This blog is to document the process of how we work together, what we can learn from each other and how we can continue to collaborate under social distancing restrictions.

This project began in May 2020, initiated by Niki Colclough, Artist & Lecturer teaching MA Socially Engaged Practice at the University of Salford. The project began as an enquiry into everyday walking, how walking can connect us to the places we live and the people we share this space with.

Over the summer, when social distancing rules relaxed, Niki was joined by six community members who worked with her to test ideas around walking – on their doorsteps, in local green spaces and in the town centre of Leigh (in close proximity to the Turnpike Art Gallery).

Thinking about the reasons for and benefits of everyday walking as a starting point, two key findings emerged –

That art can be a catalyst : giving a reason to do something extraordinary, or looking at the ordinary in a new way.

That walking, and particularly paying attention to walking in new ways, can be a way of maintaining good mental health : This is a benefit that can be emphasised by the introduction of art thought / action into walking.

Niki was joined by six community members in this initial phase, four of whom have continued this enquiry into the digital sphere. This blog will document how we learn together.

More information on the project can be found at: https://nikicolclough.com/


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To set the scene –

Our last meeting was just before Christmas, when there was still some optimism in the air, but it was waining – the pandemic at this stage is becoming an endurance, I don’t think anyone expected that we would be living under such strict conditions for so long – and even the brightest spirits are beginning to fade. Walking is becoming one of the only activities that is safe and accessible, but even this is more difficult with the onset of winter. There’s also a collective tiredness, a definite screen fatigue – and it is within this that we manage to find a ray of light – a way to come together and find hope.

For this meeting, I invited fellow artist Tina Dempsey to join us, Tina has also been investigating walking whilst in lockdown and I thought it would be interesting for the group to hear about her ways of working. Tina talked through some of the questions she had been asking herself “What is art doing in this moment?” and “What do we actually need?”.

Which led on to a discussion about the local – how we come to belong to a place, how the identity of a place is formed, what happens when we pay more attention to our immediate environment? And where might we focus more of our attention whilst we walk? After spending more time in her local nature spaces, Tina shared that she has a renewed pride of where she’s from and feels more grounded.

We also considered the act of walking as a way to generate creative ideas – for example, how we might be visually stimulated, or affected by a snippet of overheard conversation. We talked about how we have been bringing art activities into our walking, setting tasks to help us stop and notice again. This is something we have been doing as a group, sharing ways of looking in order to break the mundane, now that we have been walking in the same spaces for almost a year.

At the end of the meeting some of the members shared their joy, including the feeling of having got “four wheels back on my wagon!” – a wonderful testament to the project. Sometimes we just need to hear the enthusiasm of others to spark our own.


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For our second meeting I had set the text ‘Looking Around: Where We Are, Where We Could Be’ by Lucy R. Lippard, published in Mapping The Terrain, New Genre Public Art, Edited by Susan Lacy. This is a book that I revisit often and a staple in the MA Socially Engaged Practice. Although written in the 1990s, it still has resonance today and has personal significance because it really made me understand my artistic practice as one of place – incorporating both physical environments and lived experience.

I was curious about how the group would find this leap into theory and they admitted that they found it challenging – however, this didn’t deter anyone from making connections between the text and their local experiences.

Hi-lights of the discussion:

It really made me think about what we are doing as a piece of art, how the Turnpike is about us as people, it’s an idea as much as it’s a building.

I thought I might skim-read the text, but I had to spend some time with it, to understand what might be meant by terms such as ‘cultural democracy’, it did in-fact stimulate a lot of thought… I was trying to relate it to Leigh and there are incredible achievements and meaningful stuff all around us, it just depends, in a way, how you look at it, or if you see it. So even though I thought the text was hard work, it had a lot to say that was relevant.

I was thinking about the markers around Leigh, I see a lot of public monuments that are in remembrance of war, the obelisks etc… Also, thinking about what we see on windows now, what the kids are doing, it’s right and front of us and it’s pretty powerful.

Perhaps through this project we will start being more mindful, start seeing things that we wouldn’t normally see – I live behind a garage, so they make all kinds of interesting sounds and it’s just a man working on a car, but I hear music in it. I was also thinking, because I have mobility issues – it’s not about the distance, but being present, even in your own house, you are using your senses.

It made me think about how this walking project is art. The things that I hi-lighted in the text were to do with senses, a sense of place, sharing with each other, people and a feeling of community – which resonated with me again, it cemented everything together for me. I walk for my mental health and I’ve thought about using mindfulness and my senses, but what this has really made me think about is concentrating on one sense at a time.

This made me stop and think about collective narratives, why do we appreciate where we live? How do we feel about it? What changes have we made? What changes would you make?

It’s not elite and hidden away from public view, participants are attracted from all sides of life. That made me think about the Turnpike, that it’s about a community; bringing people together through art.

I just let my mind think and be stimulated by what was written and it brought me to all kinds of things, I went right back to my childhood and to the houses in the field where I live, where I grew up, there used to be hares and Lapwings, but now there’s too many people, too many dog walkers. And the articles says that art shouldn’t be about the historical, but in a way, the historical can be very personal and speak to people.

It makes me think about what it means to be indigenous and the native folks really believed in animals and had totems, the hare is sort of a totem for you, remembering the animals of your childhood.

You’re making me think – in the article, she talks about change without progress and in a way, you do need a sense of place in time, it does alter your perspective. It’s not just a case of reminiscing about certain things, it opens up questions, why aren’t Lapwings here anymore? Is it progress or not? What was built where those hares live? What would you rather have?

I think that in some ways we have progress, but there are other things we still need to work on and this platform makes sense to me because it is like a democratisation, because most people who wouldn’t usually talk about art can find a way to connect to it.


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We had our first online meeting at the end of October 2020. Some of the group members were familiar with using Zoom as a platform, whilst others professed their virginity! It will be interesting to see how successful we are in this task of building an online community.

We began by sharing our ‘inspirations’ – (a practice borrowed from meetings at the Islington Mill Art Academy) – a quick three minutes each to share something we have seen, read, done, experienced or other … It’s usually a positive way of starting a workshop, especially now, when “HOW ARE YOU?” is such a daunting question.

What became apparent was that imagination is key – the ability to mentally travel from the now – (I feel that this is often the role of art?). One participant told us about their preparation for bonfire night, an old cook book with her late mother’s annotations, the smells, the sounds, the experiences shared at this time of year, an imagination of the past that connects us to the present.

As this was our first online meeting, we talked about how the group might function – I had asked one participant to suggest an activity for the group, but she suggested a better idea – that we all put forward an activity and people can choose what they would like to do (co-production already working to improve creative process!). We will re-visit this in the next session. In addition, I set a reading and a task to share some of my thinking behind the project and to give people something to start with.

I was delighted a few days later to be tagged in the above image on instagram, a member of the group sharing how her participation had inspired her to create an amazingly imaginative approach to walking and connecting with nature – now I can’t NOT see the faces of trees and it’s awesome!


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