Our Blog

Love is my caravan

As I glanced at a colourful note on my computer screen depicting a wobbly yellow egg timer with ‘Breathing Space’ written in purple pen across the top, I realised that my anxiety levels had been quite high for some time. This note is to remind me of the breathing space tool from a mindfulness course I did last year ( https://www.bemindfulonline.com/ ), it helps me to centre myself by focusing on the breath and body.

I am slowly adjusting to the idea that my mental health needs to come first, so after acknowledging this excessive ongoing anxiety I sent a few emails, removed some things from my diary and hey presto the beginnings of this blog post wrote itself. It had been on the back burner for quite some time, however despite my best efforts at spontaneous creativity over the winter months I just wasn’t feeling it. As I started unintentionally jotting in my notebook I found a sense of peace. 

I will begin by admitting that I have struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager, my adult life has been shaped by long bouts of undiagnosed and untreated depression. I found ways to suppress it, to hide it as much as possible and I found ways to disconnect. 

I never asked for help, the idea of sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings with the village GP was horrifying to me and in my family these things weren’t talked about, or in reality understood. I have always felt that I didn’t want to take antidepressants, I am not sure why I was so adamant about this, perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps I should have tried but for better or worse I stubbornly thought I could do it myself. 

The truth is a part of me feels like I lost a decade of my life this way, during this period I knew I was unhappy, lost and stuck but I did not know how to change that. And depression itself cultivates and propagates these feelings of powerlessness and if we cannot find a way to believe ourself out of a situation, it is very difficult to make it a reality. 

And you know what, anxiety is exhausting and depression is exhausting and the thing with the bad days, weeks or months is that when you are in the middle of them they feel like always and that is hard to deal with. I have been learning about the importance of talking kindly to myself, about holding onto the good days and about the value of positive reinforcement and meditation.

I have found the time and space to take better care of myself, mostly, and I have noticed that I have started to smile more and laugh more and I am very grateful for this. I consider myself a solitary member of the LGBTQ+ community having spent much of my life living in the village of a small town working behind bars. I struggled to find my place in the world and at the age of 38 I still find it hard to look people in the eye. 

I bear the scars of shame, prejudice, conflict and internal struggle and I know that I am not alone. It comes as no surprise in a world where casual sexism, racism and homophobia are often the norm and the Daily Mail seems omnipresent, popping up constantly like a shitty tarot card. I have been openly gay since my mid twenties and tentatively called myself bisexual since I was a teenager. I don’t talk about it all that much, I just don’t often have an awful lot to say on the matter, particularly not over the bar.

And I cannot count the amount of times I have found myself apologetically explaining to some guy for the tenth time that there is absolutely no way that I want to go out for a drink with him and no there is no chance of him turning me and yes actually I am quite sure of that and yes I have tried. It is best to cut these things down quickly because you know that it is not going to be any easier when he has finished his next pint.

In a way the inappropriate comments and incessant curiosity of the regulars or any old Tom, Dick or Harry that felt the need to interrogate me on the matter over the years forced me to own it and it takes courage to stand alone in difference and not everyone has the strength to do that. Though please do not underestimate how difficult it is existing in a world when it felt as though my love was simply not valid, it did not fit, I did not fit and as much as I spent many a happy hour there, I had always longed for something more. 

The burden of difference should not be underestimated and it is important for people to understand that prejudice is damaging and homophobia is hurtful, even if you just said it really quietly and you were only joking anyway! I don’t say this all that much though, because it turns out people have delicate feelings when these things are brought up. 

After over a decade working in hospitality this life came to an unexpected end as Corona-19 caused the seemingly unstoppable cogs of the capitalist machine to slow and appear to almost come to a halt before my very eyes, via Facebook and Google. Simultaneously the sun came out and I retreated to an overgrown back yard to spend some quality time wrestling with my frenetic mind and trying to meditate for more than 30 seconds at a time.

