Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Spode Rose Garden at RHS Tatton

Back in 2013, Andrew Branscombe, Glen Stoker and I embarked upon a mission: to see an abandoned garden in the heart of the Town of Stoke transformed. Details here about the history of the project.
Using an Action research approach, we worked with a ceramic flower maker, and a rose breeder, to create a new species of rose, which would draw attention to the abandoned garden, and cause people in the city to question its state. Our dream was to bring together the people and resources necessary to see the garden transformed, and more, to work together with others to ensure the future sustainability of the garden.
In 2015 a Councillor noticed what we were doing, and towards the end of the year, we built a relationship with the city council, who owned the garden, to work together to secure funding to form a group and to renovate the garden.
A Friends of Spode Rose Garden group was officially formed in may 2016 - but a few months before that, the group had already started working together on a consultation with the public, and then on the physical transformation of the garden. The consultation told us that people were keen to see the heritage of the Spode Factory reflected within the garden's design, and as a result the landscaping and planting represents some of the most popular Spode patterns.
We have the Willow Pattern end of the garden, which was relatively easy, as there is already a huge and beautiful willow tree in the garden, but this year we decided to develop the other end of the garden, next to the Sub Station, using the Blue Italian pattern as a starting point, as this is one of Spode's most popular patterns.
Spode Rose Garden Launch September 2016
As well as developing the garden for these past years, and since formally setting up, the Friends of Spode Rose garden have organised and delivered a series of brilliant events within the garden over the year - which have brought new visitors and many conversations about the role that individuals can play in developing the places they live.
Sunflower Party, June 2017
Through these conversations we have realised what a fantastic example of people power the Spode Rose Garden has become, and so we decided to spread this story a little wider, by taking the Rose Garden to a national platform. We applied to RHS Tatton, in the blooming border section, and were pleased to be able to develop the design for the Blue Italian Border for Tatton, with a view to moving the border to the Spode Rose Garden after the show.
Dawn Mayer, one of the Friends of Spode Rose Garden group, and handily a landscape designer for the city council led on our design for the border. Different members of the group brought their skills, time and muscle to help make the border a reality -
with Andrew Branscombe building the framework, and Jo Ayre leading the group to create the ceramic plinths,
made from moulds from the Spode Factory, and also creating the blue italian tiles for the frame
- it was a real group effort.
The overall effect of the sculptural elements, with the blue and white planting was really beautiful, with everyone lending a hand with the installation.
Each day of the show the friends of group were at Tatton rain or shine, talking to people about the Rose Garden and the city's resurgence, and inviting people to come and see the border for themselves within the newly renovated garden during the British Ceramics Biennial later in the year.
It was amazing the conversation we had over the week with people about Stoke-on-Trent. People told us often that they used to visit Stoke but hadn't been for a long time. A lot of people have committed to visit, and in fact just this Friday, we met a lady in the rose garden that we had met at Tatton, who had no idea the garden was there.
Advocacy for the garden and the city is so important, as we see the city strive to change its reputation. What I know, from taking part in this project since 2013 is, that you can have an idea for something good and positive, and here in Stoke, you can make it happen. There are people here who will do it with you, if you really have the commitment to want to do it. We have learnt so much over the past few years of the project, about gardening, about plants and most of all, about the power of people to make positive change for their city. It has been an immensely rewarding project to work on, and RHS Tatton was a real moment to celebrate the achievements of the group, and we even won a medal!
RHS Tatton Blue Italian Border won a silver gilt.
Thanks to various members of the Friends of  Spode Rose Garden group for their photographs, documenting our activity.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A-N Assembly Margate: The Power of People at STAN Art Pod, Athelstan Road, Margate. 4/5/17

