I’ve made it to another cycle around the sun. No small feat after this past year, and now starting the new year with blood tests showing loads of abnormalities. For as long as I can remember, even before i started having ill-health… I’ve always felt like I wasn’t going to live that long. Ask any of my friends from high school, they’ll tell you I didn’t think I’d make it to 25. Not from illness, but just this nagging feeling that I didn’t have as long as others, more likely by an accident. I am from an area where people live 25 years less than in richer areas. And we had a significant amount of kids killed or die throughout high school. Maybe this had sunk into my subconscious.
Then that fateful diagnosis 10 years ago, almost seemed like my fears WERE now justified. Just as I had predicted. That night after the visit to the Mass Hospital oncology clinic – I went back to my cabin, at summer camp, out in New Hampshire on an island.
I googled everything I could on this tentative diagnosis I was just given – and after 100’s of pages from Google of some gnarly odds- I shut my laptop lid and walked outside onto the ball field. It was around midnight, eerily quiet – even for that time. And I looked up at the sky, like I had done 100s of times before. This night was clear and bright and entirely powdered with stars. And there, I felt a physical weight of time. The worlds biggest sense of awe. Suddenly, I could really, truly, see the stars!
It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how -potentially- little life, I had left. My sense of youthful eternity was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death. This kind of feeling stays with you. I laid down on the ballfield feeling the cool summer ground and lush grass behind my body and the weight of time upon me, starting up into light that was from the past, shining down upon. And i realized I had entered a new liminal space/state: inbetweenness.
Back then, I just felt like I wouldn’t make it to 25, but that came and went, onto 26, 27, 28… Now i’m at the age of Bromine.
Oliver Sacks said that for him, “Elements and birthdays have been intertwined for me since boyhood, when I learned about atomic numbers.”
Ever since I read his book, Gratitude, i realized how entwined we are with the elements that make every single living thing or part of the worlds we live in. this way of seeing a birthday milestone, 10 years from life did change, makes so much sense.
Perhaps the fact that when you’re 1 (or born?), that age on the periodic table is Hydrogen. The lightest element and yet the most abundant chemical substance in the universe, constituting roughly 75% of all normal matter. The element that helps to make water – the very thing most of our bodies are made of, and what every living thing needs to survive, makes the point. Life and at its true lightest.
I have somehow lived through Arsenic (1 of the years of lock-down covid). But what can Bromine teach me?
Well, I have only just learned about Bromine in real life- as a councillor, how fitting? When trying to get rid of a knocked-down building’s rubble, they said some of the floor tiles were coated in Bromine & wasn’t sure whether we’d need a specialist to come and dispose of the chemically laced material. At the time I thought that this was weird, given people had been walking, dancing and creating lives ontop of that floor for years and years.
Bromine is the 3rd lightest element in the halogens group. Its properties are between those of chlorine and iodine. An element, not much like myself, that defies definition in many way by being inbetween 2 more well known elements.
What is interesting about elemental bromine, esp for the year ahead, is that it’s very reactive and thus does not occur as a native element in nature but it occurs in colourless soluble crystalline mineral salts, analogous to table salt. In fact, bromine is so reactive that it has to form bonds in pairs—never in single atoms.
When I place this in the context of the UK, what it tells me is that working together, in the every day, at the fundamentals, is the way in which we can make a difference. A difference that is desperately needed right now. Collectivity, collaboration, team work, co-operatives. Whatever word works for you, in order to change the status quo of anything, we must bond and join together to use our energies in the best way to different and radical states. Every default state needs energy to fight to move the mark. But it’s exhausting doing it alone. Become more bromine, & get more (re)active, together. There’s more power in numbers!
At room temperature and pressure, it is one of the few liquid elements. The only one that can sustain the same pressure & stay a liquid at room temp is mercury. This says to me, I need to keep my cool – and be my true authentic self in stressful situations.
Bromide can’t be sourced from the earths crust. Some plants actively accumulate bromine. First of all, they are beans — lentils, peas, haricots, and also seaweed. Its the high solubility of the bromide ion that causes its accumulation in the oceans. I will take this characteristic forward into 2023 – to soak up as much as I can, in terms of learning and taking in the natural lands and spaces around me. Esp as I try and grow into more of a regenerative thinker. This feels even more potent as one of the economic drivers of Bromide is for argriculture.
Bromine is the 10th most abundant element in sea water. I love that when I go surfing, it is here where this element can be sourced. The ocean, in its immensity and unseen depths, seem to harbor hidden meaning that the Bromine year will help me to explore more. The end of last year after I got sick from the water, I haven’t been back out, but I miss surfing. So this year will be to do more of that. When I surf, I love how the sun drops into the ocean, its beams casting a wide band of light on the water. The reflected shards glimmer through vapor in the far distances, producing an irresistible illusion of endlessness.
