“I don’t do slam poetry, yet. But watch this space.”

Tonight I’m the roving reporter. Before the presentations kick off at The Butchers Arms, Vicky and I leave to catch the second half of a poetry evening back in Dewsbury.

“There’s a lot of interest in spoken word around the area,” explains the Creative Scene producer as we pass under the railway viaduct, “and some popular poetry groups. With this event we’re trying to bring some of that together and draw on the cultural background of West Yorkshire.

“So anyone can present their work in whatever language they’re comfortable with.”

We arrive at Sensory World on Westgate during the break which gives me the chance to put my tape recorder in front of Vicky’s colleague, Parveen who organises It’s A Word Thing.

“There’s a real openness about this group,” she explains, “some people come to perform their poetry, others come just to listen. But everyone is really supportive and nurturing.

“What’s happened so far this evening?” I ask. “What have we missed?”

“We’ve already had three poems about the election,” says Parveen. “There’s really something immediate about this artform, something urgent. Last time we met on the day of Trump’s inauguration and we had two poems about that.”

“This is the third one we’ve had and it’s lovely to see that already we’re getting a cohort of regulars,” says Parveen. I notice Glen, Marina and Jason who I’ve met at Creative Scene’s The Social, a networking gathering that hosted at The Old Turk across the road.

And there’s Stella from the Idle Woman canal boat project who’s brought along some local women they’ve been working with. Parveen says one of them, Nicola, has been so moved by what’s she heard in the first half that she’s penned some verse – her first ever – for the second.

“Okay, shall we get started again,” calls out tonight’s MC Tamsin Cook above the chatter.

Tamsin kicks the second set off with a poem she considered performing earlier. “I didn’t feel we knew each other well enough back then,” she says, tongue firmly in cheek. “The reason will become immediately clear: I wrote this in response to some everyday sexism I experienced walking home one evening.”

Tamsin’s ‘adult’ poem draws hoots of laughter from many in the audience but, judging by the odd stony face, it isn’t to everyone’s taste.

After a couple more, she introduces the second half performers. Some are seasoned performers. Others, like Nicola, are trying this for the first time.

Mancunian Joel reads from his first book. “All these poems are about freedom,” he says, “sometimes personal freedom, sometimes political.”

Judith from Batley recites some traditional verse about trees whereas Marina gets stuck in with poems about feminism, swearing and another about the election.

“This fatwa on foul language is just a distraction/what counts in my book is the sum of your action.”

After Jason and Parveen have done their bit Tamsin brings the evening to a close and I get to speak to some of the ‘turns’.

“I love all the different types of poetry at this event,” says Judith who is a member of poetry groups in Batley and Cleckheaton. “My poetry is a bit old-fashioned because I like things to  rhyme. I don’t do slam poetry, yet. But watch this space.”

“It’s good to meet local people,” says Marina, standing with Glen. “We often go further afield to spoken word events. But it’s not ideal. You have to leave early for the last train and you miss all this chat.

“I definitely like this open mic format,” she says. “It’s good to listen to people who are a bit nervous and haven’t shared their work before. It’s an honour for us isn’t it? They feel comfortable enough with us as their audience. And we feel proud that we’ve made it possible for them.

“The bigger venues aren’t special like that. This is really open. Open to anyone who wants to speak.”

For details of the next It’s a Word Thing, keep an eye on Creative Scene’s website or email parveen@creativescene.org.uk

“There’s no closure until it’s put in front of an audience.”

It’s just after seven and The Butchers Arms on Halifax Road is already buzzing. We battle through the players around the pool table and head upstairs where a buffet is being laid out.

“Remind me why we’re here,” I ask Creative Scene producer Vicky after we’ve ordered our drinks.

“We want an update on our play The Ruck, she says, “and Kevin and Craig are due to meet here tonight.”

It’s true. It’s been a while since I reported on the read-through around the big table in Creative Scene’s offices, so a re-cap is due.

The story so far. Commissioned by Creative Scene, playwright Kevin Fegan has written a play about Batley Bulldogs Girls’ Rugby team, coached by Craig Taylor. Last year, after an unbeaten season, they became the UK’s first female rugby squad to tour Australia. The Ruck is inspired by the girls’ exploits in both Batley and ‘down under’.

