There is so much to reflect on over the past few weeks at Bramley Fulfilling Lives. This is a really established centre since artists Ellie and Bryony had been there working their creative magic for the three years preceding. I was new to come in to the project and I soon learnt that this is a very busy and buzzing centre with lots of positivity and warmth. When stepping into the busy communal hall there is always someone to immediately greet you and assist with your bags, and big waves and smiles from people on the other side of the room can be seen. Dance can often be a daunting thing for many, however the group were totally open to what I had in store for them and willing to jump in! And so I was extremely excited by the possibilities. We were also joined this year by two wonderful volunteers Maya and Harrie who injected a wonderfully supportive and playful energy into the sessions.
After the first few weeks of introducing our theme ‘The Outdoors’ we delved deeper into the material for weeks 5-10, and went on more adventures through our senses, movement, words and stories.
On every session when Ellie and I arrived the group were already sitting in a circle, poised and ready to start. We used this readiness by always starting with a physical warm-up to welcome everyone into the circle and tune-in to one another. Sometimes this would begin in the fingers and hands, other times in the feet, and we followed one another through playful walking movements and rhythms.
On week 6 we invited the participants to each offer a small stretch. It was Tracey’s turn and spontaneously she took to her feet and initiated a full-body stretch with arms and legs reached-out in a star shape, and then moved this into a side stretch. Many were fascinated by this and moved closer to Tracey to join-in, with audible in and out breaths of big effort and surprise.
Our creative explorations often started from sensory objects which evoked feelings of the outdoors such as ice cubes, herbs from the garden, spikey ferns and twigs, pine cones, shiny fabric and shells. With it being autumn we had a rich recipe of items and our collection grew and grew over the weeks. On week 5, we used the ice cubes for a tactile game to wake-up the skin and experience different sensations of cold. We rolled the ice over our hands first of all, and then over more sensitive places such as wrists, face and neck. After trying this out individually, the group became very playful and dotted the ice cubes on one another’s hands and faces. There was lots of laughter and shrieks of surprise.
‘Ooo my hands are freezing!’ Jane said with shoulders shrugged and a smile.
We then added all of the sensory objects onto a giant piece of shimmering fabric in the centre, attaching a sentence to each object, and an evocative story grew about a magical forest which was swept underwater.
Vakas took the large spikey branches and placed these on his head like antlers, and Fiona declared poetically ‘The leaves are making sounds’.
On week 7 it was Halloween and our games took-on a spooky slant. Ellie passed around a witches’ cauldron with Halloween-themed objects suggesting different ways of moving and speaking – Carl chose the skeleton glove and wearing this proudly he gave us a shaky, wobbly skeleton dance across the circle, many joyfully joining-in with him. Andrew who had not previously joined-in with many sessions found it hilarious to catch support worker Neil off-guard and shout ‘boo’ followed by a mischievous cackle, making him jump in his seat. Just when Neil thought he was safe, Andrew did it again, and again until we were all cackling!
Maya also initiated some craft activity on this week with the idea of making ‘spooky’ lanterns decorated individually with coloured paper, glitter and cobwebs – which we could light-up on the final week. This gave a lovely calm energy to the session and many visual artists emerged within the group.
A highlight was on week 8 when we took the session out to the newly re-opened Leeds Art Gallery. It was exciting that there were new spaces and exhibitions to explore, and connect with a different artistic environment. A small group of participants arrived along with support workers Matt and Tracy with enthusiasm and anticipation. Everyone was kitted-out with some looking tools which included a tube for looking through, a torch and disposable camera. We firstly explored the large room at the end of the building with the huge classical paintings. The group chose to stay very close together at first and began to look around, some gentle discussion already emerging about the people and animals in the paintings.
Sophie said: ‘The white horses are running towards us’.
We then moved to the Cotman sketches which were a striking contrast with hundreds of tiny drawings placed on closely-surrounding walls. Andy moved closer to one of the drawings and was elated to see that it moved! He took lots of time to really look at certain images for a few moments and then tranquilly move on to the next, snapping his favourites with his camera, and also intermittently sketching. We then moved into the Cotman watercolour paintings and discussed the landscapes and also his travel journals. Jean expressed that she also kept a journal and this opened-up a great discussion for everyone.
