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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Nicola Wheeler

     

    [TRACK 1]

    TONY WRIGHT: This is Tony Wright, it’s the 21ST of August 2012 and I’m interviewing Nicola Wheeler. So the first question would be, what’s your full name and where and when you were born?

    NICOLA WHEELER: My full name now is Nicola Elizabeth Wheeler and I was born in Worthing in Sussex.

    TW: Right……….and when?

    NW: When? 1954.

    TW: Right. What was Sussex like in the fifties…..sixties then?

    NW: …….in the fifties and sixties………what was it like…….well in the fifties obviously I was just a child; I went to…..a little, very old-fashioned school, Victorian school……quite similar to the school that’s just been…..renovated up here……..knew everyone at the school………..and it was quite a kind of villagey atmosphere, although obviously being on the south coast……it was quite built up, but we had the seaside and we had the countryside and it was a good life really……..and…….yeah, that was all……okay……..and….sixties obviously it was the swinging sixties; probably a lot more swinging, possibly, than other parts of the country being that it was quite near London…….and…….yeah, that you know, kind of evolved into……..being a teenager and so I was probably in a good place to be a teenager; went to art college in Worthing……and did a Foundation and……then tried to get into college in London unsuccessfully……stayed on at West Sussex College of Art and did a year’s Theatre course which was what I’d decided I was interested in……..joined the National Youth Theatre…..for a season, thinking I wanted to be a Theatre Designer……..and ended up in the Wardrobe department because I could sew, that’s what I’d done at school [laughing]….. and my family….my grandfather who I’d lived with as a child because my mum died when I was very young, was a ladies’ tailor, so……there was that heritage and apparently, I’ve just discovered that my nan who obviously was living there too, also helped him in the……workshops in Bentalls……and so I had that kind of background and…….yeah, so I ended up in the…….Wardrobe department…..very luckily, and I don’t know quite how I had the nounce to say it, but I said to the lady, just before I left, ‘if you ever need an assistant, let me know’ and she came to me…..well wrote to me when….just when I wanted to get out of art college……and said would I like to go and work for her, and so I did which was the second season of The Bankside Globe in London…..and so I worked there and that’s how I kind of started working in theatre really.

    TW: Right. So did….did you have aspirations to be an actress and that

    NW: No I never ever ever wanted to be an actress; always wanted to be backstage and basically came through an arts background; my father would have….well, he’s a watercolourist, he would have loved to have…..well did go to the same art college as I did, and started doing Graphics when he came out of the army but unfortunately he couldn’t carry on doing that…….and my sister of course did Fine Art eventually and Graphics, and I have a long line of art in the family, basically on both sides of the family. My mother was Dutch and there’s a long line of Dutch artists and that……..so no, never ever wanted to act and……..although I’ve got a daughter now that does love acting; always looked at her when she on stage as a young girl and thought ‘what is this? What is this love of being [laughing] in the limelight’ [laughing] but……

    TW: Right. So was this the National Youth Theatre?

    NW: Yes, the National Youth Theatre…..I was in the London National Youth Theatre

    TW: Right. And so The Globe Theatre, that’s the Shakespearian one?

    NW: Yes, yeah……which is now being….yeah, it was……well……the brainchild of Sam Wanamaker, and there was an American who had apparently come over here to act…….and obviously kind of had the nounce to kind of think ‘God they’ve got this amazing person called Shakespeare in their heritage in England that no-one’s ever [laughing] thought of reincarnating his theatre’ so actually did it, but I was as I say there in the second season and in those days it was just a tent on the bankside…….and a great season with Vanessa Redgrave and various other famous people…….heart of the season…….and recently I’ve been to the now proper theatre and discovered that the season I was there supposedly was flooded out, although I don’t remember it actually been flooded out, although there was a lot of water!

    [laughing]

    But it was a great….it was brilliant…..a bit too good really because Sam Wanamaker was very generous; we had amazing…….first night parties and end of…… performance parties and we were given flowers and treated as if we were actors and actresses…….but it’s never happened again

    [laughing]

    I’m afraid…..but the….the lady that was Wardrobe Mistress…..was an American too and she was brilliant and we kind of worked together. In fact she left….she went off to America for the last month of the season, and left me in charge which was a little bit scary but I survived, being that it was my first ever job and….yeah, it was great.

    TW: Was that the same woman who wrote to you then and asked you to come back?

    NW: She…..yeah, well she didn’t…..she didn’t ask me to come back; she was…..she’d…..obviously worked with the National Youth Theatre and then it was a year…….or was it the next summer…..no….yes it may have been the next summer or the year after that that she was then working for The Globe

    TW: That was your second season, yeah.

    NW: Yeah.

    TW: Yeah, okay.

    NW: And….yes, that was a proper job though; that wasn’t the Youth Theatre, that was

    TW: But that’s a good thing to put on your CV to get new work isn’t it?

    NW: Yes, yeah, oh yes, yeah, yeah…..so

    TW: So how did you progress after that?

    NW: Well I went from there and……now this is a bit….cos I seemed to do so many things in such a short time and I’m not ever quite sure exactly how, and I haven’t looked it up I’m afraid…….but I worked……..I went up to Manchester first, that’s what I did, which was the connection with the north of England of course…..and I worked at Watt’s Costumiers in Manchester which was……which has now gone….on Princess Street…..and…….so worked there for a while; it was a three day week and the wages weren’t very brilliant; it was okay but a good learning experience but very bad wages, and I used to work in the evenings as a dresser, so I worked at the Opera House and Glyndebourne came and toured actually while I was there, as did various ballet companies etcetera, but I had to do that to be able to make enough money to live on, and…….when the three day week came along I realised that I was actually getting more dole money [laughing] for the two days I wasn’t working than I was…..so…..anyway so I was basically kind of looking for another job maybe, if I was lucky enough, and I got an interview for Glyndebourne Opera Company and was successful with that, so then I went back down south and worked for a season at Glyndebourne…….which was amazing, and the best place that I’ve ever worked for from the point of view of the quality of the work etcetera……and…..then….as with most theatre jobs of course, they’re seasonal; they don’t go on for ever, and so when the end of the season came from that I came back up to Manchester and I……eventually got a job at the….what’s it called….Contact Theatre Company in Manchester

    TW: Was it The Library was it then?

