MarketPlace is one of thirty Creative People and Places programmes initiated and funded by Arts Council England through the National Lottery. They are an ‘action research’ arts project involving culture, communities and creative conversations across the unique landscape of Fenland and the Forest Heath area of West Suffolk.
Creative People and Places is about more people taking the lead in choosing, creating and taking part in arts and culture experiences in the places where they live.
When the pandemic and the social lockdown began in March 2020, MarketPlace, like so many arts and business organisations, responded with the thought that activities could all go online. The MarketPlace team recognised that they needed to explore the changes taking place for both creative practitioners and local communities during lockdown. They spent time considering how best to respond to Covid19 and how to keep supporting and encouraging the arts across the region.
Bel Greenwood’s idea
Writer Bel Greenwood approached MarketPlace with an idea for a series of creative writing workshops. They focused on people’s new appreciation of nature as they coped with social isolation and distance from people by spending more time in gardens and wild spaces.
‘I was struck by how much I depended on getting out into natural surroundings during that first lockdown this year. Nature had always been important to me. I once lived on Dartmoor, and every day I woke up was a gift. The world around me was so rich and enticing. I was living on my own in a cottage with a baby. We spent hours walking in all weathers, deepening our relationship with huge flies, slugs and sheep with maps of the moor in their heads. But being busy took over, and I moved. It took lockdown to remind me how important walking in the wild was for my sense of wellbeing. It was also important to my own writing and in my work as a creative facilitator with others.
An opportunity to write freely
‘I thought it would be good to run a creative writing group with the focus on landscape. I had done some work with the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Authority using landscape as an inspiration to write with young people, groups at Herring House Homeless Hostel in Great Yarmouth, and a number of people suffering from mental health problems as part of their Marsh, Mills and Water project.
‘Using the landscape wasn’t a narrowing of focus but an opportunity to write freely. I believe it has given more scope to write about anything triggered by aspects of the world around us. I had the freedom to dig up poems or find extracts to act as provocations or challenges. There were oral activities and conversations all igniting the imagination of the group, a scaffolding to our work but also a freedom to imagine and explore. And all the participants took to this with great enthusiasm. They responded in their very different ways to produce some marvellous writing. I believe the quality of the writing is so good because it is filtered through the individual relationships we all have with the natural world.’
Belona Greenwood –Writer, Scriptwriter and Creative Facilitator
The course quickly filled up
Writing the Landscape quickly filled up with a group of individuals from a variety of backgrounds. They were keen to explore the theme and have a safe online space to develop their writing and ‘find their voice’.
‘Being a walk volunteer and nature lover, the hook for me was the title of the group, Writing The Landscape. And I’m so glad I took the plunge! It has been a gentle and kind experience. I couldn’t ask for a more fun, inspiring, or knowledgeable cohort. We’ve had no pressure to produce (thank you, Bel!), but at the same time grappled with some tricky, abstract ideas. The combination of all these things has helped me to produce work I’m happy to share with a wider audience, as well as being an enjoyable process. Can’t wait to read everyone else’s contributions in full!’ – Simone Chalkley
‘I am a regular contributor to Madeleine’s Patch Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/madeleinespatch/) and have an avid interest in Fenland history and how it shaped the local landscape and the wildlife within it. The chance to meet with a group of like-minded individuals to explore ideas was an opportunity not to be missed. The whole experience has far exceeded my expectations.’ – Steve Parnwell
Challenging and stimulating
‘Attracted by the theme of “writing the landscape”, I found the online session activities challenging and stimulating, and enjoyed learning from the varied writing styles and insights shared by fellow students. The course tutor provided me with valuable feedback which has helped me to grow in confidence as I try out new approaches in my own writing. I cannot wait for the next course.’ – Paul Middleton
‘Five weeks of creative writing sessions using prompts from Belona have been a joy. A shared interest in our local landscapes and the natural world helped to overcome the artificiality of Zoom meetings, and the group gelled quickly. Creative writing had taken a back seat in my life, but now I had a commitment and a theme, and no excuses. I loved hearing extracts each week from our writing, our personalities and passions gradually emerging. We relaxed, laughed, opened up; discovered professional and personal connections and opportunities; and our writing improved under Bel’s rigorous (but always constructive) scrutiny. I can’t wait for Round 2.’ – Barbara Grafton
A shared passion
‘The group is and has been a group drawn together by a shared passion, not just for writing but for the countryside. There has been understanding, kindness, empathy, and mutual respect. There is a deep and personal knowledge to be shared and turned into exciting text. It is because the group has at its core the landscape as the inspiration and link that we can employ different genres, from letters, poetry, memoir, life-writing, magical realism, scripted conversations and monologues.’ Belona Greenwood
The project has been such a success that MarketPlace has seen the potential and funded a further series of workshops to allow the writing to develop further. The group’s writings about nature (and so much more) can be found on their new blog site.
This project is in collaboration with MarketPlace as part of the Creative Conversations In Isolation commissions project. MarketPlace is part of the Creative People and Places programme, initiated and funded by Arts Council England through the National Lottery.