Monday, 26 June 2017


Detail of Peter Twigg's embroidery work in progress

Armour Project


Rage that's used in order to control
relations, intimate partners
to achieve a golden dream a chiselled cold
fear that stings fear
where one isn't aware
it looks like metal but it's not.


Phil writes:

The Booth Centre: there was also anxiety in the air this morning, it hit like a shock wave as I came through the door. Someone was trying high level intimidation, with raised fists, loud shouted outbursts, staring competitions. He was dressed in black, he paced the room, moving erratically and occasionally launching into another confrontation, while the staff tried to defuse his anger. Because people in the Centre are very attuned to threat, their radar was on  alert. They looked over each other's shoulders while talking, there was an unsettled feel, objects kept being knocked off tables, people bumped into one another. It was as if an earthquake had dropped in for a cuppa.

Paula's 'Safe'embroidery, in progress

As is the often the way there, I spoke to some people I have known for years and some I'd only met this morning. Every conversation was fragile, lightly touched by the presence of fear, yelling its head off in the corner. The first person I talked with was fighting back panic, he said. The next was joking with me, but kept checking the threat potential. The last had been awake four days straight, out on the streets. He'd not been eating, because of grief. He looked shrunken, like a an inhabitant of an institution, with over-large, over-bright eyes.

But walking alongside fear, and just as powerful, was the feeling of being thoroughly, immediately alive, and the intensity of each shared moment. A day at The Booth Centre is like this, you can squeeze several hours-worth of living into an instant. There’s a surreal-ness to the fast-forward rush of it all. It came as absolutely no surprise that the footballer Ryan Giggs suddenly turned up with a camera crew to meet folk, sign autographs, and add a further manic element. Suddenly beaming smiles and a celebrity frisson punctuated the atmosphere.

 Footballer, Ryan Giggs visiting the Booth Centre

In the afternoon, making an oasis of stitching and poems, we read The idea of order at Key West by Wallace Stevens, a poem about reducing chaos. Its subtitle might be how to insure yourself against the effect of the world by finding safety in art. Or in other words, how to write your way out of fear. The writing was made sharper by the recollection of our morning demon, a malevolent drug dealer stalking his own mad shadows.

When I was fighting didn't think that was dangerous
When a knuckle duster knocked out my tooth
Didn't think that was dangerous 
And when I was driving 130mph, 
Didn't think that was dangerous.
When I hold a knife, that's the closest I come.
That's closest:
“If I'm not careful with this
In my hand
It is dangerous.”


fish and chips I like to order
I don't like the word chaos
it brings disorder
danger comes in all sorts
car, bus, tram
suicidal thoughts.

Peter Twigg

Paula embroidering for 'Armour' project

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Part of Johnny Woodhams collection

Armour, at The Booth Centre Manchester.

After the incredibly beautiful free written outcomes of my first session I wanted to try a more structured way of writing for the second session so I developed a simple imagining format that focused thoughts in a more meditative and positive way. Those taking part were then guided from a fixed ideal point through a series if questions that resulted in a narrative text as if spoken.

We then did two edits getting rid of unnecessary language turning the thoughts into poems and then did a final rewrite on brown paper. Focusing on the theme of armour we'd looked at a variety of animal shells and military helmets and decided to take a direct papier mâché cast from a large turtle shell. The final layer consisted of the poems torn up to become a pattern forming the protective shell made up of a mixture of the positive language. 
Once again some utterly moving stories emerged and it was a privilege to work with the group. 

Johnny Woodhams
June 2017

Jack and Gavin, with cast paper mâché poem

Friday, 9 June 2017

Stitch in time

It was a big pleasure to launch the Stitching the Wars quilts and book at the newly-opened Buxton Art Gallery and Museum. The first new artworks to be seen in the new-look gallery. The two quilts have been handmade in collaboration with hundreds of older people, with Lois directing the work. (Tom Jones a longstanding project participant, looked at the quilts, nodded and said, "Looking nice.")

Catherine Serjeant (Blythe House Hospice) Dr Nadine Muller and Brian Oven, participant

Phil worked on collaborative poems during the project that distill many people's experience of the two world wars, and the brief peace between the conflicts. But the poems also explore an understanding that gradually came to light during the project: there were two kinds of wars being fought in these lives, one a military war, the other a war against poverty. 

