Coming Closer to Home: weeding out cultural stereotypes.

“Look what I’ve got!” Eamon triumphantly pulled out a glass sugar dispenser from the inside of his voluminous flak jacket. “It’s from the hotel!” His acquisition was met with near-universal approval in the packed minibus of 15 young trainees and not so young tutors.  Anything that could be liberated from the German hotel was fair game it seemed and if this meant the relocation of a sugar dispenser to a new home in Liverpool, then so be it. This was just one more way of settling the score,  after their national football team had beaten us at penalties in the World Cup the previous year.

The approval was not quite universal though as a few of us in the minibus thought that the liberation of a sugar bowl by a young Scouser (particularly a young Scouser who has just been on a week’s cultural programme which involved  arguing that stereotypes were terrible things, and that he, along with many others of us in the minibus, had had enough of being stereotyped as bin robbers) just reinforced the stereotyping he had been vociferously campaigning against all week.

Thankfully, the irony was not lost on anyone and the journey continued soberly through to Belgium where we found ourselves driving the wrong way around the Belgian Grand Prix Race track in Spa Francorchamps before our map reader realised he’d been holding the map upside down and soon put us back on the right track for Antwerp.

Eamon offered his immediate apologies and did the right thing when he got home by posting the sugar dispenser back to the hotel from whence it came with a profuse apology.

Stereotypes are a kind of cultural weed: easily established and infuriatingly difficult to get rid of. They not only affect our own preconceptions of how ‘the other’ behaves, but also shape how others’ preconceptions of us reinforces our own ignorance.

Our minibus trip from Liverpool to Trier may not have fully transformed those young people’s perceptions of ‘the other’, they did at least get a glimpse of how ‘the other’ looked at them.  And one hotel at least got its sugar dispenser returned.

Coming Closer to Home: after the communism…

I’ve often wondered whether EU funded adult education projects are not just about their alleged subject matter – but much more about sharing languages across our difficult and contentious continent.

A few years ago July we participated in an EU funded programme, Forests for All. As well as taking a day trip around the Mersey Forest (starting at Wirral Waters where there were no forests at all and ending up in Delamere Forest where there was plenty to look up to), many participants also massively improved their language skills, testified to best perhaps by the teacher, Alina, from Romania.

We asked her to write a short story in her own words about her experiences on the project and this is what she wrote.

This is not just a story. It is a part of my life. In high school I’ve studied the Russian language for 4 years. Our country back then was dominated by the communism and Ceausescu forced the students from most of the schools to study this language instead of English.

After the communism, the English language appeared everywhere: on TV, on the radio, in the cinema… I was fascinated by this new sound and I learned it all by myself from movies and especially from music.

For 20 years, I have never spoken English, never! I was able to understand it, but I haven’t had the courage to actually say a word. I tried to learn it from books, but I never passed the second lesson; I preferred to learn it only from what I heard.

In this project, in October 2011, it was the first time when I spoke English in public. I can’t explain where my courage came from. For me and mostly for my Romanian colleagues, it was a big surprise, one of the biggest of my life.

You, all my partners from this project, you didn’t laugh, you have encouraged me. I know I make a lot of mistakes, my accent is wrong, but you never stopped me and this means a lot to me.

Thank you for your patience, for listening to me; I’ve learned a lot from you and each one of you is important to me perhaps only for a word or for a joke or for a new expression. You’ve been my English teachers, the best I could have had.

When Nick asked me to write this story, I was terrified! I don’t know if it’s correct, but it is my real story, a story from the bottom of my heart and it could be the story of any Romanian girl who found from nowhere the trust in her own forces and mind.

There’s more of these stories to hear about in the months coming up to the UK Brexit referendum.  Please feel free to share them here.

Coming Closer to Home: The EU ‘Jolly’.

“It’s like you’ve got to get to know each other at 60mph!” Monica wryly observed as we all piled into a minibus at midnight at Vilnius Airport. We were truly a motley crew: Brits, Portuguese, Greeks all gathering for an EU funded Adult Learning Project in the Creative Arts with a couple of stray Estonian old farm ladies who looked like they’d taken the wrong bus in Tallinn and now had found themselves in an international minibus which was tentatively negotiating the ice and the slush out of the airport.

