“We always try and make something magical.”

The light has faded, a crowd has gathered, it’s almost time for The Batley Picture Show.

Periplum Theatre Company has been commissioned to produce a bespoke show as a finalé to The Batley Festival and we are about to see the culmination of months of planning, research and editing.

“The people we’ve met have been really keen to talk about their community which, I guess, is a reflection of recent events,” says Periplum director Claire Raftery, as she takes up a position amongst the audience. “Everyone has been really friendly. Batley is an easy community to talk to.”

“And what’s been your biggest challenge?”

“To get enough footage that reflects the diversity of the community,” she says. “We got there in the end but, yes, that was a bit of a challenge.”

“Part of what Creative Scene does is about building audiences,” I say. “What sort of legacy do you think Periplum will leave for Batley?”

Claire smiles. “Well, we hope we’ve made something magical. We always try and make something magical.”

The local performers in their donkey jackets congregate back stage. Creative Scene supporter Ammaarah is amongst them. “How was the dress rehearsal last night?” I ask.

“It came together really well,” she says. “I think we executed it almost perfectly. We worked together really well as a team.”

“You’re only saying that because they’re all here,” I joke. Apparently Claire and Damian and the team were so impressed with the enthusiasm of the volunteers, they’ve created a bigger role for them in the performance.

Musician Mike, resplendent in his evening dress, takes to the central podium as if he’s at the Albert Hall. Lights, pyrotechnics, action. The show begins as the first pre-recorded poem competes with whoops from the crowd.

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The town I was born, the town I was raised

Look, the town, it’s coming alive

In between each of five short films about Batley life – school days, industry, ‘horror’, nightlife, and sport – the Periplum actors and their entourage perform cameos involving bells, flares and lots of fireworks that keep the crowd guessing where to look next.

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The biggest communal ‘Ah’ comes as Ammaarah and her colleagues simultaneously release their white balloons into the black sky.

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From the twinkling edifice of Mr Smith’s

To the final waltz at the Xclusive

Wipe your feet on your way outside

Look, the town, it’s coming alive

The show culminates with a group of chanting junior rugby players advancing through the crowd, “Batley, Batley, rah, rah, rah!”

“Batley, Batley, rah, rah, rah!” repeats Mike, waving his arms to encourage everyone to join in.

As if from nowhere a line of purple banners appear to flank the watchtower as aerial performer Florence – dressed as a Batley Bulldogs RLFC prop forward – dashes for the try line in mid air. More flares, more fireworks and more cheering from the appreciative onlookers.

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A man grabs my arm as the music fades, eager to tell me what he thinks. “That were absolutely fantastic,” he says. “Spot on. Whoever’s done that has done it with a lot of heart, a lot of heart.”

The crowd reluctantly disperses as I approach a woman and her young daughters who I recognise from earlier in the day, riding the Life Boat.

“They got it in a nutshell,” says Hawa. “They included everyone that lives in Batley. My dad used to work in the mills and he still talks about it a lot. And it was good that they included Asian music because this is such a wide community.”

“Did you feel it was a celebration of the town?”

“Definitely, definitely. It was lovely, brilliant.”

I tell Hawa I’m writing a blog for Creative Scene.

“We need to remember that,” she says to her girls, “Creative Scene.”

“I’m so giddy, so excited about it all.”

Golden sunlight streams across the Market Square as the shutters are pulled down at Batley Bargain Centre. Metal barriers, heavy electrical cables and theatrical paraphernalia populate the Memorial Gardens. It must be nearly time for the Batley Festival.

“So describe to me what’s going on here,” I ask Festival chair, Kimberley as we stand next to a row of portable toilets waiting for the volunteer performers.

“Apparently this is the watchtower,” she says, pointing out a scaffold structure, “and the films will be projected onto three of its sides.”

I can see Claire and Damian from Periplum Theatre Company amongst the technical people adjusting spotlights and clutching gaffer tape. Tonight is the first rehearsal for The Batley Picture Show, specially commissioned by Kimberley and her committee.

“This will be unique to Batley,” I say.

