“Think about it with both sides of the brain.”

Why am I surprised when a large transparent teapot filled with a steaming peach and apple brew is set in front of Duncan? He is, after all, a tea aficionado and makes his living selling the stuff.

“Mmm, can I have a whiff?” asks Ruth, “or is that rude?”

“Go ahead,” says Duncan, “although, of course, it will be never as good as ours.”

We’re doing a double-header interview with Duncan Macintyre at Café Society in Huddersfield. SceneMaker project manager Ruth Bridges wants to find out about his interests, his skills, his ambition as a SceneMaker. She’s the one who matches the volunteers with the projects, finding the best fit.

CS_100215_0024-EditA couple of years ago Duncan considered opening his own café in the town, serving speciality teas. Instead he set up a new business – 6teas – that sells such wonders as ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Russian Earl Grey’ in bottles that, with hot water, are drunk like a cordial.

“We go to a lot of local markets and events,” he explains as he shows us a sample bottle and I sheepishly sip my Americano, “and we get a lot of interest there.”

Ruth and I discover that Duncan has an extensive background in marketing and, before that, studied Creative Design and Marketing. He’s become a SceneMaker because he wants to be ‘more visible’ in his community and to re-ignite a passion for the arts that’s derailed a bit since his Art and Design A-level.

I’d like to hear about his SceneMaker role as one of the panel that decided on the first round of DO IT funding. Creative Scene is offering a series of small grants to start North Kirklees thinking more creatively.

“They’re each £500,” Ruth explains to me. “And they are for new, high quality activities that reach new audiences.”

“And Duncan sat on the panel with some of the Creative Scene team?”

“I did,” he says, “and it was really good. I was very much involved and surprised how I took to it.”

Duncan tells us that there were 24 written applications to consider and, by the end of the evening, seven grants had been awarded.

“I hope the rest of the panel found it refreshing to have an outsider’s point of view,” he says. “I found myself considering each application in terms of added value: how many people is this activity going to impact? What benefit will it have to its community?”

“It sounds like you really enjoyed the process,” I say.

“I did, yes. And I’d certainly be up for doing it again. It’s given me a bit of thirst for that sort of thing to be honest.”

“And what advice would you give anyone applying next time round?”

“Be bold,” he says. “There’s scope for more creative applications and maybe potential for something that’s about changing a community’s perceptions about art.”

“The odd crazy idea, then?” asks Ruth.

“Yes, and think about it with both sides of the brain. The ideas need to be creative but also keep an eye on the budgets.”

“Creative yet pragmatic?” I suggest.

“And tailor your ideas to the audience. Always the audience.”

As the tea and coffee are drained, I ask Duncan what he thinks Creative Scene could achieve over its two years.

“I’d like people to see North Kirklees as a pioneering area for the arts in the UK,” he replies, but admits it’s a bold ambition. “We’re not, all of a sudden, going to be like the West End, but we do need to make our art activities more relevant to our communities.”

And he’s absolutely up for helping make that happen.

“Eyes down, ladies and gentlemen. Look in.”

“I’d imagined it was going to be all old ladies with purple rinses, sitting around marking their cards. It wasn’t like that at all.”

Ahead of tonight’s ‘Bingo Balls’, SceneMaker Gayna is telling me about her trip to Mecca Bingo in Dewsbury, the inspiration for tonight’s wacky event.

CS_270315_0023-Edit“The age range was huge. The older ladies said it was a safe and friendly place, and some of the older men said that too. They were there for the social interaction.

“And then you had a bunch of younger people who were out to win. When we were there some guy from Halifax won £40,000 in the national game that everyone plays.”

“So it challenged some of your stereotypes?” I ask.

“Definitely. With my faith background, gambling is not something we do… so that made it more interesting. I wanted to see why people did it.

“I was surprised how friendly it was. One older man, whose wife had passed away, said it was like coming to see his family once a week. Some of the ladies gave him a hug, asked how he was. It wasn’t the playing of the game for him, it was the meeting other people.”

Gayna has been working with Let’s Go Global artist Karen Shannon who, as well as interviewing Dewsbury’s bingo punters, has created an oversize bingo game projected onto a Victorian facade outside Batley train station. And Gayna will be calling the numbers.

I notice a mother and teenage daughter looking quizzical on the other side of the road and cajole them to come and find out more.

“I saw you setting up the other night,” Mum Hayley says to Gayna, after I’ve introduced them. “But I don’t get the bingo thing. Will there be an actual bingo game later?”

“Yes, there will,” says Gayna. “And there’ll be prizes, tickets to arts events, that sort of thing.”

Gayna does a great ambassadorial job explaining her role as a SceneMaker: “We advise Creative Scene on what needs to happen, and tell them what’s already going on in the area. You could apply to be a SceneMaker, if you’d like, get more involved, help run some events.”

