Two or three weeks ago, I got a request from a highly regarded CRFR project, Connect in Care network 'for staff involved in caring for older people wherever that care takes place'. They were wondering if I had any ideas for workshops or sessions which would encourage and enable staff to share their own 'good practice' stories. It turns out that in training and staff development sessions, if there is a shift in focus from weaknesses and failings to strengths and successes, participants often find it very difficult to 'sing their own praises'.
My email response (informed by clay workshops I'd been doing) reads:
Warm up: working in pairs, people can 'shake hands' with a bit of clay filling the hollow between the two palms. Each space is different and unique to those two people. (Idea courtesy of artist Kate Foster).
Sharing: In threes each person tells their story to the other two and between the three of them they work out a sculpture which reflects the story.
Quite rightly the team thought these ideas would be more suited to a new start up group, rather than the established group they had in mind, so we left it there.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'm sitting in a coffee shop with Caroline. We are hoping to get funding to run some creative sessions with a group of parents deemed 'high risk' to get their take on the policy and practice changes in Health Visiting. We were very productive on creating a good context and atmosphere for the sessions, but when Caroline said, 'but what will we do in the sessions?', I found myself falling back into clay warm ups.....'Mmm....any other materials apart from clay', Caroline prompted. 'Well yes, there's loads of materials we could use...they could split into threes and make sculptures and tell one another about their experiences.' 'Mmmm...I think people - all of us in difficult situations can feel really awkward talking...' Caroline pushed. I felt the push. 'Well we could work more physically', I warmed up. 'Physical is good,' prompted Caroline. 'Splitting into pairs one person takes the part of the health visitor, the other the part of the parent, and they position themselves the way the feel- and they could use simple props'.
Then I thought of Kathy Wilkes, feminist, Glasgow based artist, short listed for the Turner prize this year, who makes installations using domestic furniture and tools - ironing boards, kitchen tables, buggies and mannequins to comment on her life. We can use Kathy and her work as inspiration. We were really warming up now. The months of conversation, research and collaboration are beginning to pay off. An artist, evidently thrives on relational work too!