BTP - Community Events

Jodi writes: The original and unique BTP cross methodology between a Community Artist and an ESOL facilitator was held, worked, researched, evaluated and magicked in the ESOL classroom for 8 years, growing organically from the will to become something better by working together. We asked, through our practice, what are the benefits to identity, pride, citizenship and community building when a Community Artist works integrally within and expresses outwardly from the intriguing work of the participatory ESOL classroom? We filtered our lines of inquiry through our outward-facing events, suggesting to all gathered, that we all have much to learn and share of language, culture, people and the world around us. By building a non-threatening, non-testing environment for women to come and learn at their own pace, we found our group voice, and built our group confidence through sharing an energetic, fun and kind learning environment.

To begin this, every session started with a vocal warm up, ending in a microcosm of the society in which we want to live – all taking our part to create the common understanding, goal and final song or groove.
There is no known human society which does not sing as a shared group activity – apart from being joyful and having known wellbeing effects on the body, mind, voice and spirit, it also brings about a shared sense of a group’s identity and co-operation in a non-competitive way.

From the communal singing circle at the beginning of every class session evolved seeds of trust and confidence, to know that together we are so much more than our individual selves. This in turn nurtured a group of women willing to help each other, giving patience and respect to those who have less grasp of English, and resilience against a historical backdrop of racism in our local towns.

Community events began as advertising for our ESOL classes.

Hands of Friendship Tree and the
UM World Map (2016-2022)

Line of enquiryhow do we reach out to migrant women to advertise our multicultural group, in a way that is non-threatening and fun for all participants of any age or standard of English language?

Answer = through their children.

Initially our groups partnered with primary schools, and we tapped into their summer and winter fairs.
At this age, migrant kids pick up English quicker than their mums who can easily get left behind with little opportunities to learn, let alone practise speaking English. The UM World Map was initially created as the basis for a children’s game, an educative and fun way to engage schools in learning about everyone’s home country.
As the project developed, and membership ran into hundreds, it became an invaluable, active, visual learning tool for the UM classroom. We updated it to include all new members, and explored our different backgrounds and cultures. This led into our theme for the 2018 PoW event ‘Take Flight’.

Based on the United Mothers’ logo, the Hands of Friendship Tree was created as an inexpensive, small scale, portable, fun and free activity which blossomed at each event by family members of all ages. The idea evolved from our early classroom and the growing need and importance of friendship for isolated members of our society; we were ready to reach out to our wider community to say we’re proud of who we are, and can be visible in a non-threatening way.

The Tree has since been used as a way to welcome people, send wishes and receive feedback around any number of issues at local indoor and outdoor events, all with the intention to attract new women to our sessions.

Community events continued as an enquiry into permission given, and agency taken in our lives to stand up and be counted.
Hands Up Speak Up! (2018)

Line of enquirycan we teach others of our plight in an entertaining way?
Are we, as members of this community, allowed a platform from which to be heard?
Are we safe here?

Answer = yes, together and with our allies, yes.

As our group identity, our coming together, our pride grew, our next event sprung from the classroom again: our first group was suddenly and unexpectedly shut down by our partner school following a change of Headteacher; it was like a bomb went off. What had we done wrong? We were given no chance to communicate, no understanding given, just in effect, told to go away quietly by one local school, presumably threatened by our international presence. We had 6 women in the group!

As a white English woman, this was my first time of being on the receiving end of pure racism and white privilege. One of our white British members of United Mothers, Tracey Thompson, finding her voice, put pen to paper.  She created an amazing, angry and poignant poem, “Bombshell”. She later worked with other group members to produce our group poem “A Mother’s Voice” and these needed to be heard.

Hands Up Speak Up was produced in Dreamland, the heart of Margate seafront, with invited guests and audience. We asked: “As migrants with much to offer our community, are we allowed a voice? Is it ok to be seen and to speak from our hearts?”

Poets came together around the topic of racism, emotional betrayal and migration. National ESOL researchers spoke on the importance of ‘citizenship’ for migrant voices. Local school staff spoke on the backdrop of Thanet and their need to better engage migrant families in order to support the children who have moved far from home.
And of course, plenty of singing with our audience.

