We’re very excited to announce the first installation of our collective work at the Watchtower Gallery in Berwick, with thanks to Kate Stephenson.

The show will run from 10th to 25th October (thursday-sunday 12-4pm).

All blog readers are welcome to the opening on Saturday 10th: but please let us know, so we can gauge numbers.

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Cables, cakes and carpentry

We are coming to the final stages of involving local older people in the Where We Belong words and sounds project. Thousands of words have been written, recorded, collected – some as poetry, some as social comments, some as memoir, some as reflection on the landscape and seascape that surround us.


Over the months, Geoff and I have discussed, pondered and re-considered the ways of presenting the soundscape alongside and around the written words in an installation to be exhibited at The Watchtower Gallery in Berwick upon Tweed. I was particularly keen to find other ways of presenting the written word to the public which avoided the traditional leaflet or a pamphlet or a poster.

Eventually we combined Japanese plywood, lithopress, a local carpenter, a local visual artist, more timber and a lot of on-line research. Then we took a deep breath as it all came together for the preview at Bell View Resource Centre, our partner organisation in Belford. They provided a space for a specially invited audience which prioritised participants and their families and friend who will not be able to get to the actual installation at The Watchtower. Bell View also provided luscious home-made cakes and cheese scones in their cafe so that people could chat in a space outside the installation which required a certain level of quiet.


We had some fantastic feedback as well as some invaluable suggestions about how we might improve the audience experience – such as giving people a bit of guidance about how to ‘navigate’ the installation.

Bucket loads of thanks go to the people who’ve been involved – and watch this space as we invite the widest audience to the installation in October.


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bird talk

One theme I’ve been pursuing in our conversations has been people’s affinities with birds, probing if our respondents have a totem bird, a favourite maybe.


There’s no doubt that robins were the most popular and held a special place in quite a few people’s hearts. And here robins have just been voted the nation’s favourite bird.

These are some snippets of our bird conversations. I’ve left them pretty much as they ran; there are nice rhythms to the way people think and talk in a relaxed way.

John speaking of the robin pair that were nesting in his porch:

Jean had already embraced the idea, while Edna wasn’t so sure about birds:

Jean and Olive like blackbirds and thrushes, but are also drawn to robins:

Pat seemed to like the idea, but Marion was quick with her choice:

Norma knew straight off, Jean not so sure and Romi flies with her buzzards:

Joe was intrigued and likes the tameness of robins:

Tom was highly amused by my question, but I think he liked the idea and was drawn on swifts:

Sure, it’s a bit of a forced question: and picking one species might imply disrespect for all the other kinds of bird and their ways of life. But robins do have a special bond for many people.


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Writing through the good and the bad times

There have been a lot of developments in recent years to include ‘creative writing’ alongside music, visual art, dance as part of a therapeutic approach to arts and health. Although I’m not trained as a counsellor or a therapist, I know that participants go away from writing workshops feeling that putting thoughts, ideas and memories on paper creates a lightness of being, a sense of fulfilment. During this project, we have used a range of approaches with older people in North Northumberland. Sometimes working with small groups, sometimes with pairs in day care, sometimes with individuals in their own homes.

It’s vital that everyone has the opportunity to be involved so we aim to create accessible and easy ways for people to be involved. We’ve been so impressed with the humour and energy that older people bring to the discussions, in spite of health or mobility difficulties, they have contributed poems, memories, stories, opinions, laughter.

Older people repeatedly state that they don’t want to be a burden, want to live independently, want to stay in their own homes. Written by one of the project participants, the poem below captures the difficulty of managing the most simple of activities.

Cup of Tea

I really need a cup of tea
So make the effort
Get off your chair, switch
Off the oxygen. You’re there.

Teabag in cup with the sugar
The milk’s in the fridge.
Lean on the bench to breathe
You need that cup of tea

Is this the start of it?
The kettle won’t boil as you
Forgot to switch it on, now
Wait longer for a cup of tea.

