because even though it was hard to leave many (too many) years of an awful domestic violent relationship, and a home we had invested in and had happy memories too, and terrible to be soaked with rain and confusing what would happen next and where we would live, we were alive and together.

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for a long time I was ashamed of what had happened to us. i told none of my friends at the time. i would make all these zany excuses why people couldn’t come to my house, why i wasn’t in at home. why my art teacher was giving me a lift home, which got even wilder when i was staying in accommodation everywhere else & no longer would take up her lift offers. she got a bit offended about it. But it was because i couldn’t tell my teacher that we were homeless. shame. embarrassment.

but as I’ve gotten older – I realize that it’s a story / experience to learn from & witness. And is, sadly, not even that unique. Nearly a year into being a councillor means that I’ve been thinking a lot about safety, care, and housing/homes. we desperately need a new offer. the government needs to pull its finger out.

we need a massive social housing building programme across england, but especially in Doncaster.

Housing is probably my 3rd biggest casework theme. And my heart sinks everrrrrytime I get a new case that is about needing housing. because there’s just not enough of it. and every situation around us from cost of living, housing, social care & beyond – all feed into people needing it. Plus, people want a council house because IT IS SAFE & STABLE. it is not like private renting where you can be kicked out for no reason at all. i think my residents don’t think i understand their frustration, desperation and need. but i do. i understand it more than they know.

the wild thing is, whilst we no longer do a points system, thankfully (banding instead) – the things that made nooo sense to me back then as a teen, still plagues this process now. (I do think banding is, overall, better than a points based systems tho). The system see’s you sofa surfing as not yet (proper) homeless. Which is not correct. I get why the system does this, because you don’t want too many people in the top band, otherwise no one will get a house. But having been the 14/15 year old on the other end of that system, when you don’t have housing security, you don’t know where you’ll be sleeping from one week to another. Then that is absolutely homelessness.

it had such a big effect me, that for a long time at art school – i made work about homelessness, housing and gentrification. A call to arms! A manifesto to challenge this stuff! There was a set of drawings, which i’ve ironically lost now lol, which documented everything i lost, or had to give up/leave behind, due to not having a home. all of my belongings (which, given our pretty poverty upbringing – i cherished my stuff because i was taught you had to work hard for your things). I have since made up for, if anyone ever sees my bedroom background on zoom.

After we got the new council house, the trauma of it all kind of caught up with me. i used to get so anxious, about things like exams, i would feel so sick that I’d vomit up all of my meals. It was like this overbearing reaction. (Now when i get super anxious, my body does the other end instead.) This meant i got really thin just before uni, which i saw as a good thing at the time. My grown self knows now that this was *not good*.

When I see my residents with similar stories, I know what I’m looking for. i see these affects on their lives too. i feel weird for being able to notice it all. the patterns, the way the body reacts, the tiredness/the anger, the actions. sometimes i wonder if i got super sick in my early 20s because of what medicine calls ACEs (adverse childhood experiences). the legacy of various traumatizing systems on women, people of colour, and those who live in poverty, etc. The body keeps score after all. but the system does not.

17 years on. a councillor trying to navigate this gold dust in some of the hardest times of the 21st century in the UK. i think about in the books of our lives, we are both protagonist and narrator. and narrators have incredible power. in writing this, i thought a lot about the places that shape us, and how, in turn, we shape those places in our minds.

as human beings living on earth right now, we find ourselves in a very particular where. most people in the UK could be made homeless fairly easily, out of no control or fault of their own. Most of us (over 60%) are living pay check to pay check. This means if something big happens, we’re instantly thrown into the cycle of debt. this shouldn’t be a thing in the UK.

So now I have at least a tiny, tiny bit of a voice in a (just 1) system, of sorts. I’m re-connecting to 2nd year art school smizz & what would she be doing about campaigning for better and more social housing? Taking some of that learning forwards. Because the current methods we’ve got doesn’t seem to be making the message be heard at national government levels.

for those not in this fight personally, i say look down at your feet and decide what all of this means. together we can say instead of being afraid i’m going to try to be brave, instead of feeling regret i’m going to focus on getting better tomorrow, and instead of hoping that someone else will say it or move it or mean it, i’m going to do it myself.

We NEED to fight and campaign for more and better social housing. EVERYONE deserves safety and a home.

Every where is some where.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

HELP INFO:

https://www.doncaster.gov.uk/services/crime-anti-social-behaviour-nuisance/domestic-abuse-2

https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/

Making PLAY for EVERYONE!

Life is a serious business. But to get the most out of it, you gotta play! Be more dog! We should all be getting out there and having some fun! Regardless of your age, where you live, what you do for work, or not, if you’re rich or poor, and beyond! It shouldn’t be a luxury to play, which, unfortunately, I think we have treated it like it as one after 12 years of Tory Austerity.