The event was hailed as an opportunity to explore how artists working with local community groups can, through creative acts, uncover and support resources pertinent to that community. It was designed as a workshop for artists working in social practice; with people in changing places. It was an intimate event, due to the size of STAN, but the conversation which the group had was so timely, useful and very productive. Many thanks to A-N, Louise Hargreaves and Dan Thompson for organising, but also enormous thanks to the artists and other practitioners that attended, and contributed to the thinking that follows.
I began by talking about how working in Stoke-on-Trent for over 10 years on projects which explore the city and its resources and the artists role within this changing context, I have developed an approach to working in the city; employing an action research methodology, which is always the same, even if the context can change drastically. For each new site this involves spending time really looking, and researching the place, gaining an understanding of the history, development, usage and users of the space. Next comes a time for planning an approach to the site, based on what has been observed and learned; perhaps based on the resources of the place, or responding in some cases to a need or gap. The planning process is also where partnerships can be formed around an approach to the site, plus additional resources are, at this stage, assimilated and the intervention agreed. Next comes time for action, carrying out the plan. And finally, and very importantly, comes reflection. The point in the cycle where the artist and those involved in the project look back at what has happened, what has worked, what have we learnt? Is there a new understanding of this place, and is there more to be done? Then of course, the cycle can begin again.
An important aspect of the work is in documenting every step, both visually  but also importantly, considering from the very beginning the importance of collecting thoughts and evaluation materials throughout, hearing from participants about the site, documenting any changes and then later exploring participant response to the intervention. This supports the reflection and analysis of the project, but also ensures as practitioners, we are remaining reflective and receptive to the context. 
Considering the action research cycle, it is possible to involve people at any stage in the process, and often is best to involve people at every stage, but this really does depend on the context.
Via this methodology, I was able to set out three projects, which demonstrate my particular approach, showing how an empty bandstand, an abandoned garden and a disused pub have all become sites for my practice over the years, and have all involved working with people, to temporarily and sometime more permanently make changes in the city.
I started by setting out the roots of the word Community: originating from the French late 14th Century, Comunité meaning commoness and everybody, it also has roots in the Latin Communis meaning 'Common, public, general, shared by all or many'. This feels important within an approach to working with people; keeping in mind consideration around sharing and inclusivity, and perhaps creating a sense of belonging. In my work, the 'community' I work with may be pre-existing, but equally sometimes the community forms [temporarily] around the project.
The 3 projects I talked about were:
Repopulating the Bandstand from 2010 - a one day project as part of an arts festival I curated within a park, that was identified as being quite neglected. The project recognised the potential of the disused bandstand, as a site for community celebration and action, and for just one day, my intervention saw it spruced up and used as a venue for a brass band concert. More here.
The Spode Rose Garden from 2013 onwards, proposed and abandoned garden, as an important green space. Through a process of intervention and engagement, myself and AirSpace Gallery have worked to turn around this disused space, which is now a beautiful and well used asset, transformed by a newly formed group 'The Friends of Spode Rose Garden'. More here.
and The Portland Inn Project, working with artist Rebecca Davies, using participatory methods to engage a community (with a number of issues ASB, drug and alcohol problems, etc) in finding an alternative and more positive future for itself.  More here.
Artists have worked with people forever, and the community arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s has led to an understanding of the way that artists can work with communities. Socially engaged practice too is not new, although there is relatively little written about artists working in social contexts, compared to other areas of the arts.
What is relatively new is an emerging animosity towards artists working in social contexts, and in particular, to artists working within contested sites of development. A new online 'Naming and Shaming' of artists working in these contexts aims to call out artists working in these settings for being either naive to the role they play in acting as a buffer between developers and the communities affected by development, or in some cases the naming and shaming goes further to blame artists for 'artwashing gentrification' something I found myself accused of in a recent project. An interesting Citylab article from 2014 sets out the complicated context here.  https://www.citylab.com/equity/2014/06/the-pernicious-realities-of-artwashing/373289/
Those naming and shaming include activist groups, working in particular areas of development, but in addition in some cases artists and academics are attacking other artists online. There have also been cases in America of communities themselves rejecting artists and art galleries in their areas - due to a perception that the presence of artists will lead to gentrification, and the eventual pushing out of communities. It is a complicated matter, and at this stage, not much has been written about the phenomenon, but it seems that for the artists, who are often working in very precarious contexts, often with little support, perhaps in unstable buildings and often with the sensitivities that come with working with people (especially in these contested sites) the addition of this external animosity may lead to artists shying away from working in these contexts at all, something which concerns me, when thinking about the area that I am currently working in, and the great need there.

The conversation at Assembly centred around the need to create support systems for artists working in precarious settings, but also showed a need for a set of guidelines and considerations, in relation to working with people.