Despite us finding out bromine is toxic – post using it for things like fire retardants & in swimming pools and sedation in medicine. It got discovered that now it appears that bromine is an essential trace element in humans. And is still a key player in small doses for innovating pharmacutical drugs. There is, again, this strange mirror there of balances and yin-yangs, and connectedness. Things can be good and bad at the same time. The Bromine year is a reminder for me to think, and re-think, and to not put things too much against each other.
And lastly, the most Smizz thing about Bromine is that it is used to do 35mm film photography development immulsion. The compound is a prime ingredient of light sensitive constituent; and a semi-conductor. It captures time, memories, moments… light. Life. Conducted into structural colours – that is, colours that result from surface textures that refract, rather than contain, pigment.
Last year I vowed to take more 35mm film photos, AND get them developed. I want to continue that habit on, and get better. Last year quite a few of my film photos came out unfocused and blurry. I kept rushing to take the shot, and would snap and walk/move at the same time. You really can’t do that with film. But What a metaphor for me?! For this year – I need to be more focused and patient. Wait for the shot. Stand still and take a moment to know exactly I’m looking at, to take IN the moment. A moments rest.
This reminds me of Gerhard Richter’s Silicate body of paintings. Large oil-on-canvas pieces, of blurrs. Or glitches? What is a blur? It’s a corruption of an image, an assault upon its clarity, one that turns transparent lenses into opaque shower curtains, gauzy veils.
the blur serves as a perfect general metaphor for memory, its degradation, for the corrosion wrought by time. “I blur to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant,” Richter explains about his work.
It is both more focus and blurring and capturing of life, light, and memory and reflection for me that Bromine will bring.
Over the last few months and years, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.
Despite being really run down for 2+ months, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.
On the morning of my birthday, a friend & colleague replied a message about time. How fitting? Time is not some separate quality that impassively flows around us. Time is, in Rovelli’s words, “part of a complicated geometry woven together with the geometry of space”.
For Rovelli, there is more: according to his theorising, time itself disappears at the most fundamental level. His theories ask us to accept the notion that time is merely a function of our “blurred” human perception. We see the world only through a glass, darkly; we are watching – as my old art teacher used to love to teach us – Plato’s shadow-play in the cave. But using Bromine, we can capture it in different ways.
Taking the lead from Bromine, I’ll keep looking up at the sky of spilled glitter. And take a role of protection (resting & advocating for myself and others), to focus and connect, to surf and be at the ocean more, and seek it as a reminder to join forces TOGETHER. Bond together like atoms, and collectively we can change the status quo.
2022 was the year I vowed to take more 35mm film photos, and actually get them developed! Enjoy some gnarly grainy quality photos of my year, alongside some soft vibrant digital photos.
As John Berger is quoted saying: “The camera relieves us of the burden of memory… All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget,’ he recants. ’In this — as in other ways — they are the opposite of paintings. Paintings record what the painter remembers.”
As a drawer, it’s nice to get to re-take this journey of 2022 through some surprising and tender, and fun, and crazy moments.
I will leave you all with this quote:
“Love is a combination of six ingredients: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust. As you go about your life, you can ask: the action I’m taking, does it have these six ingredients?”
There is so much in the world to see. To explore, to notice. My slow ease back into international travel has characterized this year. I have missed traveling and my friends in other countries. I love getting outside of my usual spaces because it’s always a learning opportunity. A reminder to change perspective or angle. So often we get stuck in what’s in front of us, that we’re unable to see beyond it.
This year was the year where I think we all got a bit stuck (as a country) and tried to pretend that covid was over (I didn’t but I saw and felt it). An epistemic harm, if there ever was one. Pushed into trying to believe that we could all just get back to ‘normal’. We forgot all of those lessons that the pandemic taught us, and tried to either rewind back to 2019 or squeeze our out-of-date designs into 2019 expectations. Which did a lot of harm. To people, to earth, to place.
We just forgot people were grieving, for all sorts of losses that we have collectively accumulated. Made to work, and put even more pressure on people without acknowledging many of us were missing loved ones, in big numbers. That we had changed, even if our systems refused to do so too.
This was brought home, even more, when we lost our friend, mentor, and colleague in August. Adding more grief on top of grief. So many questions. He promised me he’d help re-plant trees after our climate change wildfire in July. Now every time I plant something – I think of Peter. He is still dearly missed.
I surfed to find breath, feel power in my body and clear my mind. I got to surf in both the Pacific and Atlantic. I watched for patterns in the landscape and worlds around me. Tides, sunlight, moon phases, soil types, weather forecasts, growing almanacs, and more.