“We’ve now appointed a director, Joyce Branagh,” says Vicky, “and Rebecca Foster will be assistant director which will be great opportunity for her to work alongside an experienced professional.

“It’ll premiere at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in September,” she says, “before going on a Yorkshire-wide tour. And before that we’ll do some little 20 minute ‘shorts’ at places like Batley Festival and at the Rugby Club.”

Negotiating his way through some excited young children, Kevin joins us at the bar. “Vicky tell me you helped choose the director,” I say once he has his pint. “Do you like to be involved in the production process?”

“I do. I’m that kind of writer. We were clear we wanted a female director and I’m delighted we’ve appointed Joyce. I’ll be going along to the casting sessions and rehearsals too.”

“Do you have a type of person in mind for your characters?” I ask.

“No. I like to be surprised. Often it becomes apparent during the auditions who the right person is. You have to be careful not to close the door to what someone might bring to a role.”

“I like to be at the rehearsals as well, to be part of the team. I’m clear about what I’m good at and I want everyone else to be good at what they do. Everyone brings their own skills to a production.”

“And tonight it’s a presentation evening,” I suggest.

“Yes. Last year – hot on the heels of the Aussie tour – Craig asked me to present some trophies, which was lovely. And it’s been a while since I’ve seen them all, so it’ll be good to touch base.”

Kevin is keen to keep up his connection with the Rugby Club. “There’s no closure with a play until it’s put in front of an audience. I’m looking forward to hearing the comments of those who’ve inspired it. It matters to me what people think.”

While we’ve been talking Craig has arrived with large boxes of trophies. Once they’re laid out he joins us at the bar and he and Kevin seem to continue where they left off.

It turns out last year’s winning team have pretty much dispersed. “Some are old enough now for the open age women’s team,” Craig tells Kevin, “and some are now playing union.”

“You brought that in, didn’t you?”

“Yeah. The girls play both over there,” he says, meaning in Australia, “and it makes sense for them to play both league and union here too. The seasons don’t collide. So why can’t the girls play both?”

There have been other spin-offs from the Aussie tour too. A couple of the girls – including Craig’s own daughter, Millie – were invited to go on a New Zealand tour with the team that hosted them.

“And now they’ve been offered a full-time rugby league scholarship in New Zealand. They’re thinking of going out there to study and play full time,” Craig says, proudly.

“And I hear there’s a chance the play might go out to Australia too?” I say. “That would be great.”

“Having The Ruck put in front of audiences here in Yorkshire will be brilliant,” says Kevin. “Taking it to Australia would be a real bonus.”

Tickets for The Ruck’s premiere are on sale now.

Three-headed dogs and ginger cats

“What’s the plan for this morning?” I ask artist Lou Sumray as she lays out art materials.

“The plan,” she says, pulling out a packet of black paper, “is to get people to describe music with marks.”

Her collaborator, musician Nick Lewis, is setting up his acoustic guitar and mini amplifier on the other side of the children’s section at Birstall Library.

This is the last in a series of Easter holiday workshops that has seen artists from the 154 Collective work with children, and their grown ups, to develop ideas for a new Creative Scene On Tour family show.

After some introductions Lou explains the bigger picture to today’s children, parents and grandparents.

“We’re collecting your ideas from these workshops for a show that we’re calling The Search for Wonder,” she says, holding up an illustration. “This is what we’ve got so far. It’s the story of Rabbit Girl written by an eight-year-old girl.”

Lou outlines a tale of campfires, unicorns, rainbow slides and climbing to the moon. “And this is a three-headed dog that guards a cave of fluffy toys,” she says. “Today you can add to our story or create your own.”

The workshops over the last fortnight have involved writers, animators and photographers as well as artists and musicians. Local people are contributing to a family show that they can then watch next year, no doubt looking out for the bits they’ve inspired.

Nick sets everyone off. “I’m going to play some music and we’d like you to draw it,” he says, playing a string of notes. “Would you draw lines, spirals or maybe dots? What colour would it be?”

Everyone gets stuck in and within minutes the children are showing their efforts to Nick. “These are really great,” he says, “awesome.”

Next the tables are turned. “Now we’d like you to draw your own pictures and we’ll ask Nick to turn them into music,” says Lou. “What about using two crayons at once?”

