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Mapping Deptford

BringTheHappyMap.Image4.MarkNewtonInvisible Flock along with band Hope & Social are asking anyone who has experienced happy moments in South East London to come along to Deptford Lounge and map their stories until this Friday 5 September. The stories will inspire the live performance of Bring the Happy next week from Thursday 11 – Saturday 13 September, 7.30pm. Catherine Baxendale of Invisible Flock shares the happy memories she has experienced in Deptford and why mapping here is so special:

Deptford is personal to me, for many reasons and a mountain of memories. It is also the last date on an epic tour of the project punctuating thousands of people and memories from across the UK. Although there a number of things I can talk about as we start the final week of collecting memories I am going to describe how the project related to me today.

I lived in the area on the Deptford maps from 2004 to 2011.

Residing in a total of 6 homes.

Completing 1 degree.

Meeting and marrying 1 man.

Giving birth to 2 children.

All equating to many, many days filled with amazing times, hard times, frustrating times, joyful times, delirious times and so on.

The maps at Deptford Lounge could be filled with a thousand memories from my little world alone, experienced in this place over 7 years of making it my home.

For the first time I can understand the depth of feeling that is achieved when you see a landscape you have inhabited in this way laid out in front of you with the invitation to talk about what made you happy there and why.

It is something that you can’t quite grasp fully when you look at the landscape on the digital map, the virtual barrier viewing a space through the screen dilutes the intensity. Much like the surreal feeling you get when you hop along a road on street view. You see the pavements you walk across each day but it isn’t the same pavement, it is one captured in time a few years before, a moment dictated by a camera clicking photos as it drives along the street. You see the pavement represented through the eyes of a lens, a lens that removes you and gives you anonymity.

Anonymity and distance is a useful feeling when you submit a memory onto the digital map, it reduces self conscious conflict that might prevent you from revealing something personal that although it is likely you have shared before you might not have done so publicly.

But in the swift transaction between a memory number being allocated to you and this identification transferring onto a physical rod glued onto a physical map something very quickly changes. I am now represented by the rod on the map, I have left a mark on a place that I now retain additional ownership over. This is the place where I once was, where something happened that meant something to me.

Landscapes so quickly change, buildings, shapes and surfaces disappear and new ones replace them, I cannot lay stake to any corner of the world, not really, no matter how much I emotionally invest in it but I am reminded that my memories of my footsteps can remain, echoing silently down the streets.

I am left in awe of all the people represented by glass rods on the Deptford maps – how interesting they are, how human and how complex, filling landscapes with everything they do in the days, weeks and years that came before and will come after. I think what I am describing is a sense of place in history and time, something that the act of sharing through contributing a memory makes you acutely aware of.

Experiencing the live show in two weeks time I expect another shift in this perspective on time and place. I think that hearing your memory adjacent to another, pulled off the maps and presented in a celebratory space, will broaden out this ownership over place into a wider context, one that is shared with everyone in the room but also disseminates onto a national and soon to be international scale.

Either way I know I will be in floods of tears watching the show – it always makes me cry, cry in a good way, especially the happy bits – but this time it won’t just be tears of empathy as I relate the memories from other peoples lives to my own experiences, it will be because Deptford is real for me, it is a place where my life has happened and I will be crying for all of the moments and people that inhabit these memories, memories made real because I shared them and gave them back to the landscape.

Catherine Baxendale, Company Director, Invisible Flock

Bring the Happy mapping takes place at Deptford Lounge until Friday 5 September and is free. For the opening times, click here. If you cannot attend the mapping on-site, then please contribute your stories online here.

The live performances of Bring the Happy take place at the Albany on Thursday 11 to Saturday 13 September, to find out more and to book, click here.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Mark Williamson is the director of Action for Happiness, a movement for positive social change, bringing people together from all walks of life who want to play a part in making a happier society. As part NOW Live Events’ residency at our sister venue Deptford Lounge, Mark is giving a talk on the vital keys to happiness tonight, Monday 23 June at 7pm. We hope this video will shed some light on the value of tonight’s talk and even just spread some happiness and positive thinking.