Answers and votes:
- Value the artist's role in this context (we bring something different.) 6
- Recognise time and investment needed, (for this kind of work) before, during and after. 5
- Be a supporter and champion for other artists working in these contexts 2
- compromise
- lose the ego
- be honest
- Commissioners: Trust Artists
- Be vocal against Short-termism - and involve artists (and community) earlier
- Don't assume 1
- recognise that people are experts in the places they live and work 4
- it doesn't always have to be big 6
- the voice (build in space for the voice of the community)1
- practice active listening 2
- take responsibility 3

What has become clear since the event is that this is a much bigger question than could be reasonably covered in one session, and that as well as considering what the artists can do themselves within the contexts they are working in, this question, of support for artists in precarious settings is one that needs to include the organisations and funders that work to support artists. Since the event I have spoken to a number of organisations about the worrying artwash naming and shaming, and have found a sector which needs to really look at this, in order to support artists in making better decisions in who they work for, and how they work with often vulnerable communities in development settings. This is important and needed work, and the naming and shaming really does little to understand the precarious position of the artist and the people they are working with. Much of the work done by artists, in my experience, is not about being a buffer for developers, but is about visibility for those people being priced out of an area by development, as is described in this article about Bushwicks and Chinatown in New York City. https://i-d.vice.com/en_gb/article/why-local-nyc-artists-are-fighting-artwashing
 My intention is to rally support around this area, and look to gain a better understanding of how to support artists in these contexts, The A-N Assembly event was a great start, but much more time is needed on this. Since the event, I have been speaking to a variety of people and organisations about this, and will be getting something together in response very soon.
Write up of full a-n Assembly Margate event here. 
Image credits: Tony Jones, A-N, Rebecca Davies

Thursday, December 29, 2016

#365daysofculture

What is it?
Stoke-on-Trent is bidding for City of Culture 2021, and as we enter 2017, we know that all content generated on social media, and via other outlets will be scrutinised by the judging panels, as they decide, first who to shortlist for the award, and eventually, who should be the winners. This tells us that from January 2017, we need to make sure that the breadth and depth of culture (which we know is going on sometimes loudly and proudly, and sometimes more quietly but none-the-less importantly) in Stoke-on-Trent is being captured, and shouted about.

The city of culture competition has been shown to really improve the reputations of those that win, but also, shows real ambition from those bidding, and it is this which is so heartening about the Stoke-on-Trent bid, a sense of worth and value ascribed to the culture here, is seen by the fact that the city feels in a position to throw its hat into the ring. This, along with many other initiatives and projects across the city, is changing the way the world views Stoke; so all for the good.
Stoke-on-Trent is a cultural city every day of the year, not just while we are bidding for the City of Culture accolade, every day across the city, people are making things: pots, artworks, music, changes, and many other things - and across the city we have different ideas about culture; what it is and how it connects to our lives. This project, #365daysofculture, aims to capture some of that, but also aims to support people from across the city to shout about what culture means for them, and how they are consuming, making and defining culture in their own lives, providing a platform for people to show what culture is, and a way for everyone to be involved in the bid.

We know how important it is to show culture from all quarters and levels across the city, and with this simple social media project, everyone from across the city can be involved in defining and capturing culture for ourselves, something that we know, from speaking to people across the city about the bid, that people want to be involved in. This project is all about enabling everyone to be involved, and rather than waiting for permission this is all about everyone who wants to, being able to have their say on what is important, and what should be represented in a city of culture bid from Stoke-on-Trent. With this simple idea, anyone can have an imput into the bid.

The idea for the project came from a conversation with Paul Williams, from the Stoke-on-Trent City of culture team, about the way that winning cities will need to put together 365 days of cultural programming, which will operate at a variety of levels, from the large scale cultural spectacle, to the smaller scale, community led event. Arguably, there is already culture happening across the city 365 days of the year, but we are quiet about it, or lack the capacity to really demonstrate the quality of it, or simply lack the resources to make the most of it. We know that to win City Of Culture would help us to really sing about what is here already, but also to build on that, build capacity and build resources; this project aims to start with what’s here and what’s happening already, and what can be celebrated right from day one of our bidding year (2017.)