“I’m going to do a picture that shows Rabbit Girl off on a massive adventure,” says eight-year-old Millie, taking another piece of paper.

“This is perfect for Millie,” her mum Claire tells me as she, too, starts a new picture. “She loves drawing and writing. We’d just popped in and saw this was going on. We had no plans, so it’s fallen well for us.”

“We look after Emily and her baby sister during the holidays,” Emily’s grandma explains. “So it’s nice when there are things like this we can bring them to. Emily loves music.”

“Do you think he’s got it right?” I ask the four-year-old as Nick starts to play one of her pictures. She smiles and listens intently, her eyes dancing between her picture and Nick’s fingertips.

“I’m playing this sunny bit in the middle now,” he says.

Soon there’s a backlog of oil pastel pictures that need playing. “There’s some evil in this one,” says Leo.

“That’s it!” says the delighted six-year-old when Nick finishes his musical response.

The soundtrack for The Search for Wonder show will also be developed from these workshops. “I’ve recorded them all on my special loop pedal,” Nick tells the children. “I’ll listen to them all again and use them as inspiration.”

As well as ‘music pictures’ Lou spends the two-hour session encouraging some writing and the creation of cardboard characters.

“My story is about a boy called Donald Jackson,” Leo tells me, “who lives with his great-great-grandparents and a cat called Ryan Ralph.”

“A cat called Ryan Ralph? I can almost imagine what Ryan Ralph might look like,” I say.

“He’s ginger,” says Leo, emphatically.

An exhibition of work created at The Search for Wonder workshops will tour libraries later in the year. Check Creative Scene’s website for details.

Drawing as thinking

“We want to understand the changes that are taking place for you all,” says Steve after we’ve had our chilli and nachos. “We’re interested to hear your reflections and aspirations.”

It’s the second of Creative Scene’s ‘The Social’, an opportunity for North Kirklees’ creatives to network and learn from others.

But also, as evaluator Steve Swindells from Huddersfield University points out, a chance to hear from those who can help shape the direction of this innovative arts programme.

There’s an eclectic mix here tonight and I’m pleased to see long-standing Creative Scene supporters, Sonja, Ashleigh and Duncan are among them.

On tonight’s bill is visual artist Matt Worden who’s planning to get us to see the world differently with an evening of observational drawing.

“First off, we’re going to make our own sketchbooks,” he says, demonstrating with an A2 sheet of cartridge paper and a craft knife. “Please be careful with those knives!”

Matt now invites us to draw a self portrait. “But we’re going to do it blind, so everyone shut their eyes,” he says, “and don’t take your pen off the paper.”

The room falls silent as lines are drawn, marks made. Laughter follows after a couple of minutes as we reveal our efforts. “Oh yes,” says poet Jason, “I’ve forgotten to draw my beard!”

The self portraits are a starting point for us to introduce ourselves. “Mine is a bit different,” explains Duncan, holding up his new sketchbook. “There’s me, with muddy boots, on a narrowboat, holding our baby. Why am I here? New experiences give you new perspectives, don’t they?”

The evening unfolds into part drawing exercises and part autobiographical talk. Matt tells us of a career in the NHS involved in socially-engaged art practices. Fifteen months ago he took voluntary redundancy and now uses art in leadership training.

“I also set up a ‘drink and draw’ class in our area. I love showing people how to use different materials and getting images down on paper,” he enthuses. “Whether it’s locals coming to the evening classes, or corporate managers looking for new ideas, drawing helps people define themselves.”

As we get onto our next exercise – drawing a horse upside down – it’s clear Matt loves teaching people to draw. And it’s clear people here are enjoying being taught.

“It’s all about looking,” he says, “and concentrating on shape and form.”

When we turn our horses the right way up – hey presto – even the self-proclaimed non-drawers are surprised with their equine sketches.

“At school we’d have broken that image down on a grid,” says Sonja. “But this was really useful, and quite straightforward. I could do that.”

“Storytelling through images has always been very powerful for getting your point across,” says Matt. “We’re being fed information all the time through images and we don’t always realise it. There’s power in images.”

Some more exercises. Next we’re focussing on our own hands. First we draw just the creases in our skin and then we get to draw the whole hand.

