1st April Wednesday
Yesterday had a good meeting with Finbar Wholly and Frazer Swift at the Museum of London. They are now new partners with our project and will help us wherever they can. We still need to talk specifics once the play is confirmed and we start to design a parallel heritage project. The basis of a heritage project is to run a series of events that serve both the needs of the play and our partner organisations. Finbar and Frazer were both very positive about our hopes for the play and the benefits it will have for them and their relationship with the local community.
2nd April Thursday
Meetings throughout the day with Jacquie Cambell, Fabio and Kirsty to plan our schedules after Easter and what will be the final two weeks of the feasibility period.
3rd- 7th April EASTER BREAK
8th April Wednesday
We have Public Sounding tomorrow at the Artizan Library. Kirsty has organized a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter coming for a deaf family who will be attending. We just need to be mindful of this in anything we are doing, and brings up the subject of signed performances and adding this service to our expenses and funding targets. We’ve had BSL interpreters at performances before and, being a promenade performance it requires some real planning as the action moves from stage to stage, so we will need a minimum of two and some real rehearsal time; and while that’s for much later it’s worth considering now. Fabio spent the day in the library promoting the soundings with posters and display material. He’s also pushing the public on the 28th
Toynbee Hall’s “Mapping the East End Project’. looks like an interesting project we may be able to connect with, and could and maybe should influence the heritage project we are planning. It’s a priority of ours to support what existing groups are doing rather than compete. I've been sent an interesting description of the project t.
In1898, a group of Toynbee Hall residents led by Charles James Booth set out to create a map of the social and economic conditions of the area from Hammersmith to Greenwich, and Hampstead to Clapham, believing the conditions described by social reformers to be exaggerated. What he and his team found were considerably worse conditions than had been described. These maps would become known as Booth’s ‘Maps Descriptive of London Poverty’ (1898-99). This pioneering study has had a significant and lasting influence on social research methods and social policy to this day.
The majority of the dire poverty they discovered over 110 years ago was centred around Toynbee Hall. Subsequent studies of the area in recent years have revealed poverty and ill health has clung to these geographical areas and housing arrangements, despite overall standard of living improving. The borough Tower Hamlets is one of the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. Child poverty is at 49%, the highest in the UK, whilst pensioner poverty, overcrowding, ill health and hig income poverty are some of the worst in the country. Alongside this the area is experiencing a rapid transformation with the development of new and iconic public and private spaces, and the rise of property prices.
In partnership with Middlesex University (Social Policy Research Centre), the Toynbee Hall Information Centre is proposing a heritage research project ‘Re-mapping London’s East End’. The project will map the socio-economic changes of the area using a combination of official statistics as well as original data collected through community based research and activities. In particular, we want to return the ‘qualitative heart’ to the research by interviewing people in the local community that made Booth’s research so ground breaking, and which subsequent mapping studies have not included. The inclusion of local people’s experiences will enrich our understanding of the specific challenges facing the area.
Through comparison with Booth’s original maps, this project is an exciting opportunity to explore the changes that have occurred over the last 100 years, investigate improvements as well as new challenges, and engage with the diverse local population. This research will strengthen Toynbee Hall’s heritage as a leader in social research and have a lasting impact on Toynbee Hall’s future service delivery.
9th April Thursday
We ran an open Sounding at the Artizan Library, I was pleased with the attendance, we saw some thirty people over the course of the afternoon, and were able to run a group sounding and speak to others individually. Even though the play wasn’t the focus of the day we had our first volunteers signing up. What we’d come together for was to get to get some sense of what people thought of their community, their hopes and fears about the future, the positives and negatives about the present. What emerged was an optimistic feeling about living in the city but also a real desire for change and community development. I’ve added their views to the web site sounding page. http://www.communityplays.com/what-people-are-saying.html. A date and time has been confirmed for the public meeting so we were able to announce that and several attendees of the sounding plan to support it.
10th April Friday
Letter of invitations to the public have gone out to service providers, those who attended the influencers presentation, community soundings, Portsoken pioneers and everyone on our database, which is everyone we have met so far. They in turn are sending out to their networks. We’ve also sent out letters to parents via the Sir John Cass Foundation School. On previous play projects Claque have made a lot of the public meeting and whilst I don’t want to underrate its value here, there has been such a strong outreach to existing groups that have garnered ‘sounding’ material, lively discussion about community issues, and positive reactions to the idea of the play. We’ve seen a wide representation of groups and individuals who have already expressed views and a commitment to the play that the public meeting maybe won’t be as representative as everything that has led up to it.
13th April Monday
A good number of responses to the invitation to the Public Meeting coming in.
14th April Tuesday
Fabio came to Tunbridge Wells for a daylong planning session where we started devising a draft timetable of parallel project. We have tried to design something that responds to the most prolific views from the soundings and the ‘common- ground’ goals of service providers and potential partners. We have also compiled and draft list of aims and objectives of the project as a whole. It all needs further work, and input. These will be presented to a new steering committee that we hope we will be assembling in early June. I want to present the new steering committee with recommendations and draft guidelines to help get them started; nothing is set in concrete but in my experience starting with a plan that open to change is better than starting with nothing.
16th April Thursday
A meeting has been arranged with the Jan Pimblett and Geoff Pick of London Metropolitan Archives. Jan came to the Influencers presentation and went back to her boss, Geoff Pick, saying that they must get involved. They have some ideas about a possible parallel project involving photography and audio recordings about the area, which sounds as if it would fit beautifully. I know no more than that, except that a photographer is already involved and that they are thinking about a Heritage Lottery bid. We also want them on board because of the wealth of research material and knowledge they have which will help enormously with the writing process.