But Monica was right: by the time the minibus had driven us out of the airport and towards our destination in what felt like Outer Mongolia ( even if it was Inner Lithuania), we had all become best mates ever, swapping stories of family, football, long kept secrets we never thought we would ever tell anyone, and remarking on how beautiful Lithuania looked in the black of night when the conversation showed signs of flagging.

EU mobilities – which is what we were all examples of on that icy Vilnius night, albeit semi-comatose examples – are strange phenomena. You fly hundreds of miles, get driven to some town miles from any international airport at the wrong time of day; arrive in a hotel after the bar has shut and all the local restaurants have closed for the foreseeable future; check into a room which hasn’t been occupied in the foreseeable past; struggle to find any broadband connection and only then realise you’ve forgotten your international plug adapter. So you settle back for 20 minutes of Eastern European TV before the bling and razzamatazz of Polish sausage adverts starts to get tiresome.

You observe at 3am after two hours of no sleep that you were, in the parlance of those back in the office, ‘on a jolly’ so you may as well try and damn well jolly yourself up before the first formal session starts just after the crack of dawn (which is some 7 hours away given that we are in the northern most reaches of the northern hemisphere at this point in time).

‘Being on a jolly‘ according to those back in the office consists of dry martinis in the hotel bar at 6pm before a luxurious 3 course dinner with erudite, witty, charming, intelligent, attractive and sophisticated colleagues who were fascinated in you, fascinating to be with and whose fascinators never stopped fascinating all week long, come rain or hail, sleet or snow. In actual fact you’d be lucky to find a kindred spirit who was equally unfascinated by the porridge the hotel would serve up at breakfast – and they’d be lucky to find you dressed in anything more fascinating than what you had set off in from the UK just 24 hours earlier.

That’s another aspect of the EU mobility: time doesn’t merely stop. It stretches, shrinks and distorts in ways Einstein could never have foreseen. What happened yesterday seems like it happened a month ago; what happened just five minutes ago gives you an eery sense of deja vue; and plans for the day after tomorrow when we’re all due to go on a social trip to an obscure European forest may as well be planned for the turn of the century.

Our planning faculties desert us in those early hours of the mobility and it’s all we can do to find our bedroom after breakfast, never mind consider the challenges of getting on another minibus with our new found stranger-friends over two days into the future.  That’s 48 hours away! 2880 minutes! 172,800 seconds! A whole life time of generations! Best get my laptop switched on and look like I have some important emails to attend to before the work starts in earnest.

And we are all very earnest, our gang of stranger-friends whose new found friendships have been forged across the Byelorussian plains of Lithuania.  We had probably travelled along the same tracks that the Cossacks would have ridden hell for leather over from Russia, riding roughshod over farmers, labourers and land workers up to their knees in shit dealing with the latest manifesto from the commissar and the scientists of the Ukraine, driving on to commit various atrocities before hammering it back to St Petersburg, horses snorting, their large heavy bear coats steaming with the exertion and pulling their spoils along behind them in ramshackle sleds, desperate to get back over the borders before the Poles could catch up with them and exert their bloody  revenge. Those Europeans certainly knew how to invade and annex their neighbours property, land and chattels in fascinating ways.

Whilst bouncing along in a decrepit minibus with 12 stranger-friends didn’t quite have the romanticism that marauding Cossacks did, we were comfortable in our knowledge that our kind of European mobility is less about pillaging strangers and more about turning them into longer term friends who have one thing in common: none of us could sleep the night before and we all got bored with the adverts for Polish meatloaf.

Coming Closer to Home at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre: it’s not me, it’s EU.

“Take the fucking money! Why don’t you take the fucking money?” The Chairman of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre had me with my back to the wall in the little kitchenette attached to the theatre’s most prestigious rehearsal room, The Red Room. He was clearly irked and my unwillingness to accept some kind of pay off from him, as his role as Chairman of the Theatre, to me, in my role as Director of the Hope Street Project, was irking him even further.

I continued to decline his pay off as politely as I could but can’t remember who left the kitchenette first or what happened immediately afterwards although I knew I had to get back to our rehearsals of Carmina Burana; a multimedia production we had devised with musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and video support from MITES (which was later to become FACT) and which was due to be performed in the Theatre in just a few days time.