But I am SO STOKED to be sharing the news that we got a £6.5K arts council grant for ‘[p]ARTy in Park’ – or ‘ArTy pArTy in the Park’ event in June 2022. Thanks to the Arts Council Let’s Create! Fund & South Yorkshire Community Foundation.

This will enable us to hire artists, architects, & play specialists to help us celebrate, make art, dream, connect, have fun, and PLAY about PLAY.

The art works will form part of the design for the future playground, that I’m in the (slow) process of making happen in Adwick Park. A much needed upgrade/extension – of a nearly 40 yr old playground, dearly loved and well used.

This will also help to widen our collaborative experiences, and to think about how we want to have more spaces and freedom to be and play. Proper play. Not just sports and gym equipment. That’s my overall goal.

This means a lot to me because our worlds are becoming smaller, when they shouldn’t be. Here’s why:

After I got really sick, my life changed. The experience shook me to my core. I have to live with it now, with all the repercussions it brings. Like the hum of pain I’m often in. But this is my normal now, and all this helped me realized that I’m not here for a long time – but a GOOD time.

For years I was very weak. Would get fatigued really, really quickly. It was just really hard to do anything in the next 2-4 years (a huge gap to have in your important very early 20s). For anybody who goes through this, it’s really about trying to get back to a new sense of normal. Where you probably will never get back to where you were before, but hopefully you can go back to work and hopefully you can get a sense of a “new” normal. 

I came out of the hospital, and slowly reduced my hozza appointments, with a list of things I’d always wanted to do, terrified of being back in the hospital in a year or two with regrets. So I got going. I retrained in Radiotherapy & Oncology. I adopted a border collie dog (I now have 3!). I bought a surfboard, and chased northern lights and climbed volcanoes! I did more inner work and I traveled to a ton of places on my ‘fuck-it’ list. My bank balance wasn’t a fan, given I blew my tiny savings. But as my mom says, “you can’t take it to the grave”.

I devoted myself full-time to living as if I was on borrowed time. Because, well, we are. So let’s PLAY!

It’s-too-important-to-be-taken-seriously view of life can be hard to have. Especially as you get older. Nonetheless, we must choose to remain experimental. We are all explorers. We must pursue our adventures our own way!

How cheering, then, to discover that neuroscience supports my approach. Play and a playful attitude are not just enjoyable, they’re essential ingredients of good mental health.

In English, “play” is the opposite of “work”. But the act itself is more complex. As psychiatrist Dr Stuart Brown puts it: “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” This makes our current context of huge increase of numbers of people, young and old, with mental health issues.

Dr Brown has spent decades taking “play histories” from patients, after discerning its absence when studying a group of homicidal young men. He believes that play (of any kind – there are seven different types, from “object play” to “narrative play and storytelling”) is essential to brain development. “Nothing,” he says, “lights up the brain like play.”

We know this instinctively when it comes to bringing up children. But research shows that adults need to play, and be playful, too. Prioritizing it might seem frivolous – we live in a planet-sized tangle of problems and injustices, after all. But problems need creative solutions! What if play could help us find them? (I believe this at the pit of my soul). What if play was one of them? Dr Brown is just one scientist who suggests it is. Einstein was another. In his words: “Play is the highest form of research.” There is, the theory goes, a reason Archimedes shouted “Eureka!” in the bath, not the lab. And it’s why I love to listen to Audible in the bath too!

We’re all convinced we’re too busy to do it, and that’s no accident. Our culture values busy-ness – it is how we measure ‘goodness’. Take political language: the Victorians distinguished between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor along religious lines; these days politicians differentiate in terms of productivity: “jobseekers”, “the hardworking poor”, “hardworking families” – busy-ness has replaced godliness, but the new language is just as unhelpful as the old.

When I became a councillor, nearly a year ago, the first thing on my list was to sort out the very limited (& run down) playgrounds, centres, and parks. I had no idea playgrounds cost so much. And so, it explained why there were fewer playgrounds now in my ward than when I was growing up 15+ years ago – and that most of them are now in a sorry state.

In order to thrive in today’s rapidly changing world, (esp young) people need rich learning opportunities in their communities, that allow them to adapt and engage in independent and lifelong learning. An overwhelming body of evidence points to play as the best way to equip people with a broad set of flexible and creative activities that allow personal capacities to tackle new and different challenges creatively. This is evidenced in studies that show that quality play-based education has a high return on investment in the form of higher earnings, reduced crime, and other social indicators.

Play isn’t ‘a waste of time’, it’s useful. It is recreation with the emphasis on the last three syllables. Play is indispensable to human progress and good for individuals. A culture that encourages it will enjoy cumulative benefits. Denmark – officially the happiest country on earth – is an example. Flexible work and affordable childcare are the norm, which means more free time. In addition, there is greater gender equality and a work-to-live culture that includes the expectation that people should pursue private interests (even – gasp! – carers).