“Now draw with your ‘other’ hand,” says Matt. “So, if you’re right-handed, draw with your left.”

It’s great fun. My cack-handed drawing is better than the one with my ‘proper’ hand. But there’s a more serious side to all this than just making marks on paper. Our participants are beginning to see how useful it could be to their own practice.

“I can see how you can adapt these techniques,” says Fiona. “They help you look at things from a different point of view. If I were writing, for instance, it could help you think of a different way of approaching your subject, turning things on their head, using your non-dominant side. It’s been really useful.”

“That all really resonated with me,” says Sonja as the pens are collected up, “particularly the upside-down technique.”

“Your horse was amazing,” I say.

“I’m going to get my mum to have a go. She’ll say she can’t draw but I think she can.”

The next Social is on Thursday, 6th April and is all about socially engaged art practice featuring Bo Olawoye, from Nottingham’s New Art Exchange. Email Creative Scene if you’re interested in coming along.

“The process of getting lost in creativity is really exciting.”

Today’s the launch of the West Yorkshire leg of Idle Women’s On The Water project. The Shepley Bridge Marina near Mirfield will host a new canal boat for the next six months or so.

“I read that last year, on International Women’s Day, you launched the project in Burnley,” I say to Cis O’Boyle, co-project founder and ‘caretaker’ of the ‘Selina Cooper’.

“I can’t believe that was a year ago,” says Cis as we sit in the marina’s café. “A lot has happened since then.”

Cis and fellow project founder Rachel Anderson worked together on large-scale art projects in London before setting up Idle Women in 2015. “Where did the idea of building a boat to run creative projects by and for woman come from?”  I ask.

“While working on one project together we realised our whole creative team – a bit by accident – were women,” explains Cis. “It was really refreshing. There was a freedom to express ourselves without being patronised, a real immediacy of creative exchange and genuine encouragement between each other that’s not typical in a patriarchal environment.”

Idle Women relates to the name given to the women who worked on the waterways during the Second World War.

The Selina Cooper, designed and built by women, is named after a Lancastrian suffragette, the first woman to represent the Independent Labour Party in 1901. And it was in the shadow of Burnley’s textile mills where the anything-but-idle project began last year.

Cis and I walk to the canalside where the boat is receiving visitors. “You’re welcome to have a look from here”, says Cis, “but it’s a women-only space inside.”

I take a shot or two from the stern. “And there’s accommodation as well?” I ask, peering into the cabin.

“There’s a small galley kitchen at the other end and enough room for two to sleep on board. This year we have two artists resident for three months – Nicky Bashall and Stella Barnes – who’ll be leading lots of activities.”

I jump back on land as half a dozen smartly-dressed older women are helped onboard. “We’ve just had lunch at the golf club and thought we’d have a look,” says one.

“We saw it on Facebook,” says another, by way of explanation.

As they pour in, others come out, including Ashleigh Beattie, a local artist and supporter of Creative Scene who I haven’t seen for a while.

“How’s your little one? How old is he now?”

“Fifteen months and very active,” she says.

Ashleigh moved to Dewsbury a few years ago and, as a visual artist, she quickly tapped into the local arts scene, always keen to get involved with new initiatives. “Are you thinking of applying for one of the little residences?” I ask.

Cis explains. “We’re inviting women to apply to stay on board from two days to two weeks. You can do whatever you want: sit and have peace, read, draw, anything. In exchange we ask you to make an invitation for other women to join you. That could be just sharing tea and cake, or running a workshop or sharing a skill.”

Before I leave I chat to Stella who will be staying on the Selina Cooper for the next three months. She’s just come to the end of a twelve year stint as Director of Participation at London’s Ovalhouse. A canal barge on the Calder and Hebble Navigation will be a big change. I ask her what’s she got planned.

“I used to be anxious about having a plan but, over time, and having interrogated the ethics of participatory work, I’ve abandoned planning,” she says, frankly.

“If your planning is too rigid you don’t have that experience of time trickling away, of being immersed in what you’re creating,” Stella says. “The process of getting lost in creativity is really exciting. You only have your own skills and ideas to navigate the route. That’s quite a nice metaphor for being on a boat.”

Visit the Idle Women website for details of forthcoming activities on the Selina Cooper.