New project in Stalybridge

Over the coming month I’m going to be working on a short project thinking about place and identity, in a Greater Manchester town I have never visited – Stalybridge. It’s going to have to happen in quite an organic and journalistic way – one step leading to the next – because I don’t have time to develop links with any groups in the way I’ve worked elsewhere lately. There is still three weeks of summer holidays – ergo childcare issues – which makes it even more complicated and challenging but it should be good. More info to follow…. This is a group project involving seven photographers – three here and four in Sweden. To kick things off we were asked to respond to some prompts about the issues we are addressing with the work. Here are my thoughts:


– VIEWPOINTS: What does it mean to be local/lokal?

IN looking IN

– How do our places make us feel?

My personal experience of place/locality has been mixed. I was born and raised in a town (Wrexham) – my family moved there shortly before I was born. Neither of my parents grew up in the UK so we’re a bit rootless. Wrexham is a border town but has quite a strong Welsh identity, and in the 80s/90s it felt very white/monocultural and quite stifling to me. I couldn’t wait to escape. In 1999 I moved to Manchester, were I’ve largely remained. I’ve lived in the same neighbourhood since 2004 and I feel like I belong here. People talk sometimes about ‘chosen family’ and that’s how this area feels to me. It’s diverse and creative and warm and friendly in a way that my hometown never felt growing up – although that could be changing now… or maybe it’s a matter of perspective. I remember being fascinated when I was about 18 and working in my local pub in Wrexham by the people who felt so connected with their place that they never moved away/never yearned for change. I am still very curious about people like that and understand it more now because I’ve found somewhere where I feel I fit.

– What heritage defines your place eg. for Greater Manchester it is perhaps textile, heritage, canals and trade routes.

Greater Manchester has a strong industrial tradition – it’s the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The social history aspect of this interests me – the migration it led to, from Ireland and Italy, then from the Indian subcontinent and broader British Empire. This has enriched the region enormously, and more recent waves of migration continue to do this.

– Contemporary culture – what do people like to experience in their locality?

My area is rapidly gentrifying – which has its pros (finally a few nice cafes and bars) but many, many cons as well (lots of people I know being priced out of the rental market or choosing to move away). One of the drivers of this locally is a weekly market, which was set up by community members seven years ago and is a social enterprise which aims to put money back into the local area. It’s a really lovely place to go eat and you always bump people you know there but it’s a space which doesn’t serve the whole community as it is unaffordable to many people. For me this side of local contemporary culture is jarring – I fear that places are increasingly being segregated by class. Recently I was part of an artist residency at the market – we got Platinum Jubilee funding to run a community portrait project there. We tried hard to pull in a broad range of participants. It was a joyful project to be involved in – people have a lot of love for this area. I am lucky to be part of a burgeoning creative community in the locality – there is a lot going on and artists are developing links with one another.

– What are our shared concerns, issues and aspirations and how do we feel about where we live and work?

I am passionate about where I live and have seen a lot of changes there over recent years. In 2016 I was commissioned to do some research for the local market into what factors were holding back our high street, because there were so many empty shops and it felt like a failing district centre. The place has changed enormously since then. But I worry about gentrification and who spaces serve/does not serve and how sustainable these changes are. This year I’ve been working in Wigan on a town centre project and some similar questions have been coming up for me. Who owns space? Who has a right to be in particular spaces and what kinds of uses are acceptable? How do we make sure access to our town centres and high streets is equitable?


OUT looking IN

– What is more important, external perception of a place, or our internal perception?

For me, places are for the people who live and work in them before anyone else. They matter much more to me than external image. If I make work I want it to have integrity and truth from that point of view. Passion shines through though – where I live for example, that pride for Leveshulme that local people have is what outsiders probably take from some of my recent work (the market project contains written reflections by local people. See our zine here)

– What stops people from seeing your place the way you’d like them to?

My neighbourhood is dirty. Litter and fly tipping are a huge problem. If I travel one mile into Stockport this problem doesn’t exist to the same extent (it is a wealthier area, which is also a factor).

IN looking OUT

– How does our locality influence how we think about the world?