    NW: No it’s a different theatre…..there’s still….The Library Theatre and it’s actually The University Theatre now

    TW: Oh right

    NW: So I worked there for a bit and this is the bit I’m not quite sure exactly how it worked out; I worked for them but then I…..then got a job at Crewe Theatre……and went down there; there were people that were connected with both basically and so we kind of interchanged……The Contact Theatre is….an all-round through-the-year ….company; Crewe Theatre was seasonal again, so I went there, obviously lived there while I was working there…..did a season there…..and met my husband there; my husband-to-be….who was also working there as Stage Manager……and then came back again to Manchester and carried on working at the……well The Contact Theatre had……..a kind of studio theatre called The Brickhouse, and worked for that too…..and…….carried on there for some time…..she did a…..which wasn’t paid….an Arts Council film called The Chartists for someone called John something or other, from Granada……but my now husband and I both worked on that and did all the wardrobe; he did the props and was the Stage Manager, and……..then…….. then…..we…….well because I’d met Duncan we were…..I’ve been told that what actually happened….the reason I’ve ended up where I am now, in Heptonstall, [laughing]….I’ve been told that you could buy property very cheaply round…..in this area in those days and I basically lived in a bedsit of course, and theatre wages weren’t good……and so I’d started looking in this area for a property, but when I went to the bank they wouldn’t lend me any money, you know, to buy a property; I found one that was like a thousand pounds or……in the Todmorden area, and…..but my husband, who had an overdraft at the time, went to his bank, because he’d been with the bank for quite a while and he was a man

    [laughing]

    I think which had clout in those days…..said ‘oh yes’ you know ‘we’ll lend you the money’ so we ended up buying a house in Sowerby Bridge, which was £2750 I think, or thereabouts, and……so that was back in 1976 I think………so we came to live there and….I started working..…I’ve worked at Yorkshire Television, so we were……Duncan had been living in Leeds so I was living in Manchester, he was living in Leeds and it was kind of in between the two really….Sowerby Bridge was in between the two, and so then I worked for Yorkshire Television. Some of the time I did some work for the BBC in Manchester……and I…..because of working at Yorkshire Television, and because I’d always……loved antique clothing as well as….you know, making clothes, I had some original 1920’s dresses and someone was going to a 1920’s ball and I hired some 1920’s outfits to them, madly, because they were fragile….and that was the start of me having a costume hiring fancy dress business which……so I started from art and…..a house in Sowerby Bridge and then I got premises in Sowerby Bridge and we eventually ended up in Halifax, and that was North Props Costume Hire…..which I had for about ten years and….by then….by the time….so we moved from our original house down to what is now the Health Centre which was the old Police Station in Sowerby Bridge, and then to Halifax and all of that I had the business……and……by then we had a son who was about four years old and was coming up to school age, and so we were kind of looking to…..cos I had this idea that I would like him to go to a village school like I had gone to…….and so we started kind of looking for something very very cheap again to live in because we obviously had the property in Halifax…..and we actually bought a house in Northowram and sold it because we couldn’t afford to do it up, but we ended up….by then my sister and her husband had moved to Heptonstall and we found a house in Heptonstall that fitted the bill and so we bought that, and hence that’s how we ended up ion Heptonstall…….and…..we’ve been her ever since really…..and because by then I had a son and was soon to have a daughter, I was not able to go and work somewhere because my husband as I say was originally a Stage Manager and then became a Property Buyer so was working in film and television, so he….when he was working he was having to go wherever he was working, and I basically made the decision that we couldn’t both be doing that cos it was too unsettling for the family, so I decided I was gonna work from home…..and…..again really, by……fluke almost I……started up my business which is working for museums making costumes, just basically by leaving cards wherever I went……..and…….have done that ever since then really, and I belong to The Museums Association which is another way of getting work really, so I’ve always made costumes for museums, for the last twenty-odd years….and obviously that’s for museums wherever they are all over the country…..and…….because of obviously having links with the school I also work as a support in schools etcetera, but that’s not the kind of arty side of things…….and…….so…..and then, because I had never finished my arts course, I eventually started doing an Open College of the Arts course in my spare time [laughing] and so that’s where I……and I also joined a weaving group so, which……originally was……you know, a group that we went to, run by Sue Lawty, but when Sue Lawty stopped doing the course then we all decided that we were going to carry on, meeting in each other’s houses and we did that for ten…….twelve years or whatever, so……so I have weavings and I have textiles because I did Textiles and Fine Art for the Open College course…….and through doing that and the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival I started having an open studio……..and I did…..I also did a bit of photography, so I’ve sold various things from the open studio and then in the last couple of years I thought……well I made a wedding dress for a musician that lives in the village……and I made the wedding dress because she wanted something that was in the style of Jane Austen………clothing and I had to be kind of cajoled into doing it really because I thought ‘well no’……you know, wedding dresses are a scary thing to do, most people say ‘oh no no no’ but she was a lovely lady so it was a great….it was really nice making it, and I realised that I could combine the kind of historical aspect of the clothes that I made and……you know and kind of make for people that wanted something different to the normal wedding dresses that you buy in most large…..wedding dress….outfitters and there’s a vogue for vintage at the moment so that’s what I’ve started doing, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment and I gave up my school job [laughing] a few months ago and I’m busily working towards…..they’ve got a….in the new Town Hall in Hebden Bridge they’ve got a wedding dress…..not a wedding dress, but a wedding fair in October so I’m working towards that at the moment, and I’ve got various commissions for people that want something different.

    TW: Right…..right……in a way I’d like to jump back to like the…..your earlier days, sort of Youth Theatre and early Manchester and Glyndebourne and all like that, when you were kind of like in Wardrobe, and ask a little bit about what do you…..what do you actually do when you’re in that kind of a job?

    NW: Right…..well it depends where you’re working really, very much, I mean……at…..at The Globe it was pretty much hands on, obviously an assistant most of the time to…..the Wardrobe Mistress and we mainly hired in most of the costumes which obviously was one way of doing things……..there…..each production was very varied and some were in modern dress and some were in period dress, and so we hired from whichever………company, you know, was appropriate to that type of clothing……so it was……maintenance…..repairs, and making sure everything was where it should be, helping dress whoever was in the production etcetera……we did make…..trying to think, it’s such a long time ago, we did make some of the costumes because I remember there being two trainees that I suppose came on termship from Central School because they had a Theatre course there, that came and did some sewing with us so we must have done some sewing [laughing] and…..yeah, so that’s kind of how that one worked, but Glyndebourne was all making; it was a totally different kettle of fish….there were…..there was a different department for each area, and so I was in the Wardrobe department but they had separate people that just cut the costume, separate people that made – did the hand sewing, basting etcetera…….even people that did the embroidery, and they were…..the costumes were beautifully made and literally kind of couture style costumes

    TW: Kind of specialism

    NW: Very much specialised, I mean the….obviously the lead opera singers had the best costume and then as you went down the ranks [laughing][ they weren’t quite so good……but…..and I remember doing…..one of the performances was Idomeneo, which was Greek, and so there was a lot of kind of drapery involved, so…..doing a lot of drapery on the stands for that……and then there’s La Calisto which was also a very ancient opera…….but there was a separate wig making department there and a separate laundry, so we didn’t have to do any of the upkeep of the costumes; we were literally just making costumes in the Wardrobe department, whereas when I went to……when I was working at Crewe, we did everything obviously and there was the maintenance and the……..

