On 2nd February we had our first meeting with our project team: the investigators, assistant, practice researchers, consultants, partners and advisors. It was an inspirational group of knowledgeable people with deep understandings about the needs of a project like this. Our main aim for this meeting was to glean advice on what a project like this should and shouldn’t do – asking for insight from people involved in similar or parallel activities gave us a sense of what we might realistically be looking to achieve; what unspoken assumptions we might need to challenge or bring out into the open; what others’ experiences might warn us to beware of; what was current in the field(s) of activity; and we were looking to tighten up our project aims and thinking.
First, Fiona Hackney (Principal Investigator) gave an overview of the project, its aims and background, both in terms of other thinking around the subject, and in terms of how she came to be interested in this area. She was interested in the idea of quiet activism – that you can shift or change things through embodied practices of making things. Some of the important things she sought to bring out initially were the idea that seeing your work through someone else’s eyes helps you see it differently; that we are interested in people’s motivations as well as their skills; and the idea of recognition for things you are not paid to do.
Bryony Stokes (who was taking the pictures – which is why there are no images of her…oversight…) gave an overview of her practice and her history of making intimate and engaging films with an easy manner with participants. It is clear that she will be an asset to the way we need to work on this project.
Deirdre Figueiredo, Co-Investigator, gave us an overview of the kind of work she (with Craftspace) has undertaken so far, that might shed light on this project. She counselled being thoughtful, heedful – and curious. She has a great deal of experience in the field of skills share and skills transfer, and talked about the highs and lows of previous projects, working with communities of place and of interest in a range of social ecologies; “the together thing”.
One of the projects Deirdre talked about introduced us to the work of one of our creative partners, Dominic Campbell from Bealtaine (you can find information about this aspect of Age and Opportunity on our Resources page). Dominic asked us to question the idea of intergenerationality that we had been bandying about, reminding us that definitions of generations were often lumped together – there is a similar change in thinking and experience between 65 to 90 year olds as there is between 18 and 50 year olds, for example. We must try to undermine these kinds of assumptions – very often they mean that we might be representing our perception of a group rather than its reality. We needed to question what we meant by words such as “generation” and “ageing”, and challenged us to think in terms of a spectrum rather than points along it. For example, “ageing” could mean
- When you are largely done with paid work or raising a family;
- Aged 55;
- Anyone ten years older than you are….
Dominic asked us what made creativity in older age unique, and suggested it might be gaining time, through circumstances changing, that allowed one to arrive at an engagement with one’s own creativity. Expertise is contextual; another context makes it visible – in other words, someone who does not realise that “everyone” can’t do what they can, has their skill made obvious by sharing it with others. He suggested that ageing has to do with thinking about legacy – not about the world you are moving into, but the one you want to leave behind. And he asked us to consider ways of starting a project, then backing out of it – how can we make things self-perpetuating? And he reminded us of the principle that “everything you need is here”. Lots to think about.
Katy Bevan, alongside doing some fabulous knitting as she talked and listened (thereby illustrating her points in an embodied way), talked about an ethos of “learning by doing, teaching by being”. It was a point picked up several times during the day, provoking discussions on evidencing value to funders when working qualitatively, on being able to ask questions when you don’t (at the outset) know what they will be, and on us, as researchers, bringing ourselves “into the room”. She also talked about editing for accessibility, something of specific and especial importance for this blog-arm of the project.
Daniel Carpenter, of Voluntary Arts, spoke of some of the values and preconceptions around the technology, prompting an interesting discussion about what we call what our participants do. He explained that “voluntary” was the term his organisation most often used in order to avoid some of the negative connotations around the terms “amateur” and “hobbycrafts” which are loaded with – often incorrect – assumptions. It’s good to talk about the assumptions connected with various terms in order to get as close as possible to our intentions being mirrored in what we say and write – but judging by the discussion, it’s a difficult thing to achieve. Daniel spoke of a distinction arising between crafts that were having a resurgence (for example, knitting and crochet) and those that were finding it very difficult to attract younger people (for example, tatting and lacemaking). He agreed with Dominic about breaking the term “intergenerational” down into being more about a spectrum of practice, and talked about creating stronger groups by having a more diverse base, echoing Deirdre’s point about ecologies of practice and place.
Alison Gilchrist is an independent consultant,practitioner and researcher based in Kendal, who has special expertise in the areas of community development, and in learning from experience to develop policy. She talked about getting people to connect, introducing the term “meta-networking” – facilitating leaps across prejudices, and reminding us that trust (the trust we are hoping to build up in our groups of participants) is conditional and modal, and asking us to continually consider what creates collectivity.
Hannah Maughan-Robb did not just talk about her practice, but brought some along to show, prompting (along with Katy’s knitting) a discussion on the importance of having a framework of doing. Often, we decided, there was no real need to have a conversation, when a task would do the same thing. A simple, time-focused plan could be bounded by the enquiry, “show and tell us what you do”. We had spent much of the day sitting round a table talking, and when the work came into the room, suddenly it galvanised action, with people getting up and walking around, touching the pieces, asking about them. An entirely different energy.
There was a great deal to get through in the course of a day, and we did not accomplish everything on our agenda – however, the conversations were extremely fruitful. Both opportunities and challenges were presented to us, and the project feels already stronger and more robust as a result. I know the open source tenet that “everything you need is already in the room”; but it did feel as if there was a very clever matching of skills to project, and of a complementary spread of skills across our advisors, consultants, partners and participants.
If you look at the pictures of Dominic, you will see me, Mary Loveday Edwards, the research assistant on this project, in the background. This post is my reflection on the day and I would like to think if anyone would like to add anything, or if any of the participants feel they or their contribution has been misrepresented, or I’ve left anything of importance out, that people will contact me and let me know – details on the “contact us” page. In the meantime, sincere thanks to those who gave of their time – in adverse traveling conditions! – to help us. There will be more information and reflections on the project here as time goes on.