And I found solace there, every morning I would go out into the sunshine and try to concentrate and stay with my standing meditation. I would get distracted, go away, came back, get bored, came back, scratch, come back and as I went through this process the weather held beautifully, I persevered and loved every second of the sun on my pallid winter complexion.

As the days and weeks went by the sun slowly tanned my face as I battled my impatient mind, I started cutting back the massive rose bush, nettles and creepers and to my delight I found an enormous lump of slate in the middle of the pond. The sun started on the left of the yard, arced over the garden and illuminated the slate beautifully in the late afternoon, the pond punctuated for much of the summer by an abundance of pink rose petals.

The more time I spent in the sun the more time I wanted to spend in the sun, I love to listen to the birds and watch the clouds, I noticed the plants and flowers grow and I began to notice the breeze moving over my skin. I managed to stay a little longer, a little longer and slowly, slowly it started to get easier.

Slowly I learnt to stay with my breath, with the sensations in my body, to let go of the endless stream of thoughts, fears, anxieties. And although this was a lonely time for everyone, I found a sense of connection to myself and to the natural world. And whats more, as if by magic a whole new world of possibility opened to me.

But in this new world of opportunity my problems and insecurities followed me and they grew, the Autumn of 2020 was a very challenging time. I struggled massively with my mental health and accepted that this time I needed to find help, I realised that if I wanted to change my situation I needed to face some big issues within myself. But I will come back to this point after a return once more to the villages…

I joined a TaeKwon-Do club at my old school after moving back home from uni, as a kid I always loved action films and I was mesmerised by the beautiful TaeKwon-Do kicks. I have always felt a draw to the martial arts and in reality I was angry and I didn’t feel safe. In my family to show emotion was to show weakness so my childhood was punctuated by angry exchanges, as emotions ignored and untended grow into a lifetime worth of frustrations. My armour as an adult consisted of these same mechanisms so this conflict followed me, it became me, I became it.

My 9 year TaeKwon-Do journey did changed me, it made me a better person. I spent hours seeking beauty in these difficult movements, I learnt through blood sweat and tears about determination and self control, I have never really physically hurt anyone and during this time I learnt that I really never want to. This was a most welcome revelation, getting punched in the face taught me about humility and compassion, but my problems and my unhappiness remained and as time progressed it became clear that what I was really seeking could not be found there. 

During this time, much to my teachers dismay I started learning some Wing Chun and dabbled in other martial arts, eventually finding a brilliant yoga class. I found yoga as challenging as TaeKwon-Do and it took me a really long time to move away from the ‘push, push, push’ approach of the martial arts, it took a while but I slowly began to soften. Before I left the villages behind and moved to Bristol I began learning a little Tai Chi.

I eventually settled in St. Werburghs, Bristol drawn by my dream pub, the graffiti tunnel and a sense of villageyness which I recognised later, I guess it just felt like home. I was lucky to find 2 wonderful teachers here so I continued to learn Wing Chun and Tai Chi, both Chinese arts with interesting similarities. So my pub life continued and I kept learning, finding time between the beer and the pool. 

Winter 2019 had been a pretty grim time, I had been in London in October protesting climate breakdown and the whole pub was in a funk over Brexit, there was anger and feelings of hopelessness and fear for the future. I am really glad I stuck with the martial arts because like so many difficult times in my life before it acted as my anchor and when lockdown came I had somewhere to turn.

I realised during the first lockdown in those sunshine filled hours when I was able to forget about the craziness of the outside world for a while, I realised that I felt happier than I had in years. Though as I said by the autumn I was struggling again with my mental health and my sense of self worth and like pretty much everybody I was struggling with the uncertainty and isolation which has become the norm over the last year or so, I was searching for something.

I had always wanted to teach but I never found my outlet, as I studied Fine Art I dreamt of lecturing, this never came close to materialising and the martial arts never appealed to me in that way. I had considered Qigong on a few occasions, Qigong translates roughly as energy work, Tai Chi is highly attuned to this. Perhaps you have seen the videos of the groups in the park in China first thing in the morning.