Brian, longstanding project participant and the 'Bomber's Moon' quilt at Buxton Museum

A group of participants came to the gallery, some of whom were kind enough to read the poems aloud. The power of these reading resonated through the whole event. 

Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood introduced the project, Lois talked us through the two quilts in detail and Phil gave a little overview of the project:

"Stitching the Wars is history, made of stitches, and words, and memories. 

The two quilts here have been team-stitched with over 400 older people involved, telling fragments of their stories about the effects of two world wars on life in Derbyshire. They talk about gentleness of rural life, but also hardship and the need to change. 

"Sharing of life experience and the task of recording it as writing and art brings deep satisfaction - and the stories are extraordinary. A man who had witnessed Hiroshima just after the bomb. The Sheffield bombings through the eyes of a young boy. Bridling a horse for ploughing, a tradition of many generations...

"These two quilts contain many voices, they are work shared by many hands. Some people bravely faced up to fears and disabilities in the process of making them. Annie, a visually-impaired women, knitted for the first time in years, without sight she used only muscle memory. Dorothy, who has lost the use of one hand, carefully embroidered with the assistance of Olga holding an embroidery frame. And with encouragement Geoff took up needle and thread for the first time in his life.

"One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was the fear of memory itself, because many people who contributed to the quilt have dementia. The pleasure that people got from sharing their memories in a safe environment, was a delight.

"Stitching the Wars speaks about a particular time, but also speaks beyond it's own time, because it is at heart the story of how life feels. We are all stitches in this story of Britain - sometimes it's a joyful, colourful tapestry. Sometimes the colours are darker and stitches are needed to heal a wound. We talk together, we work together and sometimes we help each other to heal."

Artist Lois Blackburn & Poet Philip Davenport with the quilt Fresh Air & Poverty

A Stitching the Wars quilt will be on view at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum until September 2017, the other quilt will be on tour around Derbyshire. The Book Stitching the Wars will be available to purchase through the museum shop. 

We are thrilled to share we have just had confirmation that the two Stitching the Wars quilts will be going on to form part of the National collection at The Quilters' Guild in October.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Quilts with a story to tell



A pair of quilts embroidered with the wartime history of Derbyshire is set to go on display. History arts project, Stitching the Wars, opens at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on 7June, 1-3pm

Cover of the book complementing the project 'Stitching the Wars'

This award-winning project combines history, poetry and embroidery by older people living in rural Derbyshire, including many with dementia. The two quilts are embroidered with testimony from older people who survived two world wars.

Councillor Barry Lewis, Leader of Derbyshire County Council and Designate Cabinet Member for Strategic Leadership, Culture and Tourism said: “These beautiful quilts, and the memories behind them, make for a fascinating and moving exhibition. They are a lovely demonstration of the value of projects that combine community and local history to create art.”

Artist Lois Blackburn from the arts organisation arthur+martha is behind the collaborative community quilts. Ms Blackburn said: "This is touchable history, quilts hand-stitched by over 400 older people with fragments of their stories. One of the great joys of the project has been to witness the pleasure of people with dementia who have taken part, turning memory from a thing to be feared to a thing to be relished."

The opening event, on 7 June from 1pm to 3pm, will also see the launch of an accompanying book, containing photos, stories and poems. One of the quilts 'Fresh Air and Poverty', will remain on display until 30th September.

The project received grants totalling £38,880 from Arts Council England, Foundation Derbyshire, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Dales Council, Age UK, The Alzheimer's Society and The Farming Life Centre. 

For media enquiries please contact the DCC communications office on 01629 538205.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Solace from memory dark

‘When I was homeless, I used to put my head in a box- I was sleeping on a park bench, with cardboard to keep the draft from below and a box to keep the wind of my head. A box, a lovely form of protection - it works very well.”  Georgina.

Our third session at the Booth Centre, for the project Armour, and this time we were joined by artist/poet/performer Johnny Woodhams.

It’s a hard to explain in words sometimes, better to experience. As I have talked about in previous blogs, The Booth Centre does something remarkable, gives a safe space to some of the most vulnerable in society. And more than that, creates a tolerant, optimistic, creative working space that I feel privileged to work in.