In the workplace, an experimental approach – to tasks as well as the structure of the working day – can boost productivity and profits.

But what does it look like at a local democratic level? A community all building, playing, making together? I hope this will be the very start of it (in an official way). I think we’re already on the way to becoming more playful and hopeful. This event will help keep up the momentum and be led by people who specialize in participation and play.

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I’m not sure at what point in our lives we start craving the future and rushing through the present, but the good days are here and now. Look around. They’re happening. PLAY!

My five years came and went and I am still here. Obsessed with the odds, I’ve gotten way more time than I allotted to myself. That’s when things changed. It’s easy to answer the question, “How would you spend your time if you only had a few years left?” It’s much, much harder when you don’t know how much time you’ve got. Of course, that’s most of us.

The most fundamental change is that I no longer act like my time’s infinite. That’s our default mindset, but it’s a lie. We only have so many hours or days with our parents or dogs left. We can only read so many more books. I only get so many more Christmas’s, or surf sessions, or birthdays, or phone calls with friends. So I’d better choose what matters to me.

Whatever time I have left, I have to “own” it.

In general, I’m pretty optimistic. I see a lot of good coming from the changes we need because, We all need to play, especially those of us who think we are too busy. Life is TOO SHORT not to. Too short NOT to fight and dream for better, more fun, more equal, the better quality of life stuff!

Try something different. Spin yourself around for no reason at all, until you feel dizzy. Make the longest, funnest hop-scotch on your street! Who cares if you’re middle aged?! Why not start now? It is a brand new week, after all.

I hope you’ll join me, come along, support us – doing a campaign for more play. Play for everyone. Making more spaces, things, culture and time to play. And in turn, dream and believe! And get active in the changes we can then make.

The [p]ARTY in the Park will be in June 2022 (date Saturday 11th June TBC) at Adwick Park. Come and eat/laugh/make new friends/ connect/ run around/ sit and chat/ draw/make/remember/ envision/ dream / design the future! And have fun playing!

No matter how old you are. Here’s to using our time in a fun, compassionate, playful and challenging way!

Community and Spaces

After this weekend, where my community – often a bit hard to bring together and engage – came out 350++ people in full force. Absolutely blown away. I was SO nervous, I barely slept the night before that I’d got all these people together, and barely anyone would turn up. But they did. And BUCKET FULLS OF IDEAS and energy!



I’ve been thinking a lot about community (what does it mean?) and how important spaces are to growing and sustaining communities, and practices/energy.

The importance of space in growing communities is that it reflects the World. Whatever World that is.

Making art, living life, getting old, raising kids, working is all really hard. It can be hard because it’s really important that whatever we do, whatever we make, it has to speak to and from, and about the World. — The World is endless. It’s messy and complex, and irrational and big, but communities need spaces to allow the freedom to come together, to think, feel, speak, be safe and to be seen – or not seen.

There’s something about *space* (a hub, a community centre, a studio, a classroom, a cafe, etc) that gives you some freedom to do some of that.  Space gives you space to think, fail, feel, and grow, and play, and ultimately help to see the World. That’s why saving the Welfare Hall is *SO* important to us in Woodlands. We’re missing a space like this, and it really shows. There is a grief for the loss of it and nothing falling in its place. And yet part of the loss is the potential it taunts to people having sat there for 10+ years under used.

It’s not just its high ceilings and massive windows with its centre location within a whole residential block of space and green land that makes it special. (Though that has its charm). But how the space has functioned within various communities and institutions in the past, and how it’s the glue that holds us all together many communities.

This building, nearly 100 years old, has had many lives. From glorious ballroom dancing, to the centre of care for miners on Strike, to carboots & dog shows – adored by many, to signing on “the dole” to slimmers world. It’s been and done everything, almost.

Bruce Mau generated an Incomplete Manifesto For Growth and I think about it often in relation to why having space is important to communities.

Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.

http://www.manifestoproject.it/bruce-mau/

Every day is an adventure in here. A time for growth. And I got to see an afternoon of this play and growth this saturday.

We don’t hide our mistakes (or at least, not all of them). Instead, we try and go deeper and learn from them, or find them even more interesting than our original ideas. Our discussions this saturday were full of resistance, freedom, and criticality: where we talked about how we as communities in Adwick & Carcroft can tactically claim a World.

Marketing aims to make people feel empowered. But Community gives people literal power.

You can’t bring a dead tree back to life. If you want to revitalize a community, you have to plant new seeds. As someone said in a meeting last week, if we don’t try new things – then you’ll keep getting the same outcomes/answers. But we always forget, in trying to skimp on things is that you need space to grow, too.