Jean was also drawn to a painting called ‘Shady Pool’, and before knowing the name of the piece she said ‘Water’. Then with a few moment’s pause – ‘swimming’, and then still looking – ‘trees’.
The group were becoming really accomplished at building stories together and creating narrative from various starting points, and so we wanted to work further on these skills with individuals. Ellie developed many story-telling games with the participants – offering items such as hats, glasses, shoes and everyday treasures on a beautifully-presented table or basket – and invited each person to choose and create characters, places, emotions and magical objects. This culminated in the creation of some personalised story-telling cards on week 9 where Ellie supported every member of the group to create images with captions including ‘Stuck in the Mud’ and ‘Feeling happy’. The group worked thick and fast to create a pack of 52 cards which they could use in any order for future story-telling games, and they were delighted to see these beautifully printed on the final week.
I have never before experienced such a strong group dynamic and incredible peer support as at BFL. Even though the group is so large, everyone would always wait patiently for each person to introduce their idea and give encouragement by joining-in and watching with genuine interest. And if anyone was struggling to give a response there were always participants who would enthusiastically jump-up to assist.
There were also so many strong and generous leaders in the group. Stephen especially was a big a fan of our ‘Conductor Game’ where individuals took-on the task of leading and controlling the action of the group through gesture, movement, rhythm or vocalisation. Stephen seemed to find instant joy in the quick reactions from the rest of the group when he initiated start-stop movements in a conga around the communal hall. Dede was also a keen leader and when Ellie and I asked the group ‘who would like to go first?’ he would always be first to volunteer with a large wave and clear and confident ‘Me’ across the circle. On many tasks such as our travelling/balance on the large rope game and mark-making maps, members of the group whooped and cheered one another along and so each person’s idea became more elaborate and challenging than the one before.
‘Come-on Jakey!’ Jane shouted!
An exciting element of this project was that we had involvement from Bramley Primary School year 6 class. We took some visits to the school with members of the BFL group and shared our explorations with the children. On week 7 we created 2 group soundscapes based on the elements using body percussion and voice, and the group conducted one another to create something really atmospheric and textured which Ellie recorded. On the following visit, participants Fiona, Stephen and Jean taught the children a dance based-on outdoor movements. The children were animated and excitable and also added their own movements to the dance. Many of children were so confident and welcoming; during the session I caught C taking the initiative to offer a chair to Fiona when she joined his group. And with some gentle encouragement the children were able to naturally communicate and adapt their ideas and movements to make them inclusive for everyone.
Some of the children also travelled to the BFL centre to be involved in our usual Tuesday sessions. Some of the pupils arrived a little nervously, however once we all introduced ourselves through a fun circle game, they seemed to relax and smile, many taking to their feet to dance. To enter into such a large group would be daunting for anyone, but the children seemed to find it a breeze.
O commented – ‘I didn’t think it was going to be fun, but once we saw that everyone was happy and we got to play games, I found it really fun.’
Whilst dancing together with his friend W and some of the adults, I caught L saying ‘I wish we could stay all day’.
For the celebration event on week 10, Ellie and I wanted to gather all of the ideas and things which the group had made over the weeks and put these into a sensory trail within the large sensory room. We included the soundscape, journey photographs, story cards, spooky lanterns, large rope, floor map and the sensory outdoor objects & smells, and Ellie and I pieced these together into a mysterious, winding web for the participants to travel through and collect items of interest along the way. Ellie and I worked frantically to change the space before everyone arrived, and we noticed Stephen and David having a peek at the door! Everyone had a turn on the sensory trail which began with eyes closed and there was lots of wonder and delight from participants following their senses to find their way, and re-discover their own photographs, lanterns and special objects.
We celebrated our time together by dancing, reflecting and playing favourite games such as hula hoop challenges and with the storytelling cards.
The session finished with a closing circle where everyone shared a memorable moment.
Carl said ‘Thank you very much, I’ve enjoyed it all, it was spot-on!’, and then generously invited us to their Christmas party.
‘Can it be a 20-week project next time?!’ said support worker Neil.
Kim and Ellie