The story of a sense of place 4: Collaging the future

Continuing the story of us. It’s Spring 1997 and we’ve just got married.

And to be honest the local work around Liverpool and Manchester is not forming an orderly queue. We’re still running our ‘Transform your life’ personal programme, but really want to reach greater numbers of people by working with more organisations than we have so far.DSC01176

So we start working in Scotland. Our friend Janet had moved there after working with me on her future through our course ‘Finding the work you love’. And she’s now running a business in the community type organisation in Edinburgh called Friends of Craigmillar. (Now called Community Connections)

She asks us to come up and run a programme she’s got publicly funded through ‘Scotland Against Drugs’. It’s for people whose lives have been affected by the addiction of either themselves or close family members. And it’s not to cure them of their addictions, no one pretends you can do that in a few days of workshops. But rather it’s about giving people a safe place to talk and dream about what they’d like to do as part of having the better lives they’re now reaching for.

Craigmillar3

In Craigmillar, March 1997.

We do loads of art with them. Painting, collaging, story telling, even teaching the basics of meditation. As well as us, the workshops also come with gentle massage sessions from therapists, so people can start feeling at home in their bodies again.

Craigmillar2

Criagmillar. Janet’s daughter Lily helping out here.

We do an introductory weekend in March, then follow-ups in April (and do the programme again for new groups of people the following year) and people really do start doing things to change their lives.

Everyone who comes is from Craigmillar, Niddrie Mains or Greendykes, all at this time socially and economically depressed parts of Edinburgh (Craigmillar had recently been used as the setting for ‘Trainspotting’ – Danny Boyle’s film about the Edinburgh drugs scene. Thanks Danny). But of course people are people, and as we’ll find many times over the years to come, given the right setting and with access to their own innate creativity, they begin to not only dream, but also to take actions. Better lives start being pieced together before our eyes.

Health visibly improves, friendships are made, college courses are signed up for, jobs are being applied for. It’s practical, it’s aspirational and we love doing it.

Craigmillar4

Criagmillar collage.

Having gone more or less straight from our wedding to beginning the Craigmillar work, later that spring we go to Stoupa, in Greece for our honeymoon. There Sarah staggers me by saying she’s not feeling very creative. So most daytimes while we’re there I guide her through our own Creativity course. Which she loves.

Sarah's painting of Stoupa in Greece, where we go for our honeymoon.

Sarah’s painting of Stoupa in Greece, where we go for our honeymoon.

Sarah exhibits her work at the end of the week!

Sarah exhibits her work at the end of the week!

Back in Liverpool some work has in fact turned up while we were away in Scotland. And we start working with people in tower blocks and high-rise housing in Norris Green on what they want their futures to be like. Collaging is again involved. These are the days of big dreams being turned into big art. And then into practical plans.

Straight back from our honeymoon to beginning a collage in a British Legion club in Norris Green.

Straight back from our honeymoon to beginning a collage in a British Legion club in Norris Green.

These collages are often worked on at several events. Building up ideas for the future gradually as we go. Sometimes people paint and write their own pieces of the collage. Sometimes Sarah paints what people are saying.

A collage being used at an event by an architect we were working with, to talk to local people about their needs and ideas.

A collage being used at an event by an architect we were working with, to talk to local people about their needs and ideas.

Collage used as the cover of our report on people's ideas.

Collage used as the cover of our report on people’s ideas.

And outside Coronation Court, sadly long gone now, with some of the people we've been working with.

And outside Coronation Court, sadly long gone now, with some of the people we’ve been working with.

We feel like we’re on our way.

And then we do what most new businesses would do back in the mid-nineties. We spend a load of money on print. Brochures and folders to advertise ourselves. And make our arty, creative ideas seem more real for the individuals and organisations we’re hoping will take us on.

Some of our printed stuff.

Some of our printed stuff.

Sarah enjoys working on the designs and I agonise over finding just the right words to describe how unusual we are, but without frightening people away. And when they’re finished, the folders (pictured at the top of this post), the brochures, the post cards and the business cards are truly lovely. And the thousands we spend on them almost a total waste of money.

Summer 1997, approving the proof for our brochure.

Summer 1997, approving the proof for our brochure.

Then as now, most of our work comes through word of mouth, sheer happenstance and us deciding what we’d like to do. We were never a mass market company selling standardised products. But it will take us a while to realise that therefore mass market methods won’t work for us.

So meantime we lay out our folders on the living room floor. Put in brochures, collate leaflets and pack them all into A4 envelopes to mail out to unsuspecting potential customers. All to hardly any avail. And just before the internet will make all of that kind of thing redundant anyway.

Which brings me to our first computer. Up to now we’ve done everything by hand. But folders need leaflets to go in them about proposals or events. And we decide these will look better, more ‘professional’ if they’re not hand-written. I’m not sure now that we were right to decide this, but computers and their capabilities will, in time, change our enterprise.

Not this first one though. It’s passed on to us by Frank Horton, Sarah’s Dad.

A lovely Mac SE/30. Our first Apple computer. There will be more.

A lovely Mac SE/30. Our first Apple computer. There will be more.

No colour, no internet, but lovely and tiny. And fitting in perfectly to our ‘living with less’ house.

And as the lovely summer we have in this year flows on, and we’re starting to come close to a year since we began to look seriously at leaving our jobs, we sit on the step in our yard one balmy night and – as you can see, we are radiantly happy with how our adventure is going.

Us two, summer 1997.

Us two, summer 1997.

Next episode? Seems too soon, but it’s reinvention time.

Read all episodes

4 thoughts on “The story of a sense of place 4: Collaging the future

  1. Jan Baird Hasak

    A lovely read. And you are still on an adventure. Sarah’s really a talented artist. Keep on doing what you are doing. Love that picture of you two in summer 1997 (call that the “Summer of Love”). xx

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Yes, it was a lovely time. Even if we had, unknowingly, just wasted a load of our money on print. As long as we have each other we’ve always seemed to be able to generate a new idea, do work we love and keep earning what we need. xx

      Reply
  2. lindsay53i

    Is that really you, Yogi Ronnie in the photos?!!
    Seriously, the striking thing about all your photos, your ideas, your lives is that they are big, bold & always full of colour. Never play ‘safe’, never choose the easiest option & please never resort to bland pastels! I know you won’t. Your originality is your greatest strength!x

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thank you for ‘big, bold & always full of colour’ – I don’t think we consciously set out to always do that, but it seems to always turns out that way anyway! xx

      Reply

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