A community is often a group of people who share the same story. Community isn’t your community team’s job. —- It’s everyone’s job.

Community is never a quick win.

Humans need a variety of community:

  • Small and large
  • Intimate and passive
  • Financial and social
  • Online and offline
  • Adventurous and grounding
  • Synchronous and asynchronous
  • Anonymous and transparent

community is when…

– They notice when you’re gone.

– You want to come back.

– They accept you.

– You see them in you.

– They make your problems into their problems.

– You have an urge to give back.

– They need you.

– You feel home.

Small communities (ie. friend groups) can sustain on just social capital. But as communities get larger, so does the amount of time and effort required to sustain. And social capital doesn’t pay bills. At a certain size, communities become economies whether we like it or not.

The point one shouldn’t miss, after this sprawling thoughts, is that in order to try and unravel the experience of the World in any and all of its aspects—and seeing the World in the light of particular aspects, we need a (relatively neutral) space to bring it into, reflect on it, recurate, recalibrate, be inspired, be seen and do all of this in. It’s not just simply crafts groups or knit and natter, it goes much much deeper than that.

A few years ago when I fell chronically ill, I had an intense reflective period of my life and what it meant to be alive – to be in the World. I looked for patterns and turning points to wonder and see if any of it is significant.  But the thing that I kept coming back to was about leaving a (my) mark on the World. This plagued me. It still does. But this past years, I have learned that my community is part of the answer to this.

Many forget that it’s a rare privilege to find something you care about so deeply and be able to make it part of your life. Getting to do what I do is an even rarer privilege. Getting to do something you love, and also then having a space to make, think, and play, and wander and wonder and hope, and to be part of something like a community is even more incredible and invaluable.

I want the Welfare Hall to be a space that gives us all a home to our constant context: the low hum that powers each day – which is the people who give our lives texture and joy and depth. The space gives will finally give us all a place, a home, and to see and connect to the gift of just being a part of a World.

Permission to Imagine: Thoughts on Art Practice as a Councillor

I finally updated my LinkedIn profile this week to include that I’m a councillor now. I dunno if this means I have made it official in my own head.  When I added it,  LinkedIn calculated how long i’ve been in this position for, and it came up with 11 months! I couldn’t quite believe it. 

Nearly a year. It doesn’t feel like it. 

I thought by now I would have learned most of what I needed (the basics of things), to ensure I can be as useful for my residents & Doncaster, generally. But even the basics are never-ending. Nearly every 10 workdays, almost like clockwork, I will learn something new – from HMOs to children’s homes to purchasing unadopted roads?!, and beyond. I suppose that’s the thing, what makes being a public servant is that things are never static and there is always learning to do. National policy changes, people’s needs evolve, the world moves on – and these all reflect in the ever-shifting landscape. 

We went door-knocking 2 weekends ago, to let people know about the Pizza Party Consultation on Welfare Hall vision we’ve got from an amazing architect https://wellfarehall.tumblr.com. The Pizza Party was an amazing in & people were so excited about it, but when it came to talking about politics, it wasn’t as conducive. It wasn’t negative, but it was real issues and also genuine apathy.

I have been asking myself for some time now, how do we get people to take a chance in things? To take a risk in making stuff better? Instead of being reactionary, to default to these myths that “we can’t afford” to make things fairer, better, healthier.  To believe they really have the power to change things. Even though it is *really* hard. Because of our conditioning, our ideas about safety and risk can be difficult to disentangle from the punitive culture around us.

My goal since I started running to be a councillor was to test my art practice & design in health experiences in actual practice. Can art/design practices as methods help channel community, local democratic involvement and uncertainty, into activity and action… and change/a level of satisfaction? 

How can we evolve and shapeshift through all these stages? and maybe art can help with this? or maybe not? Can I use different – truly people centred & powered, creative – methods to help people understand local issues, or create space where they can see themselves in it, building things? Can good, fun, engaging design pull people into even checking things out in this area? 

The questions that come with this are: What is it to imagine? And imagine beyond our current paradigm and who gets to do that? And who has the license, the freedom? What does it take to engage in that as a practice? And then what does it then take to make something from that imagination process?

I know what it takes, as an artist. And it’s alot. And i know what it means to know what you are giving up to do this kind of stuff. There are sacrifices. But can we move beyond this binary ? Change the ideas/ conditions. There are stakes involved in changing everyday conditions. Art practice for me as a councillor is about using time and space as resources.

Art is made within, and in, communities. It gives image to place and energy to driving the necessities. There’s a real art in working in a community and asking the questions. In Sheffield, there’s an artspace called DINA. For years I’ve wondered why it’s called that and I’ve only just learned that DINA was a communal warrior goddess. That makes so much more sense now.

