Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015: stepping up and looking back

2015 is drawing to a close. The world continued to get warmer, the Conservatives won the General Election, the House of Commons authorised airstrikes over Syria, people the world over were killed at the hands of terrorists... It's been an internationally frightening time. Yet, important political campaigns also started, there were also lots of amazing books, films and songs written and made, sporting events I have no interest in happened and people won them, same-sex marriage became legal in the USA and the Republic of Ireland, and scientists made amazing discoveries, including the first new antibiotic in 30 years. And the 'future' also became the past with Back to the Future day. What a year!

So, what have I been up to?

I married the woman I love and we went on an amazing honeymoon to Canada. We got some really bad news. We got some really good news. I sat with someone whilst they slipped out of life. I 'MC-ed' a funeral. I discovered that the reason we keep not having hot water is that the boiler was plumbed in with the pipes the wrong way round. I've taken THOUSANDS of trains, buses and tubes. I've done lots of jobs (old and new). I've made new friends.

Here's what I've been doing in my working life (this can now act as a crib sheet for my wife when I test her on where I work!) - in no particular order:
  • Turning Point - delivering their bi-weekly 'Creative Space' for service users on an Abstinence Day Programme, who are all in recovery from substance addiction. I also recently ran professional training for the staff team on how they could make their sessions more creative, which I'm hoping will be rolled out to other teams in the new year. I got one of my favourite pieces of feedback of the year from a participant at this service the other week who, when 'checking out' at the end of the session, said: "Kate, you don't step back, you step up. And that makes us step up too." Gave me the feels. My other fav feedback that day was: "I thought I was going to fucking hate it and I didn't." 
  • Attic Theatre Company - running weekly Drama workshops for young migrants to help them learn English and make friends, as well as developing communication skills, team work, mutual respect and empathy. I also delivered a week's summer school (for the second year running) for children who are preparing for the move from primary to secondary school, where we designed Drama-based activities to support them with this transition (such as a giant, interactive game I made up loosely based on Snakes and Ladders).
  • Fearless Futures - a new job I started in the summer, as a 'Trailblazer', I first worked on their summer school and then worked with a small group of ten 16yr old girls to discuss gender inequality (locally, nationally and internationally), develop their leadership skills, discuss their aspirations and inspire them to be social activists. It was really moving to read their feedback at the end, as one young woman wrote that she had been being bullied since starting at the school and our work together had given her the confidence to tell her teachers about it. So definitely worth the early starts and three hour round trip to the school! 
  • Equilibrium - facilitating a weekly group at Clarendon Recovery College with mental health service users, supporting them to produce a quarterly online magazine about wellbeing, with the help of our amazing graphic designer, Anthony. Check out our latest issue.
  • 3FF - facilitating interfaith workshops in schools for their education team, including 'The Art of Asking', 'The Art of Empathy', and 'Encountering Faiths and Beliefs', where I facilitate the dialogue between our guest speakers and students; for example we might go into, say, a Catholic school and take a Muslim, an Atheist and a Buddhist speaker, and the students get to ask them questions about their beliefs (I love those sessions).
  • Family Lives - continuing to work on their TeenBoundaries project, delivering Sex and Relationship Education in secondary schools - particularly focusing on sexual bullying, self-esteem, consent, sexting, porn, and healthy relationships.
  • Future Creative - another new job, delivering Drama-based workshops, which has already taken me as far as Lincoln, to run a day of workshops on immigration, and Birmingham, for a Roald Dahl day.
  • Inner Drive - another new one (one can't have too many zero hours contracts), running education workshops drawing on neuroscience to teach young people life-skills.
  • St Albans Arts - continuing to deliver Creative Writing workshops in St Albans. The project I'd started in 2014, first working with Mind in Mid Herts and The Living Room, then Albany Lodge (an inpatient psychiatric hospital, which proved a logistically challenging context to work in), culminated in May 2015 with the publication of an anthology of their work, Tell Me on a Monday. Then for the next phase of the project, I delivered 'Write it Out': workshops for people with/supporting people with Parkinsons, in partnership with Parkinsons UK (who are funding me to come back and work with them again in the new year - yay). I also presented at Creative Hertfordshire's 'Art of Wellbeing' conference and did some group writing with the delegates. I'm now really looking forward to working on an Arts on Prescription project in partnership with Trestle Theatre Company in the new year.
  • The Living Room - after delivering Creative Writing workshops there funded by St Albans Arts, I was really pleased to be invited back for two sets of eight more sessions with the service users, all in recovery from various addictions. It's been really interesting working with people whose addictions aren't only substance-based, and has really made me reflect on my practice.
  • Coopers Hill - I've been doing some consultancy in the form of Creative Direction and Partnership Strategy for the lovely Peter Rabbett, supporting the evolution of a new centre for Creative, Digital and Performing Arts at Coopers Hill in Bracknell. It also meant I got to meet one of my educational heroes, Sir Ken Robinson, at the Festival of Education.
    Me and my "new best friend", Sir Ken
  • I've done a few more bits and pieces for the Southbank Centre, including running a two-day workshop for the Festival of Love, in the place of Jodi Ann Bickley (who was unwell), called 'one million lovely letters'. This is a project designed to send 'a hug in an envelope' for anyone who needs one, and so I spent a couple of days helping people write and decorate letters to strangers, old and young, near and far, who might need to know someone out there cares. 
    I also came back for a second year to do some early morning 'speed mentoring' in the London Eye for their International Day of the Girl celebrations, which was again a complete privilege. Watching the sunrise over London, whilst talking to young woman about their ambitions, worries and dreams, might be one of the very best ways to start the day. 
  • Another little, but very moving, work-thing I did earlier this year was for Jennifer Lunn at Culturcated Theatre Company, when I spent the day at Evelina Children's Hospital with three other actors, performing stories the children on the ward had written to them at their bedsides. I got to be a giant bubble floating through the sky, a robot warrior, a naughty cactus, an Elven King, and plenty of other bizarre and amazing characters. It was such a wonderful and inspiring day; I really hope I can go back sometime and do it again. 
  • In May, I made a brief appearance on CBBC's 'Vote for Me', a programme designed to engage children in democratic processes. I was doing a Shakespeare assembly in a primary school in Lewisham. I had a wooden sword. Next stop, fulfilling a life-long dream of being on Jackanory??
So, that was all the paid stuff (I think; I may have forgotten something). As a volunteer, I also did:

