Monday, 29 March 2010

Ha Ha Ha, He He He

This project is beginning to fill me with the sense of achievement and pride that inspired me to take the module. As the date rapidly approaches, there is less fear and apprehension within the group. I think we’re all beginning to realise just how fantastic this event could be. When we pull this off, after eight weeks of exhausting work, I think we can look back at this as the perfect footnote to three incredible, irreplaceable years.

Last week Bryony and I visited Greycourt School (no thanks to google maps) to watch their after hours parkour group. It took place in the school hall, somewhat defeating the object of ‘free running.’ It is only after the session I realised my own ignorance, something which is happening more and more when contacting people for their participation. The strength and conditioning necessary to perform the multitude of flips grabs and rolls performed shocked me. I was humbled by a handful of participants; particularly a fifteen year old lad doing more press ups effortlessly in five minutes than I could in a week.

It is Kevin, who works at Ham and Richmond Youth Centre, that makes this work. It is his commitment and dedication to uniting a community that earns him the respect of the children in this chaotic environment. He needed no persuasion to be involved in the Ham project. It is an opportunity for him to advertise how much this small group means to the people in it, hopefully this will inspire somebody to put their hands in their pockets as this group desperately needs funding. Whilst the celebrations are fundamentally a celebration of the house, the opportunity to make a lasting impression upon the community is constantly presenting itself. They will be performing, using their own equipment in the gardens. Interestingly, they have just run a workshop where the children painted and ‘tagged’ their equipment, an idea extremely similar to our school children creating murials and flags. It seems we are on the right road. I am chasing the extremely faint possibility of having the parkour group in the parade. The health and safety concerns are numerous, and it is essential that the children perform with the safety of crash mats. It may be possible to have a platform on which they perform, created in the drama department and dragged along, but it may also be possible to have them on a float. Whilst I am aware of the problems facing this, (monetary and special) I am thinking of a way to work around this. I’m particularly thankful to Sharmylla in the meeting, who seemed to share a vision of this working, no matter what. The idea is to hire a float and then invite the local businesses to advertise on the sides of it, recouping our costs. Even though the float will only work down one half of the parade, I still think this is worthwhile. We need to celebrate the diversity of cultures in Ham, and besides the schools involved we are in danger of ignoring youth culture.

Talking of diversity, another cultural arrogance of mind was exposed, as Siobhan and I travelled to trendy Kilburn to witness: “An alternative event and creative workshop to help you grow your soul.” Lifebulb is the brainchild of Sofia Sullivan and Charlotte Eaton and its ethos is delightfully simple: “creativity, freedom, imagination, joy, humour, connection, exploration.” I was apprehensive about meeting a group of hippies, and thankfully won shotgun, forcing Siobhan to enter first. It was pretty empty, and we both felt quite self conscious. Love heart shaped waffles were thrusted upon us and from there on in we felt completely welcome. I spent an hour painting a plant pot (only for it to bleedin smudge, now my bee looks even worse)and when I raised my head I could barely move between the throngs of people. I spent ten minutes dodging children so I could paint the same bee on the mural and twenty of the most surreal minutes of my life participating on laughing yoga (Want to know more? You’ll have to participate when they perform at Ham). The launch of Lifebulb was a complete success. My cheeks were red from the free drink and sore from the laughter. They had successfully created a community from strangers in just three hours, turning the sceptic into a believer, maybe not in the credentials of being qualified in laughing yoga, but certainly in the communal benefits of laughter and connection. I have to thank Charlotte Eaton and everybody in attendance for their fantastic hospitality. Both Charlotte and Sofia are excited about bringing their laughing yoga and creativity workshops to Ham, and Siobhan and I will be able to confirm their commitment just after Easter.

I’m genuinely excited about the next meeting, seeing what everybody has achieved in the last two weeks. It wont be long now before we start making an order for the parade and the gardens. Soon we will be able to participate ourselves in the celebrations. I have a feeling they are going to be huge.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Initial Article

Hello everyone, this is what I have rustled up, and found extremely difficult to create. hopefully this will serve as an introductory article, from here there is the Zac Goldmsith one, one about choirs, one about pubs...etc. When everyone is working hard with their groups and have established a rapport i will come and interview people there, meaning from when this hits the papers on, we should hopefully have one article a week.
Let me know what you think, any criticism is always appreciated! Thanks guys, and if you didnt come to the pub last night, you missed out. t'was delicious.

The blueprint we received was extremely simple: Attract thousands of people to Ham House to celebrate their 400th Birthday on the 23rd May. As a group of students in our final year of university, throwing a party didn’t seem too problematic; but the community of Ham and the National Trust’s enthusiasm for the area presented us with an opportunity to achieve something more. We are contacting representatives of the area, of local schools, businesses and social groups, trying to unite them in a celebration of Ham itself. Many participants will embark on a parade through Ham, proudly displaying their contribution to the community. The parade will end in the gardens of the magnificent Ham House, where the carnival atmosphere will reach fever pitch as thousands gather to sing in harmony with local choirs and wish Ham House a happy 400th Birthday. I spoke to Michael Billington, The Guardian’s Theatre critic for over thirty years to get his articulate opinions on the potential of large-scale participatory events.

“Events like this can inspire a community to examine the rich history of their community. There are so many stories to be told that they can reignite a sense of local pride.” The residents of Ham have plenty to be proud of. The area has a well documented and celebrated regal history and benefits from a village mentality which enables it to function differently to many other parts of London – with a large community influence. Like the politicians fighting for control of the country and the local borough constituency, Billington firmly believes in the importance of community. “It is important for obvious democratic reasons; it encourages involvement, which can only ever be a good thing.” Throughout an illustrious critical career spanning over three decades, Billington has witnessed many participatory events and ‘Community Theatre’ shows made by amateur dramatists. He believes they are a fundamental part of British life: “Every town always has its own amateur drama society. It can be completely astonishing and push professional theatre forward. They deal with what is happening around us. They can act as a community focus in a time when City Centres in particular are extremely lifeless. With participatory events, you become part of the evening out.”

On the 23rd of May 2010, residents from the boroughs of Richmond and Ham & Petersham will participate in a parade celebrating the richness and diversity of the community they are proud to be a part of. Given the nature and scale of the event, I asked Michael Billington if he believed the project could work: “Yes, I think it can, because the very essence of the event means that the bulk of people will be participating. There will be very few people merely spectating; therefore everyone will feel a commitment to the event.” Michael Billington’s support and enthusiasm for the event is both refreshingly humble and greatly appreciated. As the day fast approaches, we now need the support and involvement of all residents who are proud to hail from this leafy corner of south-west London and wish to celebrate its immense diversity.