The payment in question was a large sum of cash which the theatre had received from its backers – most notably the European Union in the form of European Social Funds – which were to be used for various training programmes which the Everyman had established through its training wing, the Hope Street Project.  Or more accurately – which the Hope St Project had established and which the Everyman Theatre occasionally looked at with various degrees of affection, bewilderment or hostility, depending on where you sat within the organisational heirarchy.

The payment being offered to me was an enticement which amounted to: “Take the fucking money, stick it in your organisation, and then take your fucking organisation off our backs so that we can run the theatre like we did in the good old days.”  

The Chairman was clearly rattled and he had good cause to be.  The Everyman had been suffering financially for many years, not least because of falling public sector involvement, falling audiences and artistic policies which weren’t cutting the mustard any longer. Then, in 1988, the City Council and the Theatre’s Administrator came up with a scheme to end all schemes.  They identified a vast pot of national regeneration money, coupled it to an equally large pot of European money and turned it into a training programme which the Everyman  – or indeed any other regional theatres – had never seen in living memory.

The programme – the Hope Street Project – was soon causing ructions both in and out of the theatre and posing lots of difficult questions to its staff, audiences, Board members, politicians and funders.  What was to be done with this funding?  How could the Everyman manage what amounted to a 100% increase in turnover literally overnight?  And most crucially – what did it now mean to be a regional producing theatre?

The last question was particularly potent and exercised many of us over many hours tortuous debate not only in the Red Room but in every nook and cranny of the building and its hidey hole of last resort – The Bistro.  To some, the concept of The Everyman was that it was a fantastic little bar (The Bistro) which had a theatre attached to it; rather than a fantastic little theatre which had a bar attached to it but that’s another story.

The questioning went on for years and left everyone exhausted by the time the theatre was close to finally falling on its knees due to yet another round of funding cuts and falling audiences.  The Chairman’s view was that the fault of this malaise was completely down to the Hope Street Project causing everyone to take their eye of the collective artistic ball which led, in his words, to a theatre ‘for social engineering’ – something he was adamant in the press that he didn’t want.

So his proposal was simple: ‘take the fucking money and get off our backs and let us get on with saving and running this theatre’.

Unfortunately for him, the proposal didn’t stack up and it wasn’t long after that the Theatre went into receivership, the Hope Street staff and trainees were all made redundant and a knight in white armour (in the form of the union, MSF) came galloping over the hill to save the Hope St. Project and rescue its EU funding from the jaws of an untimely and unpleasant liquidation.

Whether the bureaucrats had any idea of how EU funding was transforming (wrecking or saving – take your pick) regional British Theatre in the late 1980s is anyone’s guess.  But I do know that without it, Hope St would never had started; the ground work for LIPA would never have started and the cultural vibrancy of one of the UK’s great cities would have taken a severe beating.  One thing we can be certain of: without EU funding, the City’s European City of Culture would have stalled down in the Bistro years before, along with countless other plans for cultural urban regeneration in the city.

‘It’s not me, Peter,” I should have said to the Chairman when I left the Red Room to go back to the rehearsal. “It’s you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Closer to Home: the Prospect of the UK becoming a EU free zone.

So, we’re under starters orders; and we’re off.

The rumours are starting to circulate already at work. If we opt for Brexit, there’s a possibility that the very large EU contract we are about to have signed off by DCLG may be delayed until after the referendum. Meaning not only that over 350 creative and cultural businesses miss out on much needed business support to help them deal with the ravages of the public sector cuts of the last five years; but also, closer to home, a small group of staff are suddenly faced with potential cut backs and downsizing until such time that the contract is signed. The safety afforded by what looked like regular funding is suddenly looking very fragile. Childcare is reconsidered, holidays put on hold and we try to remember if we have any premium bonds locked up under the bed.

It’s at times like this that you realise the impact that the EU has had on the cultural sector in the UK. I worked in Liverpool for over 25 years and there wasn’t one day in that period that hadn’t benefited in one way or another from EU support. Whether this was at the Everyman Theatre in the late 1980s when the EU propped up that ailing theatre for a good 5 years (although you’d be hard pressed to find anybody in that organisation who would admit it); or at LIPA, when McCartney’s modest financial contribution to firing up the Mothership had the galvanising effect of attracting container loads of ERDF funding in through the gates; or at Aspire when EU funding in the shape of Comenius, Grundtvig or Youth in Action grants had a powerful impact on the working lives of teachers, students, families and everyone in between: the fact is that EU support has been a major source for economic, social and cultural good in Liverpool, across Merseyside and indeed the world as a whole.