Growing up in Wrexham, a monocultural place at the time, I didn’t connect with it because my family were outsiders (‘blow ins’, as my Irish mum would say).  I think I needed to be in a place which was more culturally mixed for things like this to cease to matter and there was a lot more space to be alternative, like different music, be arty etc. I was desperate to leave and had a yearning to travel the world. It took travelling and living abroad for me to realise that the UK is not as awful as I had previously thought and that the grass is not always greener. If you put love into where you live and try to make strong connections, hopefully you will get it back.

– What makes our places similar and what makes them unique?

I feel like the UK has quite a complex web of regional and national identities and local idiosyncrasies – maybe all countries do. I’m interested to learn about the context in Sweden.

– How can crossing borders and partnering with neighbours enhance our local experience?

Travel and learning about other countries has helped me see more clearly the good things which do exist in the UK and what could be done differently. It’s good to hear different perspectives and learn about alternative ways of doing things.

– How does your work challenge these questions?

I think my work often shows the pride people have in where they live but not in a blind way – I want my work always to show nuance and to ask challenging questions. I don’t know what this will look like in Stalybridge but it will include personal narratives of local people and their connection to place, I would expect.

A Portrait of Levenshulme show – at LOL


We had the best time at Levenshulme Old Library on Saturday, for the first day of our A Portrait of Levenshulme exhibition. Over recent months, Laura Deane and I (plus local artist helpers Jess Wood and Local Hotel Parking) have worked with hundreds of residents of all ages to create work celebrating our neighbourhood. We’ve helped 170 groups/individuals to make self portraits using a shutter release cable, and helped people make drawings, collages and written reflections on what makes a strong community. This is our contribution to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations – it might seem tenuous but we think community is the most important thing there is and wanted to celebrate that. We were fortunate to receive Arts Council funding via Forever Manchester to make our idea a reality and partnered with Levenshulme Market to be their first artists in residence (hopefully there will be more in the future). So many lovely participants came along to see their work in the show. I loved every minute. We are now going to be pulling everything together into a zine. Watch this space….

Levenshulme Market Jubilee residency – session 3

Today we had our final (3rd) creative session at Levenshulme Market, as part of an artist residency we’ve been running over the past month, tied in with the Jubilee celebrations.
Laura Deane and I have been running portraiture sessions – where people can make photographic self portraits in our pop up studio and/or draw or collage or otherwise contribute something for inclusion in our community exhibition, due to take place at Levenshulme Old Library next Saturday, 4 June.
We are being funded to do this fun project by money from Arts Council England, distributed to us by Forever Manchester. We made the case that we wanted to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by paying tribute to the wealth of cultures and characters who live in our local neighbourhood of Levenshulme.
Over the three sessions, around 170 people have made photographic self portraits using our studio and a shutter release cable, getting a print to take away with them. We now need to pull together the exhibition in a matter of days….
Today we were graced by celebrity in the form of BBC TV weatherman Owain Wyn Evans and our local MP Afzal Khan. Thanks to everyone who has taken part so far – it’s had such a positive reception and we feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to work on something so fun.

A portrait of Levenshulme – market residency

Today was good fun – I ran a pop up photo studio at Levenshulme Market as part of a funded Jubilee project – and shot 39 portraits of local people.

Together with my friend and fellow photographer Laura Deane, I’m an artist in residence at the market over the coming weeks. We’ve successfully sought funding from Arts Council England towards our Portrait of Levenshulme project, which will culminate with an exhibition over the Jubilee weekend in early June.

Today and for two more Saturdays in May, we are supporting people to take photographic self portraits and to use drawing and collage to explore portraiture and to share their thoughts with what makes our neighbourhood special.

Today we were even interviewed on BBC Radio Manchester about the project. It was extremely windy today and there were moments when I thought my light stand might blow away but it was good fun.

If you’re in the area on May 7 or 28 please come along, and join us for our community exhibition on the 4th.

