The invisible landscape of memories

In June of this year, I was interviewed by a mature student from the University of Gloucestershire, working on an MA in Landscape Architecture in which she was researching the ‘invisible landscape’ of memories, stories and associations and its potential uses in urban regeneration and landscape design projects.

“Landscape designers are often strongly influenced by the visual and tangible aspects of a place, but I am interested in the idea that the intangible traces of peoples’ lives, industrial processes and everyday experiences could be an effective source of inspiration for designers, and deepen their understanding of what places mean to people.”

Today she contacted me again to say that her dissertation is finished, and asked for permission to include my poem The day the weaving stopped “as the introductory quote at the start of my chapter on Kidderminster.  Each chapter starts with a quote that I hope reflects the substance of the chapter, and I love the way your poem captures so much of what I’m trying to say about Kidderminster (and other places) in my research.”

I found our conversation very stimulating and interesting and am delighted that my work will be represented in this fascinating research.

The day the weaving stopped
for Bernie

There are flights on the floor,
remnants from a loom that filled the air
with noise and colour.

I had friends in this shed,
weavers who laboured in freezing cold
or stifling heat too hot to work.

I’ll take a broom and sweep
clean away the skill, the sweat,
the tears in grown men’s eyes.

© Heather Wastie
First published on this blog 11 Jun 2013

Here is some additional information about Melanie Clemmey’s research:

The invisible landscape

Towns and cities across the world are struggling with the legacy of rapidly declining industries. Often, as in Kidderminster, the industrial past has influenced every aspect of the urban fabric, from streets and buildings to railways and canals. As industries close down or relocate, they leave behind abandoned buildings and fragmented landscapes, whilst spaces are often filled with brutal highway engineering and poor quality infill developments.

Local authorities anxious to attract investment, jobs and opportunities for their towns often embrace regeneration schemes which offer the prospect of new and better uses for these apparently unloved places. Government policy encourages ‘brownfield development’, but frequently there are difficult issues of pollution, flood control, and other remediation work to overcome, which add cost and complexity to developments. Industrial architecture has not historically been valued by our society, and research into post-industrial sites is in its infancy, leaving them vulnerable to demolition and insensitive development schemes.

Landscape architects are frequently involved in the design and implementation of urban renewal schemes. During my training I began to wonder about the stories, memories and experiences of the people who lived and worked in these landscapes, and whose lives are still bound up with disappearing industries. I wanted to find out if exploring and mapping the invisible landscape of human experience could contribute to the work of professionals involved in urban regeneration, so for my MA I set out to explore its potential to enhance understanding of a place, influence plans for development and generate design ideas.

Melanie Clemmey
June 2014

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Lyrics for dementia and a poem for autism

Here are the song lyrics I mentioned in the post I wrote yesterday, the ones which are included in the ‘autobiography’ of a man I met at an Alzheimer’s Society memory cafe. The song is one of 3 on a CD I have recorded to raise awareness of dementia as well as funds for the Alzheimer’s Society.

I have also included a poem I wrote for publication in The Mortal Man, a book of poetry inspired by a young autistic man who lost his life at the age of 19. Details of the book, being sold in aid of the National Autistic Society, are here http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/jae-alexander-linsey/the-mortal-man/paperback/product-21004984.html  The poem was written with the help of disabled adults in the Skills for Life Performing Arts Group, Wolverhampton which I used to run until we lost our funding.

Thanks for reading.


I hope you’ll listen to me

I want to tell you what I’ve lost
I hope you’ll listen to me
I want to help you understand
why I cannot be free

I struggle to do the simplest thing
I’ve done a thousand times before
like opening a can of beans!
I feel confused and insecure.

I’ve lost the skills I used to have,
I lose my way, forget my name,
lack independence, confidence,
I feel embarrassed and ashamed

I want to tell you how it feels
I hope you’ll listen to me
I want to help you understand
why I cannot be free

I’m isolated, agitated,
muddled and exasperated,
scared to speak in case I’m wrong,
stigmatised, humiliated

All because of this disease
which any one of us could get,
a tangling up which kills the brain
slowly, surely, bit by bit.

I want to tell you how to help
I hope you’ll listen to me
I want to help you understand
why I cannot be free

Please don’t treat me like a child
or tell me what to do and say,
I’m not stupid, I do my best,
dementia doesn’t go away.

Please have patience, please be friendly,
show me that you understand,
treat me as you would be treated,
if I falter, hold my hand.

I want to tell you about the people
who help me to feel free,
friends and family, those I meet
who empathise with me

Those who help me every day,
welcome me and care for me,
cope with me without complaining,
help me to live normally

or near to normal as I can,
who talk to me and make me smile,
people living with dementia,
my dementia, all the while.

Those who listen with affection
as I struggle with my words
try to understand my message,
making sure that I am heard.

