- CENTRE FOR CULTURE AND THE ARTS
- Research areas
- Leeds Cultural Conversations
Centre for Culture and The Arts
Sensing place: using mobile methods to reconnect to the spaces we live in
Multidisciplinary, participatory research exploring people's spatial and affective interactions with place. The work has transformed the perception of communities within West Yorkshire regarding local places and landscapes.
Media scholars argue that studies of media and place require a ‘multidimensional’ view. ‘Sensing Place’ puts public participants and the researcher in situ, in mobile and sensory research settings to learn how touch, smell, bodily movements, memory and atmosphere contribute to our knowledge of how people respond to place. Designed to be respondent-led and participatory these studies produced findings which transcend conventional visual evidence to show haptic, aromatic, atmospheric and affective responses to place. Such elements are previously underexplored in research on our chosen diverse communities.
Regionally sited in West Yorkshire, the project has transformed the perception of communities (ex- industrial workers, Holmfirth residents and tourists, a land-activist choir, urban gardeners) regarding the places and landscapes in which they live and work. Using visual and sensory memories, gardening, art consumption and choir performance the projects have heightened the awareness, understanding and wellbeing of local and regional communities, re-affirming the value of their everyday experiences.
Commoners Choir (CC) began in April 2015 as a collaboration with Boff Whalley (ex-member of Chumbawamba). The choir’s leftist take on politics uses the creative participation of choir members to inspire their material. The choir formed initially to celebrate the 800 -year anniversary of the Magna Carta via ‘walking and singing’ events to commemorate the signing of the founding document whilst also making visible the enduring barriers to access for ordinary people to much of the British landscape.
Landscapes of Loss (LoL) was an autoethnographic project exploring ex-worker and local resident responses to the altered landscape post-demolition of Firth’s Carpets in the village of Bailiff Bridge, West Yorkshire. ‘Walk and talk’ interviews with former employees and residents, as well as focus groups, traced the affective responses of locals to the deindustrialisation of the village.
Verdant Creativities (VC) explored urban transformation and cultivation through small-scale acts of place-making and the embodied/sensory practices of urban gardening. Via ‘walk and talk’ interviews participants guided researchers through green spaces they cultivated in urban settings. Participants testified to the health and wellbeing and the enhanced awareness that urban gardening brought them.
Navigating Holme (NH) explored what ‘home’ means to the people of the Holme Valley. As the setting for the longest-running television sitcom Last of the Summer Wine (BBC, 1973-2010) the project explored the relationship between media representation and lived experience for the local community. It also examined the way that television helps us imagine places and share memories and in turn, how media renown in turn shapes the built environment.
He’s Making Our North (HMON) explored how participants used David Hockney’s art to take pride in local landscapes and their attachment to them. Participants reported that the way they used Hockney’s art in their domestic spaces allowed them to feel connected to him as an artist and the landscapes depicted in the paintings.
Urban Constellations was a book project and series of public walking events. The book offers a method for accessing public space which privileges the overlooked, the unfamiliar, and the marginal aspects of daily life to demonstrate how they can reveal places to us in novel and contradictory ways. ‘Urban Constellating’ (February 2015) (UC) took place in Leeds city centre and ended with a ‘making workshop’, where participants (x20) shared experiences from the walk and created their own city snow globe. A free ‘zine of participants’ photographs and essays was printed and circulated across the city.
The ‘You Are Here: Leaving the City’ Walk (July 2015) (YAH) was a 16-mile night walk, starting from Leeds city centre at 6pm, finishing at sunrise at Almscliffe Crag, nr. Harrogate. Participants (x25) were invited to experience the shift in perception as darkness advances and recedes; understand the interrelationship of city to countryside; consider the relationship between our internal landscapes and the external landscapes around us.
The impact of the projects was felt by the various beneficiaries (ex-industrial workers, Holmfirth residents and tourists, a land-activist choir, urban gardeners; night walkers) and ranged across five impact themes:
Understanding and Awareness
LoL heightened ex-worker understanding of the value of lived experience in the shift from industrial to post-industrial textile manufacturing. Feedback on an exhibition (45 attendees at the launch 15 July 2016) of ex-workers’ photographs and artefacts (Bailiff Bridge Library, July 2016) said, ‘the project helped me feel more important about my working life, which up to now had seemed pointless.’ . A public ‘Cultural Conversations’ event reported research findings at Leeds City Museum (October 2016).
NH showed the locals’ memories of the town were interwoven with its TV representation . Also enhanced was Tourists’ understanding of the town as a ‘real- life’ place with a specific history and set of inhabitants.
