Family Arts Conference


From young children, to grandparents and every age in between, how can people and their families be involved in the Arts? And indeed why should they be?

These were some of the questions tackled at the Family Arts Conference in Bristol this week. Delegates spoke about the need for inclusion, for family friendly performances, for access for people who are disabled. Among other topics there was mention of role models for various disadvantaged groups, among which older people can be included. Some are isolated through circumstances, or ill health, others are on very low incomes and all of us have been castigated by the media for robbing the next generation of any hope of owning a home of their own, taking their jobs and being a huge burden on the NHS.

Whatever our circumstances, being older is not currently valued in our society and however hard you try this attitude does inevitably affect the way you see yourself. Being an artist, in whatever discipline, however, allows you to value yourself and your work.

I took part in the Family Arts Conference as a delegate from Ages and Stages Theatre Company. ages-and-stages-5When Jill Rezzano our director, co-ordinator, leader, I’m not sure which title adequately describes all that she does, asked for volunteers, Jackie and I said we would be interested in taking part.

At our session on Intergenerational Work for Older Families, Jill gave a succinct run down of the inception of Ages and Stages and all the work the company has done since then. Jacky and I talked about how we joined the company and what being part of a theatre group has done for us.

My involvement came about by accident. I’d gone along to the Live Age Festival fully intending to take part in one of the writing workshops. When I got to the venue however it occurred to me that taking part, and/or leading workshops is something I’ve done numerous times and maybe opting for the drama workshop would be an opportunity to challenge myself.

I enjoyed the session so much that I came along to the next meeting of Ages and Stages at the New Vic and the rest as they say is history.

On a more serious note, being challenged is one of the reasons why taking part in the Arts is so important. It is so easy to stay safely ensconced in the comfort zone, but, once you dare to set foot outside it, life becomes infinitely richer and more exciting.

I found myself acting in public for the first time since my university days. I was challenged, not just by performing, but because I had to attain the same high standard as the rest of the group.

It is this striving for excellence, even though you know that you will never reach it, which is why the Arts matter so much. It is also the reason why, one day, in some glorious future, there will be no need to have conferences about inclusion because people will be valued for what they have contributed to their art, not for who, or how old or young they are.

In the meantime, I had a great day in Bristol. The sun shone, the sky was blue, Jill, Jacky and I ate our picnic lunch outside.240px-Stgeorgeschapel The venues were great and I learned so much  from the speakers in our session; Fergus Early and his inter-generational work with The Green Candle Dance Company, Susan Langford, the director of Magic Me and Emma Robinson of Age Cymru and Kate Organ whose talk on the Inclusion for Older Family Members was truly inspirational.


World of Bunch #2

Jan Edwards

gasmaskAnother oddity that arose in researching the home front aspects of WW2 for my crime  book Winter Downs concerns gas masks and whether they should be a part of the background information.

The fear of gas attack in 1939 was very real. This may possibly have from memories of gas warfare in the trenches of the Great War or reports of gas bombs being dropped on Gurnica in the Spanish civil war. Whatever the source the British government intended every person living in the Britain would be issued with a gas mask. This gargantuan task began in July 1939, and by December of that year over 38 million had been distributed.

pic-2The public were urged through nationwide adverts and leafleting to inform their local Air Raid Warden if they had not been issued with their gas mask, and it was the responsibility of those wardens to ensure that everybody had been…

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The World of Bunch: part one

Jan Edwards

rat_bookWhilst writing Winter Downs and the world of my heroine, Rose ‘Bunch’ Courtney, there were many things that required some careful research. The first that came to mind was the knotty problem of rationing. Conducting a small straw poll it would seem that the general perception of  many people  is that rationing came in with a bang and remained there until the end of the war, when it was lifted immediately. This was not the case.

Mindful of the privations suffered in the Great War, the Ministry of Food was set up to oversee supplies and there was an original plan to implement full rationing from September 1939. The MoF did announce rationing several times in those early months – only to postpone them due to some vociferous newspaper campaigns, spearheaded, by all accounts by a series of editorials in the Daily Express; which for example, urged the public to…

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Unicorns:The Truth


In the middle of my crib scene every Christmas there is a unicorn. There is no biblical evidence for including this creature, but for me it fits perfectly. Unicorns are magical, if not spiritual beasts and there is a long tradition of linking the unicorn with the Virgin Mary.


In this picture of the annunciation, the unicorn is being held by the virgin herself and this link with unicorns and virgins is the one most people would know.

Why that should be so has always fascinated me. The unicorn is untameable and wild. It can only be captured by a young girl, going alone into a forest, sitting down and waiting for it to appear and put its head in her lap. So do the legends symbolise the power of virginity over lust, or perhaps over magic?  Both were feared as a threat by the Medieval Church, which seems to have turned the unicorn into a representation of love; it also stands for loyalty and love in marriage.

Softened the unicorn becomes harmless. Nowadays it’s a cuddly cute, sometimes winged creature who is far too plump to fly, or even canter at any great speed.

It is time then to reinstate the unicorn to its rightful place in the pantheon of mythical beasts. Unicorns are wild and unpredictable. They kill the knights who are sent to hunt them down. They don’t grant wishes, or give kids rides on their backs. And they can be evil.

Not all unicorns are white, in fact very few are, as white, outside the polar regions is an anomaly. The white unicorn, with the silver horn, is the albino, the outcast. The true unicorn is the black, one horned beast that roams the forests of your mind and whose eyes glow red through your nightmares.



The Christmas Crib



When I rang my mum this afternoon she was about to start setting up the crib ready for Christmas Eve. Every year the Nativity figures come out of their box, brown paper is crumpled up to make the cave and the wooden ornaments that stand on the living room shelves become part of the scene. It doesn’t matter that the original characters are made of plastic and are much smaller than the cotton wool sheep, or the wooden shepherds, or that a whole menagerie of zoo animals are pressed into service, this is how it has always been done.

Tomorrow, when her great-grand-children come over for their pre-Christmas visit, five year old Maddy will put the Christ child in the manger to mark the start of the celebrations.

Like Mum, I too set up the crib every year. Mine is in the dining room and is also made up of a disparate collection of figures and for me, too, it’s the start of Christmas. Because how can you have Christmas without a reference to the events that started it all?

Whether or not you believe, a story of a dispossessed family, helped by kindly strangers, is one that has and will continue to have relevance to the world we live in.

There is too, something comforting and life affirming about the passing down of  family traditions from one generation to the next.