Who can take part? And how do we build momentum?
Anyone can join in, simply by using the #365daysofculture with the @sot2021 moniker, but we know from running similar campaigns, that we need to build momentum to get people involved and interested in taking part. To begin to get people involved I am contacting some key individuals, who I recognise as being important cultural catalysts, (with brilliant and far-reaching networks) and ask them to be the ‘early adopters’ of the project. These are people suggested by the campaign group, and other people I think have something important to say about culture in our city, but importantly, this is just a start - and the next step is for those people to hopefully want to involve others in the conversation about culture in our city, sop that we really build a sense of a multi-layered city of culture.
From week one we will invite our cultural catalysts to adopt the week and tweet/facebook/instagram their 7 days of culture using the #365daysofculture, in addition we will ask them to identify people from their networks to also take part; creating an accumulative social media campaign, which begins to get a real sense of the cultural activity happening across the city, in all of the six towns. Though they will be asked to share at least one post per day during their 7 days, they will also be invited to continue to use the hash tag throughout the year, whenever they feel something cultural is worth capturing to add to the conversation around Stoke's bid.
The aim is that after a few weeks of leading cultural catalysts generating the documentation of culture across the city, others will take up the mantel and the project will begin to self-generate content. By the time the judges look at the social media campaign coming out of Stoke's bid in April, there will be a real sense of the city getting behind the bid, demonstrating the variety of cultural activity taking place, from buildings, green spaces, factories, football terraces, schools and streets across the city.

How will it work?
At the end of December I will invite a handful of key people to photograph themselves and their surroundings each day of the first week of January, stating what they are doing, and where for example;
Image: Example of how a #365daysofculture tweet may appear.
I imagine people will photograph events, activities, places, objects - anything from across the city which could be identified as cultural. They could be photographing a visit to the football, a night out at the theatre, breakfast oatcakes or even their day at work - and everything in between. They can post video, audio and images, as long as they always use the #365daysofculture and @sot2021 their content will be picked up and shared as part of the campaign.

I will aim to contact a handful of people to look at week one (January 2017), who will I hope, then invite others and then I will involve others as the year progresses.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Lost Gardens of Stoke-on-Trent

In 2008 I began researching the National Garden Festival. This year marked the 30th Anniversary of this amazing cultural regeneration project, the biggest of its kind in our city. It was wonderful to curate this project as a celebration of that, and as a way of thinking ahead to what could happen here, if we were awarded the City of Culture for 2021.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Portland Inn Project

Community Maker and The Oasis Social Club merged during August and Early September 2016, to become The Portland Inn Project. We kept an almost daily blog here. The fantastic artist Rebecca Davies and I were lead artists on the 4 week project which involved delivering daily activity, which ranged from Bingo, to dance and movement, to tae kwondo, through to a range of creative arts workshops.
The idea was to test what the community enjoyed, what people attended, and what times of day and week would work the best.
We worked with project partners My Community Matters, the Portland Street Community Group, Appetite, The British Ceramics Biennial and AirSpace Gallery to make sure that almost every day had activity, and on a number of days, a number of things would take place throughout the day. The project was funded by the City Council and Appetite Community Events Fund, The Portland Street Community Group and Arts Council England.
There were a few dance and movement classes with choreographer Sarah Blanc.
And Tuesday nights throughout the programme were an opportunity for young people in the area to take part in free martial arts workshops - with little ninjas for under 6's and then tae kwondo for the slightly older ones. These were really popular, and showed a real need for this kind of activity, and a base for it to happen in the area. These sessions, as well as some social media surgeries, and library sessions were organised by our partners in the project My Community Matters - who have been working in the area for a long time, and really feel the need for a project like this to have a permanent base in the area.
Appetite also supported the project with lots of advice, and practical support, in the form of furniture for the pub, but also in the organisation of what turned out to be our most successful day. The Appetite Taster Tour came to Portland Street, with the wonderful installation of interactive bee hives, by theatre company Artizani, plus a fabulous series of performance dances 'Topiary Trauma' by Kitsch-n-Sync.
Which together, provided probably the oddest spectacle that the area has ever seen, and felt like an important moment for the community, to imagine together, a future without limits.

The sessions which Rebecca and I organised were designed quite pragmatically to be productive, in relation to improving the space. While wonderful to have access to the Portland Inn, there was no getting away from the fact that it is really a derelict pub, with all the problems that come with that, so throughout the 4 weeks, our mission was also to involve people in transforming the space, and imagining together what it could be.