“I know. I’m so giddy, so excited about it all. We’ve seen some storyboards but really we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We’re expecting a group of local people to play a supporting role in the performance and a crowd of junior rugby players. Duncan is one of the volunteers: “The call-out mentioned flaming rugby balls and exploding tea cups, which I couldn’t resist,” he says. “I enjoy taking myself out of my comfort zone.”

Already a supporter of Creative Scene, Duncan tells me he has some proposals to get his town on the artistic map. “Liversedge is underrepresented in North Kirklees and I’d like to work with Creative Scene to change that next year,” he says.

“Sounds good,” I say. “I’ll come along and tell that story.”

As the library clock chimes six, Claire gathers everyone together for some introductions. “Damian and I are directors of Periplum and we co-wrote this piece; Damian has done all the film editing and I’m directing the show,” she says, “so I get to boss people around a bit.

cs_080916_005-edit“We’ve been going for 15 years or so and we like to make new theatre each time: new writing, a new story and an original composition. That’s our artistic vision.”

We get to meet the rest of the small team: performers, musicians, composers and technical bods although, it seems, everyone does a bit of everything. “And this is Graham,” says Claire, “who will be working with you this evening.”

It turns out the rugby ‘flash mob’ can’t make it after all but Claire’s not fazed, they can be incorporated into the show when they show up on Saturday.

cs_080916_030-editFor the next couple of hours Graham and his colleagues work with the volunteers and a variety of props. After huge purple banners have been erected Kimberley introduces me to Batley Festival’s newest committee member. Donna has been encouraged to get involved so she can be, “a voice of the residents of the council flats where I live,” she says.

“Have you done any performing before?”

“Not since drama at school,” says Donna, “but I’m not shy, I’ll get stuck in.”

“And have you been to a Batley Festival before?” I ask.

“Me and my daughter have been to the last few and they’ve been fantastic. Last year we were sitting up there watching the night-time performance and I said to myself, ‘I want some of that’, and here I am.”

“Right guys, come and get a lantern and a bell,” says Graham, standing over a couple of large boxes. “Don’t worry if they don’t work, we’ll have new batteries for them on Saturday.”

cs_080916_102-edit cs_080916_108-editAs the light fades I capture the Periplum team and their enthusiastic band of volunteer performers roaming around the gardens with lanterns, bells, balloons and torches.

By eight o’clock they are passing around costumes – donkey jackets and flat caps – trying to find ones that fit.

“Have we got enough jackets for everyone?” shouts Claire.

“This is too small for me, and that one too big,” says Duncan. “I feel like Goldilocks.”

The Batley Festival runs from 11am-5pm this Saturday, 10th September. Its finalé, The Batley Picture Show, starts at 8.30pm with gates open from 8pm.

Please remember to take all your belongings with you

The woman from Skegness is in deep conversation with a Turkish man sitting across the aisle. “Where in Istanbul is your family from?” she asks. He’s gobsmacked when she says she knows Istanbul well.

This evening I’m off to some offices above Huddersfield Station to watch the premiere of two films commissioned by Creative Scene as part of its ongoing ‘The Next Station Will Be…’ series.

CS_170316_039-EditTwo pairs of filmmakers have been given free access to the Huddersfield-Leeds route by project partners First TransPennine Express and for two months they rode the rails, interviewed staff and overheard dozens of conversations like mine.

CS_170316_009-EditFor the train operator this collaboration is more than just a nod to community engagement. I know the managers here have a deeper understanding of how a train company fits into the fabric of the society it serves. They ‘get it’ and that’s refreshing.

CS_170316_051-EditI shadow the press photographer until I meet up with SceneMaker Ammaarah. She’s always taken a keen interest in Creative Scene’s digital arts projects and last year helped out on the first ‘The Next Station Will Be …’ production, interviewing passengers for a short film.

Since then she and other SceneMakers have made a research trip to a robotics art workshop in Leeds. “That was really cool,” she tells me. “I’d love to do more of that. I’d like to get involved with coding.”

CS_170316_043-EditFollowing her A-levels, Ammaarah aims to study Art and Science at university. “Projects like these always appeal to me,” she says, “the train journey is so day-to-day but making it into art is something completely different.”