But what I noticed was that I, and many others, started to grow things – as a way to put our grief and anxieties into healing and growing. Feel soil under our finger nails. We are, after all, made from stars and dark matter – of carbon & minerals that make up soil – the ground that we work upon and will return to at the end of our lives. All connected.
I find myself now looking for plants and life every where. I notice this as I look back through my photos from San Francisco and see that 75% of them are of plants just growing on sidewalks, and ocean waves and sand dunes. This was my 6th trip to SF & I had never appreciated, or even seen, the flora as I do now.
It is through planting, growing, thinking about the earth and our connections and patterns around me that I see in nearly everything I did and trying to do this year. And these small revelations and actions have kept me going.
To live long enough in this world means to learn to nestle the twins of grief and hope. There is climate change, there is too much poverty, and death, but there is also hope, love and a fierce will to fight for our earth and justice for people who need it right now.
As I walk and work in the shadows of grief I am surprised that, whilst at times it hits me like a massive wave unexpectedly, it has given me strength, perspective, and clarity. There is power in the inbetweenness, it reminds me of the things that are really important and that every day is a gift and an opportunity towards something better.
I am determined that in the next year to come, we will feel & allow to be with our grief. But we will also transform life’s interruptions into creative grist, transmute isolation into creative solitude and connection, and with each pen stroke, cup of coffee, garden planted, each story listened to – we will better understand the world and our place in it.
Holding the really beautiful things and profoundly hard things in the same palm—it’s one of those paradoxes, one of the challenges of being human. But we all have the power to heal & grow things, and in turn, always get to try again. And that’s what this years comic is about.
I love Spotify Wrapped (Here’s mine from this year FYI OFC Yungblud is #1, cuz DONX REPRESENT!), so I always try and do it for my year as an elected councillor.
I’ve been trying to reflect as I go along, being a councillor, so I can keep critically reflecting on my actions/systems/processes/what i’ll do better/different next time etc – but there’s more learning to be done in both the short and long view.
One of my goals for me being in this role is to both ask: what is the role of a local councillor in 2022/3? (Arguably a bit different from even just 2 decades ago as things get more complex & multiple orgs/partners deliver and collaborate for council-like services) and also how can I be as transparent as possible on what it’s like to be a councillor?
This is hoping that showing the nitty-gritty, the fun stuff, the not-so-fun stuff – that it will inspire other people to want to become a councillor. That being an elected official is more than complaints about bins (tho surprisingly get a lot of that), and endless standing order papers and meetings. That we have the freedom to use a lot of different methods to explore how/why/when/where/who of people/place/communities/planet’s needs.
How it uses and builds so many skills and training for the person who is a councillor. And that anyone can be it: Young, old, a carer, a professional, self employed, an artist, a healthcare professional, a stay at home person, a retail worker, whatever! This is for everyone, and all kinds of people in local government that reflects the population that they are serving. A mixed bag of everything adds great perspectives, experiences, and ideas and opportunities.
And ofc, I hope this shows the work and time that this role takes.
Whilst somewhat arbitrary, the end of the calendar year does present us all with a valuable opportunity to reflect on the year that was: The long view. And plan for the year that will be. As someone who has to deal a lot with chronic pain, esp over this last 2 months, I think we often learn to tolerate the sometimes-painful present by living in the future. It’s easy to glaze over the past/present and focus on the future, but failure to reflect will eventually manifest as a failure to grow and repeat the same issues.
So, with that in mind – what has my past year looked like!?!
I went to a lot of meetings. It works out as nearly 1 every other day. That actually feels a lot now, ha!
A lot of these were about proactive or complex things. Such as getting the Welfare Miners Hall on the Levelling Up Fund, or in response to big community info events, such as the planning issues for New Family Homes (children homes… I’m rebranding them as New Fam Homes now, as that’s what they are and takes off the stigma and clinical-ness of ‘children’s home’) to our 2 hour training on different things like Cost of Living Crisis etc. And don’t forget that I am also chair of Health & Adult Social Care Scrutiny, so I have more meetings because of this role.
What I notice now is that residents prefer to get in touch with you through everything BUT email – even though I really do try to tell them to email me instead, if they do it through social media etc. The fact that a huge chunk of my casework came from being somewhere / in person – often older folks – makes me feel like the councillor role is still accessed predominately in its traditional form. Even though I think the surgery model needs to be updated into how people actually live their lives to make it more accessible for familes and younger working people. Some really interesting design questions on how to enhance accessibility and participation in local democratic services here.
