Is it weird starting a blog at Christmas?

I haven’t blogged here since 2015, just at the point where I  set up Wur Bradford, a responsive participatory arts project based in a Bradford market stall.  Two and a half years on, Wur (Wur means ‘our’ and ‘we are) has become a bigger and more beautiful project than I could have hoped for or imagined, involving other artists doing collective creativity with people in many different ways, both in and beyond our market stall.

The journey which took me to setting up Wur is documented in my previous a-n blog, Reciprocity (2012-2015). Receiving a peer support bursary from a-n in 2013 was key in this journey- having the opportunity to have conversations with other regional artists and academics working in participatory/socio-political settings led me to locating my people-based work more consciously and confidently as socially engaged practice.
After setting up Wur Bradford, I found that I didn’t have the space, time and energy to blog any more – running the project was all consuming and took up all my mental capacity. Reflection and critical discussion happened as real time conversations with artist colleagues and peers; writing about it felt like too much.
More recently, as the delivery of Wur has become more collaborative and shared, with my two fantastic  artist colleagues, Chemaine Cooke  and Uzma Kazi,  I’ve had more time and opportunity to come back to my own artistic practice  and think about where I go next.

A hand injury three months ago needing surgeries and lots of recovery time has forced me to rest and though it’s been pretty challenging not having the use of my right hand, has given me time to get creatively re energised.

Also it has unexpectedly led to some new work that wouldn’t have happened had I had use of both hands: Last week, with a pot still on,  I tried to make some collage – but because I couldn’t cut or stick, the pieces of each collage were unfixed. What to do with them? I found some clear bags and put each of the collages in to a bag.. I started thinking of them as DIY collages, that people could assemble themselves.. the chance element of how they appeared in the bag and how they might be fixed.. and how this is out of my control. One of the pieces which had hands and musical notation in spoke to me as a birthday present for my sister in law, Una, who is a musician and improviser. Then I started thinking about them as scores for sound or movement.. and my brain has been exploding ever since. Finally, after months of pain and tiredness I feel like I have returned to my artist self, and that I’m BACK.

I’ve been exploring ideas of randomness/ chance/accidents in my work for a number of years in different ways

These processes and games have connected with ideas of making/remaking meaning, the provisional nature of meaning, how we make and remake and enact it on an everyday level..I’ve been drawn to the makeshift, the shapeshifty
Mapping, transition and movement have also been continuing thematic threads through a number of recent and current projects of different kinds – from ‘We Are Here’ a Wur Bradford collaboration in a Bradford market with movement artist Chemaine Cooke, to co-developing My Next Chapter For Creatives, a new programme for artists in transition with creative coach and facilitator Bev Morton. Both of these pieces of work will be taking off in 2018 – so this little epiphany, borne out of frustration and limitation feels super-charged and full of possibility.

I’m so excited to capture and develop these ideas. It also feels really important to document them- to track how they grow and might connect. Blogging about the process means a more conscious and committed exploration – trying to articulate what’s going on (not always easy!) means I can better keep hold of it and try to understand it. And share!

It’s really, really good to be back.
Merry Christmas!