In my heart of hearts, this is what I kinda hope if we save the Welfare Hall will be like. And the community gardens and the future updated playground. All of these spaces of community imagination to manifest into a real thing and to grow outwards. 

It’s art as facilitation. Finding the right questions in the room, not the answers. but finding the right Qs. There’s really no container for communities. And you can never capture spirit in a container.  Thanks to our Chief Exec at the Council, Damian Allan, he recommended me a book by Daniel Christian Wahl called ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’, that also talks at depth about the power of questions rather than leading with answers. Teaching and reminding me of the power to reexamine what we do with a different perspective. How we must focus on the small-scale, the personal,  and local – with an eye to how these efforts interact with and may synergistically entangle with larger-scale transformation.

In short Wahl says that the best approach for positive change is to live the right questions (rather than adhere to rigid solutions) and co-create responsive, context-specific designs that mimic nature and slowly build up the health, the biomass/(bio)diversity, and the resilience of our communities.  Art does, and has the power, to form the methods and space to allow just that. 

One thing that strikes me often is how I am perceived to have a lot of power, as a councillor, and have very little at the same time. This is also whilst battling all kinds of outside forces.  It makes me think about how power works and how it actually manifests in the world and within institutions. What does it take to create the conditions for feasibility? Not being about replicating the same pattern. It is Arts ability to transform conditions to help us think about things as a mutal aid or practice, or a building as an artwork; a creatiive practice that we’re all apart of. 

Learning, and iterating ideas. This is also an artwork. 

But again, I come back to perhaps the hardest part of making this process real/tangible: Belief. Who gets to imagine? Why do people lose their ability to imagine as they older?

As Adrienne Maree Brown is quoted saying:

“We are always living inside someones imagination. Imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race as an indicator of ability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s capability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone’ else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.”

Adrienne Maree Brown

I wrote an arts council bid for my community the other day. I’m not sure we will get it, based on some of the issues of the art-world having exclusionary ideas of what art is, or what the value of a project is, and how ‘successful’ an idea is going to be. Which manifests into another system that is surprisingly anti-failure. Despite art coming from that.  

In that bid writing process, the application begged me for ‘audience benefit’ and I fell into tropes how my area has never had any art investment. Which is true. But what these ideas do is ignore the fact that there is actually LOADS of cultural things that exists here. It’s just not invested in and thus we don’t always see it.

This is radical imagination. And I mean radical in the sense to get ‘to the root of’. The essence of what something means. 

I grew up watching my grandad make something out of nothing. A Ukrainian Refugee, he’d go through people’s bins & take their waste that he thought wasn’t waste – something he did for all of his life. Make a meal out of it. He’d fix endless broken bikes, and lawnmowers and beyond. Coming from a poor working-class background, I come from this long lineage of people who know how to make things out of nothing every day, if that’s not a radical imagination, I don’t know what is. 

And this is the truth. This is the lived experience of my community of working-class people; of queer people, of people of colour, all having to create their own every day. Having been disinvested and having been unloved, having been uncared for or untended to, and we call it survival. 

So how do we combine this idea that there are people who are creating from nothing and not being invested in — but are creating so much value in the world? What would they do if they could have their material needs met? What would they do if they had their access needs met? What would they build? What would they birth in the world, if they had the license, and the space, and the community and all of the things, to dream and create things beyond survival? What does that look like?

Maybe through this process we will come up with a new language, maybe we will go back to an old language? Maybe we will say it through objects and groups that get made instead?

But as fuel, food, inflation prices keep rising, and other local, national and global crises keep growing. It is our hopes and possibilities that are our force for right now.

The false scarcity is this: we believe that shutting out others, keeping them out of our orbit, our country, our competitive space—that this somehow makes things more easier for us.

But today, value isn’t created by filling a slot, it’s created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from the diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs.

The false scarcity stated as, “I don’t have enough, you can’t have any,” is more truthfully, “together, we can create something better.”

Designing a Campaign

A couple of months ago, seemingly out of the blue, I was invited to help out and work on our friends SY Mayoral candidate campaign. Having only just muddled through a real election campaign months before, I couldn’t believe I was being asked to be a part of this. Having worked with Rachael over the past 8+ months, I couldn’t think of anyone better for South Yorkshire than Rach. So I jumped right in and I was honored for the invite.

Rach’s chosen team was a small but powerful group of people. Wicked smart, and experienced in different ways (I am not included in this description lol). And then there was me. It was incredible to see, from the inside, the beginnings of a super fast turnaround the campaign. Rachael wrote speeches and we listened to them and offered feedback back. I wasn’t much use at this either, because I am really a newbie at figuring out the slickness of politics. Every-single-word-counts. Like a wordsmith, every word is chosen for it’s particularity. And as y’all know from my blogs, editing down isn’t my forte (feel sorry for my PHD supervisors, ha!). We had late night zoom discussions, making plans and trying to figure out challenges. It reminded me a bit of the energy of my first art degree. Where the optimism of youth, and a slight naivety, means you can dream big, and things that are quite difficult, feel tangible in ways that don’t happen as much as you get older for reasons unknown.