So, for example: Rebecca's surface decoration workshop created patterns and wall decoration for the pub.
The signwriting workshop, showed everyone the basics of putting together a series of wonderful signs, and a number of brilliant and useful signs were made for the space.
Even one for the Portland Inn Loo.

Sunday morning gardening club also provided an opportunity to spruce up the outside of the pub, with a hanging basket workshop.
The sessions varied in terms of who attended, there were some people that came just once for something specific, some that came to nearly everything, some that popped in often but didn't join in, and others that took a while to get involved, but by the end, were a part of the team.
Throughout the 4 weeks the British Ceramics Biennial team were on hand to run a creative evaluation with clay - after each session, (developed by Ceramic Artists Jo Ayre and Alice Thatcher) the community would be invited to put their thoughts about the session, and the project onto a clay tile, using imagery to represent their thoughts, and providing notes to give the context. There was a colour code which the participant selected based on how they were feeling.
The idea of this is that these tiles will, we hope, become a new tiled frontage for the pub building, based on the wonderful highly glossed majolica pub frontages of the past. Below are the coloured glaze tests.
The Community Maker workshops which I ran over the weeks followed on from last years meet, eat and make with clay ethos, but where last year we experimented with a lot of imagery creation methods, this year's focus was around the idea of using imagery from last year, but thinking now about making prototypes for the Portland Ware plates, which are the basis for the project. 



The first set of sessions were designed around the 'bring a plate' tradition of the community in the area, who have learned to be self-sufficient, and resourceful, making something from nothing. Community events have often been a 'bring a plate' event, where each community brings something on a plate to share, and the result is a community meal.

This time, neighbours were encouraged to bring a plate from home, and on arrival would be given a slice of cake to eat off their plate, we would then cast the plate to make a mould.
The next set of workshops used the moulds we had made previously to create a new set of plates, and then a printing workshop, used mono printing techniques (the old tissue paper method developed by Josiah Spode, for underglaze printing) to print last years imagery onto our newly made plates.
The idea for Community Maker this year has been about creating the prototype ware, which my absolute dream for, would be to find an industry partner, who would support the making of the ware, so that not only could each community member have the special ware in their cupboard, so that future 'Bring A Plate' events would see the special Portland Wares coming out of the cupboard to form a community gathering, and becoming an emblem for a resourceful community, but that potentially, if we can look at manufacturing the ware, and selling it, any profit could be ploughed back into the community, helping the community and the Portland Inn Project to become sustainable.
Therefore the aim for this year has been to create a prototype to be exhibited at BCB17, that is exciting, and beautiful enough to potentially interest industry partners, but which importantly has the ability to tell the community's story. 
This is where the idea of talking ceramics comes in. Alongside the Portland Inn Project, I have been undertaking the Random String Fellowship, offered by Ludic Rooms in Coventry.
This has involved some digital arts training and mentoring, to look at how a digital strand might support and develop my practice into new directions. I have been lucky to be allocated Ben Sadler from Juneau Projects as my mentor, which has been really rewarding.
The thought was that if we could make it, so that when visitors to the BCB touched the Portland Ware, they would hear the voices of the community, they would get a real sense of the way that a creative art project is supporting a community to develop. 
It has been fascinating experimenting with the Arduino technology - Jo Ayre and I had a good time playing with the tech and ceramic materials.
We tried getting clay to talk:
The way the bare condictive arduino board works, is that if you connect conductive materials to it (via the gold pins) each pin can have a different sound loaded onto it, so if the clay were able to conduct, in theory, touching the wet clay, the circuit would be complete and the sound would play. 
What I have learned since our experiment, is that the water content in the clay is too low to trigger the sound at the default settings, but it is not too difficult to reprogramme the arduino to be more sensitive.