TOP 3 THEMES OF MY CASEWORK
This year wasn’t as clear-cut as last year (no pun intended). Last year was environment casework HEAVY. But this year, a lot of those issues we had weren’t repeated. Which is fantastic, it means we were listened to and practice was changed. But green space is our biggest asset here in my ward, and people are passionate about wanting better things and activities for young people. So whilst some things were resolved, when combined with ASB – environment still got top billing as the overall theme of casework. Between wildfires, and children wanting to do more litter picking events and more tree planting, tree dramas of all sorts, planning community garden designs, and most of all: not being able to enjoy green spaces due to flying tipping, crazy ASB of quad bikes and car chases made this number one.
It’s also worth noting that Environment tends to have a seasonal vibe to it. So whilst it gets #1 spot – HUGE chunks of that comes from early spring, all summer and to late fall.
Also in this area is the need for play park upgrades. I get emails and messages about this almost every week. More info later on in this post.
Housing has been a HUGE one this year. Of all sorts. It is often, like environment, multifaceted with multi-partner/areas of issues. I’ve had a lot of complex issues with peoples wellbeing in housing situations this year. Some of those have been incredibly hard, and it’s often really hard to know what to do next after you’ve done everything you can.
Homelessness and accessible housing needs continue to grow and is a lot of my emails. People just want good, affordable (accessible) housing that is stable and secure. That isn’t as easy to get as it once was. A report in from the ONS this week shows that in Yorkshire, the rent on the median home is unaffordable for households on the median income. This means that more people are turning to council housing because it’s affordable & reliable. Unfortunately, we need the gov to invest in building more social housing for LAs! With our growing aging and poorly population, our (UK) housing stock does not come close the needs our future population will need. And its massive shortsightedness, from the UK Gov, not to encourage better housing quality standards and true accessible housing design. And your local authority are left to pick up the pieces.
I’ve used last years image because it’s exactly the same! But with an added extra of crazy increase of robberies and some truly gnarly weapon use and attacks, including shootings. I project for this to get worse, as the cost of living crisis puts added stress and strain onto people and pushes into desperation.
I had our youth councillors for the area tell me that their 2nd priority is that they don’t feel safe. That shook me to the core.
At our Community Engagement Meetings for the North (CEM), even though it’s all the partners across the council and police, 98% of what arises is about crime & ASB. I could write a whole separate post on this, alas for now – what we have to look forward to is we will FINALLY get our own North Doncaster policing team on 9th Jan (my bday!). (which we haven’t had… for a decade? or more?). And arguably is probs one of the main reasons this area statistically and feels like it’s been getting worse. So here’s to next years beginning to turn it around!
Other big themes
Included lots of road stuff. Including very very poor signage and diversion planning. Lots of stuff about cycle paths, and traffic lights, and pot holes and air pollution and more. What I mostly take from this is: cars are the bane of our lives but we are so car-centric that we can not see for the life of us that most of the things we’re complaining about would be eased by walking, cycling, investing in and taking public transport more. Alas… until the latter happens (unlikely soon under this national gov) we are stuck with air pollution, and bad driving.
Some individual cases I spent a lot of time on
+ Listening to residents and trying to share knowledge on New Family Homes and kids in care. (June-Aug)
+ Cycle path development (All year)
+ Highfields barriers and fences to stop illegal cars and fires and more (all year)
+ Highfields country park enhancing meetings/Future Parks (including ASB and issues with bin emptying) (All year)
+ Adwick Park Pavillion development (All year, every couple of months)
Some of the big Proactive things I’ve done this year:
Planet Power with kids !
We got loads of kids out to plant trees in March. They LOVED IT. Unfortunately, the all burned down in the 40+C heat wildfires in the summer. But the kids demanded action, and so we did lots of litter picking and discussion of future stuff.
Building up Youth Provision/connections!
We started Camp Get Together! To make sure young people had access to pure fun activities over the summer- that wasn’t obsessed with just physical activity – but play, making, friendship and leadership – with adventure in their own area. This experience was AMAZING. So rewarding but it was also HARD. And gosh, this summer was HOT. I learned loads about managing 30+ random kids of all ages in outdoor settings and making and team leadership. It felt really successful, despite some of the challenges, because we had kids with all kinds of learning needs, and physical disabilities, and autism and lots of local kids who wouldn’t have had access to this kind of fun or making if it never happened. We even got thank you cards and gifts at the end of the project! I still have them on my desk 😀
Now we’re constituted, it’s put us in good sted to develop more projects, programs and investments.
Building a Community Play Manifesto!