‘Making art, takes your mind away from things.’ Garry

Shrine, part of the Armour project

With Johnny leading the session, the room took on a jovial atmosphere and somehow, at odds to the stereotypes of the pained artist, in stickered misery, the laughter and support allowed people to talk about some darkness, darkness that nobody would want to face. One man, living with his fiancée and son, recently dying in a house fire, created a shrine. A deeply personal brave piece, that effected all of the viewers.

‘Making art, helps an erratic mind, it stimulates, you’ve found the secrete to help homeless people.’ Dave.

Johnny had filled a two tables with an eclectic mix of objects, bones, wooden boxes, an old violin, books, tiny figures of people. Without pausing anon, (a veteran of the armed forces) choose a large piece of tree bark and started writing his train of thought onto it.

“The sway from your branches, to and fro, my home, not to share, my solace from memory dark, noice, panic, fear, tearing at my brain… you comfort me still, my house, my treehouse.'  

Quietly spoken, he explained to me later, that he had spent two years living in a tree house, only coming down to the ground in the dead of night.

Gary's artwork coincidentally picks up on another aspects of trees, their life cycle and the importance of trees/cardboard and wood in a homeless person's life. Taking us back in a circle to Georgina….

Lois Blackburn

Johnny Woodhams at the Booth Centre

I had no real idea what I was expecting to find and feel at the Booth Centre having never been there before. I was afraid that my concept for the session might be met with boredom or resentment...after all what do I know about what it's like to live on the street? What I found was the best 'family' of folk I've met in a long time....staff, volunteers and visitors alike...genuine, welcoming, comforting and inclusive....what an absolutely great place.

The outcomes of the session were raw and hugely emotive but the power of humour and strength were ever present throughout the day....I cannot wait to go back....I can see a hundred more things we could do! Writing is at it's best when it is honest  and rooted in truth...there are some bloody great writers here but often my favourite pieces are the most basic and simplistic because no language is is as the person speaks....

This session was utterly touching, emotive and beautiful even in its sadest lifted my spirits enormously and reminded me how important the power of art is even more so in these current climes....

Any one of us could easily fall into this position...the mixture of amazing characters was complete testament to this.....

Johnny Woodhams

Friday, 12 May 2017

Safety in Numbers

Armour, Thursday 11th May, The Booth Centre, Manchester

We've been having a sunny spell in Manchester this week, and it's spilling into peoples moods. That and good news. One of the men I told me about the relief of being housed in temporary accommodation, a roof over his head after 2 years rough sleeping. Another man proudly shared the number of weeks he had been off the class A's. 

Lawrence, Garry and I went for a walk from the Booth, circling Strangeways, massage parlours, the canal, car parks, busy roads, looking for rusty metal- for printing onto fabric and paper. In the sun, and with good company even the not-so-pretty side of Manchester looked ok. Then a reminder of how fragile life is on the streets, under a road bridge a shrine to a women who had died.

In the afternoon, everyone was engaged in conversation, poetry and making art. The staff, routine, the ethos of the Booth Centre generates an environment where people can feel safe and secure to try something new, to stretch themselves. Included in our afternoon group was one member who explained to me that they couldn't read or write, who went onto write a deep felt, moving poem and create an text/artwork- this was achieved simply with someone to sit with them to scribe their words.

safe in the house not safe in the street
street heavy
heavy in a safe building
building heavy caged in
caged in the box room
room careful who you’re in the room with
with been used
used scared on the street
street make sure their safe

Armour design

The Armour project is particularly targeting people who have served in the Armed Forces, people like Peter. 

safety in numbers link on link
link with friends hard and light
light from the chains and shields
shields protection and noisy
noisy shouts and clanging screams
screams of people pain and grief
grief of friends as fallen flow
flow of rivers of missing foe
foe that's banished to wide open spaces
spaces spaces it’s what we fought for
for spaces to share with friends
friends friends linked linked together hand

hands safe safe

Peter Scott
11th May 2017

Lawrence working on Armour design.

Throughout this at sometime emotionally raw day, somehow we are still smiling, there is room for laughter. The group is upbeat supportive, positive, kind. I feel privileged to be part of it.

Thanks to poet Roger Butts for the poetry inspiration, and everyone who shared their day with me.