Reflections – Elizabeth Stephenson

Reflections – Elizabeth Stephenson

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As What We Do Now (WWDN) transitions towards an exciting new phase, those involved reflect on their experience.

Elizabeth Stephenson in Lockerbie looks back at some of the highlights of their time on WWDN.

Why did you want to be involved in What We Do Now?

A few years ago, I was studying social sciences and read about creative placemaking – broadly, a grassroots approach to making meaningful changes to and within community spaces. I learned about some of the work initiated by the Stove and communities of Dumfries, and from that I became more interested in the beneficial possibilities of creative placemaking. Subsequently, it became the subject of my dissertation.

Since then, I’ve been following the progress of WWDN in Dumfries & Galloway, and I was very excited about the possibility of getting involved. I and my family live near Lockerbie and it’s a familiar place to us. WWDN offered an opportunity to be in Lockerbie working with people with a creative purpose. Additionally, involvement in WWDN has enabled me to meet and learn from other artists and stakeholders from across the region.

What has been your highlight of What We Do Now so far?

A standout highlight for me has been collaborating with people who have been enthusiastic and generous with their time, skills, and keen to try new activities. I enjoyed working with people at Lockerbie Old School’s weekly Lunch Club, some of whom might not have sought out creative activities elsewhere, yet they brought openness and patience to try new things. An example is the teacup bag project we did, where we worked on individual cup-and-saucer designs that were then stitched onto cotton shopping bags. It was lovely to see participants enjoying the process and how pleased they were with their completed creations.

People get involved in projects in different ways, whether that’s co-developing projects and taking part, showing an interest in what others are doing in the creative projects, supporting those activities with advice, insights, services or materials – it all goes into the collective creative pot.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Initially, the project had been intended to operate from a space on Lockerbie High Street in which I would be able to set up for the duration of the project. Due to some practical issues, this couldn’t happen, and I thought not having a base to work from would be a big setback in reaching people and in limiting the kinds of activities that could take place. However, being mobile led to me working with people in settings that were familiar and comfortable for them and got me out and about the town. Later, I got a small room at the town hall and that enabled me to be in town more.

Overall, I think the biggest challenge has been trying to make the most of the time allocated in which to develop and sustain relationships and emerging creative projects. There always seems to be more things to do than time in which to do them.

What inspires you generally?

Quite often it’s everyday things… a stopper from a broken hot water bottle became a great stamp for mark-making on fabric; the elongated shadow of a mesh storage box on a sunny day made for a good cyanotype print. Patterns are everywhere. Other people’s perspectives can inspire me, and especially during my time in Lockerbie, the conversations I had with people encouraged me to look at and respond to my surroundings differently, make creative ‘mistakes’ and try new approaches.

What else have been working on or have planned?

I’ve continued working with the cyanotype process (a way of making images using sunlight and photosensitive materials) that a small group of us used for an image-making project we worked on at Lockerbie Town Hall. I didn’t have much experience of making cyanotypes, so I have really enjoyed learning within the group. Currently, I’m working on completing a fabric book of cyanotypes of Lockerbie that were made by members of the group which I hope we’ll be able to display.

I hope to maintain creative links via Lockerbie Old School and keep up with how people’s creative projects are developing. I’ll definitely be calling in at the Lunch Club for bingo, tea and catching up with everyone’s news.

What have you learned during What We Do Now?

I learned that there was a curiosity for trying new things together and sharing skills in Lockerbie. What I learned from participant feedback was that people found it useful to try out new processes in a social setting and without the barrier of equipment costs. They seemed to be enthusiastic to get messy and just go for it. There was an abundance of ideas!

Fundamentally, I have been learning to trust the ‘process’, specifically my own. My process aims to support conditions in which people can identify and work on their ideas and the directions they want to take them in. Developing creative relationships and trust is a largely invisible process a lot of the time, and sometimes it can seem like things aren’t happening quickly enough. The work happens in conversations and in the gaps. That’s where possibilities and new ideas emerge – the next time you see someone, they’ve brought in an idea for us to work on, or even a piece of work they decided to do that started from a previous conversation. That’s how it snowballs into something perceptible and dynamic.

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