I applied for us to get some arts council money for the Jubilee in June, where we did ARTY PARTY IN THE PARK. The funding allowed us to get artists & designers to lead art workshops, bring art objects and play objects to help people think what is play, how play makes you feel, how we can use all diff senses through play, etc. This was the start of finding out what play means to my community, how we can make play for every one! Not just kids, and not just play equipment. You can find out the findings for the communities vision of play equipment here, which i am hoping will properly begin in 2023, as we just secured extra funding!
See the communities call for more play and youth investment in the video below!
My goal? To make adwick & carcroft the most playful, creative, resilient and collective imaginative community/ward 😉
WE RE-LAUNCHED OUR COMMUNITY LIBRARY!!!
This was a tricky one. When I was elected 17+ months ago, I had no idea how we could make the library be open for the whole community again. And for it to be this space of belonging and activity. As a team of councillors, alongside the libraries team – Bill Mchugh and Cllr Nidge Ball – we somehow ended up getting the space back. A year ago today, it didn’t look like this was possible. 2 months on from the re-launch party (which had over 250++ folks attend), groups are joining left right and centre, we have some very happy and committed new and old volunteers (who basically make ALL of this possible), we have the triage team (Doncaster Your Place) who are pivotal in making it a space for everyone and links to all kinds of support. This past Saturday we had our 1st xmas markets, which went down well (150+ peeps attended) and in the new year we have author talks, art exhibitions and youth programs planned. What a difference a year makes? What a difference that the team works in making the dream work?
Community Crime Stoppers! (Design sessions)
As stated above, at our CEM meetings – the communities across the North locality are crying out for more preventative/proactive/resourced/empathetic policing when it comes to the increasing rates of ASB & crime of all sorts. We also have a reporting problem, in that crime & ASB have become so part of the natural landscape that we see daily, that it becomes apathetic (Plus SY police online crime reporting site sucks balls – it is in desperate need of user friendly re-design & de-bugging & get rid of loads of unnecessary data collection that would make a reporter feel like they can’t trust this site).
I’ll be honest with y’all. It felt powerless in these CEM meetings. For various complex reasons. So I thought, let’s do what I do for my day job with the community? Do a 3 hour design session, thinking through ideas and choosing one & designing how it would work – in responce to a theme (the themes were: prevention, reporting, community safety). I was nervous. I wasn’t sure how engaged folks would be, if 3 hours was too long? Well… it went on for nearly 4 hours & we got kicked out of the building we were in because it was too late. The people came up with AMAZING ideas. 4 incredible ones that i’m taking forward to the police in Mid Jan to see how we can make them work.
PIZZAAAAA PARTTTTYYY! (Welfare Hall Consultation/engagement event)
Let’s reinvision what a community centre can be. Let’s dream big! Make it run on green energy. Have a social enterprize community health run programs in it. Exhibitions, stand up comedy shows for SY! A local cafe training local people and employing residents nearby. What can our heritage inspire and push forward our challenges for collective making and imagining today?
This was an amazing event. 100’s of pizza slices. And blessed with the nicest, hottest day in March ever. Over 400 folks came, gave us 100’s and 100’s of ideas. Energy. Community. Everything – and that space/history/what it stands for – helped it come together. We have the amazing architects come and help use this to help us create the plan – which went towards us being able to put forward this plan: BUILT WITH AND BY THE COMMUNITY – for the 2nd round of the governments Levelling Up Funding. It’s been delayed a bazillion times, including again to 23rd Jan 2023. But we really need it to come through. There are backup plans (cuz I think it might be political), but I am just eager to take the momentum we have, and get rolling!
We won the SHU Levelling Up Challenge Fund!
Working with my colleagues from SHU (where I’m a lecturer). We applied for SHU’s levelling up challenge call out over the summer. Working with amazing academics/researchers from architecture, to psychology, urban planning, creative health, art & design & more – our idea is about using creative methods & bouncing off my area’s heritage of Woodlands Conservation Area (Model Village) – Garden Cities of the future. Ebenezer Howard’s book, originally published in London in 1898 as To-morrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform and then in 1902 as Garden Cities of To-morrow, proposed a peaceful but inherently radical experiment in city, town, and regional planning aimed at creating more healthy, self-sufficient, and just places to live and work that balanced the open space of the countryside with the cultural vibrancy of the city. Woodlands ‘model village’ is based on this – is one of the most accurate renditions of his design ideas in the country. And yet, so many people don’t know this history.
We’re going to use this, to help my community begin to dream and write/make/sing/photograph/design/draw/think/etc their own regenerative neighbourhood collective plan/manifesto – instill their own vision and power into place. Which will be visual and an exhibition – and then hope we can get funding for the ideas from there. But the workshops and ideas will dictate the rest, and maybe even the outcome idea of right now. We start doing from Jan 2023! My hope is that using a bit of donut economics, mixed with some Daniel Christian Wahl designing regenerative cultures, mixed with the super zany creative methods of art practice, and social justice – we will be 1 step closer to maintaining the energy that keeps coming up for the events we put on.
