October 2017 saw Hidden Tales, our powerful and inspiring 20-month partnership project with the Petrus Community, culminate in a unique digital art trail around Rochdale Town Centre and an unforgettable sell-out performance and film screening event at Touchstones Arts Centre.

Celebrating Hidden Tales

October 2017 saw Hidden Tales, our powerful and inspiring 20-month partnership project with the Petrus Community, culminate in a unique digital art trail around Rochdale Town Centre and an unforgettable sell-out performance and film screening event at Touchstones Arts Centre.  The short films, which have been made as part of the project, are now viewable online at hiddenrochdale.co.uk.

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Launched in May 2016, with the aim of creating a voice for the profound narratives of Petrus service-users and volunteers; 18 months ago, our Creative Producer, Sara Domville, set-out on a journey to uncover the hidden lives, stories and experiences of Rochdale’s homeless community.

An intensive six-month programme followed, in which Sara worked closely with 52 participants in phase one of the project. Weekly workshops took place and slowly but surely stories and experiences began to be uncovered.

With a focus on art and creativity, participants explored digital story telling through writing, drama, animation, photography and video.  Mobile phone filmmaking workshops also took place with Manchester Metropolitan University and other opportunities, such as ‘Walk, Talk, and Record’, focused on the Rochdale landscape and sharing personal experiences of the local area.

The stories created through phase one were showcased as part of the Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival at a Trailblazer event in October 2016. Audience feedback from the sold-out event was phenomenal, with comments including, “Amazing, so moving and inspirational” and “A wonderful event, very powerful.”

The juice for the second phase of the project flowed through a six-month creative writing workshop programme at The Vibe in Rochdale, and the production of eight video portraits, which explored the different challenges faced by the Petrus community.

Sara worked closely with the participants to develop their stories, and once narratives were evolved, a creative team, including award-winning filmmaker Mat Johns, designer Mark Brown and poet Martin Stannage, were brought on board to help bring the stories to life for an audience.

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After six-months of creative process and development, in October 2017, the Hidden Tales Digital Art Trail was launched around Rochdale Town Centre.  Revealing eight personal and inspiring stories of change and survival, the art trail of eight artworks, each featured a poem, a portrait and a QR code, linking to a series of breath taking short films telling each of the participants’ stories.

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On display in public spaces including Touchstones Art Centre, Rochdale Town Hall and Rochdale Pioneers Museum, Hidden Tales had a strong presence across the town centre, and succeeded in creating a visual platform for Rochdale’s homeless community to speak up and speak out.

With experiences of mental health, addiction and recovery being shared, Hidden Tales began to make an impact and spark conversation around important social issues. Along with the stories resonating and connecting with audiences, the media also responded, and participant stories were re-told in the press, including The Big Issue, Northern Soul, BBC Radio Manchester, Manchester Evening News and the Daily Mirror.

Commenting on the trail, Phil Foster, Deputy Coordinator at Petrus Community, said, “These stories are touching and honest portrayals of people overcoming challenges and show the importance of understanding and concern within our society.”. 

Sara said, “The stories told through the artworks are funny, sad and heart-warming. They find the best in people in challenging times, and by giving you a glimpse of humanity’s finest attributes – faith, strength, kindness and honesty – they stop you in your tracks.”

Along with the digital art trail, participants from the second phase of the project were given the opportunity to share their creative writing through a live performance of poetry and spoken word at Touchstones Art Centre on 17th October 2017, which also featured screenings of the eight short films.

Hosted by Mancunian poet, Mike Garry, in a sold-out venue, the event featured an inspiring and unique programme, and saw many of the participants get on stage and share their work in front of an audience for the first-time. The event demonstrated the power of performance and the ability of the arts to shine the spotlight on social issues.

James WhitlowHidden Tales event
Cilla Baynes, CAN’S Creative Director said: “The event was enjoyable and entertaining but crucially, it also made you think, and provided a reminder of the importance of speaking up and speaking out about issues which matter and affect so many of us.”

Over 20 months, Hidden Tales has given a voice to people, who otherwise would not have been heard. It has also seen over 100 people, who have survived life’s most challenging times, develop their creativity and skills, boost their self-confidence and self-esteem, and make new friends and connections, through a unique participatory arts programme.

Looking back and reflecting on the project, Sara said, “Creative expression can be transformative and Hidden Tales is proof of that. Fuelled by the challenges, beauty and richness of their lives, the project participants have embraced the arts to tell their story, and in doing so have grown as people and developed their self-confidence. I have huge respect for each and every one of them for having the strength to talk so openly and share their personal life experiences. Everyone has something to say and something to contribute, that’s what we are trying to show with this project.”

Phil Foster, Deputy Coordinator at Petrus, added, “We are absolutely delighted to have been involved in the Hidden Tales project, especially for our service users who really enjoyed taking part. Due to the nature of our work, we often hear the stories that nobody else hears and so it really is fantastic that Hidden Tales helped bring them to a wider audience.”

Each of the participants who took part in Hidden Tales had a different story to tell and together they have reminded us – in participant Andrew’s words – thatSociety tells everyone to put your blinkers on and walk your walk but there’s no actual number to all the good things that people are doing behind the scenes. Everyone has something to offer, everyone has a story and you never know unless you speak to them. By talking and telling each other our stories, we can be medicine for each other.”

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Find out more about Andrew’s story by watching his film at hiddenrochdale.co.uk, where each of the incredibly moving films, which have been part of Hidden Tales are available to view online.

Hidden Tales has been developed by Community Arts North West in partnership with the Petrus Community, a charity working with people who are homeless or at risk across Rochdale, Rossendale and Oldham.

Thank you to everyone who has supported and been involved in Hidden Tales, with special thanks to the project participants for sharing their stories: Roger Kirby, Sister Noel, Gail Cowpe, Tanzeem Mahmood, Martin Tobin, Jimmy Weinowski, Andrew McConville, Emmanuel Bajiiji, James Whitlow, Charlotte Brackenbury, Karen Porter, Martin Tobin, Frank Kelly and Steven Bradley.

Supported by Arts Council England and The Granada Foundation.


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