As a ticketed event, we brought together members of the public, 3 United Mothers groups (including one group who couldn’t be ‘seen’ due to being protected victims of modern-day slavery and trafficking), and my community choir ‘Sing Your Socks Off’. Together we offered an entertaining and educational afternoon full of food for thought, poetry and song.

Click below to hear Jodi facilitating the song ‘Bambalayla’ with the audience at this event

‘Take Flight’ (2019)

Line of enquirycan we take up open public space in the Turner Contemporary?
Can we walk amongst, surprise, offer ourselves and our knowledge in a way that entertains, educates and entices the general public to know more of our work?

Answer = definitely we could – this was a subtle and poignant shift of control; UM members were the experts here and actively engaged to interrupt and take up space.

As a walk-through art installation and world-knowledge game, Take Flight invited everyone, from home hermits to those well-travelled, to test their understanding of other countries.
Over 200 visitors of all ages were greeted with a boarding pass which was appropriate to their age and language confidence. In our classes we had been exploring each others’ countries, learning how to celebrate our differences and similarities and the intriguing roots of all our languages.

"I stood on a box and spoke about United Mothers. I was a bit shy but I did it. I was surprised that 200 plus people came in. "

"The activities we do, the events that we do … we do get excited a lot. And we share the excitement, we share everything. I think sharing is the main thing "

Food from around the world had been prepared in a series of Taste Sensation cookery sessions, led by cookery artist Annie Nichols, and provided delicious treats for the local community as they taxed their brains. ‘Flashmob’ dancing, singing and declaiming from our soap boxes expressed what was important to us about living and being part of Thanetian history.
We showed videos of our work, and ‘Sing Your Socks Off’ supported us again.

"I sang, I moved, I tried Turkish food, I laughed, I smiled, I ate lots of food, I spoke. I liked everything, so many people came "

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"I felt responsible, proud, grateful to take part. It was fantastic, those involved gained a lot for themselves in terms of confidence. I believe the ultimate goal is to build links, to share experiences, to show and to explore "

The Fancy Jamboree (2019)

Line of enquiry – can United Mothers step up to host a party, offering understanding and support to members of our community living with dementia?

Answer = the shift from permission to agency to challenge, to critical self-awareness; we challenged UM women’s understanding of dementia and cultural expectations.
Respect, compassion and friendship grows multi-directionally as we integrate together.

This time, the classroom impetus came from someone flippantly suggesting an outing to have tea with the Queen – so we produced an English tea party (with an international flavour) and wrote her an invitation. Sadly, Queen Elizabeth couldn’t make it, but we received an answer from the Palace, which was delivered in person on the day by her Kent Deputy Lieutenant.

"United Mothers is like a big hug full of precious moments, an invaluable space for learning, sharing, building our confidence and having fun "

This community engagement ran over 6 months. We invited members of ‘Seaside Singers’, my group for those living with dementia and their carers,  who came fruit-picking and participated in another series of Taste Sensations cookery workshops, working again with community chef Annie Nichols. We renewed old friendships with Sing Your Socks Off.

Music For Wellbeing              Sing Your Socks Off

On the day, we hosted 130 guests; our children created costumes and paraded and we sang as a whole audience, including our friends with dementia.
Three community groups came together to share kindness, food and fun.

‘The Fancy Jam’  by Jodi Watson

‘This Is Home’  by Sophia Efthimiou

"Life is very hard for many of the UM women and there is a lot of sadness in lots of families, BUT … there is love and friendship in the United Mothers family and each member is an inspiration to me as a volunteer and I also get confidence and strength because I am part of UM "

The Lantern Parade (2022)

Line of enquirya year on from the murder of Sarah Everard, can we safely claim the streets as women and protest about our need to be supported and our right to be safe against male violence and harm?

Answer = we’ve moved from asking ‘Is it safe?’ to knowing ‘We, just like any other woman, have rights to be safe in this country’.

The Opening Parade for the Thanet Power of Women Festival was a serious affair this year. United Mothers were invited to create and lead the Parade. The topic of male violence was explored in all our groups, offering women the linguistic tools and safe space to discuss personal experiences. This time, women were ready and determined to take up public space.

We ran lantern-making workshops for UM members and others; we made banners; we learned new songs. Together with family members, friends and allies, we led the procession of community groups along Margate seafront, singing to the crowds and sharing a group song with everyone gathered at the Turner Contemporary to open the Festival.

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