Chat and Create runs term-time 4-6pm @ The Swarthmore Adult Education Centre Café. I was asked by Terry – our Tez to his friends – to write a blog/report on it.
Swarthmore is a centre for lifelong learning, community projects and family learning sessions as well as the courses and activities advertised in this brochure. Our main aim is to encourage people who want to learn but might not feel comfortable in more formal educational institutions. We work on a friendly, human scale, offering a confidential counseling service, on-site childcare and learning support. Many volunteers currently support the Centre’s work and we welcome their contributions of time and energy.
Chat N’ Create’s name was brainstormed by Sue, who took over the group when it was known under a different name and I like the name. Chat N’ Create is based in this community, grass roots, equal opportunities ethic firmly indeed, however it is not oppressive and controlled, but free light-hearted and creative. Chat N’ Create is open to everyone.
Sue Bowden’s surname means ”a little tree in the corner of the field”. However Sue is no little tree, but a nurturing community artist of others artistic and health-potential. Highly appropriate, given she was helping herself, and 2 other group members, Judy and Lisa to re-create, among the encouraging chat, the Swarthmore’s logo of a community tree. By the way, ‘Swarthmore’ means – black moor.
The Swarthmore tree signature symbol is on the front cover of their booklet of courses you can order, or pop in to pick one up better still. It’s also on Swarthmore’s building and dotted about inside. It’s a large beech-shaped tree with a trunk, a few brown branches and lots of different coloured hands instead of leaves,. It is round and cuddly. Swarthmore’s motto is ”friendly learning” and I could see that manifested in Sue’s encouragement. She says the group is for everyone, so do please come along; it is for everyone to take the opportunity to participate in creating art for the community, and ourselves. The group is held downstairs, so accessibility for wheelchair users and walking stick users is good. It does not matter your class, race dis/ability, gender, sexuality, race, religion, nationality etc., Chat N’ Create welcomes you all. Everyone deserves the opportunity of community arts; I joined in to better write this article, but I was intending to participate anyway, because I am environ-mentally mad about preserving the natural world (see previous Environ-mental Gardening blog by ‘Mad’ (true individual) Milan – that’s me!).
Sue Bowden deliberately salvages materials – waste recyclables, paper, card, aluminium cans to save costs no doubt, but also to preserve the world’s life. I asked Sue to respond to my request to slow down, no blame or hurt intended. I said this to benefit everyone, the participants: Lisa and Judy, Sue, as participant – facilitator herself and me, because the ability to respond is emotional intelligence and nurturing, something we need from the arts. She responded well, and to take the pressure off her, I said could I join in – that’s what it’s all about come – unity, ‘community’.
I also had to say at the beginning I am half deaf and Sue asked me immediately which ear is worst, and adjusted her position on speaking in my favour, so deaf community you are welcome. Taking time and trouble, asking the right questions is demonstrated by Chat N’ Create as good practice. The method of making the Swarthmore hand-tree on a background of sky blue plastic was fascinating. The hands were made from old discarded aluminium (why do I think of my schoolmates singing aluminium to the tune of a fast repeated hallelujah!?) cans, top and tailed, and flattened out, so the inside silvery bare metal could then be painted with glass glue of differing colours. I have to say there were so many different hands and colours and designs; some Gothically dark, one with the texture of a centipede, with segments, others painted in bright colours by children, or big kids (adults; yes everyone wants to have fun).Some of the hand-leaves were made by drawing hand templates from people’s hands at the Woodhouse Unity Festival in July, by placing them on cardboard and cutting them out. Then hand shapes of silvery, polished aluminium metal were made from them, painted with coloured glass paint, according to people’s designs and tastes as individuals. I related to Sue that was part of the idea of community arts, the groups strength is in imagination bigger and better, more creative than any individual, and she agreed.
To see the Swarthmore Tree emerging was exciting, with so many different colours, and designs of hands as leaves. I could feel the pressure lift off us. We then began to use more ALU/minium insides flattened sheets of salvaged cans. Swarthmore has recycling boxes for aluminium, paper, card & plastic bottles all around the building. These were used as rectangular patches to staple on to the paper template of the tree trunk. So the trunk became silvery like moonlight. The whole 6 foot by 6 foot picture or hanging of the Swarthmore tree will be displayed on a notice board in the coffee bar when complete. It can also be taken into the hall for gigs, AGMs and other Swarthmore events, as it could be folded into half size by a piano hinge.
It was good to see practical common sense not airy-fairy daftness. Further, health and safety was taken care of with advice to be careful when handling and cutting ALU metal sheet. I asked Lisa how long she had been coming to the group, about 6 weeks she replied.
”And what have you got out of it?” ”Company, creativity, and pleasure”
So that’s it folks, it’s not ‘high’ art or ‘low’ art – it is for you, accessible and friendly. Open to humour as well as good equality practices. Why not try it? It could be just the group for you to better your mental health and well-being, to talk with like-minded, and different souls, to create art according to your taste, and the groups. As a tribute to Chat N’ Create here’s a poem: -
“Come, Chat N ‘ Create. Come to Chat N ‘ Create, and have a great time; come, create N ‘ Chat Its down at t’ Swarthmore in t’ centre of town, near St Georges Crypt. You don’t need a script, just a wish to create art, paint pictures, use scissors, cut, make a collage. No need to camouflage your wants and needs, aspirations about art, its v relaxed there is time a whole 2 hours, discover your powers to ‘artify’ yourself, and others. Find brothers and sisters in arts and community, in the tree of life, and art. For thou art beautiful – like every soul, so don’t be a miserable mole hiding and grumping; if it’s good for your mood to uplift, and mental health, or might be come along then, bring Ben and Sue, Helen too; all your friends. Pass round a Chat and Create flyer. Please let everyone know. The art door is open, the Art Café at Swarthmore is open, I know I’ve been going there 33 years. If Art takes your taste or fancy, then give yourself a chance, try it and see. Discover the playful child painter in you; create without too much thinking, linking with people just like you. If environ-mental: recycled reused repaired reduced ‘waste’ art is your style you’ll bring a smile to me, and Sue too, so don’t be blue or anxious; if your mood is already good, then drop by soon. Be part of community, arts community, community arts, the tree of life and community, arts could integrate emotions and thoughts. It might be the group for you. Refreshments are to hand and of healthy diet, though you have to pay. Come out and play!”
Once the tree is finished Chat and Create sessions will be focused on making something different each week from re used materials. Come and join in!
I enjoyed meeting the people in Chat N’ Create, and hope you will too. For a Swarthmore brochure ”Courses and Activities September 2013 – July 2014, contact www.swarthmore.org.uk Telephone 0113 243 2210, or write to 2-7 Woodhouse Square Leeds LS3 1AD.