Qigong is quick to learn, accessible and is absolutely brilliant for health and mental wellbeing, I like to think of it as mindfulness in motion. I had a revelation November time, I googled Qigong courses half in desperation and one particular course stood out. I checked to see where it was, aah London and would you believe it, St. Werburghs! I spent all weekend writing my application, I put my energy, heart and soul into it. 

By the time I had finished writing it I felt like one big important part of the jigsaw of my life was about to slot into place, I got an email back a few days later saying the last place had just been offered to someone else. Their response was as of yet unknown and I was to expect an email in the next few days.

Nine days later I received an email offering me the place, as I came to the quote at the bottom of the email I cried and I really don’t cry all that much. I cried because I had been struggling and I cried because I knew that I had found the right teacher and because I knew that after all these years I had finally found what I had been looking for.

“Whichever path Love’s caravan takes, 

that is my road and that is my religion” 

[Ibu Arabi 1165-1240] 

Beyond the Hashtag

An image of a post on Instagram with the words Ackowledge Racism, Pledge Solidarity, Commit to Change inside the Beyond the Hashtag Logo.

In 2020 peaceful protests and acts of solidarity erupted across the world in a global reaction to systemic racism and centuries of oppression in response to the killing of George Floyd on the 25th May by a Minneapolis police officer. Ngaio Aniya working with teams of volunteers from organisations across Bristol created a space where we could all stand in unity in the virtual world, by going #BeyondTheHashtag to forge a collective network.

Visit https://beyondthehashtag.co.uk/ to find out more, add your voice to the virtual protest wall or check out the list of resources for people that want to do more than support on social media. 

Halt Harassment Project Continues!

We’ve been quiet over the past couple of months while we’ve been working on the Halt Harassment framework that was started back in July when we asked all people who are part of the night time industry to come together and discuss what the barriers are to holding harassing behaviour to account. After hearing from party goers we then got together with venues and promoters to see how we could work together to tackle this which is where the Halt Harassment idea started – as a way to hold harassers to account through venues and promoters using each other as a support network and for everyone to work from the same basic understanding of what constitutes harassment and how it should be dealt with.

Tom, the landlord at the Plough, presenting the posters they have in their venue to warn harssers

This is an issue that needs to be recognised as a societal problem so after 6 months of grassroots meetings organised by the Art of Inclusion team, we have put together a basic accountability framework to be taken on by venues and promoters alike which can be downloaded below.

It’s still in its early stages and we’re altering it all the time to make it more robust but we were asked to present the idea at City Hall last night. Bristol is a wonderful city that sells itself on being culturally diverse and inclusive but if we want that to extend to what happens after dark – we have to be better. People cannot touch other people without permission. Racial slurs are illegal, deliberate misuse of people’s pronouns needs to be understood – marginalised groups NEED to be protected in these areas if we want them to feel included; as an activist city, we can do better.

If anyone has any ideas about the framework please email info@artspacelifespace.com or head over to our Art of Discussion Facebook Group page.

The Island Open Studios 2019

Every year as part of Bristol Open Doors, The Island invite the Bristol public to explore what’s going on inside. The Island, historically a Police Station, dates back to 1928 when it was first built alongside neighbouring buildings –The Law Courts and The Fire Station. 

The Island Studios Entrance

This was my first time exploring the the building, I was eager to see what the grande façade would uncover. Greeted with friendly faces we embarked on our journey, the building has a cold, dark aura at first glance with many long corridors and windows. Like a secret maze there are loads of doors and tucked away rooms filled with diverse colourful environments which are home to local Artists studio spaces. Artists styles varied from, textiles, painters, print, animation 3d sculpture, glass, photography and more.

The first activity that I took part in was being photographed by a talented professional photographer. We spoke for ages about ourselves, our work and Bristol. He really set the tone as he was so lovely and friendly and to my surprise he captured me wonderfully! His photography style seemed unique, the images were all black and white and very natural. 

