Our new partnership with LV21 in Gillingham
In the run up to applying for Greenhouse, we really wanted to work with venues and organisations who were based in areas with an Industrial heritage. When we came across LV21, an amazing Lightship docked in Gillingham near Chatham, we knew this would be a very interesting collaboration. Paivi (the artistic Director of LV21) is passionate about engaging with those who do not normally participate in arts events, and bringing in new audience/participants to her venue.
Myself, Lisa Wolfe(producer) and Tara Gould(writer), spent time on the ship and used it as a creative base during our time in Kent. We created questionnaires, specific to the local industrial heritage and invited people to attend a reminiscence session at a local older people’s home, called Prospect place.
We brain stormed many reoccuring themes, the threads that link all the women we were meeting. Time, Repetition, Hopes and Dreams, Perseverance, stamina, Pride, friendship, community, work, skill, the hands.
We met some wonderful women who had lived their lives in that area and who had worked in various factories throughout their lives. They described what their jobs entailed and the working conditions they were put under. They also talked about friendship, pride, camaraderie, and the identity of their community.
We also filmed their hands whilst they showed us and described the jobs they used to do (films will be uploaded soon!)
Royal Dockyard Chatham and The Ropery
I had done an initial site visit to the Chatham Historical Dockyard, when I first met Paivi, before the project started. I had found the place so inspiring, visually, and atmospherically, that I wanted to take Tara and Lisa.
The scale of the place is awesome.
The Dockyard is deeply rooted within the town’s identity and history and was once an employer of hundreds of women workers.
The techniques used were very similar to those in the spinning sheds of the North, and In fact, we learned that Northern spinners were brought down to Chatham to literally ‘show the ropes’ to the workers in the South. The descriptions of the machines and the various techniques used within the process of rope making, became a catalyst for Tara’s writing which were later used in the creative exploration with 2 performers. (Creative experimentaion blog to come soon!)
Here is a small excerpt of Tara’s writing inspired by our time in Gillingham/Chatham:
Writing by Tara Gould
In 1860 the Admiralty needed rope production to increase. They took a trip to Lancashire, to the cotton mills. And there they saw the industry first hand. The vast factories, the thousands of women workers at their looms with nimble fingers, the sheer quantity of production!
And they asked – could this machinery for cotton be used for making rope?
And they asked – could these skilled women be used to make our rope? And could we cut back on pay by giving these women workers less than men?
So the first women cotton workers travelled south to the ropery. From one sweatshop to another. This is the thread that connect us. North to South, woman to woman, mother to daughter.
The yarn and the spools and the bobbins and the looms.
It is the cord that links us, runs through our blood, in the way that we move, the dust in our lungs, the residue of tar, the similar twist in our stooped backs, our knotted fingers.
My great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother all worked in the ropery.
I remember the quickness of their hands, the way they moved their skirts out of the way even when they worked at home, when there was no danger, a habit they could not undo.
I hope that we can return to Gillingham and work with Paivi again in the future. The seed funding gave us a fantastic opportunity to both integrate in the local community as well as giving inspiration for the writing and direction of performance.