Momentous job which would have been
So effortless in my prime.
Is this the dreaded dementia? No.
I just want a cup of tea.


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What makes poetry?

Recently I ran a writing workshop with a small group of local older women; although from different backgrounds and local villages, they had each written poetry later in life.

‘When I turned eighty, I became poetical.’

The conversation and writing activities were around the subjects of belonging, Northumberland, home, the natural world, love, friendship. We were all inspired by one of the pieces that I read which came from Jackie Kay’s memoir ‘Red Dust Road’ in which she describes her emotional attachment to an African village she has never seen before. Equally we loved the poem I read from our local poet Katrina Porteous entitled ‘Alnmouth’. We used the latter as a starting point for a writing activity inspired by her images of the estuary at the well known  local seaside village. Here is a first draft from one participant.

‘The curlew letting go of its rinsed notes,
the curl of its voice across pastureland
and coast, the curl of its beak above
newly sewn wheat, the curve of its neck
as it peers down on humans, it’s note an
F sharp from a wind instrument
that sails into the mist.

Thanks to everyone for making the effort to attend.  Romi


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Belongings- Connections-Isolations.

We are half way through the project now- Geoff and I have had conversations and workshops with over thirty older people who live in rural north Northumberland. Some live in villages, some live on farms. Many have grown up here, others have moved here for their love of the beautiful area. At the outset, we were anticipating that our conversations would reveal people’s love of the landscape or the sea or the wildlife or the natural world. Some people have articulated that in poetry, prose or just short phrases. Many don’t need to communicate their emotional connection, perhaps, because it’s in their DNA.

‘The Sea? Well I never really think about it. It’s always there. It belongs to you,             doesn’t it?’ (Born and Lived in Seahouses for 82 years)

I’m not what you’d call countrified, but I love my Northumberland. I like to walk the lanes between the fields, sit on a bench. (Born in Northumberland 96 years ago)

Although older people’s isolation is highlighted in the press, we also wanted to explore people’s sense of belonging. We have found, as you would expect, mixed responses. To the outsider, an older person living with son or daughter or in residential care would have no reason to feel ‘isolated’. Yet we heard several say ‘There’s no one I connect with here.’

Yet most of the people are not unhappy ‘I can honestly say I’ve never been bored.’

Many lament the change in their local community where everyone knew each other, doors were never locked. Now neighbours don’t speak; the thirty two shops that lined one side of Belford have diminished. Butchers, bakers, sweet shops, drapers replaced with a charity shop, stove shop, mini-supermarket, holiday homes. This is not just nostalgia- it’s the practical reality of changes in social interactions, reduced community connections and limitations in daily living. Decisions that are made with little involvement of older people still living there.


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Looking for Tom Tallon – written by Jean

I don’t know who he was yet, curiosity will surely bring reward. Why was that remote outcrop of rock, seemingly growing out of the hill, named for him? There’s nothing there, no habitation, no apparent sign that there ever was. So, do we imagine a shepherd on that hill? Overseeing his flock with his dogs around him. Yes, in imagination I see him, a loose-limbed wiry man, lined face, far seeing eyes, looking out over that vast distance to the sea.

I saw it today just before sunset. It was so still, not even the sound of the hidden grouse disturbed the silence. No wind, nothing but muted colours of autumn and staring sheep, standing on the rocks like statues. Mauve, pink, brown, yellow, dark green, pale blue, all blended together in a patchwork of beauty very seldom seen in this busy troubled world. Heather underfoot, the quick changing sky of sunset reflecting on the earth. This creates an impression on the mind and soul never to be forgotten.

So who was Tom Tallon? Someone of enough account to have this vista of bleak Northumberland called for him. How long ago did he live to see and love what I have seen today? He must have seen it in all moods. Covered in snow, battered by wind and rain, dark in storm but ever majestic.

I’ll find you Tom Tallon and silently thank you for letting me share your private place. I think you would be such that you wouldn’t mind my brief intrusion. You’ve given me peace tonight and I thank you.

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