    TW: All hands to the deck so to speak

    NW: Yes, very small Wardrobe department [laughing], about a third of the size of this room

    [laughing]

    and everything had to be done, so……so yes it depends, and at Crewe we did do a bit of touring too so you were also kind of……moving costumes from place to place etcetera.

    TW: Yeah….okay…..so now onto like the museum work. If you’re making costumes for museums, do you make them from scratch or do they give you, you know, part of them and do you have to research at all? How does that work?

    NW: Yeah…..generally….well it depends exactly what type of costume you’re making. On the whole I tend to make costumes for children to actually wear when they go to the museums and if they’re kind of…….you know, to get them into the spirit of whatever they’re learning about…….but I have also made costumes to be displayed and sometimes the costumes are replicas so that you know, to replace originals that the museum have got but can’t put out because they’re too delicate and sometimes…….they’re replicas to show what something would have been like originally, and then they might show the original one that’s kind of……now no longer in a

    TW: Moth eaten

    NW: State, yes

    [laughing]

    I mean I made some for the Grace Darling Museum and they were……..you know, they’d got little bits of the original clothing that she wore so they sent me photographs in those days……you know, a piece of the fabric of her dress, a piece of the fabric of the shawl, you know, so basically what I ask for…if it’s a replica costume like that then I ask for any information that the museum has got, that they can kind of give to me to give me an idea of what…..what they want……and then I do designs generally; put everything together and create a design and send it back to them, and then they okay it and obviously, you know, there’s finance involved, especially with museums…..and…..then go ahead and get the fabrics. Sometimes with the Grace Darling dress I had to……striped…..blue and yellow striped dress…..so you’re not very likely to be able to find a fabric that is exactly like the one that they want, so I actually got blue and white striped fabric in the end and then dyed it to kind of make as close as I could get to the fabric, as the original. I actually had some….for her shawl I actually had some…..fabric woven in Scotland; I found……a weaver that’s still there making Scottish plaid……..that could actually weave you know, kind of an appropriate type of thing……but obviously that very much depends on what their budget is etcetera as to how much they can afford to…..to pay and you know, whether there is the skilled craftsperson there to be able to create……..so yeah, so I mean, and some other costumes that I’ve made in other places…..sometimes they say need a knitted pullover and I’ll outsource that, so I’ll get all the wools and so on and then find a knitter to knit it for me it…..that’s necessary……but yes generally, basically, it’s getting the information then I research if, you know, if I haven’t got all the information from the museum then I’ll research. I’ve got thousands of costume books and obviously nowadays you’ve got the internet to research, and then do the designs, I mean I made one set of costumes for The Wordsworth Museum and…..found, much to, because everybody says ‘oh don’t you just look on the internet?’……and it’s not always there

    [laughing]

    so…..yes you have to go a bit more deeply into research to it because I made some…….nightdresses, you know, they wanted various pieces of clothing that might have been worn….they were actually for display rather than for wearing, but it looked as if, you know, Wordsworth was still there etcetera……and…..yes, then research, obviously……sometimes I’m researching different techniques; I made some costumes for Shibden Hall in Halifax and what the museum wanted for those was…….they wanted very detailed costumes that children could try on, but they were trying them on as part of the…..almost like a performance that they put on and…..what it was was the museum actually….had like a little play that they told the children about the people that had actually lived in the house through the generations because it’s a very old house, so obviously there were different generations, and then they……had various pieces of clothing that they asked someone, one of the children, to come and try on, and then……you know, asked the children what they thought about the clothing; how it was different to the clothing that people wear nowadays and how they felt and whether they would have liked to have worn that type of clothing, you know, etcetera, so for that I did quite a lot of research into different types of fabrics because obviously, you know, in times past the fabrics would have been different, and I also generally have to research obviously local fabrics to the area……and….the…..as these costumes were Tudor costumes I also kind of researched how…..because it had a kind of hooped…..underskirt, so I actually got reeds, well reeds to use in the…..it had a corset and I used reeds for the boning in the corset, and I used willow….because I researched and discovered that apparently obviously they’d use anything that they could do locally, and so one area of the country wouldn’t necessarily use what another area of the country would use for a similar garment, so I used willow because there seem to be a lot of willow trees in the area, for the…..for the farthingale, so….yeah, so those are quite complicated costumes but then I also make kind of much simpler costumes, say you know, there’s a lot of costumes that might be like a…..mill worker’s costume so….and if all the children in the group are gonna try on costumes, then I’d make like twenty smocks and mop caps for the little girls, and waistcoats and caps for the boys etcetera, and mufflers so

    TW: So you did do different time periods, so you did Tudor stuff and

    NW: Oh yeah, oh from……from…..I think probably the oldest…..Roman; I’ve made Roman costumes for the City of London Museum and for Manchester Museum up to 1970’s and 80’s I think [laughing]…..made hippie costumes for Rochdale

    [laughing]

    Oh and no actually, Marks and Spencer’s, last year I made some for their new archives in Leeds; they were even later; 1980’s

    TW: So you reproduce some Marks and Spencer’s from

    NW: Yes, yes

    TW: From a few decades ago really

    NW: Yeah, yeah, which was a different type of challenge because it’s quite difficult to make something that would have been mass produced in the first place [laughing]

    TW: That’s amazing that

    [laughing]

    NW: But it’s now vintage! [laughing]

    TW: So when you had your business, your hire business in……Halifax and then…….did you just go out and buy a load of costumes or did you make things?

    NW: Well again a mixture really; I didn’t get to make as many as I would have like to and in fact that’s one of the reasons why I gave up in the end, because I was obviously always running the business rather than making anything……but we bought the……. Berman’s’s and Nathan’s in London, closed down, not Berman’s and Nathan’s, sorry, ……a costumier in London, closed down, and we went and bought some of….they had various sales obviously over the…..months that they were closing down, and we…but we were lucky enough to buy some of the costumes and then we actually finally cleared the last……..costumes that they had, so that was part of our stock…..we also bought a whole batch of costumes from an old private school that had a drama department down south that was selling up the costumes that they had – all sorts of amazing costumes – quite a lot of which were actually original…….oriental costumes and so on that they’d been donated over the generations basically……some of the costumes, because obviously I mean an awful lot of it was used for fancy dress rather than theatre costume, and were things that I adapted so I would buy dresses that looked a bit like 1920’s dresses and then made them into…..you know, added trimmings and things like that…..put them together, and some of them were made, and so…..yes, just basically wherever I went I was looking out for anything that might be usable, and I made…..what I did make, I made an awful lot of gorilla costumes and panda outfits and pantomime horses and things like that!

