Sunday 17 July 2011

Cause For Concern

During my career I have had the pleasure of working both as a part time Youth Worker and as an artist with many young people in Corby. Although I don't live there, it's where my studio is based and I have seen the changes that have taken place since the dark days of the 1980's. It has always had and continues to have a wonderful community spirit, a generous heart, an outgoing nature and I'm delighted that the ongoing Regeneration has injected a renewed sense pride, ambition and optimism in the town, particularly amongst it's young people.

However I am worried about the fate of one of it's older buildings, the Connaughty Centre, it's not a beautiful building and it's certainly a little battered and the worse for wear, so what's so special? It's value lies within, through the work it does with young people.

Dreams, the Youth Club based there, has had many different incarnations, many young people have learnt skills, developed their passion for music, dance, sport and creativity, made friends, had crushes, fallen in and out of love, learnt about life, mixed and moved on. It has offered them a place to express themselves, to hang out and socialise under the expert eyes of some wonderful, caring, indomitable Youth Workers.

I heard recently that the Connaughty Centre is due to close in December and feel this is a serious cause for concern, there are few enough places for young people to make that transition from child to young adult and I hope that the powers that be will seriously reconsider their decision.

In the last couple of years I worked on two separate mosaic projects with young people at the Connaughty Centre. The first was a Heritage Lottery Funded project in which groups of young people researched eight decades in Corby from 1920 to 2000. They looked at landmark buildings, traditions, activities and the part Corby played in the different decades. Once the research was complete I worked with them and the Corby CIC Youth Team to encapsulate some of their findings in a series of mosaic panels.

Working on the 1960's panel

The young people involved worked over several months with drop in sessions happening at the Connaughty Centre, Lodge Park Sports Centre and structured group sessions in my studio. As I've mentioned before, mosaics take patience and staying power but each group put their all into making their particular panel.

1970's Panel - Glam Rock, Punk, platform form soles,
Porridge Oats, Westwood and the Silver Jubliee

We also had time to talk about their findings, the people they'd met during their research, the differences and similarities in the lives of people in those eight decades. The finished panels were edged in steel and hung, temporarily in the Connaughty Centre Hall. The mosaics were unveiled by the local MP at the time, Phil Hope and the young people were commended for their work and creativity.

Once the Cube opened, the mosaics were taken down to be rehung somewhere in the new building. Another group of young people were inspired by the mosaics and wanted to try their hand at making one of their own, to represent what Dreams, the Youth Club meant to them. They applied for the money and their application was successful, I was asked back to help them with their project.

I asked the group if they wanted to draw the ideas themselves or whether they wanted me to come up with a design based on their ideas, they chose the latter. They came up with a series of words : growth, the seasons, nature, music, DJs, cooking, fruit, birds, faces flowers, dreams, stars, fireworks, bonfire, trees, snowflakes, friendship, the world.....and from that I came up with a wiggly cut out design which was intended for a large rectangular space in the Coffee Bar area.

As usual time and money were tight and as I only had 10 sessions I went ahead and cut out the pieces, then found out that the mosaics were going to be hung where the previous ones had been. It's a difficult space, high up, with trunking running through the middle and on slope, but we did the best we could to make the pieces fit the space.

We met on Monday evenings for 2 hours at a time and over the course of the project lots of different young people came in and took part. Vicki, the young woman who made the initial application was a star and made sure the rest of the team kept on coming. I found their commitment encouraging and all their different personalities inspiring.

We did run out of time but thankfully J Devereux, Corby's Strategic Arts & Cultural Officer managed to find funding for the extra sessions and it was money well spent.

Not only was it a chance for the participants to learn new skills, but it also offered lots of opportunities for lively conversations and debate.

Some participants popped in for a brief time, just to have a quite moment before going back out to socialise with their friends. There was always a good atmosphere in the room and even the most unlikely characters were tempted in to take part.

During the course of the two projects the importance of all the different types of work that goes on at the Connaughty Centre became increasingly evident. If the building has to go, then some other provision must be made for the young people who use it.

During the planning meetings one young woman
came up with a slogan for the mosaic
"Dreams: together, united, we make our stand"

People are taking a stand, making their voices heard, various suggestions and options are being looked at and if you'd like to know more about the centre and what it means to the community click the link The Connaughty Centre Facebook Page for the latest updates.