And there’s more!
But this post is long enough already. I will write a separate post reflecting upon the greatest opportunity I had, to take Jenny Andersson’s Power of Place course, with about 50 other DonX Council folks (& SO many incredible & generous regenerative thinkers from around the country & world). The reading was immense, the learning and ideas deep and immersed. It was a real commitment amongst my 500 other things to do. But I am so grateful for that opportunity and the commitment. It properly challenged and changed the way I think, practice, reflect. The levelling up challenge fund we got, was I think – in HUGE part to me taking that course and really thinking about the role of place/earth & stories of separation & other models in my communities. But this is another post.
Everything mentioned above was only made possible by collectivism and collaboration and listening and understanding. With some/a lot of trust – that we could pull it all off – and so much not yet done. People’s generosity in time through work or volunteering or stories/experiences, through activism and resilience, through team work – my amazing 2 cllr collegues (Debbie & John Mo) who go along with my crazy ideas. My amazing cllr friends – like Leanne & Julie & Lani & Gemma – who listen to me bang on or ask inane questions. To the incredible officers and directors who offer their expertise & time to ensure we can get the best results – and do a lot of teaching on the way. And to our leadership – where it is – i believe, led by compassion and care for the people and place of Doncaster.
It has to be noted that people are in grief. A collective grief. and they don’t have time to deal/feel/acknowledge/be with it. We have all suffered & suffering through collective grief reeling on from covid-19 onwards (my community with austerity before that too). It feels like a mass harm to not build up and listen and acknowledge it. As such, every thing/event/case is laced with a trace of grief on/in it. I am still wondering what to do with this, as we move forward. And I hope some of these projects: whether it be play, or imagining, making, asset building, safe space belonging – will help us.
I am still, non-stop learning. What a gift! A JOY! An ultimate privilege. Just the other day I learned about 120 yr old Victorian bridge engineering and water-logging – what other job do you get to do that in? I’m still finding it hard not to always solve everything (that’s ok), balancing resident views with truth/ethics & benefit (who likes to say no? & it feels at odds of the role itself) – and the local authority timescales, tho often a gift in reality – still blag my head. It’s like it exists in another dimension where time exists in a different form ( although time is ofc a construct anyways, as is the calendar year).
I feel like everything we’ve done has endless stories and threads baked into it, which makes it even more special and memorable. the most memorable moments this year are the ones that we bestow our own magic upon. And Jenny’s/Damian’s teachings have taught me this year that rather than the story behind an object/thing/project, it’s a world within.
I think of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (one of my most fav books, I love travel (non) fiction). Invisible Cities is a work of fiction that imagines the explorer Marco Polo in conversation with the emperor Kublai Khan. In separate, chaptered accounts, Polo describes cities in Khan’s empire so fantastical as to be unbelievable. And yet, his reports of each place—from how they look, smell, and feel, to the people who inhabit them—are so finely wrought that you forget they’re impossible. You’re fully, immersively transported.
In homage to Invisible Cities – and Power of Place, I take the task of “mapping” (pattern noticing) and forget objects/policies/projects/places as it exists in our world and imagine them in an invisible city/place/community contained within. I always start slow and build on from there.
In many ways it is an act of play. By being immersed in play we can lose all sense of scale and reality. And that’s kind of what I want us to do – esp in the dark grim context we find ourselves in right now. To build our collective imagination. One detail can led to another until you stop describing and start imagining instead.
Being a councillor this year, with all this new knowledge, it feels like I am I writing/drawing my way into this city/community, this place with political and economic darkness and instead – with my residents – we are beginng to start to filter more light into it.
What does it look like, smell like, and feel like there? How has the environment shaped the citizens? What do they fear? What do they wish for? When you think you’ve gone deep, go deeper. Get lost.
To getting lost, imagining and listening to grow/repair/heal/see/ be new lights. That’s a wrap! Tho the job/role/work is never finished.
“San Francisco,” Gary Kamiya writes in his book, Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco, “is all about the collision between man and the universe.”
What a wonderful description of the city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It’s been over a month since I was last in San Francisco. And I’m actually pine-ing to go back.
Luckily, one of my “new years resolutions” this year was to take more film photos. As I miss the physicality of film that you don’t get with digital. The way you can never ever be sure of how the images will come out. Too many variables. Did I put the film in properly? I didn’t keep the film chill, it’s out of date, it went through the xray scanner in security loads of times, the lens, the grain, the light, the light metre, the developing process, the scanning… A good chunck of it all up to the film-gods. A lot out of our control. 24-36 different potential chances. Remembering what you took a photo of too, is also part of that delayed process surprise!