    [laughing]

    TW: You said you did some work for television…..I was just thinking that if you made costumes for TV, because of the camera being so close up, you know, if you’re in a theatre you’re some yards away from the people on the stage and you don’t get to see the detail, but on film it would be very close up. Did you….was that a problem? Did you have to kind of like be especially careful with things you made for television?

    NW: ……..well I remember one tale the other way round I’m afraid…..from….because it’s a special technique really to make for theatre, and you have to be aware of the fact that it’s……not worth doing something in huge detail because you’re not going to see that, but you also have to be aware of the fact that you’ve got to basically make everything bigger and more amazing you know, so that you can see it on stage, and there was a lady at Glyndebourne who had done some beautiful embroidery, absolutely beautiful embroidery on a costume, but then the Director said ‘oh but we can’t see it’ when it was the dress rehearsal, so someone there actually went round it with a pen and [laughing] which must have been the most awful thing possible for the poor lady that had done it, and wasn’t in Glyndebourne’s normal standard of doing things, but……yes I suppose you know, things obviously are made in a different way and certainly…….yes you can kind of look at things and think ‘well okay that wouldn’t show up on stage but that would work close up in a film’ but……I suppose basically the….the costume that I was making at Yorkshire Television was more, you know, kind of modern and not period costume whereas the costume I was making at Glyndebourne was on the whole period and the costume that I was making for The Globe was on the whole contemporary…

    TW: Did you ever work with Freda? Do you know Freda Kelsall?

    NW: No I didn’t…..I do know her [laughing] and I do know all the people that did work for them but…..I know Bill Cawton who worked as a designer…..but no

    TW: No I just thought there might be a link there.

    NW: Yeah, no, no.

    TW: Okay…….now you’re doing the wedding dress sort of aspect of things and it’s fairly new, it’s just a few years going I think it sounds like….can you see that carrying on or have you got another little

    NW: Project [laughing]

    TW: Something in the background?

    NW: No I hope that will carry on……I mean it’s got a lot of potential design wise which is good because……you know I always intended to be as creative as I possibly could, and the only thing in the way with making museum costumes is you’re basically making a certain period of costumes, so you’ve got to more or less, you know, kind of stick to the

    TW: There’s a pattern and you have to do it

    NW: Yes, to the brief. I mean this costume over here actually in the corner was one that I made for my Open College of the Arts course, and that is the type of, you know, more creative thing that I enjoy making

    TW: That seems very oriental in inspiration

    NW: It kind of is but it’s actually the idea of it was that it was…..there’s an amazing painting of Queen Elizabeth the First with a beautiful dress, with lots of different exotic animals on it, and obviously the idea behind the costume for her was that it was showing the she……basically wanted to rule the world, and that all these exotic animals were animals that she knew about and because it was all part of the……..her Empire, and that dress is really a kind of modern day take on that, and it’s about the fragility of the world and the……how we need to look after all the different…….you know, kind of animals and it’s made with recycled fabrics on the whole, so…..so you know, it’s to do with the fact that we now need to….you know, protect our universe rather than exploit it [laughing]

    TW: A sort of environmental message within your creativity.

    NW: Yes, yeah, it’s got ‘costing the earth’ round the top of it and it’s……made with recycled plastics and the bodices are made with recycled plastic, and the sleeves are made with……sweet papers which was quite a nice recycled thing to use, and it can be worn and it has been worn but it is quite fragile, but I wanted that to be part of it because….

    TW: It’s part of the message, how fragile it is

    NW: Yes, yeah

    TW: Oh right, yes.

    NW: So…..so I enjoy doing that type of thing and you know, I would like to do more of that really, but

    TW: Well I was gonna ask you what….I mean you’ve done all sorts of work really. I was just gonna say what was your favourite thing that you did really?

    NW: ……..well everything has its own…….interest…..but I do like designing I suppose and putting things together, researching and designing and putting lots of ideas together to create something, and then experimenting with those really with……and obviously I like fabrics and textiles and……..different media, you know, using different media

    TW: So would you take it out of the…….I don’t know…..theatre, museum, wardrobe box and turn it into the art box?

    NW: Yes, yeah

    TW: So you’d like to go more in that direction?

    NW: Yeah, well I mean I…..you know, I have done…..as I say, because I……the Open College course as quite late on in life and that was as, you know, they say, it’s you know, ‘something you’ve always to do’ – that allowed me to…….think about textiles in a creative way which before that, I’d only ever obviously fulfilled the brief of whoever I was working for rather than just thinking about it…..for myself….. and….yes, you know, it would be nice obviously to have more freedom to do, you know, what I, you know, like to do but……I mean one of the…..one of the things that came up as a possibility was making a story-telling tent for….a group of people but at the time unfortunately I couldn’t do it because I was working elsewhere and it didn’t fit in with the timetable, but something like that where you could kind of use other people’s ideas but also put it together yourself and use your…..expertise, so yeah, anything that’s

    TW: There is….his name’s gone out of my head, a story-teller, he’s the actual story-teller Laureate of the country; he lives in Staveley up in the Lake District and his name’s just gone out of my head…….when he does his story-telling he has a big chair, it’s all carved, but he also has this coat which has…..animals and scenes and all sorts of things, and he will have about….you know, four or five stories about each of those images, so his coat isn’t…..it’s a remarkable coat of many colours but it’s also a coat of many stories, so this idea of turning it into story-telling as well could be quite fascinating I think.

    NW: Yeah, yeah…..yeah, yes I mean there are so many, and in fact my daughter’s kind of doing that with her….she’s kind of continuing the textile theme into her Performance Art because she…..her company is called The Little White Dress, a theatre company, but it’s…..and it’s kind of….instead of the little black dress it’s….because of it being white, you get marks all over it and it tells a tale and it’s [laughing]….and it’s wearing which is quite interesting, so yes, and there is…..there’s a lot of…….Fine Arts textile, you know, more arts based work going on, especially I suppose with females that are……..because of the heritage of women always…….you know, making clothes for their children or you know, for the family…….and then they do a Fine Arts course and then they’re interested in telling the tale of textiles, because there is a huge tale of textiles, a huge heritage. I do really like traditional dress too and the different you know, kind of……traditional costume from different countries, so at one point I thought it would be fantastic to have a kind of museum of different……traditional dress but…..but sadly in England there isn’t really a traditional dress because we became civilised I think far too quickly [laughing]……everybody wore what was the fashion of the day rather than their traditional dress.

