New year, new projects

We’re a fortnight into the new year and I’m a bit all over the place – involved in various new projects and not really knowing if I’m coming or going (as is often the case, I think this is the curse of the freelancer). I have two main projects going on currently, which are taking up most of my headspace (well, one much more than the other).

This week we started some workshops at Bridge College, which works with young people aged 18-25 with learning and/or physical disabilities, as part of A New Exchange, an artist development project I’m fortunate to be part of at the moment. My artist partner Hattie and I are running seven sessions with a group of eight young people – this is a new demographic for both of us but the staff at Bridge College are super supportive and open to our ideas. This week was a ‘getting to know’ you session with various drawing exercises and some polaroid photography and next week we are concentrating entirely on photography, but we plan to bring other elements into the sessions after that as Hattie works largely in sculpture. I really want to learn about other art practices and how to integrate that into my own projects. Our group is quite mixed in terms of needs – some members a very able to verbalise what they like or don’t like, while other participants struggle more with communication or have other kinds of needs. We want to make the sessions as collaborative and responsive as possible so need to develop ways to gauge what they want to do as the project unfolds – we need to find approaches which meet everyone’s needs and don’t allow some voices to dominate.


I’m also plugging away with my Open Eye Gallery Reflections commission, for which I’m working with members of the Traveller community in Cheshire West. This is the project which is taking up a lot of head space because I care so much about getting the ethics and approach right and how to juggle the various stories which may emerge. One of these is promising to be quite challenging if it ends up happening as the person has very strong opinions about a lot of subjects which are diametrically opposed to my own. This is going to be an interesting challenge – how to weave in that person’s viewpoint and narrative in a way which works for the wider project and makes him feel heard and respected. This residency has to go at its own pace – people are not always available or easy to pin down, and I just have to keep putting in the time. I am finding with these commissions that there are often artificial and unrealistic timelines put onto them by commissioners but am starting to develop the confidence to ignore these as far as possible and work at my own pace, and at the pace which the project demands.

So far I have a small list of people who I have met or spoken to – some are physically vulnerable due to age or illness, so I have decided to focus on them for now when they are able and not try to spin too many plates at once (although I don’t want other people to forget who I am so need to keep calling in to them now and then). I have also started doing some one-to-one sessions with a young girl at a primary school in Ellesmere Port, it’s not something I would have sought out but it presented itself as an opportunity so I went for it. Today was my second session with her – I’m just doing loads of different photography activities with her and seeing what comes out of it. Today I gave her a film camera to take home. For me this is all about throwing metaphorical mud at a wall and seeng what sticks. I’m not sure what her bit will say about Covid times but I suppose we’re still living through this so I’m sure something will emerge. And children’s voices are so important and often go unheard.


I’m a climate-aware photographer

I’ve recently been certified as a climate aware photographer, after completing carbon literacy training with Redeye.

The course was accredited by the Carbon Literacy Trust.

I’ve been increasingly conscious of my environmental impact as a photographer over recent years so it was good to get some scientific and theoretical underpinning of this issue and to develop some ideas about ways to reduce my carbon footprint.

One tangible thing I have already done is invest in some basic second-hand film cameras to use with groups instead of disposable cameras. Transport choices were already on my radar. I need to investigate ways to bring more sustainable practices into my projects – experiment with anthrotypes for example.

Many thanks to Redeye Photo Network for this opportunity – it is the start of my thinking about this, not the end point.

Open Eye Gallery – Refections commission


A few months ago I was commissioned by Open Eye Gallery to develop a socially engaged project with members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities in the Cheshire West area, looking at their experience during the lockdowns, among other things. This is really exciting for me as these are communities I have worked with before (on my first independent project) and which I have lots of respect and affection for. I am in the very early stages of being introduced to potential participants and getting to know them better – I have a small list of contacts so far and have begun to visit them for initial cups of tea. I don’t know what the work will end up looking like but the idea is that it will be coauthored and will talk about issues faced by participants, generally and over the past few years. I’m hopeful of working with members of the Irish Traveller community and English Romany people and to include people who live on sites as well as people currently in houses. I also don’t really know how long this work is going to take. But I’m very blessed to have been given this opportunity to build on previous work.

The commission has led me to revisit some of the photos I made during the few years when I worked with Traveller families, many of which I set aside and never really showed to anyone (the downside of personal work – I am much better at the engagement and creation than the dissemination). Below are a few, and you can see others over here … watch this space to hear how this residency develops over the coming months.




A New Exchange project

Last year I was part of a CPD programme for socially engaged artists called The Making of Us, which was a brilliant experience because it gave me lots of useful tools and put me in a setting with another artist to run a live project with young people. My partner (Jamie-Lee Wainman) and I worked in a special school and faced lots of challenges which taught us lots of useful things to take forwards in our work. Since then I’ve run two independent projects which involved facilitating workshops – this is something I was terrified of a year ago so it’s definitely a huge amount of progress.