And closer to home, it helped shape careers, livelihoods and families. Whilst many were leaving Liverpool in the 1980s to find work, me and many others were able to gravitate to the city precisely because of the job and training opportunities European funding generated.

There are so many stories that EU support has afforded the cultural and creative industries in Liverpool and beyond, I’ll never be able to capture them all here. But I’ll try to capture as many as I can because right now we are faced with the possibility that the respite that funding has provided in the last 30 years could now be sucked out of the sector irreversibly: and the opportunities it provided for the young people, its creative and cultural movers and shapers – and most importantly, it’s communities – could be lost for at least the next generation.

So: over the next few months this blog is going to try and remember the impact that EU support has had on us working in the arts and culture – not just in Liverpool but further afield.

One thing we do know is that working in the arts involves dropping a lot of stones in lots of ponds and that the resonances of our work are felt well beyond the streets, studios and workshops of struggling artists trying to come to terms with their practice in some quiet city back street. One thing we learnt is that EU support makes us citizens of the world, not just our local neighbourhood, country or continent. It makes coming ‘closer to home’ a much more expansive act than just acting out down our streets to a global, TV audience.

If you have any stories to share it would be great to hear and share them. If we don’t, come Brexit, it may well be too late to remind ourselves later on.

Francis Keith Aitken: A Life of Quiet and Steadfast Influence.

In February 1932 a young architect made a remarkable journey by boat and train from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, up through Central and Eastern Europe to a large naval port, Stettin, in Pomerania, North Germany.

This journey was taken at a time prior to a period of extraordinary upheaval across the continent: the rise of National Socialism, the onset of the Second World War, the division of Europe, liberation 40 years on of Eastern Europe and the subsequent tragic conflict in the Balkans.

This architect who had, to his evident irritation and discomfort, just been made redundant by the Sudanese Government (on the orders of the British Government) travelled through places whose names and memories are inextricably linked with the tragedy and romance of our century – Constantinople, Belgrade, Budapest, Berlin.  He was armed solely with a pocket camera and passport, which he very nearly lost in Prague.

We should all give thanks to the young Czech train conductor who returned that passport and who allowed that memorable journey to continue. For what was the ultimate purpose of that journey? It was to meet and marry his fiancee, a young ‘Hortnerin’ in Stettin and so step out together on the longer and more demanding journey of a stable and happy marriage which lasted over 61 years.

The international spirit and steadfast nature of Keith and Lotti’s marriage has swept through our four generations of grandparent to great grandchild, in counterpoint to the political upheaval of the age,. And it has been Keith’s quiet and consistent ability of practising a benevolent internationalism which has created his extended family gathered here to day from across the world: from Germany, from Africa, from South America.

And it is this positive and unwavering influence that I would like us to thank him for: his influence which instilled a belief that the world belongs to all of us; that we would do well to tend and care for it; his tolerance which valued all cultures and beliefs and which accepted people as they are: and the proof that the meeting of a young architect from Cardiff with a young Hortnerin from Stettin can provide us all with a beacon of hope and aspiration.

In a world of change and chaos, you  have been constant and your love, quiet and steadfast. We thank you from all our hearts and from across the globe.

As Shakespeare said:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air.
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud capp’d rtowers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a wrack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded in a sleep.

Testimonial for Francis Keith Aitken, August 1993

Coming Closer to Home: what it’s like to live upside down.

When we were kids we’d occasionally get perplexed about how people could live upside down in Australia and not fall off the planet.

Having two European guests, Anton and Srdjan,  take root in your home town, courtesy of a Youth in Action Grant, makes you realise that up-side-down-ness isn’t about gravity at all but much more about how you drink, eat, navigate local traffic and your own national identity within the wider European maelstrom of identities.

Hosting European guests has many pleasures to it – showing them your favourite pub topping the list of course – but the most entertaining one is looking at them looking at us and finding out that it’s a perpetual source of amusement for them.

The most obvious example is of course the fact that we Brits drive on the wrong side of the road, compared with most of the rest of the world. There are a lot of early visit gags about the lads sitting in the wrong car seat and pretending to drive with imaginary steering wheels and hammering imaginary brake pedals in pseudo emergency stops. No-one’s hurt though and there’s no damage down.