This trip I took a really (too heavy) heavy Leicaflex SL2 35mm Camera. A bargin I bought off ebay during lockdown. I’d only put 1 roll of b&w film through it previously to check that it worked. I took it with half a roll of cinestill 800 already exposed. It was a heavy camera to carry about. But I loved the grain it gave and made photos look almost like drawings. I don’t know what pocessed me to take this instead of a simple point & shoot, like my Olympus Trip 35, or my ye-old-faithful Olympus OM-1. No, I took this weight with me instead.
SF is a challenge and chalice from a visual standpoint. As a photographer, I struggle to decide: Should I ignore the manmade and instead look to gifts of the gods? Or should I embrace the outcomes of human ingenuity? There is an abundance of both in the city of seven hills. My phone camera reel is just photos and video of the incredible plants that grow across the city. So I wanted the film camera to be different.
A poem by George Sterling inspired Kamiya’s book title, so I am took a cue from both of them. When I was in SF – There was a rolling fog that made everything overcast, pinky or blue gray. I leaned into it by using black & white & cinestill 800 film roll when there. To capture the cool gray and blues views of the city, and it is my way of telling its visual story. I focused a lot on the beach – in part to capture the ineffable sand dunes envrionment and peace and energy. Another part for a surfing zine I’m making.
It has ended up combined with what I love most about SF and beach/surfy photography — silence, fog, abstraction, and an opportunity to wander. The essence that has come out from these are what I call “dreamy grays.”
Ironically, I have been on the journey for a while; but I didn’t realize it. A small selection of images below are digital b&w but 98% of them are from the heavy beast camera. I hope you enjoy the grain – a mirror of what SF is all about. built on the ever rolling sand-dunes, and the ever-present beauty of rolling fog.
Glad to be re-living some of this SF adventure, 1 month later. Thanks to the joys of film!
This is my first trip of this size in a long time: 3 years to be exact. I was so nervous. Things felt almost new. So many things had changed, and yet there were some constants. I had to get to see all of my special USA friends (or at least a good chunk of them!) I had to see with my own eyes that they were doing okay after a turbulent few years. Some of my friends have had some really scary health issues, some have lost many family/friends members, others had lost jobs, apartments, relationships etc. It felt right to do a pilgrimage of sorts. If covid has taught me anything, it’s that things can change in a NY minute and you will have want to have seen/been with the people who matter the most in your life.
Whilst travelling around the USA, eating as many tacos and drinking loads of boba tea as I can, it dawned on me another anniversary. I had clocked it a few months, seen it coming up, but then nothing like running a community summer camp & immediately go travelling to forget a 10 year marker of something SUPER significant. OF YOUR LIFE. Like, literally.
It wasn’t until I got to Sandy Island, my USA work-home, a summer camp, of which our community camp: Camp Get Together, is inspired by – that it hit me like a tonne of bricks.
10 years ago to this past month, I had just been told that it looked like I had a lymphoid malignancy… cancer. I was sat with my boss from summer camp, Kate – now a very close friend, when I got told. And it dawned on me this trip that Kate would have been a bit older than I am now, sat in that hospital room with me- dealing with her international staff member in their very early 20s getting told i could have a very time-sensitive disease that could kill me off if I didn’t deal with it. And that staff member was so in denial that I refused to go home and deal with it.
Subconsciously this must have been playing in the back of mind. I put down my *need* to come back to see everyone just purely because of the pandemic. But I think it was more. Something deeper. A recognition. A re-connection.
I haven’t written about myself and illness much in the past few months on here, being a councillor makes it feel weird sharing it now, but one thing I often talk about when seeing friends are THE ODDS. I researched them constantly in the first few months of that diagnosis and I still have to keep revisiting them as circumstances change. I have folders full of study data, research on different treatments, experimental drug therapies, how cytogenetics impact those odds. I don’t think about them every day anymore, but the odds aren’t the type you’d want to bet on.
When it happened – in 2012, and in the subsequent years after – these guys (& others not pictured) banded together. Friends donated time, money, food, connections. They helped to pay for my USA medical bills, and bought things to make sure i could be as comfortable as possible and helped me do what I needed to do. in case there wasn’t enough time. I am endlessly grateful. And still to this day can’t believe it happened, and people did that for me.
For a long time, I couldn’t do much at all. And I genuinely didn’t believe I would make it to 30. Either because of what was happening, as it *felt* like I was dying – or because I wanted it to be over because there is a huge difference between *feeling* alive and *being* alive.