    TW: It’s a funny way of thinking cos……I mean various countries have like traditional dress, and it’s proudly shown off as such, but quite often it’s a period frozen in time that we’ve picked it and said that’s it, in a way, and I mean what the English haven’t done is that they haven’t done that

    NW: No, no

    TW: I mean the Welsh have and the Scottish

    NW: Yes the Scottish have, although you know, it didn’t really, as you say it was….well, in Wales it was reincarnated apparently….you know, in Victorian times which it often is, and of course…….to the benefit of the tourist industry now [laughing], which I mean it was then wasn’t it

    TW: I think it probably was really yeah

    NW: But I think it’s gone a bit too far……towards…..well, the Industrial Revolution, although of course it’s very much part of this area and of course another reason why I came to this area was that I was fascinated with the whole textile industry when I learnt about it at school because I did history at school, so I learnt about the mills and…..everything and then came up here and went ‘oh!’ [laughing] ‘here they are!’….it’s all still happening here

    TW: Yes, yes

    NW: And because I live in the area of course I do try and source local fabrics and so you know, the woollen industry and the cotton industry etcetera.

    TW: Is there a young textile industry? I mean not just the old mills that most have closed down now, but is there a newer version of creative people doing textiles in this area now?

    NW: ……….

    TW: I don’t know

    NW: Yeah

    TW: I thought you might because

    NW: Well…..no, I mean I think one of the sad things in a way is that people as a whole don’t make their own clothes…..because…..you know you can buy things so cheaply now, so you know, I mean the…..the fashion obviously is to adapt and change and….customise - that’s the word – customise clothes isn’t it? But…….whether there’s any more of that going on; there’s certainly a vintage…….theme running through everybody’s lives now, and that’s obviously sourcing old clothes and reusing them etcetera…….but I don’t know that there’s any more of that, I mean obviously Hebden Bridge is very creative so there’s more going on there from the creative point of view than there is in other parts of the country, but I don’t know whether there is any more going on in the north than the south nowadays, and in fact it’s probably no easier to find fabrics…….around here on the whole although I do have, you know, some sources…..but……than it would be in any other part of the country now, sadly, because as I say most of the mills have gone, although there is Denholme Velvets and Whaleys Fabrics and……..I go to Bombay Stores in Bradford which is brilliant…… and…..so I have different sources for different types of fabrics.

    TW: Right…..I suppose really I’m gonna ask you, is there anything that I haven’t asked about that you would perhaps like to talk about or mention?

    NW: …….no we’ve probably covered most things [laughing]….I can’t really think of anything

    TW: Right, okay, well in that case, cos it’s getting very near…..near to an hour now….I’ll just say thank you very much for letting me talk to you

    NW: Okay, that’s alright.

    TW: and we’ll stop.

    NW: I hope it’s useful [laughing]

    TW: Well it’s…..it’s…..you’re the first real person I’ve talked to about textiles in this area

    NW: Oh right

    TW: and I mean I’ve talked to people who have worked in the mills who did cutting or did sewing or did weaving, and it was very much factory orientated

    NW: Yeah….yeah

    TW: and it was also quite a long time ago

    NW: Yeah….yeah

    TW: but there is that side of it, but somebody who…..like yourself who’s been creative and in lots of different….

    NW: Yeah, areas, yeah….yeah so I suppose……as I say you know, what has happened was that I, you know, I was interested in the connection with the north, and I happened to come up here……..because of a costumier which wasn’t a traditional as such mill, but it did have traditional elements to it because we had to clock in and out and it was very much run as a factory……..and so I did, you know, and a lot of the women that worked there; it was mainly women although there was a male pattern cutter……were people that probably would have otherwise worked in a traditional mill……but….so I had that experience but I also kind of came up through….as I say my family heritage of….being, you know, kind of involved in tailoring etcetera……and people go where the work is, which is [laughing] which is what happened to my family because in fact I’ve recently, I mean I suppose in a way that’s quite interesting; I’ve recently been researching my family history, part of which was from Wales, and I’ve discovered that they were woollen manufacturers in Wales [laughing], which I never knew, you know, as a young…..girl, and so there’s a total link actually to….and in fact, from Wales in Llangollen and……some of the people in this area literally went to Llangollen to try and keep the woollen mills going in the era when my relatives were there, so it kind of….what goes around comes around .

    [laughing]

    They went from…..from Llangollen to Oxford…..when of course the woollen trade wasn’t, you know, kind of doing very well in the area that they had lived, and then my grandfather was born in Oxford and as I say he eventually went to London and then to Worthing, in the tailoring trade, and then I came up here, so [laughing]

    TW: It’s almost full circle

    NW: Yes, yeah

    TW: That’s really interesting.

    NW: Yeah, yeah, but I know….you know, it’s interesting history and the interesting tailoring that’s combined I suppose in this creative….

    TW: Right then………

    [END OF TRACK 1]

    Read more

  • Interviews and Storytelling: Christina Hooley

     

    [TRACK 1]

    TW:

    Okay this is Tony Wright, it’s the eighteenth of April 2011 and I’m talking to Christina at Zion Co-op. Christina, can you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    CHRISTINA HOOLEY: Okay, my name is Mrs Christina Margaret Hooley. I was born in Winchester Hospital in Hampshire in November 1959

    TW:

    Winchester.

    CH: yes.

    TW:

    What’s it like around Winchester?

    CH: Winchester is very genteel.....it’s...the countryside is.....flattish to rolling hills I’d say....Winchester’s is the county town, city of Hampshire.....I’d say it was genteel but my family are not genteel, they’re actually just an ordinary working class family from Southampton and my dad moved to the countryside, we were nearer to Winchester there than we were to Southampton, and he and my mum built their own house in three years of Sundays.

    TW:

    Three years of Sundays?

    CH: Yes. [laughing]

    TW:

    That’s quite an accomplishment.

    CH: Yes.

    TW:

    Did you learn skills from your parents then?

    CH: No, strangely I didn’t. I wish I had done really, I wish I had learnt carpentry and building skills from my dad, but I guess we just didn’t have that kind of relationship really.

    TW:

    Right. So did you spend most of your....before moving to Hebden Bridge, did you live around there all the time?

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    CH: I lived there until I was eighteen and when I was eighteen I went away to university in Cardiff.

    TW:

    Right. How did you get to Hebden Bridge then?

    CH: Well I’d moved to Leeds. I had friends in Leeds; I had a friend from sixth form college who’d gone to my college at Leeds Poly. I went up to stay with her and I fell in love with one of her fellow students and I moved up there to be with him, but it was a disaster, it didn’t last, but I carried on living in Leeds. I met some people who brought me out to Hebden Bridge one day to look for magic mushrooms actually.....one of the friends was called Axle and he was German. We went out in his VW and we ended up on a track on the moors, finally by a reservoir where a water board worker came out and told us off. Axle pretended not to be able to speak English, so.....the water board worker was quite helpful and showed us how we could get out of the field and back onto the road again, and ever since then I’ve loved the place and I decided one day I was gonna move here. I did actually move to the area six years later. A friend of mine had seen an advert for short-term let of a cottage at Blackshaw Head and I....rang up about it and went to see the people and a few months later I’d moved in.

