2021 Review Fresh Expressions report

Develop Community with Kingdom Values

This post is part of a series forming a review of Quartz activity. For an overview of the report start here at the “Sabbatical” post.

School Visiting

In 2003 I set up in an art gallery in Southampton as Wordsmithcrafts – The Viking in the Basement. I started making shoes and other leather goods for re-enactors. I also produced my own works of contemporary art and soaked up knowledge about the heritage of Southampton and traditional craft skills. This included adding blacksmithing to the wordsmithing I already carried out whenever I told a story. The workshop itself embodied a story, and as it was in an art gallery those who dropped in were willing, even eager, to discuss the nature of meaning and explore the ethos I was experimenting with.

Set up for a solo visit

After setting up my workshop in the basement of an art gallery one of the first services I began to provide was visiting schools as a “Viking” to help tell the story of the “Invaders and settlers”. These are immersive days where the pupils get to meet a character from the past brought to life. They can handle replica artefacts, ask questions and explore history through specialist activities. The particular story is tailored to the school’s needs and over the years I have collected equipment and knowledge to span from Southampton to Shetland, and from the British Iron Age to the time of the Border Reivers.

The current selection on offer can be viewed on the Cluaran website. This service is paid for by schools from a range of sources, usually the Parent Council/PTA but also windfarm and other community funds. I work with freelancers and voluntary groups to provide this service to schools, but also to provide training and formal volunteering opportunities that benefit the people involved.

Of particular interest to Quartz is work I carried out for the Museums Service in 2017 to interpret the Sweetheart breviary. As well as the school visits I also sat in the museum to work with members of the public who dropped in. This project was extended beyond the funding available through support from St John’s as Quartz.

The extra content involved using content adapted from the framework from “Time for Reflection”(TFR) in schools to use in the museum setting. To find out more please download the above files from the project.

Arts Development

Having set up the Wordsmithcrafts workshop in Dumfries in 2011, the opportunity arose in 2013 to apply for funding to help young artists explore the possibility of finding employment in the creative industries. As well as giving them opportunities to participate in community arts activities, this project encouraged them to practice #SensingSpirituality throughout their involvement and to record this in journals or Vlogs. The project is described here

You can read the project report here:

Internet presence

I have maintained a website since 2003. Recognising the importance of a shift from billboard-like websites to full social media use as represented by Facebook I have also maintained a Facebook page and a presence on other social media platforms. I have used my personal Facebook page to build relationships and engage in conversation online in a similar way to bumping into people in the pub. A notable difference is that whilst pub capacity is limited, I am directly connected to over a thousand people every time I make an online comment, and this will be shared with their friends too. I am also linked worldwide and can continue theological discussions started at university.

I maintain a Quartz facebook page, twitter feed and Instagram account with a more modest audience of 300 or so. In the run up to Easter this year when I was posting consistently I reached almost 200 people a post, although engagement and interaction are a lot lower than this. During the second lockdown early in 2021 I moved online activity from Facebook to the new WordPress-based Quartz website in preparation for supporting an online user group should the opportunity arise.

During lockdown I took my Wordsmithcrafts activity online. Cluaran facilitated “Tales from the Longhouse” where we provided a monthly time and place to gather online to replace the experience of gathering in physical groups to hear stories. We also hosted an informal gathering for storytellers to practice telling stories to each other. Following up Hidden Histories work with LIFT (Lochside Is Families Together), I also took part in a series of online activities for families. These were presented over Facebook Live, and I contributed a viking story, a saints story and a craft every week throughout Lent. this was part funded by Quartz (the saints stories) and part by Lift (Heritage and crafts) but all were presented through the character of Cathbad the Cyberculdee – a time traveling monk from “The Floating Monastery” on Facebook and YouTube.

I view this online presence as a very real extension to my physical presence in Dumfries, or wherever I travel. I do not use it as a virtual existence to escape to, but more as a way to enhance my offline activity. I love meeting people in physical life, and it is very difficult to teach crafts without that! However, especially in Lockdown, being comfortable meeting up for a drink at an online pub has meant that I can overcome barriers of distance to keep in touch and be part of niche interest networks and friendship groups spread accross Europe. There is a lot of unrealised potential in working with digital residents.

Return to the sabbatical report…

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