One of the challenges we had was to create policy offerings, ideas, visions. But also figuring out how to contact people and get it out there without spending much money at all. Because Rachael always acts with such integrity, we know just how hard it is right now for so many, and so she wouldn’t take any donations to the campaign and instead directed them towards local charities and organizations. Because that’s the kind of person Rachael is.

Last year I got Obama’s newest book for xmas and we watched the Obama ‘in pursuit of a more perfect union‘ documentary. For me I’ve been so interested in his background of community organizer, to a 1 term senator to campaigning for president and the process he did it in ( a very arty/creative, relational, person-focused, internet-propelled campaign).

I have a book I read before I started applying for my councillor shortlisting interview , called “They Said This Day Would Never Come: Chasing the Dream on Obama’s Improbable Campaign” which tracks years & strategies of a campaign through the voices of the people who made it happen. But it’s about so much more than one election. It tells a story about the power of everyday people to shape the course of a country and change the world.

There’s some tricks in that book, which I think National Labour (generally) needs to learn from TBH. But it is this relational, community-based thinking which is so powerful and underutilized. And I see Rachael very much as a community organizer and activist. Of diginity, equity, justice, compassion and diversity.

So when it came around to getting stuff out there, I knew I could be some help (at last!). Knowing our challenges of little cash flow, and little time, and covid illness. I knew we needed something different, something bright, something that stood out and had some kind of contemporary but youthful appeal.

I’m not sure what will happen to the materials we created for Rachael’s campaign – so it’s nice to archive them here for a future look back.

I designed Rach’s materials taking inspiration from civil rights posters and artworks from the time. Across activism materials, to artworks of the time – there was a certain colour palette and style of text layout. See below (some of my favourite paintings)

Jacob Lawrence – Bar & Grill (1941)
Barbara Jones–Hogu, Unite, 1971,
Jacob Lawrence, American, The 1920s . . . The Migrants Cast Their Ballots, 1974.
AfriCOBRA cofounder Barbara Jones-Hogu’s 1973

I took this inspiration and leaned into very instagramable space colours. For me it was important we had energy and urgency, that these choices did in fact link to a history (but only if you’re familiar with it OFC!) to justice. Of all types. When you’re in a crowded space, aiming at an exhausted group of people who are worried about a new more contagious variant of covid – any notice or dazzle or recognition is important. No matter how small.

A big part of being in South Yorkshire is we all believe we don’t get enough money/recognition/voice when it comes to regional representation. Place is important. And meeting people in places that aren’t usually covered or visited in election campaigns or otherwise. We know that in locality lies the potential of relational power and change. (It is infact, Obama’s original bread & butter – community and place is where change begins.) I wanted to make sure that the 4 areas of SY were always represented in all of Rach’s visual materials. In each poster or header or letter there was 4 colours. Often blocks of colour. With also the names of the places: Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. It was important that people saw their space represented always. The text was always, abstractly, laid out in the order these places are on the map of SY too. So a mirroring of locality within these graphics. We could have used stock images of locations, but they’d be cliche or main areas. We wanted no one left outside of that vision.

Rachael very rarely has photos of herself in these materials, and that’s because for Rach, it isn’t really about *her*, it’s about SY.

I made sure that at no point does one colour overwhelm the other, but naturally I had to make the red colour central of sorts to at least hint at the Labour Party link.

If it was more normal times, and if Rachael had been chosen as the main candidate to run in the election in May. I envisioned these posters physically printed and flypostered across SY. in cafes, in toilets, on billboards. Like a music gig. We talked about hosting house/pizza parties. I’d bring my vinyl collection and we’d connect, debate, find out what people love and need. And build outwards like this. Covid makes this stuff very risky, and I want to protect as many people as possible. But I am going to do this for my ward generally, in a summer in the future, in a community location.

When it came to the website, it was important to me that it was fresh and attention-grabbing and you didn’t even need to leave the page to find out everything you needed. something people of all ages like.

We did everything so quickly so there could have been a bit more finessing on my part. There’s some colours/heading/spacing choices that irk me if I spend to much time looking. But it does its job. It’s a responsive site, so it means it adapts itself depending upon how you look at it: On a laptop, on a phone/ipad. Responsive, just like Rach >>>> https://rachael4sy.com

I’m not sure how long we will pay for this site to stay up but here’s some screen shots. It has animations, videos, responsive/shareable content for SM.