English beer is also a source of wonder and bemusement. Not only does it have no head to it but it also tastes of bread according to Anton.  Or is something that would be fed to the pigs in the summer, if you lived in Srdjan’s home town. The idea that we drink this stuff at all leaves the boys incredulous.

Things get more complicated when we talk about what constitutes typical English food. The road the boys live on is awash with Chinese, Greek, Turkish, Italian and Indian takeaways and when we point out that the most popular meal in the country is Tandoori Chicken, this too provokes a lot of head scratching, puzzled looks and eventual boredom when we discuss some of the consequences of being an ex-colonial power.

Perhaps our up-side-down-ness is something that we should recognise and enjoy more frequently. It would allow us to challenge all sorts of international orthodoxies like McDonalds, Starbucks and NATO for instance. We could cheerfully opt out of some of the tackier sides of modern day living with the reason that we’re an upside down kind of nation and still haven’t fallen off the planet despite the gravitational pull of the large multinational conglomerates.

There are lots of benefits to being funded by the EU: and realising that you live most of your life upside down is probably one of the best.

Charlotte Margarette Elisabeth Louise Aitken Née Petri: Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Imagine the scene.  It’s 1930.  The German port of Stettin on the Baltic. The docks once heaving with international trade and traffic have an air of desolation.

You can see the idle grain silos, the cranes waiting in vain like herons for their next catch from the sea, a few tankers float un-easily on the water’s surface next to a dozing war frigate left over from 1918. Breath deeply and you can smell the rancid houses lining the dark damp TB infested streets.

A young German woman, Charlotte, is hurrying down the street, voluminous bag in hand, ill-fitting hat on head.  She has a determined look in her eyes.  She bangs fiercely on a few doors. There’s no answer.  She shouts up at the windows.  She demands someone answer her.

A few children look out from the house windows, a few slither out into the street, followed by a man – their father she presumes – who rushes out, shouting a few words in half Polish, half platt Deutsch at the errant children.

She pleads him but he ignores her, cuffs the children around the head and tries herding them back in doors.  She puts her foot in the door and  doesn’t allow him to shut her out or them back inside. She half hears a woman lustily  singing contralto from the top of the house the Martin Luther hymn, Ein Feste Burg:

A mighty Fortress is our God,
A trusty Shield and Weapon,
He helps us free from every need,
That hath us now o’ertaken.

A neighbour tries to advise her to leave well alone but she ignores him and offers a few choice caustic comments of her own to the neighbour who, distressed at her wilfulness makes his way back up the street, shaking his head. She continues to hammer at the shut door in front of her. Eventually the door opens and 15 children spill out into the street, clambering all over the young woman, looking eagerly up into her  eyes, searching her bag for signs of food, play and  inspiration, pulling her this way and that.

The bag is torn from her grasp and out spills jars of jam, jelly, salad cream and loaves of unappetising bread.  Brown paper bags  of carrots, leeks and lettuces are strewn across the road and trampled by the ravenous young children into the mud.  The children are still not satisfied and hunt deeper into the bag. They remove books, games, hand puppets,  candles, lebkuchen and a toy piano and wave them gleefully above their heads until the young woman loudly reprimands them. They meekly stuff everything back into her battered old bag as she chastises them for being so greedy.

She leads the straggly crowd of children down the street away from the docks to a room at the top of another Baltic hanseatic  house where they meet 50 other children who are packed like eels into a fish crate.

The only difference being these eels are alive and kicking and hungry. Hungry for food, education, god, a kitchen, a church and a family.

And that’s what Charlotte gave them, and that’s what she gave all of us, her family who have gathered here today to give thanks for a life which was marked by devotion,  sacrifice and sheer bloody mindedness.

A few years after this scene in the back streets of Stettin, Charlotte meets  a young gallivanting English architect, Francis Keith Aitken. No-one has recorded the first comment she made when she met him but the chances are it wasn’t too coherent.   She’d hated English at school and had been the worse pupil in the class.

Nevertheless, there’s more to language than just words.  Within two years the couple are married and her street kids give her and Keith a roaring send off at their wedding in Stettin.  They subsequently move to Crieigiau near Cardiff in Wales.

