Recently I visited Stoke on Trent to take part in a Ghost Lab at Burslem Jubilee Project, which was the first in a series of ‘community tarot’ events in the North West where the Co-operative College is working with Manchester Metropolitan University and Unite Community on an AHRC funded project on Social Haunting. The project is designed to follow on from previous AHRC funded work and continues work with established artist partner, poet Andrew McMillan. The new creative partners in this project are Ribbon Road, professional folk musicians working with communities who will use the material generated at these community events to create an innovative series of specially written and recorded songs supported by visual and textual materials.
The Stoke session was facilitated by Andrew Mcmillan, who started by introducing the group to the theme of the day and talking about how images can provide a starting point for talking about experiences and hopes in the past, present or future. The images varied enormously and gave people an opportunity to talk about something from the past that was important to them. One participant talked about how the image of a tooth reminded them of their grandchildren when their baby teeth fell out. Another commented that the image of an ear made them think about the echoes of bombings that they still carry with them. Images such as a broken tree with a support made one member speak about how they felt broken when they came to the UK, but felt supported by the Jubilee Project. Another person referred to how an image of a tall building made them think of their own home capital city and how much they missed it.
For the next activity participants were given an empty card and asked to create an image or use words to describe something that they carried with them that is very important to them. Each participant came up with their own image or words and then described them to the group. The descriptions that people shared were very open, and it was moving that people were so ready to talk about their own personal experiences as part of a group. Many of the images or descriptions touched upon the theme of being separated from their families, or of the difficult choices or journeys they had had to make, but many also expressed hope for the future and of feeling safe in the UK. Andrew thanked the group for their openness and underlined that their stories, lives and passions are worthy of being shared and need to be shared more widely as this gives a real human element to the immigration debate which is so often not shared in the wider media.
In the second part of the day, participants were encouraged to think about the future, as Andrew described it, not being tied down by the past but being able to see something about where the future will take us. This activity involved people writing or drawing a postcard to themselves, imagining the story of their lives in 5 or ten years’ time. These postcards demonstrated that each of the participants had strength and resilience in the face of challenging experiences, and were able to talk about their hopes, such as creating happy, stable lives in the UK, being reunited with their families, starting successful businesses and the hope of peace for their home countries. The really important message that came through as part of this whole day was that the each of the participants did not allow themselves or their ambitions to be held back by what has happened to them in the past, and that it is possible to use what’s happened in the past to move forwards in a positive way, as expressed in this poem created by the group: