Pip Claridge

A Way With Words: Q&A with Pip Claridge, Education Manager

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AWWW is the second phase of a 3-year inter-generational community outreach project. We chatted about the project with Pip Claridge, Education Manager, recently and this is what we found out.

What is A Way with Words?

A Way with Words is an inter-generational arts project which listens to the stories of people in a local area, in this case Cheltenham West, and re-interprets them into a performance in October. It responds to a Cheltenham Festivals’ strategic objective, to extend our reach into local communities.

Cheltenham West?

The West Cheltenham area – Springbank, Arle, Hesters Way, Rowanfield, St Marks, Fiddlers Green.

Yes, I’ve heard of Hesters Way.

That doesn’t surprise me; it’s often used as a catch-all name for the entire district even though the different neighbourhoods there are quite distinct. Until house-building took off there in the 1950s, the area was mainly farms, orchards and market gardens; many place names such as Arle Farm, Orchard Way, Village Road reflect this. It’s now home to around 15,000 people, and includes the largest area of social housing in Gloucestershire.

OK, I’m getting the picture. But why the focus on this area?

It is a fact that a relatively small number of Festival tickets are purchased by people living there, but this does not necessarily equate to a lack of interest. Rather, there is a sense that the Festivals are ‘not for us’, most likely the result of patchy awareness of the range of opportunities and how to get involved.

How do you know this?

Good question. During the research and planning phase the Education team consulted groups and individuals who represent the views of the communities, from the Hesters Way Partnership to Police Community Support Officers.

And what’s happened so far?

Since April poet Karen Hayes and the Story Collectors have visited different Story Provider groups to listen to people talking about living in their neighbourhood. From POPPs (Playtime for Older People Project) in Springbank to Hesters Way After-School Club, people of all ages have shared their stories, and found out about opportunities to access the Festivals.

What happens next? What are you going to do with all the material you’ve gathered?

Karen is busy collating it all and writing it as prose poetry in preparation for read-back sessions with the groups. At these sessions they’ll be able to say what they think about Karen’s work, and to have their say about what should be included.

What then?

At the end of May all the artists and the producer Sarah Blowers (Theatre Maker and Producer, Strike a Light Festival) will meet up for another planning session. Karen will share the material she has written, and the artists will begin to think about the stories or themes they might want to include in the final performance. At this session we will also start planning summer activities for children and families in Cheltenham West, and tie down the shape and format of the final performance and …around town performances at the Literature Festival.

In a separate item for the website after the meeting, the artists will share the process of identifying and selecting themes and stories, and talk about how they intend to work with the material; we will also share details of the summer activities.

Where will the final performance be and how can I find out about it?

The final performance will take place in one of the areas the project has been active in, most probably Springbank. As soon as all the details about the performance are confirmed, the information will be posted on our website, all over Cheltenham West, and in the Literature Festival brochure.

What do you hope to achieve through the project?

We want to challenge stereotyped views by providing opportunities for different communities to interact in new ways. We hope to increase understanding and interaction amongst communities by involving local people in every stage of this project, and sharing their stories through creative performances in Springbank and in Cheltenham. By involving participants in the performances we also hope to change perceptions about arts and culture in Cheltenham, so that ‘not for me’ becomes ‘I might give that a go’; and ‘I can’t’ becomes ‘I can’.

How will you know if it has been successful?

Will people’s views change? How will they respond to the opportunities offered by the project? Will we see them at the Festivals? We will use a mixture of formal and anecdotal feedback from participants to measure the extent to which the project outcomes have been achieved. A short film about the project will include interviews with participants and audience members. We will monitor the extent to which the performances, both in Springbank and at …around town, attract audiences from the groups and communities we’ve worked in, as well as traditional festival ticket-buyers. And it’s important to remember that this is just phase 2; there is more to come next year!

I’d love to come and talk to you again to find out how things are progressing.

Please do. Just have a look at the activities overview and let me know when you’d like to meet up.

Activities overview:

Nov 2014 – Feb 2016 Consultation and project development
March – August 2015 Funding applications submitted
Jan/Feb 2016 Artist recruitment and contracting
February 2016 Development of concept and creative process
April – June 2016 Story Collection sessions
May/June 2016 Creative planning sessions with artists and Producer
July/August 2016 Summer activities
September 2016 Rehearsals for final performance
October 2016 Final Performance
…around town performances
November 2016 Project evaluation

Activities eg summer activities will be linked to further information as sessions etc are confirmed