Part of the London-wide Anxiety Arts Festival, a new festival exploring anxiety, looking at causes and how it affects our lives, including how it can as a creative force, NOW Live Events offer a sort of solution to anxiety by championing unique ways to savour the moment and live for the now rather than dwelling on the past or future. NOW’s residency at Deptford Lounge began today and runs all week with free workshops and talks until Saturday 28 June – click here for the full list of events.

For more information on Mark Williamson’s talk tonight and to book, click here. For the full listing of Anxiety Festival in Deptford, click here.

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Why We Call the Albany an Arts Centre

‘ In 2014, we need to turn theatres into secular churches.’

This was the provocation of Honour Bayes in a recent blog for The Stage. She was writing about ‘events that bring the outside world into theatre – not just artistically-led platforms, but socially-led ones too’. She kindly mentioned Meet Me at the Albany, our artist led day club for the over 60s.

Her article chimed with many of the conversations that are taking place at the Albany on pretty much a daily basis about what we stand for, and, for the communications team, how we talk about the work we do. It provides an interesting context for a live discussion about how we define ourselves.

The Albany describes itself not as a ‘theatre’, but as an ‘arts centre’, and increasingly, as a ‘community arts centre’. This isn’t just semantics. It is significant for us because it reflects the fact that we operate in a very different way to most theatres – and we are funded to do so. While we have a strong programme of professional theatre (this season you can catch work from the likes of Kate Tempest, Jonzi D, Polarbear and Bryony Lavery on our stages), we are, first and foremost, driven by a consideration of the needs of our community. This is the principal reason we’re supported by our main funder, Lewisham Council, and their recognition of the role the arts and organisations like ours can play in fulfilling their community agenda means that the range of ways we are working with them is growing significantly, at a time when many local authorities are cutting arts and culture budgets entirely.

For example, within the last couple of years we’ve been contracted to take on the management of two libraries, both in Lewisham (Deptford Lounge) and over the border in Southwark (Canada Water Culture Space). Meet Me at the Albany forms a core aspect of the council’s programme of activity to tackle the issue of isolation in older people. We provide office space for twenty seven small charities, arts organisations and social enterprises, and we are working with the council and others on various enterprises to increase networking amongst businesses and the creative industries in the borough.

There’s a queasiness about the term ‘community’ in the arts: it hints at cringy ‘Legs Akimbo’ style outreach projects where artistic quality is compromised in the fulfilment of social agendas. Historically, we’ve had something of a love/hate relationship with it here. But today, we find it useful to embrace it as a prompt that drives us to, quite radically, interrogate the notion of community spaces: the role they play in people’s lives, and how they can serve the needs of the contemporary community.

Bayes writes about theatres fulfilling the role churches have played historically. At the Albany, we’re drawn to the idea of the ‘third place’. Originally defined by Ray Oldenburg, the ‘third place’ is a social environment distinct from the ‘first place’ (the home) and the ‘second place’ (the work environment). ‘Third places’ are the informal meeting places that anchor community life and facilitate broader, more creative interaction. The qualities of a third place are, according to Oldenburg:

–       Free or inexpensive

–       Offer food and drink

–       Highly accessible

–       Involve regulars

–       Welcoming and comfortable

–       A location for meeting new and old friends

Examples of third places might be a general store, a barber shop or a sports centre and of course, it’s a role that has historically been played principally by churches. The secret of Starbucks’ success was in part the fact that its founders capitalised on the need for third places at a time when churches were no longer playing this role in people’s lives.

The qualities of a third place go above and beyond what most theatres typically deliver. They are public places where people linger for substantial periods of time, throughout the day, a role certainly not fulfilled by West End theatres that may only open their doors an hour before a show starts, and offer only a restricted bar space with prohibitively expensive drinks.

The Albany is open throughout the day, offering a stimulating environment with affordable, nourishing food options and ease of engagement with others. On Tuesdays, visit our café and you might find yourself caught up in a Meet Me at the Albany sing-a-long, or an impromptu spoken word performance. On Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays the building will be buzzing with people spilling over from the adjacent market, nipping in to use our toilets or discussing their latest purchase over a cup of coffee. And for many local children, the relationship they have with our garden – whether through our Growing Up Club or helping out on our allotments with their class – is just as important as the shows they see in our theatre.