Sunday 3 July 2011


As a child family days out, often involved visiting historic sites, stately homes, roman ruins, collections and curiosities. The Romans certainly left a strong imprint on this country and made a huge impression on me. Even today I can’t resist a Roman bathhouse with fabulous mosaics and under-floor heating, this is not surprising as I was often lulled to sleep with tales of “What I did at work today” from my Dad, a former pipe fitter / heating engineer who loves everything about complex industrial heating systems.

During a Millennium Project called Spirit of the Valley I found myself in Nether Heyford whilst they were conducting an archaeological dig, the archaeologists donated some actual roman floor tesserae to the Nether Heyford mosaic Millennium way marker. It was very surprising to see that they weren't square tiles but were more like lengths of clay carpet pile.
Through the years I have found that there is something completely compelling about mosaics, looking at them it’s easy to think you know how they work but as soon as you try making one you realise just how complex they are, just how many pitfalls you can stumble into! In my previous post I mentioned the Leicester- Mumbai project and my first mosaic – well I designed it and the children made it. It had to be simple because they were only 8 or 9, time and money was tight and I had no actual experience other than having read a wonderful book The Mosaic Workshop: A Practical Guide to Designing and Creating Mosaics by Emma Biggs and Tessa Hunkin

We worked using the reverse method and even though I’m a printmaker and know about reverse images and lettering, I forgot that the same principles applied to reverse mosaic making. I’d troweled the adhesive onto the board, the grout to the mosaics and sandwiched them together, when I realised my mistake. Thankfully I managed to cut away the lettering and reapply it before the adhesive set. That was a very long time and several mosaics ago but I still have huge amounts to learn and seeing or doing is the best way for me to learn.

My partner comes from Stoke-on-Trent, (I love the way he says Burslem, Tunstall, Duck and Sweetheart) but long before we met, I’d started collecting domestic china and the Potteries Museum in Hanley remains a favourite haunt. On one visit I picked up a leaflet about the Made in England project, a mosaic involving the community devised by Emma Biggs, they were looking for volunteers. My heart raced, she’d written that book - we could have met, I could have taken part……….had I not found the leaflet months too late and I'm not sure that I would have counted as part of the community! However I followed the mosaic's progress, read about it on the project website and went to see the finished piece when it was installed. It’s wonderful!

Minster Nights took me to York when the Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings “Five Sisters" installation was at York St Mary's and once again I was bowled over by their work.

Recently I was lucky enough to take part in one of Emma's courses, AN INTRODUCTION TO MOSAIC: TEXTURE, REFLECTIVITY, SURFACE described below
Texture in mosaic can be one of the most exciting, and beautiful properties of mosaic material, but it is tricky to use texture really effectively as there are so many issues at play. On this course, students will be taught the important strategies on which to focus, and how to do so to greatest aesthetic effect. Reflectivity and qualities of surface (granular, flat, sheer, rounded, sharp – for example) have to be considered and balanced to achieve a compelling design.”

For a magpie like me it was hard to resist the tiles with lustre

or the gorgeously coloured smalti

We were encouraged to look beyond the surface,
to notice that marble has many subtle shades

And when you break open a clay pot it’s amazing
to discover rich, unexpected colours and textures

It also requires a huge amount of concentration.

I began with simple circles, then cut my circle in half at an angle and couldn’t get Lyle Lovett’s ‘If I Had a Boat” out of my head, my semicircle spent the morning pretending to be a boat. I was trying hard to be abstract but the figurative would keep creeping in!

It’s very hard not to be influenced by work you admire
and other things you are thinking about,

the boat shape later became a train track, well I have been spending a lot of time beside them lately

the shards reminded me of rubble on the waste ground in Corby where Jo Dacombe & I (as part of Undiscovered Networks) did our Guerilla gardening
then lo and behold I found myself adding a tree

It took ages to resolve the middle, lots of umming and tutting and tea, before Emma rescued me by bringing out some blue and white pottery shards

one of my favourite finds in the many boxes of shards was part of a cylindrical pot, you can see the imprint of the maker and the pressure of the fingers that shaped the base, such an assured, steady spiral.

It was a wonderful course, with great tuitition, in lovely surroundings, good company, stimulating conversation, space for thought and careful deliberation, time, care and love! We all left wanting to make more.
You can read more from Emma on her Blog
Find out more about her work on her website
But if you get the chance, see the work in reality
or go on a course, you’ll be captivated too!
Photographs from the course were taken by Mac Canonymous