UC Participants (x20) commented the event made them see the city afresh. They testified: ‘it made me think about the less trodden paths through a city that are not guided by spending in shops/bars or restaurants’, ‘It didn’t occur to me that that would be something of interest, so it elevated something that was quite everyday to me'.
YAH participants noted the value of the sensory (‘visual images couldn’t capture the experience, the emotions, the weather, the ephemeral feeling of the event and its physicality’).
HMON participants testified to greater understanding about why David Hockney’s art-celebrity image and landscapes of East Yorkshire mattered as a counter-force to place stigma of the North.
Health and Wellbeing
VC participants reported enhanced health and wellbeing - 'I think of gardening as very valuable – you’ve got to have passions in life and things that you care about that are nothing to do with money; ‘You lose yourself in a different world’; the workshop enabled them to share sensory memories of gardening, ‘Love the sensory element and exploring memory’, and to recognise gardening’s positive effects, whilst practical elements inspired them to take up gardening, ‘I felt inspired to try some gardening’; ‘Learned how to make a seed bomb’.
For CC, the benefits arising from singing and walking together were noted . ‘Every time we went we felt better, spirits lifted’; ‘It completely enhanced my well-being, it got me through my mother’s passing…looking back, I don’t know what I would have done without it.’ The events had a joyful emotional impact: ‘when we sang at the top of Kinder Scout it gave me this indescribable feeling in my belly that singing about things that really matter produces.’ The benefits of the choir also extended to wider audiences (reached via media coverage, broadcast or live performances) who have since joined.
NH residents wellbeing was improved through having their everyday experiences of living in the town valued.
YAH participants testified to the wellbeing benefits of taking part (’the walk did me so much good for such a long time’) and the positive health effects of night walks (‘the stress of work just melted away throughout the walk’)
I’m not arty at all, I’m an accountant, yet suddenly I was performing with people from very different walks of life. The choir is a community to which everyone contributes, whether its printing badges, writing song lyrics.
CC completed a catalogue of public performances, media appearances (Look North (BBC1), Britain’s Best Walks (ITV)) and released an album. The cultural benefits of the choir have been felt by members (c. x 70) who have testified to the creation of community. ‘I’m not arty at all, I’m an accountant, yet suddenly I was performing with people from very different walks of life’; ‘the choir is a community to which everyone contributes, whether its printing badges, writing song lyrics’; ‘the shared act of singing in harmony…is very bonding’, the sense of belonging from walking in the steps of previous protestors: ‘Magna Carta was a celebration of the history of walking protest, to walk on those paths happened because of those who had fought for our right to do that’
For VC the recognition of being part of a community of gardeners was noted ‘I know a lot more people in the area through that.. it brings people together – it really is a community thing’.
NH enhanced participants’ sense of community and belonging as well as their ability to cope with change: Holmfirth had changed and their lives alongside it. Participants testified to the sense of community by sharing their love of the programme with each other as fans.
CC: ‘Joining was life changing. For the first time in my life… it made me realise I could protest about access to green space’
LoL participants testified: ‘we should be included in the planning decisions about what happens to old works villages in the future. The clock, some of the looms could be made into monuments to remind folk that we made fantastic carpets. Policy-makers should read your work and act with it in mind!’
For VC the benefits of land preserved for planting was noted, ‘access to green space is vital’ and the connections between people and place: ‘link between local produce and memory’ and ‘how people engage with the places they plant’. Research findings could inform environmental policy on access to green space for urban residents.
For NH how residents relate to the environment in relation to the TV series was changed ‘When I see the things on screen it makes me look at it differently … I get that sudden realisation that ‘oh yeah it is a lovely place to live’'.
YAH: 'Walking became a sensual and thoughtful process – such a wonderful night’; ‘the different terrain we encountered, and the length of the walk made me think about [the environment] differently).'
Outputs and recognition
- Taylor, L (2019) ‘Landscapes of Loss: Responses to Spatial Change in an Ex-Industrial Textiles Community’ Sociological Research Online
- Taylor L & Whalley, B (2018) ‘Real Change Comes From Below!’: Walking and Singing about places that matter, the formation of Commoners Choir’ Leisure Studies 38 (1).
- Hibberd, L.A. and Tew-Thompson*, Z. (2017) Constructing Memories of Holmfirth through 'Last of the Summer Wine'. Memory Studies.
- Hibberd, L.A. and Tew-Thompson, Z. (2016) Hills, old people and sheep: reflections of Holmfirth as the Summer Wine town. Media and Time
- Taylor, L.J. (2016) ‘He’s … making our North’: Affective engagements with place in David Hockney’s landscapes from ‘A Bigger Picture’. Participations, 13 (2) December.
- Thompson*, Z (2015) Urban Constellations: Spaces of Cultural Regeneration in Post- Industrial Britain. Ashgate
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