Lost Voices on film

Filmmaker Jason Lock produced a short film about the Reflections commission I worked on this year, along with parallel projects by photographers Sam Ivin and Tadhg Devlin. I worked with a small group of Traveller women to document the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their lives, while Sam worked with unpaid carers and Tadhg with people who live in rural areas of Cheshire West. The film can be seen here and you can explore my project, Got Through It, here.

My West Bank visit blog posts

The horror unfolding in Gaza over the past two months has led me to think and speak a lot recently about my trip to the West Bank and Israel in 2008. I just sent a colleague some published stories I wrote during that time, which made me also search my blog for posts. There are quite a lot so I’m pulling it all together just in case it’s of interest to anyone.

Reflections work at Open Eye Gallery

Work I’ve produced during the past year with women from the Traveller community is now on show at Open Eye Gallery, where it will be until 23 December, and it looks brilliant. Our work is only a small part of a much larger showcase of socially engaged projects – it is in the atrium area outside the gallery along with the other two Reflections commissions by Tadhg Devlin and Sam Ivan. Inside are another three fabulous projects from different areas of Cheshire and Merseyside.

Of the people I worked with, only one was able to attend the opening night – disability and poor health prevented some of the others. But I’ve now given copies of the zine to everyone I worked with and am going to try to help those who are able to visit the show. I’ve also given copies of the zine to the various partners and individuals who helped me develop this project.

More info about the show here.


Reflections project – sharing


My Reflections commission with Gypsy and Traveller women is about to make its way out into the world – always a nerve-wracking moment for me. Are the participants going to be happy with it? Even though all who have audio have already listened to and approved it, and I read transcripts back to everyone, none have seen the finished zine which I have made and which features everything. I always have a nagging fear that someone will see the final thing and have second thoughts. Anyway, positive mental attitude!

I have printed a short run of these physical zines so will be giving copies to participants, partner organisations etc – hopefully I can do the participants next week. Fittingly, considering the pandemic-related theme of the project, I have just tested positive for Covid, so I’ll have to leave it for a week or so. Anyway, generally speaking the zine will be accessed digitally – it will be hosted on a dedicated project website which the council has built, and QR codes in the exhibitions will take people to it if they want to read more. You can also download it here.

The other online element to this project is audio clips featuring the voices of some participants. Again these will be linked to from the exhibitions using QR codes – you can listen here (scroll down to the pink section).

The first exhibition of work starts next week in Chester – and it’s a public-realm event featuring six images from me plus quotes and QR codes. I’m a fan of these types of interventions because I hope it will reach a broader audience than a gallery event. This is what I want my work to do – to hopefully show a more rounded image of Gypsy/Traveller lives and experiences. Later in the month a different set of images will be part of a group exhibition at Open Eye Gallery. More info about all of this here.





Got Through It – Traveller reflections project


I’ve spent the past couple of weeks manically trying to finish off my Open Eye Gallery Reflections project before my kids break up for the summer holidays.

Over the past year I’ve been working with women from the Romani and Irish Traveller community in Cheshire West to document their experiences of the pandemic. The project is one of three ‘reflections’ commissions funded by the local authority.

There have been some delicate moments along the way (eg when someone withdrew consent for their images) and there are some sensitivities due to the council being the funder – Travellers don’t always have the best relationship with the local authority, so I’ve had to do some reassuring about my independence along the way. However, the relationships I’ve built with participants have been strong and respectful and everyone seems happy at this stage. A few people in my project live with quite poor health, which made things difficult sometimes but it’s all come together in the end. I’ve been very lucky to have received mentoring from socially engaged photographer Anthony Luvera during this project – I was fortunate to get a CPD budget in the New Exchange development project which I was involved in earlier this year and that’s what I chose to spend it on.

My project is called Got Through It, which is a quote from one of my participants. I’ve edited a series of audio clips of some participants talking and I’ve designed a zine, which I plan to print copies to give to participants and a few extras. However it’ll probably be mainly accessible online – there will be a QR code in the exhibitions which take people to all this extra stuff on the project website which the council has built. The work will be exhibited it empty shop windows in Chester in September, and also in a group show at Open Eye Gallery at around the same time. I’m actually really proud of the work – seeing it in the book form made me realise that there’s some really good work in there. I’m very happy to have been given this opportunity to work with a community that I love so much.


End of an era – closure of Big Issue North


I’m gutted to hear Big Issue North magazine is closing down – I was a freelance contributor to the mag from 2006-21 and have a lot of affection for everyone there.
Its closure is sadly the way things are going in the media industry – in some ways it’s surprising it’s lasted this long: the internet/social media, the decline of cash, then Covid and a cost of living crisis.
I’m really grateful for the opportunities the magazine gave me as a young journalist who was thrown into freelancing when I was made redundant after just 2.5 years experience, when the start-up newspaper I was working for suddenly went into administration. There were no staff opportunities in in the print media up here back then – Media City did not exist – unless I wanted to go back into small local newspapers (I didn’t). All the bigger regionals were making redundancies. I had no connections in London and in any case I was rooted up here. I found it hard to make any headway into freelancing for the nationals and in the end gave up trying.
Big Issue North was a lifeline to me – as one of my fellow newly-redundant colleagues, Kevin, was appointed editor there, the magazine suddenly opened up to me as a place where I could follow my interests. He indulged me as I developed bodies of work on urban regeneration across the North of England, social affairs issues and the newly arrived Roma communities in our towns and cities. They said yes to much of what I pitched. When I discovered photography a few years later, they were the first to publish my images. And when I was trying to figure out how to develop a photographic project with members of the Roma community, I eventually found my first collaborator, Ramona, through the magazine – which she was then selling on the streets of Rochdale.
Even though I’ve moved on from being a journalist – I last worked for Big Issue North in early 2021 – I really feel quite sad about today’s news. So many publications I worked for during my career have closed down. Things change but it’s a real shame the northern content in the Big Issue our vendors will sell from now on will be so hugely diminished, and opportunities for local journalists shrinking even more.


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.


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 #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.