Llanrumney (Welsh: Llanrhymni) is a suburb in east Cardiff.
Isms – A distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement.
For me this work started half way through the rehearsal process for Kid Carpet’s (aka Ed Patrick’s) Moving Roots show Epic Fail! A piece of musical performance work created in collaboration with Yr 5 pupils from a few different schools across the UK, mainly in England, and one in Cardiff. I was brought on to the project by Common Wealth as an Associate Artist, and as much as it was my job to assist, and in some way co-create with Ed, I was also going to be tasked with the creation of a legacy project when Epic Fail was all over.
I was called in during that weird-awkward-exit-pandemic-period where you’d still bother to squirt a bit of sanitiser on your hands to show good, but you weren’t really sure if anyone cared any more. The school we were based in was Glan-Yr-Afon, a small primary in the heart of Llanrumney. We were based on the very top floor, able to spread ourselves across three vacant classrooms that occasionally become a music room, and a fairly decent creative workshop.
Before I go any further, I want to say that Glan-Yr-Afon is hands down one of the best primary schools I’ve ever worked in. From the setting (half surrounded by fields, half by an estate) to the staff (friendly and interested), to the kids (charismatic, chaotic and considerate). There was a kind of philosophy at play in this school that I think should be replicated elsewhere. A sort of “get it done whilst having fun” mantra, that understands creativity and expression are equal and important forms of learning and participation.
My first encounter of this was walking into a classroom within which the walls had been absolutely plastered with project stimuli. A mad eclectic mix of wobbly lined drawings, printed out photographs, hand written poems, and a wall of supposed inventions that were the byproduct of a “chindogu” invention workshop. *You can read up about chindogu inventions in the notes below.
The room was full of excited chatter, Ed was there (probably in some kind of fake moustache) as well as the Director Vic, Chantal from Common Wealth, a TA and a load of excited Yr 5’s. It was a fast flight into the world of Epic Fail and for the next few weeks I’d participate and co-facilitate a series of workshops that were about; inventing the most pointless inventions that might actually lead to becoming something useful, talking about bridges that have fallen or failed, dressing up as a squirrels and miming hiding nuts, dancing with basketballs, figuring stuff out, writing, talking, exploring and learning some stuff about success and failure.
As the Associate Artist, I was able to receive what was going on in the room in a unique way. I wasn’t leading the process, generating content or wholly responsible for any outcomes. This gave me an amazing opportunity to start listening to the participants in a way that was holistic and just happening. After 2 years of not being anywhere near a primary school (places in which I frequently work) I felt like a was being introduced to a generation of young people the likes of which I’d never met before. These were post-pandemic-kids. They were 8 years old when it started, and nearly 11 now. It was something like 30% of their remembered lifespan and meeting them in the coming-out-of-it, I could sense something seismic had happened. Yeah their attention spans were blitz and at first they found sharing resources difficult, but overall they seemed to care more about what they were doing, like they had a newfound sense of belonging. They held it together when it was tricky, found the joy in it together when it was hard, and always put everything they had into the process, wanting the best for themselves and the work.
For the long story short, Epic Fail happened and it was brilliant. A proper mad cacophony of silly songs, stories about bridges, squirrels doing origami, basketball players bouncing, poignant moments of self-revealing, and the sharing of some wise words from the mouths of children. The work was seen by over 400 people, which included parents, pupils from Glan-Yr-Afon and Bryn Hafod, as well as the team from Common Wealth, Battersea Arts Centre, and other local people working in the education, community and/or creative sector.
After one of the performances I was lucky enough to be there when an aunt and young participant were talking to camera, and the words that were expressed went way beyond anything I’d have thought the work could have been. A proper moment of revealing between the participant and his aunty, in which she’d realised he was braver than she thought he was, and he realised he could do more than he thought he could.
With the dust settling on Epic Fail the onus was on its way over to me. Create a legacy mate. That’s what I had to do.
I’ll admit I was lost in the mire. With a fairly neat little budget I had to think creatively about what should happen now. Who it should be for. How it should look. What it should do. I spent quite a bit of time walking around Llanrumney, checking out the top-shops and bottom-shops, walking through the woods beside the river, checking in with the boxing club and walking through random estates. I was looking for something. Then one day, sat in the Common Wealth offices I had an idea. It happened when someone got up to close a window because all anyone could hear was the sound of a scrambler razzing about in the field outside. At first you think that sort of thing is a nuisance, but if there’s one thing nuisances can do, it brings people together. Because everyone in the houses nearby must hate the sound of that bike. And what with Llanrumney being so hyper-local, I’d recon a fair few folks know the kid whose riding it.
That’s when it hit. The best worst idea I’ve ever had: A massive motor bike jump.