A few miles down the road in Swansea and four years younger than Charlotte Margarette a young Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas,  was growing up with his own brand of energy and indignation.  A good few years later he was to write:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

One thing you could say about Charlotte Margarette  was that she never went gently into anything: and her last few years bore witness to her energy and spirit which would kick and fight anybody that she felt was getting in her way.

We might have said to her,  you didn’t have to kick so hard.

But she never gets to swap notes with Dylan Thomas  before she and Keith move to London and the  South East where she gives birth to three children,  Veronica Mary in 1936, John Mark in 1938 and William Martin in 1947.

Living in England as a German woman at a time when this nation had declared war on your brothers, sisters and kith and kin could not have been an easy situation to tolerate.  That period of 1939 – 1945 has left its own scars across the continent and no doubt it left them on Charlotte Margarette Elizabeth  as well.  But if they did, they’re not immediately visible.

Her children’s memories are of her singing Schubert’s cradle songs when they wouldn’t go to sleep, walking in the woods in Petts Wood and going to the swings in the local parks: activities she would repeat with her own grandchildren 40 years later.

But she’d given up singing when we wouldn’t go to sleep; she’d be more inclined to stomp upstairs and fiercely instruct us to be quiet – and our walks with her in the fields around Heronsgate were accompanied with Chess the dog, Mickey the dog, Bonzo the dog and any unnamed number of others she’d collect on the way:  much like the Heinz 57 variety mongrel street kids of Stettin, rough and ready to snap at your heels if you got too close.

But back in the 1940s although there is a war going on there is also home-made Blackberry jelly, lettuce, carrots, salad cream, playing in the sandpit with all the children of the cul-de-sac and  Children’s Hour on the wireless. This is  a safe, secure childhood, which despite the war – or is it because of it? – is neither frightening nor threatening.

Ah, the wireless.  That old Bush contraption could only ever half heartedly receive the Home Service and the Light Programme.  A generation later would see it still broadcasting interminable episodes of The Archers at the prompt 1 o’clock lunchtime.  After that we would be ordered upstairs to take our afternoon rest so that she and Keith could retire to their bedroom: to listen to the Archers in peace and quiet, we presumed.

In 1956 Charlotte Margarette Elisabeth Louise  and the family move to Lindens in Heronsgate.  Over the years her mother, brothers and sisters and their families all  visit. August, Eva,  Erika, Thomas, Nick, Friedrich Wilhelm, Monika, Patricia, Petra, Carlos, Peter Macher, Roseann, Tante Heidi,  school friends and far-flung cousins fly into Heronsgate trailing their glamorous clothes, strong perfumes, exotic triangular bars of chocolate for the children and arrive confident, continental and not at all English.

Shining through these visits was her pride for her homeland and conviction that her brothers and sisters were the best in the world and that she could never match up to them, that she was at the bottom of  the list when it came to looks and intelligence.

But for us you were never at the bottom of any list although you might not have believed us had we told you.

Charlotte Margarette Elisabeth Louise’s devotion to home, children and church meant that growing up in Lindens provided many of our formative memories and moments.

But whilst her religion was about love, forgiveness and resurrection you wondered whether there was a sterner old testament prophet who’d be whispering in her ear, telling her not to be so soft and that the one God was a fearsome God indeed who would not flinch from punishing any transgression, real or imagined.  If she wanted to die and God would not let her, then he would punish her with ear ache to stop behaving against the word of the Lord.  Her faith was naive maybe: but none the worst for that.

But in 1993 the Lord summons her Keith for the last time.  She is so distressed she ends up in hospital, kicking and fussing like only she can do, getting out of bed, setting off the fire alarms, phoning the police or wandering half-dressed outside the hospital grounds.

These were sad days. She’d lost her one true partner in life and suddenly  she lost all her bearings.  It was like her past had come full circle and was now suddenly confronting her in the here and now, rather than the there and then.

She’d lost the one voice who could help her negotiate the world rather than barnstorm her way through it and she was never quite the same again.

Charlotte Margarette Elisabeth Louise Aitken. You had a good marriage which lasted a good 60 years and brings us all here today.

The last five years saw you travel to Brazil, sell up Lindens and settle down in Dapplemere Nursing Home where on the 22 January  you finally gave up kicking and blew out like one of your Christmas tree candles.