As the screenings are about to begin and the popcorn is handed out, I have an idea. “Will you review the films for me? And tell me later what you thought?”

She agrees and 40 minutes later Ammaarah and I retreat to the back office which is doubling as a ‘field kitchen’ for the Kirklees College catering students preparing canapés and mocktails.

“They were very different, weren’t they?” I say. “Which one did you like best? No, that’s unfair.”

“That is unfair, I liked aspects of both,” says Ammaarah diplomatically. I could relate to aspects of the first film. It had an accurate representation of what we’d call the daily commute. I also liked the background stories: people meeting friends or family. It reminded me of my own experiences.”

In Train of Thought the filmmakers had invited passengers to write down their thoughts as they stared out onto the Yorkshire countryside.

Thank goodness the phone signal doesn’t work…peace at last

I hope my parking ticket isn’t overdue… if it is, I’m screwed

They also interviewed some of the staff. Conductor Nikki May, who has just watched the film with her colleagues, told the camera, “I’ve had people asleep on the luggage racks, people amorous in toilets… it’s certainly interesting on the trains.”

“The second one was quite whimsical, almost trippy,” says Ammaarah, continuing her review.

“Trippy? Yeah. There were elements of Pink Floyd in there for me,” I agree.

Riding West Riding is a collaboration between artist Alistair MacDonald and filmmaker Kevin Threlfall. They describe their film as experimental as they sensitively examine the character of stations from sleepy Mirfield to manic Leeds. Before the screening Kevin admitted being over-excited at riding in the front cab with the driver.

“It was really quirky with all the effects,” says Ammaarah. “It put the train journey into a different perspective, parts of it were really quite clever. I also liked the music, it ended really nicely.

“I think both films put train journeys into a positive light. Also I was amazed how good the weather was.”

“Yes! I thought that too. This was shot last autumn, where was all that sunshine?”

“Exactly. Not truly accurate of Yorkshire weather!”

The Next Station Will Be … featured
Train of Thought by Andy Wicks and Tim Copsey, and
Riding West Riding by Alistair MacDonald and Kevin Threlfall

They were produced by Let’s Go.

Who needs Jeremy Clarkson anyway?

Just when I thought the Creative Scene accelerator peddle was already on the floor, there’s been a shift in gear.

Until now the dozen or so SceneMakers – local people with an interest in the arts – have been investigating, researching, getting to know the Creative Scene staff and each other. Now, it seems, sleeves are being rolled up.

At the start of one of their regular meetings, the SceneMakers hear news that Creative Scene will bid for another three year’s funding to take it up to 2020.

“We can start to develop local people’s ambitions and find ways of making creative activities more sustainable,” says project director, Nancy. “To do that we need your help in lots of different ways. This is a step change, we’re now going to work in a more intensive way.”

SceneMakers project manager Ruth sets the group off with a quick fire activity involving Post-It notes. Soon one wall is full of sticky notes of activities that the SceneMakers have been involved in. They’ve been busy.

CS_140715_0037-EditThen it’s time for quiet homework reflecting on just one of those activities. “Think about something that has had the most impact and why,” says Ruth. “What was it about that experience that made a difference to you?”

This is a bit tricky for Harriet and Pippa, brand new SceneMakers, here for the first time. Instead they contemplate other projects that have inspired them.

After ten minutes, the SceneMakers share their thoughts. Sonja offers her experience of a singing and music workshop in a Cleckheaton coffee shop. “Stepping inside for the first time was a leap of faith but I was curious. We sang and played percussion and I made connections with people there who I’d never have met in a million years.

“I managed to persuade my mother to go and she really enjoyed it. She said you don’t tend to meet new people when you’re 85.”

CS_140715_0067-EditAmmaarah tells everyone about the film and robotics piece event at The New Picture House back in March: “It made me realise that art isn’t just about theatre or visual arts, it also extends to the realms of science, mathematics and coding. That really provided a new perspective for me.”

CS_140715_0081-EditAfter a break for sandwiches and scones, Nancy goes through a list of upcoming Creative Scene events. “You can help by promoting these to your own networks and communities,” she says, “or with participant recruitment or just getting stuck in.”