A local artist who specialises in drawing with the elderly described her space to be an old police interview room, which felt fitting as it was very small and private, with one beautiful bold beam of light shining right through, it was now that I discovered the lighter parts of the building. 

Artists studio room

Descending into what felt like a dungeon, I headed to the basement where the old cell rooms are situated. The basement was secluded and even darker made up of cell rooms with recognisable bars for doors. Peeping into the events space I was astounded and imagined how perfect a party would be there!

The maze continued, now all the way onto the top floor. A large open space filled with artists finest and (some) thought-provoking pieces. It was quiet, and so I stayed for a while. Venturing into the last corner of the building, four ladies were partaking in a Capoeira taster class session and before I knew it, so was I! They were welcoming and we all had a flair for dance so even as beginners we enjoyed it enjoyed it. A new skill endeavoured! 

Lastly I visited the Circus room, there were people juggling, Hula hooping and having fun, I couldn’t resist have one quick shake in the hoop. Soon after the team were teaching me how to juggle – another skill in the bag. 

A truly wholesome experience to say the least, having once only associated the location as a rave, (from when I first moved to Bristol 5 years ago) my perception has certainly changed, I never knew there was so much going on inside and the space was so well used. An engaging event, in a rare building with a fascinating atmosphere and talented residents. 

The Invisible Circus @ SS Great Britain

This summer The Invisible Circus commandeered the SS Great Britain, taking over the iconic ship and historic dockyard and bringing it to life. The SS Great Britain, a passenger steamship, was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and launched in 1843 by the Great Western Steamship Company. It’s transatlantic service sailed from Bristol to New York, the journey taking 14 days. 

The Invisible Circus put on 5 shows a day around the ship, their high energy performances combined comedy, physical theatre, acrobatics and storytelling. I laughed at badly behaved dock workers and anxious bickering travellers frantically searching for the ticket office, full of apprehension and excitement about the journey ahead and their new lives in New York.

The SS Great Britain was a groundbreaking vessel, by combining size, power and innovative technology Brunel created a ship that changed history. Her design combined for the first time an iron hull and a screw propellor making her an early blueprint for modern day ship building. At the time of her maiden voyage she was by far the largest vessel afloat.

During her 98 years in service she carried thousands of immigrants to Australia, later she was used as a quarantine ship and coal hulk, before being scuttled and sunk in the Falkland Islands in 1937. In 1970 a wealthy British businessman paid for her to be recovered and returned to her original dry dock in Bristol harbour where she now resides.

How Do We Halt Harassment?

Discussion Dinner @Loco Club

Our first Discussion Dinner aiming to tackle the problem of harassment in the cities music venues was held at the Loco Club at the end of June. The evening began with a presentation from Ngaio, the Inclusion Team Project Manager and Music Promoter explaining how the evening had come about.

Ngaio started the discussion after one of her friends was sexually assaulted behind the DJ booth while Ngaio was on the decks. From here many concerned groups have come together to explore and try to tackle the problem of sexual harassment and how to make venues safer for partygoers. In attendance we had venue managers, door staff, promoters, performers, many from the LGBTQ+ community along with other interested individuals and groups.

Our ethos within the Inclusion Team is to make art and cultural spaces as inclusive and diverse as possible. The Art of Inclusion was born out of a need to start conversations city wide around social attitudes towards equality and inclusion, as well as how we break down systemic barriers. Over the course of this discussion we explored the problem and set out to challenge the culture of ignorance, tolerance and acceptance of harassment.

Following Ngaio was a presentation by Tom, landlord of The Plough in Easton. The Plough is a vibrant music venue which is often very busy at the weekends and hosts a diverse clientele. After repeated problems The Plough made a very definite stance against sexual harassment, including installing large scale posters challenging the problem very directly. Tom shared his experiences discussing the problems his team had faced and the policies they subsequently put in place.