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I should have known from previous experience that blogging in the middle of a big  intense project wasn’t going to happen.
I’m looking back, 6 or so  months on, at my last posts and my intentions to write here about the Wur Bradford Arts Council England funded project ‘We Are Here’ at Oastler Market in which myself and Wur artist colleague Chemaine Cooke set out to work with market traders, BCB Community Radio and the public to celebrate and document the people, communities of this traditional market at a time when it is due for demolition and relocation (more here We did this through a series of  public guided walks and then two programmed celebration events in April.
We soon realised after starting the project in January that it was going to be about doing – each idea, action and conversation generating more ideas, connections, collaborations and actions, more often than not involving others – traders, other artists,  members of the public. We found that time for our own planned artistic collaboration around walking and mapping  (exploring connections between my visual  arts practice and participatory walking projects with Chemaine’s movement/dance background and participatory practice) was squeezed as we focussed on delivering the guided walks and planning for the events. Lots to learn here about capacity and time scales (double the length of the project!) and also about being more disciplined about ring-fencing our own artistic time.
Although there were moments of creative frustration in not getting (or making) enough time for Chemaine and I to develop work in the way we intended  – with some time and reflection,  we can see there were so many valuable experiences to take and learn from and to develop.
Our 7 guided walks around the market, which we did both as open public walks and also with children teachers and parents from the local Midland Road Nursery,  were sensory, playful and connective. Feedback from participants was that what they liked best was meeting the market traders and learning about them and their stalls. It was wonderful to work with the traders on these walks, and see how they interacted with the audience/customers, telling stories about their own journeys to the Oastler as market traders, and hear them talking about their produce and products. The personal introductions we were able to make have resulted in people  who came on the walks having confidence to go back and chat further with the traders, ask about produce and recipe ideas and generally use and visit the market more.
Now the ACE project time frame is over, we are planning out next piece of work in the market; exploring collaboration possibilities with BCB Radio ( EHRC University of Leeds project ‘Understanding and Enhancing the Community Value of Traditional Retail Markets’ (  and Sarah Spanton, Director of Waymarking  ( which whom I’ve worked with over the past 13 years in a number of different ways.
The next project will look very different, we sense – as we explore our role as artists and possible co-working with the market traders with whom we have built trusted relationships –  to addressing what we can do together in the next three years as the market moves.
Walking and mapping will still have a role, as a collective means of connecting people with this fantastic market; exploring its many sensory joys and the communities who work and shop here,  and also helping to understand it’s significant community and social value in Bradford. Onwards!

To see a short video and photographs from the  ACE funded WE ARE HERE project, visit


Where did January and half of February go?
The last six weeks have passed in a blur of activity.
We got the fantastic news at the beginning of January that our grants for the arts funding bid to Arts Council England for our Wur Bradford project ‘We Are Here’ was successful – brilliant news!

Myself and my Wur Bradford artist colleague Chemaine have been developing work in Bradford’s Oastler Market for the past year in collaboration with market traders involving walks and maps, poetry in a market cafe, and a Market Shrine. Last year we devised a project that would enable us to further develop this work and to work with the traders more deeply. We are utterly delighted that the project has been funded – it feels very important that WE ARE HERE happens now, at a time when the future of the market as it is now (targeted for demolition and relocation)  is uncertain. The project will involved a number of guided walks, an exhibition and two events in the Market in April which are all about documenting and celebrating the history, stories and communities of this beautiful vibrant market.
The project also gives Chemaine and I an opportunity to collaborate to create walks, mapping and movement in the market, and share our respective practices of dance and visual art. To have dedicated and funded time to develop this work together makes us VERY happy – often our work is focussed on  engagement and facilitating the creativity of others, which we love – but we also need to feed our artistic practices separately from this.
Last week we did our first public guided walk ‘ Getting Lost on Purpose’ a lunchtime walk which was about exploring the market in unusual ways to defamiliarise ourselves and to experience it in different ways. I made a zine to give to people which contained a walking game (First Right, Second Left, Third Right, Repeat for 10 minutes) and Chemaine led a walk which involved a word game.

We were excited and a bit nervous about our first walk but it turned out beautiful. We met in the iconic Fountains Cafe and were delighted to have 12 participants join us, some whom we knew and others we didn’t. We began with asking people about their use and experience of the market, and then off we went on a word and getting lost adventure, bumping into traders and stalls along the way.
There was lots of laughter and participants really entered into the spirit of an adventure. The feedback at the end was really valuable – people had different entry points and valued different things:

(photos by Dipak Mistry)

The market is fanastic.. the getting lost game definitely got me lost! Did that feel ok? Yes that felt nice! It was great

 There’s more variety than there used to be.. some of the food is really interesting.. the Middle Eastern stall.. a friend told me about it and said it was really good, and unusual.. so I thinkI’ll come back for that..