Even though Rach didn’t get to the next round, she got backed by the most CLPs and Unions, across SY in the first round. This is incredible. She got so many cool and meaningful endorses too. We had some incredible conversations, and we have the start of some amazing blueprints that I think we need to start adapting for Doncaster.

We talked at length about starting a podcast, where Rach would chat to people across SY about what matters to them & why; their hopes, issues, dreams, and plans. I think we should still do that, with an emphasis on the Donx. I imagine us turning this website page into a new space for planning radical, compassionate, community changing things.

Like the candidate herself, this process and campaign was above all about trying to deliver a message of hope and justice. Getting to know the people who across SY, and who put their lives on hold for the slim chance to make people’s lives better. it inspires one to hope that, just maybe, that energy and devotion can happen again across the UK, and not just at a local level.

I will, ofc, be supporting Oliver in the next round of elections. But I’m looking forward to seeing what Rachael does next.

For ever #MakeNoMistakeImWithRachaelBlake

Make no mistake, I’m with Rachael Blake.

https://rachael4sy.com/About-Me

Selenium: My Next Year of connectivity, illumination & energy.

January arrived like a fire with the wind, after 2 years that I can hardly believe, when all of our plans just slipped through our hands. Like paper boats washed out to sea, with us hoping that the things that went missing would come back when you need them. 

It’s my birthday and my next chapter is Selenium in the periodic table.

Selenium, the element that is named after Selene, the Greek goddess of the moon. The image is of a crescent moon against a cratered surface. Something that’s been battered & bruised, but still manages to reflectively shine light given from the sun, stable & reliable. The cratered moon has double the power of the sun when it comes to powering tides of waves and water on earth. 


When I think of craters, I think to a few years ago, whilst in Rome, I saw a painting of the Virgin Mary who I saw curiously, had rock under her feet that seemed to have craters on its surface. It didn’t take me long to find out that the fresco had been painted by Lodovico Cigoli around 1610-11. Mary could have been depicted in any old way, but how to do her dominion? Unsure, Cigoli looked to his friend, Galileo, for assistance. Galileo told him about his very recent discovery of the craters on the Moon, so Cigoli painted a ‘queen of heavens’ standing on a Moon-rock whose surface was full of craters. 


 It’s nice that Selenium falls on this year, from it’s back story of the moon –  reminds me that art involves a great deal of observation (some would argue that art is observation); and science excels at systematic observation. Therein lies a meeting point between two very different modes of representing the world. But both are needed.  


The biggest use of selenium is as an additive to glass. Some selenium compounds decolourise glass, while others give a deep red colour. Selenium can also be used to reduce the transmission of sunlight in architectural glass, and is used to make pigments for ceramics, paint and plastics. 


It both has a photovoltaic action (converts light to electricity) and a photoconductive action (electrical resistance decreases with increased illumination). It is therefore useful in photocells, solar cells and photocopiers. It can also convert AC electricity to DC electricity, so is extensively used in rectifiers.


After a year of the element arsenic (& it did have some poisonous bits in there), it is a warm welcome to have a year that is about connection, energy and action. This elemental year for me is happening behind the back drop of when the Westminster government has no policy for looking after those affected by Covid-19 (in all senses). There’s no home for heroes after this war ends.


It is this power, connectivity and community that will drive my next year. There is dark and light in all of us, and in all of our lives. But if selenium can remind us that we can take kindness, light, hope and convert it into energy… action… for others! This collective resistance can go up against dark things that drain us, or try and take from us. Try and tell us that we don’t care about people (friends & strangers), our communities, the earth, and justice. But if we take note from selenium, we can be resistant to those negative headlines, and in doing so – we can increase our illumination. Light up some of the darkest spaces, to help light up some of the shadows that have engulfed us through this collective grief that we have all experienced over the past 2 years. 


And taking note from selenium, I will try to be better with my sustainability. I will ride my bike more, run a bit more, eat more veggies, recycle everything properly. Buy less shit off Amazon. 


Selenium is an essential trace element for some species, including humans. Our bodies contain about 14 milligrams, and every cell in a human body contains more than a million selenium atoms. This reminds me that I am still alive. In a few weeks time, it will be 10 years since my whole life changed. When I was sat in Site Gallery doing an artist residency, moaning about how poorly I felt. Like a flu that was never-ending. I can still see myself, talking to Abi (my amazing artist friend & collaborator at the time), in the Site Cafe. Chalking it all up to the affects of not drinking Coca-Cola any more. 


It is since then that I never know what to say about my birthday. I think it’s the reason I run off on it (pre covid). I’ll admit, it still sneaks up on me. But I’m still here. Even after the last 2 years of a pandemic (I’m surprised too). 