    TW:

    Have you been here ever since then?

    CH: No, on and off. That was for nine months....the people who owned the cottage, they were working away and so I obviously had to move out when they came back. I did actually go up to Orkney for a while and then back to Leeds, and then within a year I was back in this area, first in Todmorden then at Foster Clough, finally Hebden and then I went away, then I came back again.....

    TW:

    So when you went to college, did you study Art or anything like that?

    CH: I studied Botany

    TW:

    Oh is that right?

    CH: Yes, but I only lasted a term doing Botany in Cardiff because what happened was, I’d done Botany at A Level at my sixth form college and I absolutely loved it and what I really liked about it was going into the field, collecting and identifying flowers, bringing them back, dissecting them, drawing them and.....yes, so that was the side of it that I liked and I got a place to study that at Reading and I then I went a bit, I went off the rails a bit in my last year at sixth form and just didn’t get my grades, so I ended

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    up going to Cardiff through clearing and it was a completely different course. It was very much....on the cellular level....

    TW:

    Much more scientific

    CH: Much more scientific and I wasn’t interested in that at all, and also it was....huge numbers of people; there’d be over a hundred people in the laboratories and in the lecture halls, and I was used to...there were six of us in my Botany group at A Level [laughing] it was very different and I didn’t like it, so

    TW:

    A bit of a shock really

    CH: Yes it was, yes, so I dropped out and in those...we were very lucky, very lucky compared to today’s students because in those days not only did you get your fees paid, a full maintenance grant, that was means tested but if your parents’ income was below a certain level you got the full maintenance grant and if you decided you didn’t....happy with the course after a term then you could leave and still have those same rights for later on.

    TW:

    Right, very good. So this love of plants that you developed from that age, has that carried through then to the work that you do with Treesponsibility?

    CH: Yes very much, yes.

    TW:

    How did you get involved with Treesponsibility?

    CH: I started to volunteer for them and going out on their.......going out on the volunteer days, there used to be volunteer days every week through the planting season and then there would be big events like the New Year’s planting, the autumn gathering, the birthday, and I always used to go to those but I very quickly became more than just someone who went out to plant trees. I began to help with other stuff, with the gatherings

    TW:

    Help organise things

    CH: Help organise things yes, and also I was able to use my theatre skills. I would usually do....something, usually an instant theatre for the gathering which is....that’s what I learnt to do well; I’d trained in Community Arts. I’d get a group of people to make up a story and act it out

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    TW:

    Right. Where did you study Community Arts?

    CH: Well I finally did my degree in Creative Arts at Crewe College and I worked for a community theatre company in Dorset after that.

    TW:

    Right. So the work that you do now for Treesponsibility – has that changed over the years? I mean, how long have you actually been there?

    CH: I’ve been working for them since June 2005. I started working for them when they....they got some funding from DEFRA’s Rural Enterprise Scheme to start doing tree planting holidays and I got the job as a Co-ordinator for that project, and I also did some funding to do residentials for children, so as we continued to do the holidays I continued to do that rather than co-ordinating

    TW:

    What kind of work do you do with residentials with the children then?

    CH: With the children, they....we usually have them three days. We stay with them at Blake Dean Hostel and we try to give them a completely different experience from their life experience....they’re always....they are children who are deprived in terms of not having access to the countryside...

    TW:

    Are these inner city kids mostly

    CH: Yes, but from Halifax mostly, schools in Halifax and particularly the children from West Central Halifax who are often from British Muslim families, British Pakistani families and they have no tradition in their families of going out to the countryside....and they also have other issues, like language issues often, even though they might be third generation British, they will still speak an Asian language in the home and so in effect, English continues to be their second language, and there continues to be sort of problems with integration so.......we aim to not just give them an experience of the countryside, we try to bring them in touch with their environment and with the cycles of nature, we try to help with their other problems of language and integration as well.

    TW:

    Right

    CH: So as well as.....they only do one morning of tree planting – three days of tree planting for ten year old kids would be too much – we do walks and....we start off in Heptonstall doing a history walk around Heptonstall, we go into the museum and then we walk along the Colden Valley...to Hebble Hole, we walk along the top of the

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    4

    valley and we come back along the river, and we....try in that context to give them an idea of how the people who have lived in this area have interacted and to a certain extent shaped the landscape as time’s gone on.

    TW:

    What kind of feedback do you get from them at the end of the three days then?

    CH: Mostly that they’ve really enjoyed it. We always do a quiz on the last night to find out how much they’ve absorbed and the last two groups have done very well in the quiz, you know, the teachers say it’s an invaluable experience for them and.....one little boy we had on the residential last year, this wasn’t from....this was actually from a North Halifax primary school, not Central Halifax, and he.....had certain special needs, some behavioural problems; he found it almost impossible to settle down and concentrate, he was like......couldn’t keep still and he was very....it was really hard to get him to talk to you or look you in the eye and then this year, after the class from that school had come out again and went back to school at the end with the children and saw him, and he looked – I recognised him but he looked completely different and he saw me and he smiled and said ‘hello’ and he’d remembered me, and....I didn’t feel at the time when he was on his residential that he’d connected with me at all, so I thought that was a good indication that you know, he’d had a good experience.

    TW:

    Right. I’d like to talk about the theatre work that you used to do with Coyote Dream Theatre I think it was called – correct me if I’m mistaken

    CH: That’s correct, Coyote Dream Theatre.

    TW:

    How did that come about then?

    CH: After I left the community theatre company I’d been working with in Dorset, I left them partly because I had missed it here so much, I’d missed the landscape, it had got so under my skin and I missed the drama of the landscape and it had become.....it had become a creative inspiration, it had become....fundamental to my identity somehow which is strange because I still feel like in many ways I’m a Southerner you know, I don’t feel like a naturalised Northerner, not by any means and.....you don’t really get accepted round here by you know, people who’ve been here all their lives, not a hundred per cent you don’t.

    TW:

    So what kind of theatre group did you begin when you came up here?

    CH: The company I’d been working for, they were called Word and Action and they worked exclusively in the round so the audience, well technically it’s a square so the audience sits around and the action takes place in the middle......the guy who was the

    Christina Hooley trans Page

    5

    Director of the company who I can’t remember his name at the moment – Gregory – we always called him Greg, but Gregory was his surname and I can’t remember what his first name was right now

    PERSON IN BACKGROUND: Does anybody else want another drink or anything?

    TW:

    No

    CH: No I’m alright thanks. Yeah, he was very very much a socialist [the kettle filling]

    TW: I’ll turn it off for now.