You were born in Reichenbach in Pomerania in 1910, daughter of August Petri and Auguste Horn.  You grew up in Belgard with your five brothers and sisters – Friedrich Wilhelm, Erika, Lisi, August  and Albrecht.

You married Keith, bore 3 children and 7 grandchildren and at present 7 great-grandchildren, scattered across the globe in  America, Brazil, Wales and England, all in all not a bad haul for a young nurse who went fishing in the back streets of the Port of Stettin.

So perhaps in a world where we’re increasingly advised to stop kicking and to accept our lot,  your persistent energy of resistance is something we might rekindle, celebrate and aspire to when times get tough. As Dylan Thomas might have said…

And you, my Omi, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Testimonial for Charlotte Margarette Elisabeth Louise Aitken Née Petri, February 2000.

The film above is a homage to the staff and residents of Dapplemere Nursing Home in Chorleywood, where Charlotte Margarette Elisabeth Louise Aitken Née Petri spent her last few years.

PASCO: animating communities through the creative industries (Introduction)

The PASCO (Performing Arts Scene in Obrenovac) project has had significant effects on the cultural infrastructure in the Obrenovac municipality since the project started in 2009. Due to generous support both locally, Buskerud County in Norway and the KS funding programme of the Norwegian government, PASCO has had demonstrable economic, cultural and social impact on the region as follows:

Economic impact

* Increased numbers of young people trained in the creative industries;

* Increased mobility of young people and professional practitioners across Europe;

* Increased skills of teachers in the creative industries and performing arts;

* Increased numbers of small businesses and sole traders who are working in the cultural and creative sector;

* Increased use of the facilities at the Obrenovac Culture House and a consequent increase in spending on local facilities such as restaurants, bars and clubs etc;

* Increased funding released from the municipality on culturally related programmes

* Increased funding applications to European funding sources e.g. European Collaboration Fund, Balkans Incentive Fund, Youth in Action

Social impact

* Increased activities which increase self esteem, confidence and sociability of young people attending centres for disabled people in the town;

* Increased social activities for young people both in and out of school;

* Increased interest from other municipalities in the PASCO model from neighbouring municipalities which has led to extension activities with other European partners e.g. in Grocka, Belgrade, Nis and other Serbian towns and cities.

Cultural impact

* Increased learning opportunities for young people and teachers in schools in matters relating to the creative industries e.g. film, performance, project management, fundraising;

* Increased production capacity of films, theatre productions, dance productions and visual arts exhibitions;

* Increased audience numbers at the Culture House.

PASCO has had this impact due to several key factors:

* An economic commitment to the programme by the municipality;

* The willingness by key local organisations to support the programme e.g. schools, cultural organisations, municipality departments;

* A commitment by the Norway and UK partners to sustain the programme over a 3 year period and beyond;

* A flexibility in project delivery which is responsive to local need and requirements.

This and future posts describe how these outcomes were achieved and to assess what contribution the UK partner, the Aspire Trust, made to the project. It also aims to provide recommendations on how future urban regeneration programmes might be designed, the kind of partnership profile required of partners and the knowledges, skills and attitudes that practitioners require in order to effect the kind of changes that have been witnessed within PASCO.

The transformation witnessed in Obrenovac has not however been a one-way street; Aspire itself  benefitted significantly from participating in the programme in the following ways:

* Increased work opportunities for young practitioners working in Aspire to apply their knowledge and skills within a European context;

* Increased mobility professional practitioners across Europe;

* Increased financial turnover of the company, helping to secure its long term future;

* Increased funding from UK based organisations to assist in the long term strategic development of the company across the wider region e.g. Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Bulgaria

* Increased applications to European funding sources e.g. European Collaboration Fund, Balkans Incentive Fund, Youth in Action.

* Increased activities which engage UK practitioners with other practitioners from Serbia, Norway and other European countries, helping to locate their practice within a wider European context;

* Increased cultural partnerships established with other cultural and educational organisations in South East Europe and the Balkans e.g. FYR Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia.

* Increased knowledge and understanding of the history and culture of Serbia and the region as a whole.

This and future posts are intended for the benefit of teachers, academics and professional arts workers who wish to learn from the PASCO experience and adapt it for their own purposes.

We hope too that it acts as an inspiration for future graduate students who wish to animate and activate their own communities through the application of the arts and creative industries.