We also had a presentation from Leighton, part of Place Making Bristol ( placemakingbristol.co.uk ). He gave an insight into his personal and working experiences relating to harassment and some of the problems he has faced as an active and visible member of the LGBTQ+ community. Leighton also discussed a range of projects which he has been involved in which have made the city a safer place, these including Bristol Nightwatch and the regeneration of the Old Market area of town. 

From here we split into groups and discussed our personal experiences. Key topics which came up included where do we draw the line and also where should we draw the line on unacceptable behaviour. This issue is a complex one as many people in attendance shared bad experiences after reporting issues. In some instances the issues were not taken seriously or were ignored entirely, in some situations the victim had been blamed or there was the very real worry that the situation could be dealt with badly putting the individual in an even more uncomfortable or unsafe situation.

We went on to think about the problem from the perspective of venues and promoters, what steps can be taken to make spaces visibly safer and what problems hinder this process. It was particularly interesting hearing the experiences and opinions of the door staff, which gave a very useful insight into how and why there is so much inconsistency in what is thought of as acceptable practice.

This discussion caused me to re-evaluate personal experiences and problems I have come across in my own working life. One particular bar job sprang to mind in which I tolerated ongoing, mainly verbal, sexual and homophobic abuse. The abusive behaviour was visible, but continued because within the culture of that particular establishment abusive behaviour was accepted, however for me to challenge these behaviours was not. 

The question is, how do we tackle a problem so complex and imbedded within society as a whole?

In the next discussion dinner we will begin to put together and interrogate, as a group, a set of policies which aim to make venues visibly safer for partygoers and attempt to ensure that if something should happen, there is proper protocol and training in an effort to ensure incidents of harassment are dealt with properly and consistently. This Discussion Dinner will be taking place on Tuesday 17th September. 

After our set of policies has been agreed we will go on to host a third evening open to venue managers, promoters and door staff. Here we will outline and explain the policies and connecting groups from around the city with the hope of making Bristol’s music venues visibly safer and more inclusive.

Take a look at the notes from the first discussion dinner here… https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JQ_FYTylsGajmIVJeJFLFidRsVA3L3MkANu4UnlypvY/edit

Photos: Giusi & Caroline

Parkour Workshop

The Invisible Circus put on a free Parkour workshop catering for beginners and those with existing knowledge and skills. In the workshop our group, with a range of abilities, learnt about physical literacy development including vaulting, precision jumping and balance. We learnt how to gradually build up to jumps and explored moving around the urban space.

The workshop came about as a means of disseminating the knowledge gained by AJ, an experienced Parkour practitioner and teacher after training with master practitioners from Cirkus in Bewiging, Belgium.

DIALOGUE X ROOM 4 RESISTANCE

ROOM 4 RESISTANCE is a Berlin-based queer femme and non-binary collective focused on community-building and creating safer space & visibility for underrepresented artists in Dance Music. 

R4R was founded by Luz, a Belgian non-binary DJ and promotor. Luz played at Dialogue’s 3rd birthday hosted in a swingers club in Old Market alongside Nazira, a R4R resident and pioneer in the Kazakhstan Techno scene. The sets were eclectic and interspersed with haunting soundscapes, the melodies seeming to come from diverse sources and genres.

On the run up to the club night was a free DJ workshop open to women, trans and non binary folks. An important element of R4R ethos is not only to provide a shared safer space but also to offer a platform for women, gender queers, non-binary, trans, inter, black and POC artists. The collective also puts on panel discussions and a monthly radio show on Rádio Quântica as part of their work to promote, connect and give more visibility to underrepresented groups. 

Dialogue is a Bristol label and experimental club night based at The Island. Dialogue’s 3rd birthday was a friendly and colourful evening with a genuine concern for inclusivity. R4R aims to explore and discuss the political dimensions of the dance floor and the spaces within the nightlife. I feel that for the gay community in particularly the dance floor can bring up issues based around sexual freedom and freedom of expression. It was wonderful to experience such a welcoming event providing a unique alternative space for partygoers.