Institute for Social Renewal

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Walking to creativity in Gateshead

Walking Together is a new creative project which aims to connect residents of Bensham to the area they live in, in order to start new conversations and creative collaborations.

It comprises two walks in and around Bensham taking in the history and changing geography of the area. By bringing local residents together to walk as a group and share their knowledge of the area with one another, the project aims to inspire them to create their own artwork.

The events have received funding from Newcastle University’s Institute of Creative Arts, and is the start of a number of creative projects to be run by a new social enterprise, Dingy Butterflies CIC, set up earlier this year by Ben Jones, a Fine Art PhD student at Newcastle University.

The first walk will take place on Thursday 16 July, from Bensham Grove Community Centre to the Shipley Art Gallery, where participants will create a map of the route in a collective art activity, using the images made and words collected on the walk. 

The second walk will take place on Sunday 19 July and will be a circular walk beginning and ending at Bensham Grove Community centre, finishing with a picnic in the Victorian gardens. Both walks, which are free to attend, start at 1pm and should finish about 3.00-3.30pm, and will be led by artist Angela Kennedy.

Ben’s research involves looking at how local residents and community organisations have responded to housing issues and austerity cuts through creative participation and an increasing need for digital engagement. Walking Together builds on his earlier work looking into the history of Bensham Grove House and in particular, Robert and Elizabeth Spence Watson, who lived there from 1875 to 1919.

Working with Bensham Grove Community Centre and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum, along with local residents, Ben set up the Spence Watson Archive, bringing together archive material about the Spence Watsons and the history of the house.

The creation of the Spence Watson archive was followed by a series of events last year where local people worked with artists, using the archive as inspiration to be creative. Activities included a creative writing workshop run by writer and artist Stevie Ronnie, using letters and other material from the archive which described the many and varied visitors to the house, and artist Jane Dudman worked with users of Bensham Grove Community Centre to create a new digital archive focussing on the women who lived and visited Bensham Grove. Actor and director Pete Ross worked with the Scribblers writing group to develop stories, plays and poems about the building and surrounding area, while Ben Jeans Houghton worked with pupils from Kelvin Grove Primary School to create a film about the history of Bensham.

Ben Jones explains: “The Spence Watsons were prominent social activists, and had an interest in creativity and walking as way of improving people’s wellbeing. The Walking Together project draws on that legacy, considering them both as connected and important ways for fellow community members to collaborate and be inspired.

“Dingy Butterflies CIC takes as its starting point the ethos and values of creativity, education and social justice that have run through Bensham Grove from Robert and Elizabeth Spence Watson’s time living there, through the educational settlement and its current use as an adult education centre.”

Both walks are free, and everyone is welcome to attend, though advance booking is essential. For further information or to book a place email Ben Jones on dingybutterflies@gmail.com or call 07910 654 714.

 

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published on: 13 July 2015