It was the WORST fatigue I have ever experienced (& I have never fully returned to smizz 1.0 energy levels, tho it has gotten better generally) needles, needles, needles, so many needles, fevers, infections, severe mucositis, anti-nausea drugs that resulted in weeks of lost memories, blood clots, followed by months of blood thinners, teeth issues, a slate of other issues a little too graphic to write about, crazy painful out-of-nowhere hand and leg cramps, now it’s kidney damage, weird lumps and tricky hypercalcemia……all bumps (& lumps) along the road.
But I slowly adapted to live with it all, became slightly less needy with it all, and medical research is always advancing. And my friends, from around the world, helped in so many ways, and continue doing so. They lifted and carried me when I could barely stand (metaphorically and literally). A beautiful and humbling lesson to learn in itself. That I have THE BEST friends in my life.
This moment in 2012 specifically rocked my world, and everything changed. The truth of the matter, is when you go through some crazy dramatic life experience — whether it be something like cancer diagnosis, or something else. Things change. Even if you do not want them to. When you live with this small nagging thought in the back of your mind that you might be dying (properly), you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your life on permanent vacation. And the reality is, you can not. You must return to real life.
I found it difficult to go back, to try and fit into my old life. It’s like, how do you slip back into the ordinary world, and your ordinary routine and being your ordinary self, when you do not feel like yourself and ordinary stuff is no longer just ordinary? My world view was shifted, thus my whole line of perspective had changed. It would have been an untruth if i continued on making the exact same work.
I knew that if I was to live, and my life be saved – then I needed to make sure I had a meaningful life, i needed to work for something bigger than myself. How I did that was learn from all these incredible people in these photos below (& others not pictured!). They showed me how to show up, put your money where your mouth is, to take risks and to be my authentic self.
My friends are kind, and endlessly motivated, they are moved by the call of service and move mountains for their communities, of all types. Asking for nothing in return. They lead the way, carve out paths for others, help, support, and foster growth in everyone they meet/work with. They make people feel the most important person every time you talk with them. They’re wicked funny and fun and they go out of their way to help others. All of the things that I have tried to mirror in my bonus time life. They are teaching me what I need to do to be present and how service to others is enacted.
Every great wisdom tradition teaches us that there is immense benefit when we dare to be fully present, without indulging the temptation to look away. Many of us look away when things get hard. It’s why we have such poor language for illness, pain… even grief. But these guys stayed present with me. Through the good times and the bad, and continue to do so.
It was incredibly therapeutic, being with my friends here, getting to see them, laughing so much down the phone that we literally streamed tears and that it made your face ache and sound like a prank phone call. It’s hard to laugh like that on zoom.
It’s a mercy that time runs in one direction only, & that we see the past but darkly and the future, not at all. But this means we need to look towards and be present. even in the really uncomfortable moments. I’ve gained some powerful emotional powers (super powers) learned from these guys i’ve visited on this trip, in what I’ve been calling my second life.
Most all my deep-set hangups died with my first life. A number (but not all) of my grudges, entitled expectations, self-assumed responsibilities, judgements are simply gone. I have very little FOMO. I’m simply content to be alive and living my life. I have no bucket list. Life is the bucket.
10 years ago I didn’t think I’d make it to 30. Never mind getting back to the USA to celebrate still being here after a 2.5+ year pandemic and all these illness years. That is some luck!
It is no surprise that this trip felt so, so important to see those (that I was able to) who I love and who have been key in helping to save my life, in more ways than one.
I can’t thank these guys below (& others not pictured) enough for their time, their love, their belief, their lessons that they’ve been teaching me. I am endlessly grateful and indebted to you all – a debt i’m not sure i’ll ever get to properly repay you all for. So it always makes my year when I get to see you all, in real life, and making time and space to make it happen.
10 years ago I was on a plane from NYC back home to the UK because I was dying.
Today I’m writing this in a hotel room in NYC after an incredible trip from SF, NYC, Boston, New Hampshire back to NYC – seeing everyone I love that I can – and I feel more alive (& very lucky) than I have in a very long time.
I’ve lost so many incredible people along the way, that it doesn’t feel fair. But then life is not. I don’t know when my time will be up – none of us do, really – but I have some time, and if I use it well enough – it will be enough. Part of that is paying service to my community. Learning from you all. Leaving more than I have taken.
Here’s to using our time, all of it, together and in joy. Chasing life and living it.
Thank you to everyone who have gotten to see on this trip and helping to make it happen. Thank you for helping me over these many years. With gratitude always, your friend Smizz.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 bidand 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.
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.
“The community aren’t interested in it anymore”
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)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.