So we tried clay slip, which again didn't work - but would work if we reprogrammed. But one thing that worked really well, was using a ceramic piece with gold banding.
The gold banding conducts beautifully - if it is a complete circuit. So the plan now is to add gold banding (circuity) to the Portland Ware Prototype, which will be displayed at the BCB. The set will be laid out like a community meal, but the tech will be hidden, so that the arduino etc is underneath, and we will develop a way that the ware does not need wire attached, via the gold banding, but when the wares are in place on the table, the voices of the community will be triggered when the wares are touched.
I am very excited about this next stage.
Throughout the 4 weeks, alongside the creative and other sessions, we were asking a series of questions, all of which would inform the development of the project, and provide the evidence we would need for writing a business plan. We even offered a business development session, which helped to shape our thinking around the contents of a business plan.
The way that the community responded to the creative sessions, but importantly, how keen people were to be involved in making the place better has informed the direction the project is now taking.
The findings from the 4 weeks demonstrated the need for a space in the area, providing opportunities for the community to meet and make together with over 600 attendees at events, but alongside that, there is a real need for the project to be financially sustainable. The findings from the 4 weeks, and subsequent research have led to the conclusion that the Portland Inn Development Project could see the Pub Building divided into 3 different uses.
Upstairs could include a residential flat, which potentially could be where the building manager lives. In addition there could be a smaller, one room residency space for visiting artists to stay in.
Downstairs the space would be split roughly in half, with a carpeted community room, which is available for community events, training and activity. This space can be booked, and hired out, but should always remain a community space.
The other half of the downstairs would be home to a community led enterprise, a workshop that has the ability to work on the creation of wares for sale (initially the Community Maker Ware, but with a view to diversify the range.) The facilities within the space would allow the space to be flexible in its offer, but we envision that alongside the making of the ceramic wares, the space can work on research and development of projects, provide bookable space for ceramicists and kiln access, be a base for artists residencies,  and provide a space to explore the role of the artist within design processes.

In addition, the space would be able to provide training, apprenticeships and volunteering opportunities for the community, as well as offering short courses for adult and family learning.
This is where we have got to currently, as we put the business plan together - which needs to be delivered to the council mid-November.


The final event during the Portland Inn Development Project was a community celebration day, it poured with rain, which scuppered plans to spread out onto the green space. Over the day I ran a clay cake making workshop with Jo Ayre, to create ceramic cakes which can hopefully be displayed with the Portland Ware.
Penny Vincent ran a singing workshop, there was a work-it workers workout with Choreographer Sarah Blanc, the library van man came back and read us a lovely childrens story and lots more happened throughout the day - not to forget local resident Chloe, who had always wanted to do some facepainting, sho made sure we all looked great. Finally, there was a community photo shoot, where people had their photo taken acting out what they wanted to see for the pub's future. 
The photos will be going up on the hoarnings of the pub, as a holding space, until we get back in there, but for now - here is a video of the Celebration Event.

The project has continued to raise questions about the role of art and artists in society, and for me personally, allowing me to explore what it means to work where you live, and not have the separation, and ability to be a 'stranger artist'. This all requires much more thought, but I am really interested in what happens if artists are in it for the long haul, and if projects take a longer term approach, than many funding streams allow.
This I will return to later.

There are too many people to thank individually for being part of the amazing team that put this together - all I can say is - thank you all so much. and in Rebecca's words: Forward Together.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Community Maker 2016

