Home » UNION – North East – Arts and Activism in the North – What Now?

UNION19 - Arts and Activism - What Now?

UNION – North East – Arts and Activism in the North – What Now?

I’d been very much looking forward to this weekend and did some a major baking on the Friday to make cakes and treats for the sessions to share for the get-together that night, and for the Saturday.  It was another fantastic weekend. You may have read about how I was feeling weary after the previous weekend.  I realise now I was in need of some needed time away from the screen and in need of a change of scenery after a gruelling year for us as a family.  So when it came around to this particular UNION weekend, I was tired from the six weeks slog us parents face in keeping our kids entertained, but ready to be present for the weekend ahead.

It doesn’t seem two minutes ago that I was travelling to the previous UNION weekend in Manchester. The fourth and final residential weekend was based in my home region of the North East.  The main premise of the weekend was to ask the question – Arts and Activism in the North – What Now?

Saturday 31st August – NewBridge Project, Gateshead

Each of the regions has a chance to co-design each of the UNION weekends and for the North East, Poppy and Adrian suggested Open Space Session technology, opening up the Saturday session to other creatives throughout the North East.

UNION19 weekend - Open Session Planning at NewBridge Project in Gateshead

There are 4 principles of the Open Space sessions:

  • Questions
  • Creativity
  • Wellbeing
  • Feet – Movement

At the beginning of the day, we had to think of questions or ideas we would like to explore.  These were written on post-it notes and then added to the posters for each of the three sessions and along with who would take ownership of a particular session.

Some of the attendees went to join the protest in Newcastle.  Zoe led a non-verbal workshop, and there was a condensing of Extinction Rebellion manifesto to a paragraph.  I joined in the discussion around the idea of a climate change podcast.

The vegan lunch was delicious from Big River Bakery.

UNION19 - Zine making workshopThe afternoon felt a bit more relaxed and I enjoyed the ‘Zine making workshop.  As part of the Wellbeing element, I offered Reiki Taster sessions, which received positive feedback and it was great to get some practice in as a Level 1 student.

NewBridge Project space in Gateshead - host venue for the UNION19 weekend in the North East on Saturday 31st August

Mostly, I loved the accessible space at Newbridge Project on Gateshead High Street, which has been converted from an old Woolworths shop.  The project space was welcoming and friendly, and I particularly enjoyed meeting other creatives from the wider North East community.  I wish that we had this sort of space more readily available in Sunderland.

I did feel like I was running on adrenaline this particular day, with a mix of school holiday parental exhaustion and still recovering from the previous weekend travels to the LPUK convention.  It was refreshing to be able to hover about from one session to the next, to listen, rather than feeling like I had to come up with solutions and ideas.  We ended the day by doing a group reflection, and facilitator, Chris, showing us some Tai chi moves to help relax us.

UNION19 at NewBridge Project in Gateshead - end of day reflection

The best part though was that my daughter had the chance to join and get to see what UNION was all about.  She’s heard me talk a lot about UNION, mentioning that she would like to come away with me. This weekend gave her the chance to see her Mum with her peers, which I appreciated.  She loved the day, making a poster about recycling and a trip to The Baltic in the afternoon.

The rest of the group went on for dinner, but my daughter decided it was time to head home, and fulfil my parental promise of a MacDonalds.

Sunday 1st September – Kids Kabin, Walker, Newcastle

UNION19 at Kids Kabin in Walker, Newcastle - inspiring wall art - We are for making, fixing, sharing, singing and dancing.There’s something about the beginning of September that makes me think of fresh starts.  Probably because it’s the time of year that the schools go back and there is the change of seasons with the distinct chill and autumnal smell in the air on a morning.

The second day of our residential weekend focuses on developing as a creative practitioner. Providing space for us to explore where we are now and where we see ourselves in the future.

The Kids Kabin in Walker, Newcastle, was the host venue for this day’s activities and what a wonderful place it is too!  The community space gives children and young people an opportunity to achieve and succeed through practical and creative activities   With an art room, kitchens (with lowered counters!), pottery room and woodwork room it was bursting with colour, creativity and had an air of welcoming atmosphere.

UNION19 - Now What - Open Session Planning

We started off the day reflecting on the previous day’s activities and then Chris led us through an exercise, using the Open Space technology to decide and plan topics for our final residential weekend in early 2020.

The exercise also helped the group to decide what we needed most help with at this point.

UNION19 - Weekend 4 - North East - Sunday - Open Session Planning

We split into two groups, with one group focusing on coaching. The group I joined discussed the topic of making ourselves visible as a practitioner and the worries, concerns and issues we all have around this.   Gulcin and I had a wonderful chat about our own fears of being more public and talked about the ways we could overcome this by being more consistent in our approaches.

For the final part of the day, we reflected on where we would like to be within the next four months before our next residential weekend. This year I have found myself mostly stuck in overwhelm and indecision and was beginning to wonder if I would ever find clarity.

Yet, after this weekend, I realised I am ready to make the conscious decision to be more focused over the coming months. To be more assured in presenting my work consistently, and to be doing rather than overthinking things through.

Personal Reflections

As a practitioner, I am starting to feel more assured of my path and where I want to go in terms of my practice.

I’m aware of my own struggles and reservations of putting myself out there. While I understand and know that I have control over this, it’s something I need to practise far more consistently and not be afraid to shout about the work I do.

It also chimes with something that one of our facilitators said towards the end of the day – that the work comes through you. You do the work and let it go. I think Chris was quoting someone else or a concept, but my tired mind only picked up this bit of sage advice.

I’ve had a couple of experiences this year where I have been very protective of my ‘You’re Just Little‘ exhibition.    Especially when I’ve put my ideas, money and time into developing the concept to see it taken on board elsewhere without credit.  I need to realise that I can birth ideas, but they are not mine to keep and they are there to make the world a better place, along with other bodies of work.

I came away feeling much calmer and realised, for the most part, I feel sad that the course is drawing to a close for our cohort. There is such an immense amount of goodwill and support with this amazing group of people and I am very grateful to be part of the experience.

Thanks to…

  • Linda Strudwick and UNION for providing childcare for the day,  my daughter thoroughly enjoyed being part of the weekend and loved meeting the people who I’ve been talking about the past eight months.
  • Clowning Around Childcare – Kim and Marie, who kept DD and another child entertained throughout the day with poster making, face-painting and a trip to The Baltic were fantastic.
  • Jon for showing us and letting us use his Slack Studio space on the Friday for our get together.
  • NewBridge Project space in Gateshead for letting us take over their space for the day on Saturday.
  • Kids Kabin –  for letting us use the space for our Sunday session.
  • Adrian, Chris, Linda and Sara for their support throughout the weekend.


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