The miracle of science that pulled my dying body through the labyrinth of disease into a figurative and, in many ways, a literal rebirth.  Losing loved ones, & dear friends far too early, over the last weeks, months, years  reminds me that our days are not guaranteed. They are granted…by the good fortune of the dedication of doctors, nurses, a myriad of incredible allied healthcare professionals, community workers and the revolutionary scientists who dared to imagine that a nearly extinguished life could be restored by the blood of another & many medicines – often made from trees and other plants. And also by the unfair advantage I was given by being born in a country that has free at the point of access universal healthcare. And being friends with people in America who also worked in Healthcare & were also incredibly generous. 


 So many of you have sent me your kindness and well wishes today. I ask you for one more favor, though you owe me nothing.  Think about the science, the research, the ingenuity, the collaboration & the friendships that made this life of mine possible and the many before me who took a chance and broke the ground for all of us who might one day be saved by their bravery and sacrifice. This extends into everything. Not just illness, but public health, and protesting, all of the creative arts, people who help others every single day, in whatever way. 

These are the people who need us now. Tune yourself to the frequency of their peace and regeneration. I think everyone is moving through something. Sometimes it’s manageable and you can go it alone. Other times it’s not and the most subtle act of kindness or understanding is exactly what you need to slow down, get your bearings and find your way through. I guess that is what I am looking for in this year of Selenium.

 Selenium is like this, as it is used as an additive to make stainless steel. This means, it takes out the toxicity of lead and the likes, and makes steel stronger, more agile, more useful, less toxic, it helps other things. I am hoping this next year is more of this stronger, agile, light & hope and connectivity.  

Wherever this post finds you in life, whether you feel inclined to skip it or read it, I send it on with the sincere hope that whatever hardships and beauty you’ve encountered this past year. you find half the hardship and twice as much beauty in the next.


At least that’s what I am hoping for. To sweet Selenium.

Processed with VSCO with 2 preset

Off-ing: 2021 reflection comic

2021 was the year of “business as usual”, even though we had the biggest wave of COVID-19 and even more deaths in 2021 than we did in 2020. An epistemic harm, if there ever was one.

I, too lost someone very very close to me and a HUGE part of our everyday family. My nan. She didn’t die from Covid-19, but lockdown meant that we couldn’t be with her for 2 months ((she was in hospital for that time, after a massive stroke which left her unable to speak at all. This turned out to be a symptom of undiagnosed (but relatively asymptomatic until the stroke) late-stage pancreatic cancer)) before she died. I keep thinking about how scared & lonely she must have been. And all we could do was Facetime.

And I know that this reflects a vast majority of the population. So many of us have lost so much time with loved ones. Many who have since died or are dying – for whatever reason – and we know we won’t get that time back.

Now, I’m super 100% pro keeping people as safe as we can. (I obviously have an invested interest in keeping covid cases low as I am clinically vulnerable too). But I am not pro all of us – as a nation – all having lost something: a job, a home, a livelihood, a person. And society giving us no time, no understanding, no space, no language, no place to grieve. We all have to carry on, like we’re not missing something or a bit broken. I wish we had grief doulas.

In my year where I had to teach my first proper university studio-crit group, all on zoom, having never met my student’s once in person even though I got them to graduation. I had to run an election campaign as a 1st time, relatively unknown candidate in 2/3rd’s lockdown conditions, and I had to do my nan’s funeral in lockdown so we did the service outside around her grave instead, with only her closest friends able to come. I kept around 5 jobs going at the same time (all various levels of activity). Occassionally I have like a grief-spasm. Where a wave of it comes out from nowhere, for no reason. But goes almost as quickly and dramatically as it came. I get these same grief-waves when I read the news and government policies. No acknowledgment at all of everything we have lost. If we all stand so close to death and pain/suffering, collectively, like we have – we can not deny that we have not been changed.

So it was no wonder I went a bit quiet this year. I carry a pang of guilt that I’ve been fairly absent in a good chunk of my amazing friends’ lives, or not as active as I would like to be. Partly lockdown & that I still feel unsafe when in big groups, indoors. The in-joke is that I take 10 business days to reply a text (if you’re lucky). Instead, I had to find spaces of quiet to try and deal with the grief that I haven’t had space, or time, to deal with. I couldn’t do my normal running off for a roadtrip abroad somewhere, which is my usual grief technique. So I learned how to do it here, at home in the UK. A map exploring the spatiality of mourning.

This comic is all about this. I hope it will help you give yourself space too, if you see yourself and your own grief in these words.

Ultimately it concludes in a reminder (to myself, mostly) that if you pay enough attention to the present, you can see the future. You can learn, adapt, and allow space to be prepared for a world reshaped.

Thank you friends so much for your patience, support, understanding and love. It means so much to me. I hope I will be a better friend this year. With endless gratitude, always. Your friend, Smizz.