21st April Tuesday
Meeting at Metropolitan Archives with Jan Pimblett and Neal Hounsell, Kirsty and Fabio. Geoff Pick who was to be there couldn’t finally make it, but what a good meeting. Jan is to help us with a bid to Heritage for a two year project that will help us research the play, input into the script development but also produce some heritage exhibitions. I have already started on a draft timetable and will make adjustments and develop ideas to incorporate the Metropolitan as partners.
22nd April Wednesday
Meeting at the Guildhall to discuss Community Engagement and the design of the Float for Lord Mayor’s show. It is to represent Portsoken. Neal Hounsell, Marcia Connell, Will Cooper, Helen Price, Kirsty, Fabio and Will Cooper were there. We need to secure some funding and have ideas presented in draft form by the first week of June. This is a pretty tight schedule, as I would like to see as much input from the community as possible. We discussed the pros and cons of an actual float; I said I’d like to see a walking element to have scope for good representative community participation. It needs to have some carnival feel… demonstrating Portsoken’s history and mixed culture is quite complex. We have until November 14th so there’s time. I hope that whatever plans we put forward initially don’t need to be absolutely fixed. It will, by definition of a community project, need to have flexibility and time to develop and agree a final image if it is to truly represent the whole community.
27th April Monday
We’ve finalized a running order for the public meeting at Sir John Cass Foundation School. Neal Hounsell will host and welcome, Victor will talk about the Aldgate development project and the new square. I will then talk about the community play along with Paul Fulton and Alison McKenzie who were both in the Camden Road Community play. They will be there in costume. Caroline Masundire (Assistant Director Rocket Science) will talk about the Portsoken Forum, as it’s a potential legacy project. We will finish with Q&A and the vote. It’s a lot to get through but everyone needs be brief to cover it in an hour. Fabio has prepared a display and we have Drumworks to play as people arrive. If we get a yes vote, which I’m confident we will, bearing in mind the support we already have, we will pass out volunteer forms and we’re off, as they say.
28th April Tuesday
The Public Meeting, has always been the final event in the diary for this first stage of the project. They way this feasibility study has panned out, there have been more direct meetings with groups, service providers and the like than I had anticipated; the assessment of support has spread over the course of four months rather than peaking in a final public meeting, so the vote, though unanimously a ‘yes’ wasn’t dramatically surprising. The Drumworks group was great and we will hopefully be able to work with them again, maybe the Lord Mayor’s Show. Everyone spoke well; it’s always inspiring to hear past play participants’ talk about their experience. The great majority volunteered across the range of activities: steering committee; research, performing, and more. Arianne Gastambide, a designer I’ve worked with on numerous shows came along to support and had a flurry of keen people asking her about design and signing up. Someone has since commented they thought the event was a little stage-managed. It’s true that everyone who spoke did so enthusiastically about the idea and experience of community plays. You could argue that the vote to go forward seemed inevitable, but when it’s so clear the that the four month study reveals a play is not only feasible but clearly supported, and wanted, optimism is hard to quell. I can only say, from my point of view, that I want the residence of the city to have the experience. There are so many benefits, socially, culturally and in terms of building and strengthening communities, it’s hard not to champion a play for you; and maybe not so wrong that I do.
29th April Wednesday
I guess we would have liked there to be more people, at the public meeting but as I said at the start of the feasibility study, numbers are not an indicator at this stage. More importantly I estimate, from my contact count that I have met and talked to somewhere between 250 and 300 people. I’ve not heard or received any negativity towards the play, only the occasional individual ambivalence about being in it, which is not unusual by any means - people generally undervalue their own talents and abilities. There is clearly a general consensus that the play is the right thing to be doing and it ticks so many boxes in regard the agendas and ambitions of all the service providers. Yesterdays meeting both confirms what we knew about the support and interest out there but also showed how much work needs to be done to draw people in and engage. Thankfully we start with a practical project getting a float and parade element together for the Lord Mayor’s Show. I will be interested to see how many and who have put names forward for the steering committee. An interesting factor about the people who were there is that they are widely representative. I must congratulated Fabio and Kirsty for getting out there among a very wide section of society. The contacts we have made in this process are, I feel, all open to being re-approached and invited to take part in whatever we set up next. It’s now time to start distributing the volunteer forms - which we haven’t really been too free to do before.
Step one is all but done, I’ll be meeting up with Kirsty and Fabio and possibly Jacquie tomorrow (Thursday) to share the information we’ve gathered and how we tackle the next immediate step of forming the steering committee - I then have the report to write up and deliver as part of a starter pack for members of the steering committee. I’ll set up a meeting with Jan Pimblett at the London Metroploitan Archives to start putting together plans for the heritage pilot project to start in January 2016.
For the moment Fabio leaves the team having fulfilled his contract to co-ordinate the feasibility study. His enthusiasm has been infectious and he is remarkably insightful that I’ve learned a lot from. I hope he might be able to join us again in some capacity in the future. He has been a real bonus; a great joy to work with I shall miss him.
30th April Thursday
Now that its confirmed we are going forward, my mind has turned to the writer. The study seems to point to a project that encourages and is open to the broadest and largest number of participants possible, so have been thinking of writers that might be open to that kind of process. I have been trying to entice Stephen Lowe for year to write a community play, the time and circumstances have never quite worked out but I’ll give it another go.