    CH: Yes, Word In Action....what was I saying...worked exclusively in the round. The Director, Greg, who founded the company back in the seventies, this was ’96 when I joined them, he was just about as much a socialist as he was a theatre practitioner, and he felt that the...the style of theatre that we probably think of as being traditional....obviously it has its context as well, is with the presidian arch, the stage, the actors up on the stage with the audience seated below them in front of them, and he thought that mirrored the hierarchy of society, so he felt that theatre-in-the-round was the most egalitarian form of theatre, and I found acting in the round, I found it totally liberating, I loved it. We mostly used to do something called Instant Theatre which again was a form particularly developed by Greg with Word and Action, and we’d work as a team of three, there’d be a questioner, a first actor and a second actor, and the questioner would go in, get the story from the audience and he’d begin with the five W’s – who, when, where, what – ‘what’s the weather like, what happens next’, and then they’d have to judge what questions to ask in order to...to see where their thought story was going; ask questions that would most facilitate the story....the two rules – we weren’t allowed to ask leading questions and the first answer to every question was true and went into the story, no matter how outrageous it might be, it had to go in to the story and when there was enough for a first scene, the questioner then becomes the Stage Director; get members of the audience to come out and act the parts – everything would be played by an audience member, whether it’s a table, a shoe, a hat, a cat or a person. The first actor would always take the main character and the second actor would decide, they would decide at the end what they were gonna do and they would take the part that they thought would best support the....the other parts, yes, so it was very skilled and....we used to tour all round Europe and beyond doing that and working in schools, and it would be a creative language experience for the children learning English at school, you know, as everyone in the world learns English at school if they’re lucky enough to go to school of course, and but then....two or three times a year we would do a play as well which we’d just do for the community in Wimborne which is where the company was based.....and then also once a year there would be a festival of the theatre-in-the-round. The year after I moved back here, Word and Action were hosting the festival of theatre-in-the-round and I decided that I was going to do something to take down to it and.....I’d a friend in Hebden who wanted to work with me and so we developed a little piece together and we took it down and performed it at the festival of the theatre-in-the-round, so

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    that was the.....that was the beginning. We called it The Little Round Theatre Company then, and it was just the two of us, but we did a few performances of that piece......and then a couple of years later we decided that we would do something for Hebden Bridge Arts Festival; I’d become friends with a man called John who had moved to Hebden from Manchester and lived on a boat, and he was called John the Barge and we actually became partners, but the.....three of us plus another guy, we created this piece for the Hebden Bridge Arts Festival that year and I was trying to think of a name for the company. I had....I think it was three days to think of a name for the company and a name for the piece in order to get into the programme, to meet the deadline – the printer’s deadline, and....I’d actually been reading the poetry of Ted Hughes at the time; I’ve had phases of reading Ted Hughes all through my life but this was a particular one and I was reading the Crow poems and I was reading some essays about Ted Hughes along with it, and the essays explained that the crow in these poems was a trickster which is a character that comes up in lots of sort of ancient cultures, like Native American and Inuits in particular, and the trickster embodies all the characteristics that are human but we might not necessarily want to own....but they’re also necessary for you know, the human species’ survival as well, and I got really fascinated by this idea.....in the Native American tradition, the trickster is often the coyote. I also liked working with people’s dreams and aspirations you know, what we hope for, what we wish for as well as our actual night- time dreams and this idea of dream world, it’s a world of archetypes.....I do believe underlie a lot of the human personality, so as I said all these things you know, were going on in my mind and I was trying to think of a name and then...it just came to me, it had to be Coyote Dream Theatre

    TW:

    Right

    CH: So that was how that started.....we did a piece for that festival and that was 1999, and then for every arts festival up until 2005, so me and John broke up and that was the end of the group although it still exists on paper and I have done a couple of projects since then under the name of Coyote Dream Theatre

    TW:

    Right. The work that you did, was it kind of based on the Word and Action type of stuff where you involve the audience in a bigger way and did you do other things?

    CH: I did use that instant theatre format for...you know, I just used to do it sometimes because I wanted to do it and did it a few times in different places around Hebden and I used to use it in my work in schools; I often found it was a good way to begin projects....to sort of do that with a class and then we would use the ideas that came up, you know, well it could go anywhere after that, but it gave me something to work with and it was a way to....get the children going really, creatively.

    TW:

    Well you mentioned earlier that you had a sort of love of plants and also when you came to Hebden Bridge initially then moved away, you missed the drama of the

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    landscape around here and since you’ve been here, how do you relate the area as fitting in with kind of your aspirations? I’d better stop a second

    CH: Yeah I’d better stop and think about this.

    The one occasion where.....you know, this particular place.....was direct, had a direct effect on a piece of theatre was when....it must have been 2001 I think.....no it was 2002, that’s right, it must have been 2002....I’d decided that I wanted to do a piece that was based in local history....so I need to give a bit of background actually to how we actually worked because I’d always start again in September every year, and John and I, we would put out some advertisements and say we were doing some open workshops; they’d always happen on a Monday night and....at Holme Street Art Centre, and anyone who came along to that....we would accept them if you know....if that person liked the way we worked, then they would stay for the nine months from September to the following June/July when the arts festival was, so we’d work with whoever came along. We worked through improvisation, research, any stimulus that anyone wanted to introduce – any exercise that anyone wanted to introduce and gradually over the weeks the ideas would start to emerge and the piece would start to take shape; it’s a bit alchemical, which I really love that process – I find it really exciting, some people hate it, some people came along and couldn’t bear working in that way, they found it just too frustrating and...it can be a bit frightening in a way because you go through stages where you’re absolutely getting nowhere and this idea’s never going to come together into a piece of theatre and that can be a bit frightening, it could just make you feel quite desolate because you’re working with your inner resources, it can bring up sort of disturbing memories and associations for you as well, but I can live with that and I think it’s actually important for us as human beings to be able to look at those dark things inside us and it’s just coming to me actually as well that......one of the reasons why I feel so at home in this landscape is because that is dark and of the time and its......for me it’s......yeah, it reflects that darkness of you know, our humanness and that’s an essential drama which is at the centre of our beings....I feel somehow that the landscape and the elements.....the harshness of the elements here exposes that far, far more than the soft southern landscape and climate does, but anyway this year, so we were doing a piece on local history and we were doing a bit of research, bringing in different ideas and we decided to do the Mankinholes Riots, but you probably don’t want me to go into that cos

    TW:

    You can if you like

    CH: Basically...it was Poor Law Riots when the Government tried to introduce the new Poor Law in was it 1838....I can’t remember, but it was around then, I can’t remember when it was exactly, where people could no longer receive what was called outdoor relief. If they were so desperate that they needed support from the Parish they would have to go into a workhouse and live in terrible conditions, and work really hard for their sustenance, and there’d be a set of Governors appointed and they would collect Poor Law rates from the rate payers and that money would go towards building and maintaining a workhouse, but the people at Mankinholes refused to do it,

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    and so the Poor Law Commission in London sent up some bailiffs to take away goods from one of the Governor’s houses, and on the day it was coming the people came out of the mills, the two local mills were given the day off – all the people came out and opposed the bailiffs and sent them packing back to London and there was never a workhouse in Mankinholes, so we that’s why we chose that story.

