Blog Post

"If this project was a stick of rock, regardless of where you cut into it, you’d find co-production running through it"


Hannah Robertshaw, Programmes Director at Yorkshire Dance reflects on the themes of the People Place Power conference

Lucy Suggate’s Swarm Sculptures taken at Yorkshire Dance’s Juncture 2016

Hannah Robertshaw from Yorkshire Dance reflects on her experience of coming to People Place Power:

Imposter Syndrome
Having not been involved in a CPP project, I felt a bit like an imposter attending the People, Place, Power conference. The themes however, resonate in every aspect of my work and more deeply in my own personal values of shared ownership, cooperative working, democratic leadership and exchange. I quickly realised that despite no connection to a CPP project, the discussions translated very directly into Yorkshire Dance’s body of work, approach and ethos and were made even more relevant by our recent experiences of co-design and co-curation with communities, specifically with older adults and people living with autism or a learning disability.  

Labelling and declaring
A clear thing that struck me was the direct labelling of oneself which at times felt like a way to underpin the validity for the speaker. This left me with many questions about labelling and ‘lived experience’. Is declaring your background (gender, ethnicity, class, disability) required? Do we need to have lived experience of something to be able to champion and lead? Are we so bound up in our own identity that we must declare it openly to strangers? Stella Duffy  talked about declaring your tribe and your place before your name. This made me think about my own ‘tribe’ and my own ‘place’. What if you have no sense of connection to where you are from? What if you have no sense of tribe? Perhaps this is one of the key things CPP is addressing.

Leadership and feeling uncomfortable
In a session about feeling ‘uncomfortable’, I proposed the notion of stepping down as a means to support others to ‘step up’. I self-declared as a “white, middle class, hetrosexual female in my late 30’s” – as someone constantly faced by versions of myself undertaking the same roles in similar organisations. Surely I am part of the problem? 

In the Creative Case for Diversity, I score no points…wait…I’m northern…wait…I’m female….wait…I’m a working mother. 

Maybe I have something after all.

Inspiring people
The speakers featured in People, Place, Power definitely made a mark on me. From the joyful and insightful, Tourette’s Hero Jess Thom to the inspirational Sathnam Sanghera recounting the joys of growing up in Wolverhampton to Moira Sinclair from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation talking about inclusive leadership – there was certainly no shortage of fascinating and inspirational moments. So, other than a whole host of new people to follow on twitter, what has this left me with? Certainly a renewed love of stories and a fascination of other worlds.

This makes me think of all the untapped stories, all the potential creators and makers, all the bubbling potential of the many people we encounter on a daily basis. And, if the arts can unlock this, even for a moment, how privileged we are. How lucky that we get to be there. I was reminded to ask questions, to be curious and to listen.

Getting out versus staying put
There was a debate bubbling throughout the conference about opening doors for people to leave their ‘place’ – unlocking opportunity, creating cultures of support and networks and ideas, vrs enabling people to stay. Having grown up in a largely working class community in Bretton, Peterborough (I believe now the site of a CPP project) in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a real sense of needing to escape. In fact, I left at 17 and didn’t return, (apart from a brief few months of having no money and going to work for British Gas.) I felt no sense of place in Peterborough. No affiliation whatsoever. Perhaps this grew my love of Northern England. Everyone I met from the North seemed fiercely proud of where they were from. I craved the identity of place.

There is something incredibly uncomfortable wrapped up in the idea of bringing someone up and out through culture. Helping them leave their shitty lives and become what? More cultured? More middle class? More like us? The image of the confident, cultured arts worker riding in on a colourful steed and offering someone a new path? There’s something deeply uncomfortable about this and I’m sure that this would be rejected by the delegate group.  

I personally hate the sense of culture ‘saving someone’ although in other breaths I will happily talk about the transformational experiences of people who have participated in our projects. “Yes… this really does save lives.” 

Discussions with delegates reinforced that our priority should be about creating options and opportunities. The 100 makers project, highlighted by Helen Spencer, showcased the talents of 100 local makers in the Black Country. This celebrated creativity in everyday lives – from those who craft within their own homes to those who are travelling the world. Options to leave. Options to stay. A perfect illustration perhaps of how we can embrace or reject place. 

Summing up my experience of People, Place, Power
Several things have resonated with me following my experience of People, Place, Power. These were alivened in discussions but driven from our current considerations as an organisation.

Co-production as a value within our work – “if this project was a stick of rock, regardless of where you cut into it, you’d find co-production running through it.” Our experiences of co-production reflect how time consuming and draining it can be, often resulting in winding up somewhere entirely different to the place you thought you were heading. On the flip side, it presents a new way of working which is incredibly stimulating. I have learnt more in a few months than I’ve learnt in a decade. There is also a sense of shared power, shared ownership and shared identity of this work. It’s an honour to work in this way (providing it can be resourced well.)

I am embracing the idea of not knowing. The idea of not being the expert is refreshing. To walk into the room and not know the outcome, however scary, is the stuff of real learning and creates a far closer artistic democracy. 

Enabling greater exchange between communities and artists and closing the gap between ‘participation and learning’ and ‘artistic work’. This is something we are investigating more vividly at Yorkshire Dance – exploring how we break down the perceived hierarchy of those engaged in participatory dance (either leading or doing) and those engaged in professional dance (either making or watching). We are interested in exploring more meaningful exchanges and finding ways in which we can build community around our work without falling into the expectations of who makes, who does and who leads.

And finally, I take away the many quotes from Quddous Ahmed – “the only real disability is a shitty attitude” … “we grow through what we go through”. That man is a genius. 

Hannah Robertshaw, Programmes Director at Yorkshire Dance

Image: Lucy Suggate’s Swarm Sculptures taken at Yorkshire Dance’s Juncture 2016. Photo: Andy Wood