In short, the socially-led activities that Bayes refers to are the heart of what we do, and have been for a long time. But the crucial thing in all of this is that this foundation to our work enriches our ability to deliver great art. Artistic excellence is not a side issue – for us artistic innovation is driven by the need to access and engage with our wide and diverse audiences. For example our leadership on the Circulate project, a three year programme of large scale outdoor productions developed specifically to tour to outer London boroughs, was motivated by the need to access audiences for whom crossing the threshold of arts buildings is a huge barrier. Similarly our work in libraries is underpinning a major strand of our thinking about creating outstanding art that responds to the particular needs of audiences in this setting. Furthermore, by adopting an increasingly dynamic business model, we are securing new opportunities and resources to support the creation of new artistic output that truly resonates with the people of Deptford.

Amber Massie-Blomfield, Head of Communications, the Albany

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If On A Winter’s Day…

Last weekend, over at Deptford Lounge, and on Deptford High Street, things were getting Christmassy with If On A Winter’s Day, a glorious day of food, fun and festive discoveries. Organised by the Deptford Society, Deptford Lounge hosted performances and creative experiences throughout the day. Photographer Joyce Lau was on hand to capture the action, you can see more of her work here

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Ni Hao Deptford!

On Sunday 17 November, our sister venue, Deptford Lounge, was filled with the sounds and flavours of China, for Ni Hao Deptford!, a celebration of Chinese arts and culture produced in partnership with The Confucius Institute, based at our neighbours’ Goldsmiths College, just down the road in New Cross.

Ni Hao Deptford! was free to attend and for all the family, and over 600 people enjoyed the festival, many of them visiting the Lounge for the first time. The brilliant Marianne Chua took these beautiful photos for us on the day. Enjoy!

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We’re planning many more events like this in the coming months, so do connect with Deptford Lounge on Facebook and Twitter to be kept up to date. The next one will be If On A Winter’s Day on Saturday 7 December, an event created by the Deptford Society and taking place throughout Deptford High Street, Giffin Square, and at the Lounge.

Amber Massie-Blomfield

Head of Communications

The Albany

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Welcome to our Blog

The Albany is a different kind of arts organisation. Like many arts venues, we have a cracking programme of live events to sink your teeth into: from the best spoken word artists appearing at regular nights, a diverse theatre programme of work from some of Britain’s best theatre companies, regular events for families and kids, music, comedy and club nights – the building is never quiet for very long!

But that’s only a small part of what we do. We are truly, and quite radically, driven by the idea of being a community arts centre, and that means so many of the activities that go on within the walls of the Albany, at our sister venues Canada Water Culture Space and Deptford Lounge, and indeed out and about in Deptford and further afield, are rather more ‘below the radar’. But we think they are an extremely important part of who we are and what we do, and we think it’s vital that they make up a part of the picture of what the Albany is all about.

Many won’t know, for example, about the rich array of resident companies that we have within the Albany building- like performance poetry maestros Apples and Snakes, Heart ‘n’ Soul, an arts organisation with learning disability culture at its heart, and the Independent Theatre Council. Or that we have a (semi) regular market stall in Deptford Market, the incredibly bustling, diverse market that pops up on our doorstep every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (where shoes are ‘three pound each; two for a fiver’). Or that we have chickens in residence in our beautiful garden (OK, we’re pretty obsessive about telling people about those already…).

The blog will play a part in building this richer picture of what we do. We’ll peek behind the scenes, and chat to actors, artists and other company members about what they’re working on. We’ll share videos and photographs of what we’re getting up to. Most importantly we’ll give a voice to the people that engage with our work – like the participant in Meet me at the Albanyour day club for over 60s, who wrote a wonderful poem about her experiences here, or our Uncover Youth Theatre’s hilarious video spoofs of cookery shows.

We also plan to use the blog to share some of the expertise and experiences of those working in the Albany building, and to comment on wider issues relevant to the arts and to the local community.

Most importantly, though, we want our blog to be a forum for discussion, to help us learn more about our audiences and communities. Please do leave your comments and questions, and let us know what the Albany means to you.

And remember you can tweet us or connect with us on Facebook.

Gavin Barlow, CEO, The Albany

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