Community Maker is a 3 year project, a partnership between British Ceramics Biennial (now known as The Clay Foundation - since the activity delivered is all year around, and not just during the Biennial) and AirSpace Gallery. 
In 2015 - the project was all about aiming to create space for a community to get together, eat, meet and make - and explore together, how to develop the area. I am the lead artist of the project, and much of my thinking around the project stems from the very interesting dilemma of being an artist and a resident. I have worked in public and community contexts many times over the years, but this is the first time I have done so within my own neighbourhood. The interest for me stems from the context we, as a family, find ourselves in, as members of the £1 home scheme - we were tasked, as part of the deal, with being 'active members of the community - and agreeing to be part of community life, using our skills and resources to support the community to develop.' We, and 32 other households across 4 streets agreed to this when we took on our £1 houses in this area. I was really interested in exploring what role an artist might be able to take in this context, and the Community Maker project takes this as a starting point.
The project methods came from thinking about the Homemaker tableware, designed by Enid Seeney (the first female to be trained within the design team at the Spode Factory - a strange coincidence, which I was not aware of when first setting out on the project - given that BCB are based at Spode.) The homemaker design came at a time just after the war, when people began to think again about a little luxury being brought back into the home, the plate is a template for 'modern living' and proposes the ingredients of a successful home - my thinking around this was that though I became a homemaker when we took on our £1 house - the context is not just about me in my house, but all of the houses on the street, and this got me wondering - what are the ingredients of a successful community - and what would a plate for that look like? 
In addition, early meetings with other community members had a real 'make do and mend' feel to them - in this area, a residents have told us during the project, people have tended to get on and organise things for themselves, without much in the way of outside resources. One such 'tradition' in the area that has sprung up out of this has been get togethers where people 'bring a plate' - with everyone contributing a plate of something, altogether a community meal has been created. 
I love the idea of all these different plates, coming from all the houses - and the thought was that what if we were able to celebrate that attitude with a special community plate, which comes out of people's cupboards at community events - but which was not regarded as a make do and mend activity, and a point of necessity, but a choice for the community to share - celebrated with this special community ceramic.
The biggest hurdle we face in Community Maker 2015 was the lack of a venue - and so we ended up running our sessions from a tent on the newly developed green space,
What we know from 2015 is that without a community base, it is really difficult to build momentum in the area, and for the community to begin to become successful and feel connected. 
Also in the summer last year, The Oasis Social Club came to our area, with lead artist Rebecca Davies, though the idea around this project was always to be housed within a temporary structure, the project aimed to work with the community to uncover the communities hopes and aspirations, and to support the community to identify what would be needed to help the area to grow.
Throughout our conversations, and events the recurring issue of the need for a community space was raised, both within the Community Maker and The Oasis Social Club projects. Since the Community Maker sessions in Summer 2015, the community group have attempted to organise events, but the lack of a space has continually made these events difficult to manage.
Since the positive experiences of 2015's 'Community Maker' programme, we were contacted by the City Council, who asked us to look into the viability of turning the currently boarded up pub over to the community, keeping all of these things in mind, it would seem to make sense if Community Maker 2016 were building on the successes of the 2015 programme - and cross checking if the results are right, and that in fact the thing that this community most needs to make it successful is a space, and importantly, ascertaining whether there is enough energy, commitment and will within the community to run the space if it is handed over by the council.
Therefore our primary aim for Community Maker 2016 is to find out: Does the community want to take over and run The Portland Inn?
If so, what and who would that involve?
Is there enough commitment from the community to make this work?
If the community were to take over and run The Portland Inn, what activities and events would happen there and who may be the potential tenants who might be interested in being involved in taking space in the building, in order to ensure financial stability?
Dena Bagi and Jo Ayre from Clay Foundation and I have just spent time planning for this year, and leading in to 2017, and it feels like a very exciting strand is about to be explored
Over 4 weeks the Community Group will organise events and activities each day - and within that Community Maker will aim to deliver 5 days of that programme within the pub, before working on a physical artwork, in the form of 'Talking Tableware' - using digital technologies to bring the ceramics to life with the voices of the community.
In 2015 events were generally for two or three hours - but in 2016 - in order to see the pub activated, it will be more of a residency approach - I will be opening the pub from 11 - 4pm on each of the session days, working within the space, and then running a public workshop in mould making, mould use and ceramic glazes - with the community - working together to create a set of table ware for the artwork.
We will then present the experimental artwork over two events, one aimed at artists and other creative practitioners who may be interested in discussing the role of food within art projects, and the second a community Christmas Meal, where the artwork will be shown.
The exciting and unknown part is in exploring conductive glazes, mixing in arduino technology - and in particular seeing if we can make talking tableware - something which we hope to work on towards 2017.
In order to continue to explore the role that food and making can have in supporting the community in coming together, we will be keeping in mind the Portland Inn development project's four week timetable, but also looking to incorporate our own design process.
Our ultimate goal for 2017 is to create a community ceramic plate, which everyone has in their house, and which comes out for community get togethers, when people will 'bring a plate' to contribute, and also to set the precedence for community meals/food sharing in the area.
The aim for 2016 will be to work together to create a hand-made dinner service, as a prototype artwork for 2017. We can return to the highlights of 2015 - imagery and texts already gathered, and use these as starting points for 2016. We will aim to also be able to give a full experience for the community, so that if anyone were to follow all of the community workshops, they would have experienced a full range of clay making processes, including: making moulds from objects, using the moulds to create tablewares, printing onto wares and glazing wares - and then finally hearing their own voices within the wares.