Levenshulme Market – Jubilee residency

Exciting news incoming …. Starting this weekend, @lauradeanephotography and I will be the very first first artists-in-residence at Levenshulme Market.
Over three weekends we will be working to create a portrait of Levenshulme, culminating with a community exhibition on 4 June.
Come down and make a self portrait in our pop-up photo studio, or be supported to make a self portrait using drawing or collage. Tell us what you think makes Levenshulme special. Let us share your work with other folk in an exhibtion and commemorative zine.
This project is being funded by Arts Council England’s special Jubilee funding, allocated in our area by Forever Manchester. 💥

Wigan King Street project – photo walk along a complicated street

I enjoyed my second photo walk along King Street in Wigan today, with Jeff, Mike and Dave, for one strand of my Heritage Action Zone commission with the Old Courts and the rest of the Wigan cultural consortium. This should have been my third walk but I ended up having to cancel walk #2 due to my catching Covid. I’ve tried really hard to promote these – via Facebook groups, contacting the local newspaper (to no avail), general social media, flyering, contacting local organisations like the college, Universities of the Third Age and photographic societies, but it’s been an uphill struggle.  I have one more walk next Sat 9th April (drop me a line to get involved) plus a workshop at the Old Courts in mid-May for people who have participated. This week I’ll also start running some sessions with service users from local homeless charity the Brick, for the the other part of this project – exploring their relationship with this rather complicated street.


Making of Us film

A short film made during the Making of Us development programme, which I was part of at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh. Artist Jamie-Lee Wainman and I led eight socially engaged workshops with neurodiverse young people at Ashcroft School in Cheadle, as part of this 2022 programme.

Film supplied by
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Februllage 2022

I’ve been having a busy few months – well I was until I was struck down by Covid-19 this week – but I know from experience that I’m always able to make myself even busier, just when it doesn’t seem possible.

And so it was that in February I got involved in the online challenge Februllage, which sees artists and enthusiasts across the world make daily collages for a month, in response to a series of prompts. I came across it for the first time last year, when a few participants crossed my radar on Instagram.

This time I really wanted to do it, to use the opportunity to give myself a push. I didn’t know if I’d end up doing the whole month but somehow I did. I tried not to think too deeply about the the work and to spend no more than half an hour on each piece.

As I’ve been rushing from one project to another lately, and desperately trying to keep too many plates in the air, I have wondered whether I spend too much time daydreaming and overthinking everything when I’m less busy. The answer for me is probably a balance of the two states.

Anyway here are my favourite collages that I made during the month.

Street Level Photoworks exhibition

I’m chuffed to be part of the This Separated Isle exhibition at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow at the moment.

The show features all the portraits from the beautiful book edited by Paul Sng – mine is of Owen Haisley, whose story I covered for Big Issue North.

Owen – who was born and lived for four years in Jamaica – lost his right to remain in the UK after serving a short prison sentence. He had spent over 40 years in the UK, never leaving the country. The result is that he now lives in limbo – unable to work and enjoy the same freedoms that most British citizens enjoy. It’s an outrage.

Thank you to Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert for the installation photo. You can order the book here.


Making of Us reflections – session #8

Today was our eighth and final session at Ashcroft School for the Making of Us. I was looking forward to the end of this project – not because I haven’t enjoyed it but because I’m happy to be moving forwards and building on everything I’ve learned. I applied for the Making of Us pretty blindly, it has to be said – I saw the opportunity advertised and didn’t think too deeply about what it could all mean for me. I was looking for new challenges and directions at the time, as I was looking to move on from journalism, and this presented itself, so it all happened quite organically. A lot of things have happened quite serendipitously during my career, this one included. I’ve learned loads, and a lot of what I learned I couldn’t have foreseen – which I suppose is the best kind of learning. I’ve learned I enjoy collaboration and I’ve learned to let go as a facilitator and to try new activities that are also unknown to me. Previously I probably would have felt I need to have expertise in something before passing it on to a group.

As I’ve previously expressed on here, we’ve had quite a few ups and downs and twists and turns during the lifetime of this project, as to be expected. We’ve had to navigate our relationship with the partner setting, including learning to be quite firm about our needs where necessary. I’ve personally had to learn a lot from the young people about their needs, which are variable within the group and across the sessions themselves. Today we repeated our cyanotype session, which we did a few weeks ago and which proved quite successful then.

There’s something about this process which suited the group – I think because you see a result quite fast and there are lots of different steps. This time we had three young people in our session, two of whom were present last time. They went straight into it like a couple of pros, and focused really well for the entirety of the session. The third young person also got very into it once her initial mood had dissipated. The group made cards/images for people the love, since today is Valentines Day. We couldn’t really have asked for it to go any better and I think we left the space feeling quite positive.