Leverhulme Retreat at Hawkwood College

I recently spent a week at Hawkwood College on an ‘arts retreat’. The week formed part of a Leverhulme Scholarship I was awarded by Bristol Old Vic Ferment and was paid for by Reckitts Trust, a charity that supports artist to have ‘time to breath in’ as one of the trust so eloquently put it. 

Other than mealtimes our week was not structured- we were to spend it how we wished. As well as the other ‘Bristol Scholars’ we met musicians and spoken word artists linked to Roundhouse, a children’s author finishing his first book for adults and a gaggle of women studying ‘Japanese Embroidery’.

The setting was perfect, a little outside Stroud, ‘over looking the Severn Vale’ in its own woodland. We had the chance to walk, talk, stop and think. We climbed trees, gazed at the stars and worked our way through our own reading lists along with eclectic titles from the Hawkwood library. I particularly enjoyed the Edwardian publications: stories from ancient Rome and a history of the religions of Central and South America. It was the first chance for our group to spend real time together and the cross collaborations- from dinner table chats to practical queries and spontaneous devising sessions were really invigorating. Rachel Clerke and I are both working on projects linked to housing and continued to play the following week.

I spent the first part of the week reading- ‘Play Matters’ by Miguel Sicart is a brilliant, accessible book about play theory and I got stuck into The Negotiation of Hope by Jeremy Till an excellent essay by Jeremy Till about Transformative Consultation in housing development. Just having the space to read and respond in my own time generated a huge amount of material and allowed me to sit back and build a clear plan for a forthcoming project. Being able to sit back and allow space was the most important part of the week. I could let my thoughts float up, bubble-like and slowly move them into constellations, like the Dalai Lama might play Tetris.

By Thursday I was ready to write. I locked myself away in a small room overlooking a garden and let text flow. I hadn’t planned to write necessarily, but the urge took me and I spent hours composing a monologue about the right to play, through the eyes of Arnold Binns- an old friend who will one day form the basis of a show. I would not have written that piece had I not had the time and space afforded by Hawkwood. Emails would have got in the way, or funding applications. Sales and meetings would have distracted me away from creativity. I Often reflect on the lack of space I allow myself to play and to be creative. I ‘make’ play activities and create platforms to encourage others to play but still find myself caught up in the angst of ‘making work’. I left the retreat floating- Emma- our producer- told my wife that it was the first time that she had ever seen me relaxed, yet within a week I was full of stress. In a sense, that was the most helpful thing, because I was able to see how quickly ‘tasks’ had filled me up and subsequently could let them go again. A friend of mine once told me- ‘theres no point in getting stressed- it doesn’t make anything happen any quicker’ but it’s easy to forget that. A week at Hawkwood and a subsequent week back home really helped me remember again. I think I will engrave it on my bureau, along with the full quote from the Reckitts chap “People always want what an artist breaths out, but they forget that to breath out, an artist must also breath in”. Thanks Leverhulme, Hawkwood, Bristol Ferment and Reckkits for allowing me to do just that.