I’m lucky to be one of three prior Making of Us artists to have been selected to take part in another project which aims to build on the last. A New Exchange is slightly different in structure – it involves three of my MoU cohort and three new artists. We will be paired up and once again will be running real projects with young people in partner settings. There is a strong emphasis on peer support and knowledge exchange and the whole thing is really exciting to be part of. Once again it’s taking place at the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh, and it’s being run by FS Creative, who also ran the Making of Us.

So far we’ve had two sessions and last week we held a peer exchange workshop where the three returning artists each ran a mini workshop which aimed to prompt conversation between the group. Jamie ran a Lego Serious Play session where we created structures which represented aspects of ourselves in five minutes and then talked other people through our designs. I did something on photo elicitation and using photos as conversation starters. And Andee ran some drawing exercises which aimed to loosen us up and stop us being so precious about the final product. All very useful and the other people’s sessions gave me some ideas for future sessions.

The next stage of the programme will see us being put into pairs and start thinking about our projects, which will kick off after Christmas.

Wigan Streets Apart project wrap up


You can tell I’ve had a busy year as there are entire projects that I’ve barely blogged about.

Last November I was one of three artists selected for the first tranche of Streets Apart commissions – cultural commissions associated with the Wigan Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) of King Street. This was the largest commission I’d received at that point and one of two HAZ projects I was working on concurrently – I was also involved in the Picturing High Streets project in Chester, where I went on to work with Cafe 71, a mental health space.

I spent the first few weeks worrying about how to make my work sufficiently different from the other commissions – I felt like there would be a lot of common ground and repetition since I tend to gather lots of personal narrative type stuff, and King Street is a street full of social memories. Most Wigan residents have some association with the street – often through its pubs and clubs or in the past, cinemas and theatres. Even the job centre is at the bottom of King Street.

I found my course eventually – breaking my commission up to make it more manageable for myself. I ran a series of photo walks with anyone who wanted to photograph and share memories of the street. And I forged a relationship with the Brick, a homelessness and anti-poverty charity in the town which runs a food bank site just behind the HAZ zone. It was also very clear from my first walk up King Street that people had been bedding down in a covered porch area on the street – so I wanted to make sure this narrative was included in the outputs.

The project was challenging at times and I learned a lot about diplomacy, patience and resourcefulness when it comes to working with partner organisations and supporting people who have challenging circumstances. But we got there in the end – and yesterday it all came together with a public sharing of the work.

The photo walks involved about 12 participants recruited via an open call. I also interviewed other people who have worked on or used the street – everything on that side got pulled together into an ebook which is free online.  A selection of images were also put onto vinyl panels in a window on King Street, which is a really great outcome as passers by will hopefully stop and engage with the work and memories written around the group’s images. There is a QR code which takes people to the ebook. It looks brilliant. You can see it over here – it’s called “Street View”.


The Brick work was always something I wanted to make into a physical zine, and luckily the commission budget covered a second artist for the project – I chose to work with local designer Amy Cecelia Leigh, who attended many of the workshops at the Brick and worked with participants to make the zine something which they had a hand in. The zine contains their photos, words, collages and design preferences and one of the group members came up with the name “In My Own Words”.  That is also available online, over here. The Brick wants these zines to be available to the public but are keenest to have them to hand within their services, so people who use their spaces can read the stories – that to me is a really brilliant outcome.

One thing that has been bothering me a little about the project is when I learned that at the same time my work was being showcased, the porch area where the rough sleepers had been sheltering would be blocked off by the authorities. I understand this is part of the regeneration process but for me personally it jars massively – it’s the same building where my group’s vinyls have been put. While it wasn’t the work from the Brick, it was work also facilitated by me and the whole thing felt very uncomfortable and compromising for me on a personal level.

All I was able to do was re-write my vinyl text to gently ask some questions about who regeneration serves and whose voices have a right to be heard.











Stalybridge #9

It was lovely to spend Saturday at the Astley Cheetham Gallery in Stalybridge, as part of the Local/Lokal exhibition, with @weare.local  and the other participating photographers, from the UK and Sweden. Seven visual interpretations of the theme ‘local’, three of which were shot in Stalybridge. As well as my portraits and interviews there were drone images and urban landscapes. Four of my 16 portrait participants made it along and a few other visitors commented that they knew almost all of the faces on my stretch of wall. And I saw a kingfisher on the bike ride there. The show is on until 21 December.