© Heather Wastie
April 2014


Autistic Spectrum

Draw an imaginary line
from the North Star
to the ground

Walk along the line
your routine
never changing
cut and dried

The star is fixed
the straight line
your boundary
a spectrum of blocks

Only the strongest
defy the magnetic pull
turn the line by 90 degrees
so it becomes

a bar to be raised
a barrier to be opened
a frontier to be crossed

© Heather Wastie
January 2013

The arts make a difference – how do I know?

Recently I’ve been performing and running workshops with older people in care homes, people with dementia and young people with disabilities. In these settings it can be difficult to know what the impact has been. So how do I evaluate what I have done?

Working for other organisations usually means there’s an evaluation procedure at the end and this is always valuable. There’s a lot to be learned from evaluating, from everyone’s perspective, and people who do the kind of work I do need also to be reassured that they are on the whole getting it right. A recent project in a care home, commissioned by Wychavon District Council, ended with these wonderful words which boosted my confidence. (You’d think by now I wouldn’t need that, but I do!)

“The poetry with Heather was a big success. Heather has set a spark amongst our residents and inspired us all to have a go at poetry. Everyone who attended these session has asked me to re book Heather for more groups. She had everyone in the room hanging off her every word, we had funny moments and thought provoking moments …. She talked with the residents and everyone warmed to her straight away. What a wonderful woman she is. I hope she will be coming here for many years to come.”

When working with people who aren’t able to express themselves in words, it can be more difficult to assess the impact. This week, 2 people in particular have demonstrated very positive reactions. During a session yesterday, a young woman with severe autism who had stayed in her chair for all of the previous sessions, came up and danced with me then later stole my tambourine and sang Yellow Submarine whilst tapping a rhythm in perfect time. She thought it was hilarious, the rest of the group joined in and I was so pleased that we had made such a connection. This session was part of a project run by Creative Health http://www.creativehealthcic.co.uk/ who commission arts and health work in the West Midlands.

This morning a man with dementia danced, hummed and whistled as I played my song Alzheimer’s Army which –  ahem – is available on CD with 2 others songs to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. You can listen to the song here https://soundcloud.com/heatherwastie/alzheimers-army-by-heather-wastie. Contact me for details or come to one of my performances; I always have CDs with me. Here’s a link to my performance diary http://www.wastiesspace.co.uk/Wasties_Space/DIARY.html.

Another man this morning (at an Alzheimer’s Society memory cafe) thanked me for the lyrics to one of my other dementia songs, written especially for his group. He keeps it in a folder which he described as his ‘autobiography’.

All of this shows how much difference the arts can make and I’m so lucky to be able to use my skills to be one of the many people out there making that difference.

 

Kidderminster Arts Festival

The annual two-week Kidderminster Arts Festival begins on Saturday. I’ve just counted them up and realise that I will be performing at 5 different events! The first is the launch on Friday night, which is a private affair, but the other 4 events are public so I’d better tell you about them!

Tuesday 12th August  MOUTH AND MUSIC Boars Head 8.00-11.00pm  http://www.mouthandmusic.co.uk
I run this monthly acoustic event with poet Sarah Tamar and we take it in turns to MC. It’s Sarah’s turn for our festival special, but I’ll be doing a 5 minute spot including a brand new humorous song which I finished this morning. All I will say is that is was inspired by a woman I met in a care home at one of my recent workshops. She made me howl with laughter and I have done my best to translate what she told me into song.
It will be a great evening with poet, Matt Windle, Scandinavian influenced folk music from Sirkel plus spoken word and music open mic.

.Mouth & Music Poster aug14

Saturday 16th August  ATTENTION SEEKERS’ STAGE Outside Town Hall, Kidderminster 2.30-2.45
I will be singing 3 songs which I recently recorded and put onto CD. The songs quote the many people I have met at performances and workshops for the Alzheimer’s Society and CDs are being sold to raise awareness as well as funds for this excellent dementia charity.

Alzheimer's Army CDs

Thursday 21st August  HOW DO WARS START?  Kidderminster Library 11.15am plus other venues tba
After being awarded a festival commission, I have teamed up with Worcestershire Poet Laureate, Fergus McGonigal to create a humorous and entertaining 20 minute piece of interactive performance poetry. If you would like to get involved see https://www.facebook.com/how.do.wars.start. We’re busy working on it right now!

KAF14 spoken word Events Poster

Thursday 21st August  Kidderminster Creatives SPOKEN WORD NIGHT Boars Head 7.00-9.30pm  http://kidderminster-creatives.org.uk/
Short sets of spoken word with plenty of time to browse the art in between. Not sure what I’ll be performing that night, but if you would like to book a performance slot, email info@kidderminster-creatives.org.uk.

To find out more about KAF14 see http://www.kidderminsterartsfestival.org.uk/