The microphone cackles into life. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” announces Karen, station master for the evening. “Has everyone got a bingo card?”

CS_270315_0061-EditAs we wait for more players to arrive by train from Dewsbury, SceneMaker Duncan whips the crowd into a frenzy with his announcement about free tea on his stall. “We have seven varieties on offer,” he proclaims. “Yes, that’s seven varieties all blended locally in Cleckheaton.”

The train arrives, the crowd swells and the rules of bingo are explained. “Are you ready for your first game?” asks Karen. “Eyes down, ladies and gentlemen. Look in.”

CS_270315_0103-Edit CS_270315_0106To a backing of organ fairground music, Gayna’s pre-recorded voice announces the numbers.

“Rise and shine, four and nine, 49.”

“Two and seven, stairway to heaven, 27.”

“Cup of tea,” – there’s a cheer from Duncan –  “number three.”

After another half dozen more numbers someone calls out, “Bingo!” and the rest of the players groan.

Karen checks the card. “Has 26 been called? Oh dear, false call. That’s a false call, ladies and gentlemen. So we’re still on! Eyes down, Look in!”

“All the beans, five and seven, 57.”

“Winnie the Pooh, four and two, 42.”

“Thee and me, two and three, 23.”

“Bingo!”

Check out the amazing Let’s Go Global video, featuring SceneMaker Gayna, projected as part of the Bingo Balls evening.

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.

 

Turn left at The Alps

…continued from Where the town is the venue

Artist Anthony Schrag stays each night with different hosts along his pilgrimage route to Venice. Sometimes fellow artists or fellow walkers, these supporters have answered a call-out to accommodate the lone walker.

Although that’s part of it too: often he’s not alone and walking part of the way with Anthony is actively encouraged.

So there’s a meeting point arranged for the morning of Day 19 where Ruth and Nancy from Creative Scene, SceneMaker Duncan and I will meet Anthony and Claudia (who’s become a pilgrim for a couple of days) so we can walk some of the 2,500 kilometres with them.

On the way out of Hebden Bridge I asked Duncan what he liked about last night’s talks. “Something I really enjoyed about ‘The Town’s the Venue’ is how the community becomes the art, it’s not the art itself,” he says. “It’s the engagement that’s important, so it tends to be deeper than something that’s staged to please the eye, say, or to entertain.”

CS_070715_0132-EditAnthony and Claudia have already walked a couple of miles before they pass under some railway arches and meet us besides the A646.

“Tell me about your stick,” I suggest to Anthony as we find an appropriate place to survey the map.

“Ah, my stick. I found it on one of my practice walks and people would stop me and talk about it. Claudia suggested painting it red but I wasn’t sure at first. Eventually we went for it and it’s become very useful because it separates me from someone who’s just a walker, I suppose.”

“With that, you look like a guy who can be stopped and talked to,” I say.

“Yes,” Anthony agrees, “I was on the BBC News in Scotland and afterwards more people came up to me because they recognised the stick, rather than me.”

CS_070715_0145-EditAs we walk along the narrow pavement towards Todmorden Claudia and I find ourselves trailing.

“He doesn’t hang about, does he?” I say.

“I can’t keep up,” she says, “I just go at my own pace.”

CS_070715_0182-EditAs we’re walking I ask Claudia about the potential for her ideas to transfer to other places: “How important is the size of the town, the fact that everybody knows each other? Is it the physicality that makes the projects so successful?”

“That’s an important question,” she says, “and in our book,” – I didn’t realise she had co-written a how-to handbook – “we decided that it works best for upto 10,000 people. It also needs a certain distance from a city so people are not drawn elsewhere for their entertainment.

“What’s important is a healthy mix of community. For instance, we only have one school where the daughter of a doctor might be sitting next to the son of a drug addict. So people have no choice but to mix, and that’s critical.”

Claudia says she’s never been to North Kirklees and so I describe it as a sprawling metropolis of towns that merge together. “I’m not so sure it would work so well in an urban setting where people are often ghettoised,” she says. “Often there are distinct socio-economic groups that don’t mix.”

“But there must be aspects of your projects that can be replicated?” I ask above the traffic noise.

“Yes, absolutely,” she says. “Rather than communities of geography you can work with communities of interest.” I must have looked quizzical because she gives an example of a ‘Bring-Your-Own-Baby’ project for young mums. “It worked well because mums of all ages and class got involved because they all had this little bundle in common.”

‘Community of interest’: that’s something for our SceneMakers to think about and, judging by their responses from last night, there’s plenty to mull over.

CS_070715_0166-EditNancy and I walk for another 15 minutes before we return to more mundane duties, delegating the hiking to Ruth and Duncan. (Read more on Anthony’s blog).

 

“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.