Typically, it’s a weird and wonderful programme that involves puppets, synchronized swimmers and brass bands; free runners, lantern processions and hackathons… although there is some debate about what happens at a hackathon.

We hear that Creative Scene is developing a novel approach to the normally crusty evaluation process: “For the Dewsbury-on-Sea event we’ll train fortune-tellers, tattooists and face painters to have evaluation conversations,” explains Nancy, “so the audience is more likely to offer its reflections if its engaged in an interesting activity.”.

CS_140715_0064-Edit“What I want you to take from this evening is an invitation to contact us with your own ideas and projects that interest you,” concludes Ruth. “If you’re working on an idea that means something to you, that’s going to be much more effective.”

And that’s the crux of tonight. Building on what they’ve already experienced, the SceneMakers have been handed the keys and been offered a map. They can create their own projects or immerse themselves in one or more from the programme. Help is available if they need to develop new skills but now is the time to strap themselves in for an exhilarating Creative Scene journey.

I’ll be on the back seat with camera and notebook to hand.

Warning: Animator at Work

Its website says it’s the largest in the world and in the flesh Cleckheaton’s Aakash Indian Restaurant is truly huge.

CS_070515_0016-EditBuilt in 1850 as a Methodist Chapel its congregation back then were workers from the eleven ‘carding’ factories that made the Spen Valley world famous.

Tonight the SceneMakers are on a trip to see animator, Rozi Fuller, one of Creative Scene’s artists at work. For the next few weeks she’ll spend some of her evenings at table 55, making animated portraits of diners and staff and even encouraging them to make their own.

“First I take their photograph and download it to my laptop,” Rozi explains. “Then I draw it digitally and animate the drawing.” She shows us a recently completed portrait of a bartender.

“I used to teach him!” laughs Gayna, who worked in a local school. “I’ve just been over to say hello.”

Creative Scene producers are here too and so I ask Vicky what they hope to achieve with the Artist at Work scheme. “With local businesses we’re exploring how we can make art part of everyday life for customers and employees,” she says. “We’re looking for new ways  for artists to show their work, get other people involved and have conversations about how they might take part in the future.”

“At the moment Creative Scene commission the artists, don’t they?” I ask. I know there have already been artists at work at a local market, a café and at Fox’s Biscuits. “But in the long run, you’d like businesses to employ their own?”

“It’s already happening,” says Vicky. “You remember meeting Cassandra at The Mill in Batley? She’s now been hired directly by the centre management because they realise her workshops are good for business.”

CS_070515_0061-EditAfter Rozi has taken us all outside for a group portrait – she’s going to animate it later – she asks Duncan about the SceneMakers. She’s as curious of them as they are of her.

“We meet every six weeks or so,” he explains, “often for a brainstorming session with Creative Scene staff. In essence, it’s about helping to deliver things which make art more accessible, like your work here.”

“People like to see you doing something,” Rozi says. “The process engages them, and there’s an opportunity for discussion and making suggestions.”

Duncan agrees: “If something is static, there’s no story to be told, no journey. That’s why people like theatre. They can follow it and be swept along by it.”

Rozi settles back at her table to demonstrate the animation process to SceneMakers Zainab and Ammaarah. While she’s uploading photos I catch up with general manager, Fawaad and asks what the restaurant gets out of the residency.

“It makes the customers’ experience more memorable, doesn’t it?” he says. “We do a lot with the local community and we were keen to get involved in this. It’s a really good idea.”

“And what about your staff? What do they make of it?”

“They love it,” he says, “Rozi is interacting with the kitchen staff and waiters, and they are enjoying having her here.”

CS_070515_0078-EditCS_070515_0092-EditBack at her ‘studio’ – table 55 – and now with Vicky looking on, Rozi draws around the shape of a face, adding the eyes, mouth and nose. “It looks weird at first but then I will colour and shade it.”

CS_070515_0107-Edit“What do you do with the portraits afterwards?” I ask.

“With the subjects’ permission they’ll appear on the Aakash website and on a digital photo frame we’ll put in reception.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if you could project them onto the side of the building,” I suggest, “Imagine pulling up in the car park to see these massive moving portraits.”

“That’s exactly our ambition for the end of this project,” says Vicky.