How did you find the games? They made you stop and look at things that you would just walk past…

Laughter with people, meeting the stall holders.. and… I have spent time here photographing but I’ll definitely be coming back and trying to get quotes.. The one thing I really loved was the man about the plastic head and it used to be Elvis till someone took the chip out his back.. and I thought I’d love to get pictures… and little vignettes of what I’ve overheard… So I’m going to come back and do that!
I’m going to make more of an effort to come up and do my shopping.. I had my first cannoli!

The general response and feeling was that the market is wonderful and people would be coming back to spend more time there and to shop, discover and eat there.
We are now thinking about the next guided walk on on 1st March and other ways we can playfully explore, map and celebrate this wonderful market with others.

As part of our professional development for the ACE funded project we planned in  some critical/evaluative discussion events with one of our partners, Gallery ll at University of Bradford. Andy Abbott, curator at the gallery, who we have worked with both as individual artists and as Wur Bradford for a number of years, has been helping us host and frame these discussions with selected artist peers and other selected arts professionals working in socially engaged practice to support us  in thinking through the project at the beginning middle and end points.  The first of these discussions was this week, where we invited asked the question

‘What are the questions we should be asking ourselves?’

Over a lunch of fresh produce sourced from the market, we had a very fruitful (excuse the pun) and convivial discussion with artist Toby Lloyd, artist/curator Caroline Hick, academic and researcher Rebecca Senior (currently working with AxisWeb),  artistic director of Theatre in The Mill Richard Warburton and writer and activist Stephen Pritchard. Having the opportunity to share conversation and reflections with this bunch of people was invaluable at this early part in the project, and the discussion generated has been giving us much food for though in looking at how we meaningfully evaluate the project with all involved. These kinds of occasions and opportunities, to have focussed discussion on our projects, are so rare as we often are so busy with delivering – so we really appreciate to have this time which funding from the Arts Council supports.

We also had the opportunity to spend some time separately with both Stephen and Toby in Oastler Market showing them around and talking to traders – again, getting the chance to share live projects with artists working in the field was invaluable.

WE ARE HERE is supported by Arts Council England, Bradford Council and Bradford MarketsMore about the project here


Randomness and chance has found its way into the holidays…

1. Slide play
After looking out some of the double slide experiments I did with the slide scanner a couple of years ago, I started playing with it again, grabbing a bunch of slides from the box and putting them in the scanner at random (rules are no looking, press scan on the interesting ones). Here’s a few. More often than not the process doesn’t generate images I’d want to keep, but I like the game of it and it’s a really quick and instant way to play with found images.


2. Accidental collage
Gathering up a bunch of cutouts and found magazine pages which I’d been working on from the floor, tidying up for guests coming, I discovered this chance intervention. I’d put the arm on another image and had been about to stick it down, but on seeing this, had that internal burn of joy that happens when something just works.  The interventions that happen by chance are always the most satisfying


3. Netflix Roulette
A made up game throwing the poker dice to determine what films we’d watch over the holidays to save us the negotiation  – resulting in what is safe to say some pretty unusual viewing ( including a bonkers German musical about teenage witches) which visiting family found both hilarious and groan inducing (The musical of Les Mis, 2 hours 37 minutes of it – aaargh)


4. Been making a zine,  the content of which is comprised from placing randomly chosen map pages with other book pages and putting them together.
I like the play with sequence and pairing here.
Email me if you’d like a copy! [email protected]
This is the year of serious play. Finding joy, mischief, and absurdity feels like one of the ways of dealing with the terrifying right wing times we are living in – alongside stepping up and doing what I can to challenge and resist these narratives

Here’s a thing I did for Day One of January Challenge (make something to celebrate your achievements in 2018) – it’s a collage medal in a bag. I hope it comes true