Think about it. We’d get a hotdog stand, a fairground thingy, some candy floss and a few hundred seats lined up for the event. We’d fence off a massive bit of the field and line up four or five used cars in between an off ramp and an on ramp. We’d gather a crowd an announce that one young man from Llanrumney was about to defy the odds. He was about to do something that has never been done before. He was about the jump four or five used cars, on a scrambler, whilst blindfolded (or on fire or something). It’d be a real celebration of un-checked talent. A display of risk and reward. In the context of failure, it’d be about how sometimes the margin is so thin you have to overcome it, no matter the odds, and this dare devil could! In my head, this event was no-brainer. The best way to spend £5k and leave a legacy in the hearts and minds of Llanrumney residents. However, it was almost definitely illegal and if not, then the insurance would cost a bomb. As much as I wanted something grand to happen I knew I’d need to hone it in and stop wasting time.
In all seriousness, the seed of an idea under prescription is hard to find. It’s a different genesis from having an idea in an instant or reviving a thought you had about something a while back. It tasks a different part of the brain, and for the most part I have a scattered kind of mind. It works better when urgent, and I tend to bring abstract thoughts into shape quickly either to solve or problem or for no particular reason at all. For the most part this suits me well, but in this context it wasn’t going to cut it. I’d have to adopt a new practice and hone a different set of skills. Luckily for me I was being supported by Common Wealth, whose practice comes at you calmly, but with such intent. The language is different, the approach more meaningful, the output has more intention, and therefore the impact is more profound. Common Wealth offers Artists the safety of knowing they trust their collaborators, and give enough guidance and space as is necessary to create without the burden of heavy expectation.
An example of this is in a conversation I had with Chantal one day. We chatted about the idea of content existing within context. She told me to stay in the context, and follow the research, and honestly, it’s stuff like that, that stays with me and makes me a better artist, and it’s exactly what I did.
Part of the Epic Fail performance included the Yr 5 performers sharing words of wisdom. From universal ideas that are warm and fuzzy: “Be kind always”. To more specific and abstract quotes such as: “Have a big kebab”. It was in remembering these and being in a listening mindset, that the idea for Llanrumneyisms was hatched.
We’d run workshops in the schools and during these workshops we’d explore our own versions of failure and success. We’d host conversations with the pupils about these ideas in the hopes of sharing a dialogue that might result in some verbatim quotes we could share with more people.
Working with Kirsty Harris and Charlotte Lewis during the summer holidays of 2022, we spent three days with a large group of young people from two primary schools in Llanrumney; Glan Yr Afon and Bryn Hafod. The sessions were called ‘food and fun’ and they were basically a provision of activities, centred around creativity, sports and food, for children to attend during the summer holidays. Working across the years from Yr 2 – Yr 6, we spent time playing games, building cardboard cities, pretending to be giant monsters, creating some Da Da poems with Sophie Lindsey (whose blog you can read on the Common Wealth site here: https://commonwealththeatre.co.uk/schools-squirrels-and-some-sort-of-success/)
Framing the workshops with empathy and the idea that we should all be actively helping one another, as we worked, we listened. Below are some of the things we heard:
1) Try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, and then you’ll know
2) You have got to stand up for what you believe in.
3) Kids are going to kid.
4) Imagine it, then make it.
5) Let’s all make a little bit.
6) Don’t give up on being happy and feeling good emotions.
7) It’s not like you don’t know nothing.
8) If you pick at it, it won’t heal.
9) Mash potatoes are the best potatoes, unless there’s chips.
10) Be kind, even to Godzilla.
11) Don’t be scared to eat pickles.
12) Don’t take your anger out on people who don’t deserve it.
13) Bellyflop bad vibes to mars.
14) Not everybody wants a pocket a full of worms.
15) Eat good stuff and don’t give up.
16) Thinking crap thoughts will make your day crap.
17) Never say never again, unless you know you don’t want to do it.
18) You can be inspired by inspiring someone.
19) Find something you love to do then do it more and more.
20) If you make a mistake that’s okay, use it for learning.
Of these 20 each school was tasked with choosing 12 signs that would like to have hanging around the school grounds inside and outside.
Overall the signs have been met with a mixture of curiosity, laughter, confusion and the dawning realisation that these are the (almost) exact words of kids. Elevated to shiny-swing-sign-status, they now hold a prominent place in their school, a space in which they inhabit 5-days-a-week. They hang in corridors, playgrounds, canteens, classrooms and entrance halls. Reminding anyone who enters, that kids are weird (brilliantly weird) and if we take a little time to listen, think and interrogate we might find that the words they say hold power.
Llanrumneyisms is the culmination of a time spent listening and learning. It was inspired by the work that happened as part of EPIC FAIL, and through conversations between Lead Artist Justin Teddy Cliffe and Common Wealth. The producer on the project was Charlotte Lewis. The associate Artist was Kristy Harris.