Stalybridge #8

We weren’t able to share this until yesterday for Royal reasons but if you’re in Stalybridge this Sat it would be great to see you. I’m one of six artists (3x UK, 3x Swedish) to be involved in this project and exhibition, interrogating what it means to be local, and the work is going to be pretty diverse – from my portraiture to drone imagery and much more.

Stalybridge #7

As I wrote in my last post, unfortunately I’ve had to prune a few images and interviews from my edit for the forthcoming show at the Astley Cheetham Gallery. I’ve done this on the basis mainly of the images being weaker than the others  – though other considerations come into play too like the general mix across the edit of things like age and gender and wanting to get a mix of shop and resident participants into the show. Also, I had too many shots of people on allotments. I don’t want to have wasted people’s time though so want to share them here.


Pauline Smart

“I live in Glossop, in Hadfield, now but I came to Stalybridge in 1957 from Ireland, aged 15. My father had a massive heart attack at the age of 40 and had his own business but couldn’t carry on. My aunt lived in Millbrook so I came to live with her for 12 months and then when my dad was well enough the family emigrated over here. Back then married women weren’t allowed to work in Ireland, so we had to leave. My mum found a job at the hospital as a nursing auxiliary but my father never worked again, he wasn’t fit enough.

These allotments [Mottram Road] were a lifesaver during Covid. My husband took an allotment here in 2007, he was an organic gardener but unfortunately, I didn’t take it what he told me. Since he died eight years ago, I’ve had to manage. I live alone but during Covid we were allowed to spend time on our allotments, which meant we could talk to people from a safe distance and not feel so isolated.”


Ronnie Griffiths

“I’m from Runcorn originally, I came here via Leigh and moved here when I was about nine and have been local ever since. My mum and dad bought a fish and chip shop in Stalybridge, it was on the high street. It’s gone a long time ago.

Everywhere used to be a borough – Denton, Stalybridge, Ashton, Hyde, Droylsden. All of a sudden Tameside came in and they all came under that and eventually they all got ruined, all the markets started to go down. Stalybridge indoor market used to be great, the building is still there – a wonderful building. The town hall was knocked down, the dance floor was meant to be one of the best in the North West. Marvellous building, the police station was next door. They shut that down and built another one near Tesco and that wasn’t open for long and then they closed it. Now the windows are broken and there’s graffiti everywhere.”


Gary Hulston

“I grew up in Denton, lived here for 27 years and now live in Mossley. I’ve had an allotment here for about eight years. When I was in my mid-20s I worked for Tameside Leisure Services. I moved here in part because this place is close to the countryside. I spent a lot of time bouldering and climbing with friends back then and there’s a lot of that about, it’s so close to the Peaks.

Stalybridge itself has gone through a few changes – some for the better and some for the worse. There’s no market these days but there are a few more cafés and craft beer bars now. The Station Buffet Bar is popular with people who do the ale trail and has great character. If you’re in there and hear a train coming, you need to get to the bar quick before the rush!

The people around here are down to earth. It’s only a few miles from Denton, where I grew up, but people here almost speak a different language. When I first moved here I often couldn’t tell what people were saying – there was such a distinct local dialect – but I think that’s fading now.”


Claire Bebbington (with Archie)

“I’m from Ashton but my partner works in Stalybridge so I come to Cheetham Park quite a lot to walk my dog, Archie. I also have a son who has special needs and this park is really accessible and there’s some nice nature trails. I think the buildings are nicer here than in Ashton. I prefer it, there’s more heritage and more independent shops – in Ashton it’s all pound shops and is too commercialised.”

Stalybridge #6


I was planning to return to Stalybridge today but I’ve realised I don’t need do.  After sitting down to think about the exhibition I realised I already have too many portraits to squash into the space and would have to cut a few out. It’s a shame because of the interview texts but some of the images are not as strong as I’d like anyway. So of 20 I have selected 16. I can only visualise things at this point by making mock ups, which is what I’ve done here. It may not be a final decision but this is roughly what I’m thinking. Anything interview-wise which doesn’t make the show will be shared on my blog and on social media.

Stalybridge #5

I went back to Stalybridge for the fifth day of photographing yesterday. I had two appointments set up – with dance teacher Sarah England (above) and at the Music Academy, where owner Chris wasn’t expecting me (the message hadn’t been passed on) but was thankfully very accommodating and up for a chat. I also dropped into Stalybridge institution The Tripe Shop and persuaded staff member Tina to let me photograph her – she is the only person who works there who actually likes tripe, as it turns out, which made me laugh.

I now have 20 portraits, each with a captions of up to 250 words. It’s not a bad haul but certainly not in any way representative of the diversity of the town. I would very much like to secure a few more interviews if I can – I’ve put a few messages out so it’s possible it will work out.

The Local/Lokal exhibition is at Astley Cheetham Gallery in Stalybridge from 24 Sep – 21 Dec.