Brunel 200 Legacy Our Stories Make Waves.
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Community Workshops

OSMW, Our Stories Make Waves, came together in August 2005 as a group of artists to design, deliver and evaluate a series of creative community workshops for African diasporal communities along with a debate, and put on two public performances of their own work on board the ss Great Britain.

The OSMW members are professional Bristol based artists working in different media: Ros Martin, Ruth Pitter, Edson Burton, Valda Jackson and Jenny Davis.

Their aim? "To raise our voices" and have them heard as part of the Brunel 200 celebrations!

Our Stories Make Waves.

Undertaking face to face contact to engage black participants, through the workshops and the debate, meant that OSMW worked with a wide range of ages and backgrounds:

• two youth groups of 15 members
• 30 elders from Golden Agers in Easton
• a class of English as a second language learners (12 people at St Paul’s Learning Centre)
• the four workshops had 39 participants
• 70 people at the two Speakeasy Forums, visited by OSMW to discuss their work
• 30 people at the debate
• 115 audience members at the two performances

The community-based workshops were designed to attract African migrant women, in order to discuss issues such as migration, social classes, journeys and associated emotions, memories and opinions. The ss Great Britain was the focus for these groups and workshops, all of which concentrated on the period of 1852-1882 when the ship was used as an emigrant clipper. The resulting performances were the first ever live performances to take place in the dry dock.

Our Stories Make Waves.

Ros Martin, a Bristol-based playwright, film maker, poet and founder member of Bristol Black Women’s Writing Group said:

“For many of the participants taking part in our series of workshops, it has been their first ever time onboard ship. I don’t think I would have ever had the opportunity to go on board the ship myself, if it were not for this project. I really wanted the project to succeed, so whatever I felt it needed I endeavoured to provide. And because we are a black project working within our own community, we deserve nothing but the best!”

Communicating the theme of Brunel to a sector of Bristol’s population that might not see any worthwhile link or relevance to their lives – or that might even be actively hostile – was a challenge.

Frances Bell, Projects Manager at ss Great Britain, commented:

“Our experience has been very positive; we have had a good working relationship with OSMW and have enjoyed working with them. The partnership has enabled the ss Great Britain Trust, via OSMW, to begin the process to change the misperception amongst Bristol’s black community that the ship was a slave ship and to establish stronger links with the black community.”

One of the OSWM artists said:

“Suspicion remains – some people didn’t engage or attend performances because of preconceived ideas about Brunel. We were not able to make real inroads on those perceptions. Yet those who attended the workshops and the performances were fully focused, engaged, keen to learn and find out more about Brunel, and they found their experiences educational, positive and productive.”

The debate ‘Looking for Brunel’, at Kuumba Arts and Community Resource, attracted 30 people and provided a safe space for people to air their views through discussion. For those who attended it was an opportunity to appreciate the different views that were held. Feeling about the city ranged from indifference to recognising the potential the city provided that can often be overlooked. It was felt that engaging in projects such as OSMW has done, could enable them to have their voices heard.

Our Stories Make Waves.

For OSMW, this was the first time that this group of artists had worked collaboratively on a project. The experience provided learning and growth, as well as ideas, for them all:

“I’ve valued working with other artists who have excellent professional standards.”

“It’s hard work (being part of the OSMW team) but we can do it and succeed. It also makes you feel part of a team of very special people.”

“Make Waves performances along with the debate and creative workshops has been an enormously worthwhile and creative development experience for us as artists”.

Visitor feedback from performances included

“Brilliant. My son and I greatly enjoyed these performances – so good for our young people – well done.”

“Really enjoyed this event, I’ve lived in Bristol 40 years and never seen the ss boat close up, was a real pleasure, thought provoking, enchanting.”

“I thought Making Waves was excellent – such a wide range of interpretations of a theme – well done to everyone! And what a fantastic setting – with the seagulls flying overhead – you could almost believe you were a steerage passenger.”

Our Stories Make Waves.

Events calendar for the Our Stories Make Waves project

Tuesday 7 February 2006
Keeping Memories Safe – Creative journeying workshop

Wednesday 2 March 2006
Past Presence – Revisiting experiences of personal journeys

Wednesday 19 April 2006
Crossing the Line – An exploration of class, public and personal space

Saturday 20 May 2006
Anticipation – Preparing for the unknown

1 June 2006
Looking for Brunel – A debate exploring black reactions to icons of British History and culture commemorated in the cityscape

Wednesday 7 and Sunday 11 June 2006
Make Waves – Public performances of results of the above events

Photo diary

An audiovisual documentary of the project. Rollover movie to reveal playback controls.
(Flash 6 plug-in required)

Photography: Masthead: Laura Thorne. Content: Mark Simmons. (Excluding Photo diary).