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Trying On New Labels

When I was a student, I came to The Old Fire Station for the first time to a few events, and then a job came up to be Front of House Coordinator. And I applied whilst still being a full-time student at Ruskin College and I got that job in 2015, so I was looking after the front of house and the bar side of things and particularly enjoying working with the members and volunteers. And then I applied for the Front of House Manager job and I got that, which was great, so then I was managing that team. And then a job with Crisis, the Arts Coordinator job that I've got currently, came up. But in between the Front of House Manager and the Arts Coordinator, I was asked to be the writer for the Hidden Spire project, and I accepted that - so I'm still a volunteer as well with the Arts, I was the writer for Hidden Spire, I was the Arts Coordinator for Crisis, and I ended up in the show, as well, as an actor.

I think on a feeling, emotional level, I think being asked to be the writer for the show was probably the biggest personal impact because I was a relatively new graduate, in writing, and it is my love. To be commissioned to write a play in a building that you love and work in is a very special thing, and I think to have other people's faith in your ability to do that, felt very important.

The project really got going in the end of August of that year. I think all of that time developing Hidden Spire was very important, and for me being so excited about the work that we were doing in the building, that joined up both sides of my life. I was pretty new in post as the Arts Coordinator, and there hadn't been anyone in that post before me for quite a while, so it felt like we were starting to do something that was new and real, I suppose, in the building, and quite visible at the same time. For someone either not having ever worked with Crisis members much or for a Crisis colleague who hasn't worked in the Arts, I think those moments where we do things that cross over some of those lines and blur them a bit are often the most exciting. I think we can do more of that deliberate label changing here, offer that to people who work here. I think it’s a real sadness within the building that we haven't found enough ways yet of helping people to really enjoy what it has to offer in as many various ways as possible. We haven't yet and there's no getting away from that. But I think that Hidden Spire, and my new role, made it a bit more visible in the building. And because my face was known from being on the Arts, I can remember feeling there was a change in terms of just starting to open that up for people a little bit. And I felt very excited about that.

As a writer I suppose I'm really interested in characters, I'm really interested in people's stories, and I find the people that I work with, the members that I work with, I find them very inspiring in their bravery, and their honesty, and their openness with me and the things they're prepared to share and to discuss and to talk about, but one of the really striking things is just the kind of positivity and helpfulness with each other and I find that really exciting and really pleasing.

When I was working on Hidden Spire writing it, in the second term, I was working with some people who barely could write, through to people who couldn't follow instruction at all, through to a published playwright who's had work in all the major theatres in England, whose books I have on my shelf. That is a very exciting group of people to have in a room, and the fact that they're homeless is why I get to work with them. And you can have people from all over the world, you know and just people from every social sphere and all of that, and that makes for a really interesting - so there's never an easy dynamic, never straightforward. Maybe that’s why the building works for me because with all the planning and the structure that we do put in, often the exciting things happen where you haven’t considered that possibility or someone else walks into the group and changes everything – that’s what makes my work exciting and I guess I try and look for that in my writing as well.

The way that I put the script for Sawdust together structurally was very different, to how I would normally work, I don’t really plan. I tend to start writing and see where the characters take me. The way that I worked with members was to get them to create characters and then those characters kind of came alive. So, I had a very strong base to work from, but you know they weren't mine, and I had to think about structure a lot more and the actual story, which is unusual for me. I really tried to be true to what members had written, and what they felt and what they thought. I would like to do other work that was using other people's words, in some way like that, and I guess it’s made me think about structure and about my writing process in kind of new ways, and made me realise that I can do things in a different way.

I know that I get overly worried about what people think, how they will judge me on my creative work. And I think I was so stressed by the time the show was happening that I really struggled to enjoy feedback – because that level of I think just multiple hat wearing, started to hurt my head, is the easiest way I can describe it!

I'm not sure where it leaves me in terms of what's next. Because writing's such a solitary thing, unless someone gives you a deadline or commissions you, it’s quite hard to know exactly where you're going. What I have done is got onto the Oxford Playmakers scheme, so I'm on that now for this year. That's a real change and kind of advancement for me.

Another big impact for me has been having this progression within the building. Getting the first job, then on to two more. I haven't had a very linear career trajectory, I've been a single parent, brought up kids and so on - and I've been an Arts Worker on all different kinds of short term contracts. So this was a massive change for me; having a sense of, you know, having a title for your job or having a desk that you can work at or you know having a team, I hadn't had in any kind of consistent way, I hadn't had a salaried position that did that, so yeah I think that’s very important in terms of who you are and how you see yourself. And for that to be in a building that means so much and that you kind of identify with as a life changing place for the people, including myself, that use the building.

I've often felt to be a bit of an outsider within the jobs that I'm doing. But I'm not an outsider here, because everybody that I'm working with is also an outsider in some ways you know? Staff and members consider themselves ‘other’ but when you're working together in a room, you're all together. You know you're working, like as a circus or whatever. You’re working as a family, you’ve got this range of different experience in a room, but you’ve got a commonality in some way.

I think the whole 'label' thing is important – about how people here can try on new labels in their lives. You know people don’t have one label, they have multiple labels on them, and I think that we are in a position of swapping those labels around and moving them – for me as well as for members. It’s the sort of flexibility of what we offer – and, for myself, knowing that when I'm working with people I'm able to offer something but there's not a penalty zone. So, if that’s not the right thing or they don't enjoy it they can leave, there's nothing to keep them here for that, or they can come again next week when they're feeling better or whatever. I’m trying to take that on more myself in my own practice – this great thing about failing is a good thing.

I still volunteer for the Arts company as an usher sometimes. I think there's something really exciting about being in a very different role within the building and seeing how that feels. When you put on a black t-shirt you're not invisible but you're just part of the workforce and you're in a different role and it gives you an insight. You can’t ever be in someone else's shoes entirely, but I think again the building allows people to try out different positions and seeing what it feels like to be in that role.


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