    Talking to Yr6s in Lewisham about my wife
  • Diversity Role Models - I've been volunteering as a 'Role Model' with DRM for four years now. They're such an inspirational charity, working tirelessly to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. I've only volunteered in secondary schools in the past, but a few weeks ago was invited into a primary school to talk to the young people about being bisexual and my recent marriage, which was super fun and the children asked such brilliant and interesting questions.
One Yr6 child's promise after the workshop
Feedback from another Yr6 child
  • Action Breaks Silence - this is such an amazing charity, working internationally to combat and prevent sexual and gender-based violence. I supported them in the development of their new programme for 7-11 year old boys, designed to build empathy and prevent abusive or violent behaviour in the future. Like them on Facebook if you want to watch the most AWESOME videos of small girls being empowered to kick the shit out of violent attackers!
  • I helped make a Fun Palace in Streatham (and you should all make one where you live too next year!)
  • Female Arts - continued as a reviewer for an online magazine focusing on female creatives
  • Women's Equality Party - I started off as a volunteer Branch Maker (helping set up local branches across the UK) for this new and exciting political party, whose ambition of bringing gender equality to the mainstream political agenda is, I believe, hugely important and well overdue.  I spoke at the Youth Branches' first meeting (you can listen to it on Soundcloud) and am now supporting their education outreach group. I'm also planning on putting myself forward as a candidate for the GLA elections. Watch this space!
I think that's everything!! In other work-related news, I'm currently applying for funding for a PhD, and I'm also co-editing a book with Annie McKean (to be published next year) on the work of Playing for Time Theatre Company in HMP Winchester. I think January is going to be pretty full on.

The new year can be a good time to look back and reflect, as well as look forward and plan (as long as we haven't eaten too much cheese, spent too much time with family, and slip into a 'what am I doing with my life' panic!). Parts of this year have been truly amazing and other parts have been genuinely devastating; we never know what life is about to throw at us (sorry if I'm starting to sound like a motivational fridge-magnet) - so I only hope 2016 brings us some luck, a bit more money (being a grown up can be shit), and I keep getting the chance to work with amazing people in inspirational places. I'm going to keep stepping up...

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