    TW:

    Very good. You haven’t done theatre work in a little while. Is that because you’ve been helping to work on this housing co-op and develop the work here?

    CH: No, it’s because my work with Treesponsibility has taken over. It was meant to be my day job to start with, but it’s such an all encompassing thing that you just get totally immersed in it. The year after I became one of the paid workers was the year of the first Camp for Climate Action, so as Treesponsibility is being a climate action group, we were sort of at the core of that really and....so for the next four years Climate Camp took up my summer, and then starting the Transition Town here, that came out of that as well, and that’s taken up the rest of my time, and then the co-op takes up.....[laughing]

    TW:

    Anything that’s left

    CH: Anything that’s left, yeah

    TW:

    Well how did your involvement in Transition Town then come about? I mean you say it comes out of what you were doing with Treesponsibility but why did you need something extra?

    CH: Well....during the Heathrow camp in 2007, there were thirteen people from Hebden at that camp and there were a few of us who were just sitting round the table chatting one day, having a cup of tea, and we were saying ‘what are we gonna take away from this? What are we gonna take home with us?’ and a couple of the women had been to a workshop on the Transition Town Movement and had been really inspired from it; they thought it was a fantastic idea, and we decided that when we went back home we’d call a meeting and see if we could begin to raise some interest in it, so that’s how it started.

    TW:

    Well what was it – when you say Transition Town then, what does it actually mean?

    CH: Right. The movement started with the ideas of a man called Rob Hopkins. He is a teacher of permaculture.....don’t know if you want me to explain permaculture but that’s a whole...

    TW:

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    9

    You can

    CH: level of explanation.....permaculture was an idea that was developed in the seventies. I can’t remember the names of the two guys who developed it. One of them certainly was an Australian and they were very very concerned with how human life was destroying the planet basically. They were particularly concerned with soil depletion and water depletion in Australia so they came up with this idea of....we actually needed to observe how nature worked and plan how we did things according to how nature did it, so it was about sort of the intelligent design and it was about culture so it was being as.....so bringing that right back into the heart of human cultures in that sense.....and the design meant looking at a way of working with the land that was through a design that was permanent so it was looking into the long-term future rather than just a sort of immediate contingency, so permaculture, that’s how it came about. Rob Hopkins was very concerned with the fact that we’re really not getting to grips with tackling the issue of climate change, and also the fact that we are heavily dependent on oil and very soon the fact that it may have already started, I think it probably has, we were gonna reach the point where the production of oil was gonna peak, that’s called peak oil, and he realised that governments, communities were not planning for it and they were needing to plan for that, so he saw these as, these should be twin drivers of our policy – peak oil and climate change – and building resilience in our communities, those two things, and he thought that community by community, town by town, we’d get a broad base of people involved on working on this transition to a low carbon economy way of living, and hence Transition Town. We thought this was a really good idea and decided to bring that back to Hebden Bridge; we thought Hebden Bridge would be a place where it should work very well because they were already very aware people living here....yeah, people with concerns about sustainability and so on, so that’s how I got involved

    TW:

    So are there any activities that Transition Town people get involved in, or is it just a kind of philosophy that you are trying to spread?

    CH: It is very much a practical thing. The idea is that.......to create a plan, a thirty year plan, you know, sort of making the shift from the level of.....use of fossil fuels now and taking that down to a optimum level in thirty years in the future, but it involves all sorts of practical steps along the way you know, starting to get projects under way that can build and you know, until the town is in a position to......start drawing its energy from natural resources, growing its own food, having its own finance and so on, so you know, very much practical projects to that aim of low carbon economy

    TW:

    Right. So creating your own energy either from water or wind power or with the other kind of project you wanna get involved with then?

    CH: Yes.

    TW:

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 10

    What do you say to people then who you know, I suppose the nimbys (not in my back yard) of this world you know, someone wants to put a big wind farm up on top of the moors and they say ‘we don’t want that because it spoils our view’. With your kind of love of the landscape that you were talking about, what do you think about all that then?

    CH: That’s a difficult one really, but I don’t think we should just stick wind farms willy nilly all over the moors. I think they should be placed strategically to give you know, maximum benefit for minimum impact and that involves consultation and.....it’s much much better if there’s like one turbine to serve several households so you know, if there are several households deriving the benefits such as from the feeding tariffs, I think that’s a much better way to approach it rather than you know, than individuals all putting in a planning application just to have their own wind turbine, so I think first of all to consult people, let people see that there are benefits for them and you know, then go from there you know, and try to....this is very hard, but try to....cos it is very hard for us to put ourselves into the position of imagining a future crisis; we’re all very good at dealing with immediate crises but not planning for something that might happen in the future, so it is very hard to get across the idea that you know, if we go on producing the levels of carbon dioxide that we are, we are going to seriously destabilise our climate and we’re you know, gonna create a situation where the planet can support far, far, far communities than it does now and......but you just have to do your best, I mean....sometimes it seems hopeless, but I’m of the mind that I can’t not try

    TW:

    Would you say the Transition Town people in Hebden Bridge, I mean if there was like a plan for a mega sort of wind farm out in the North Sea somewhere that could serve a large portion of the north of England, would the different Transition Towns around in the north all join together to help support a project like that?

    CH: Yes, yes. The idea that the Transition Town, it’s a movement, it’s a network so....you know, the different Transition Towns, there’s over.....the last time I checked the numbers there was well over three hundred in the country and there’s probably more now because it’s a while since I checked on the numbers. The idea is we communicate with each other and derive inspiration and support from each other.

    TW:

    Right. Can I ask you about something else now really? This house that you live in, it used to be a pub at one time, I mean it was probably something else before that but now it’s a housing co-operative. How did your involvement in the co-operative come about?

    CH: I was in a position where I’d been living in a house for five years and I was very soon gonna have to move out; the house was being sold, so I knew I had to look for somewhere to live. I also had a dream of having a theatre one day, you know, a creative theatre having its own community theatre building and I just happened to go

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 11

    along to the Salem Community Centre to volunteer to help put the LETS catalogue together and I met a guy there called Dave Brookes who wanted to start a housing co- op and he.....he’d been at a festival in summer, one of the green gatherings, I’m not sure if it was the Big Green Gathering or if it was the Northern Green Gathering and he’d come across an organisation called Radical Roots which is a co-op of co-ops; it was set up in the eighties I think to help activists get secure housing, so from there he learnt about the idea of a housing co-op. He at the time was living in one of the Zion cottages which backs on to the Zion Baptist Chapel which is on Osbourne Street on Birchcliffe. He got home to find he had a letter saying....giving him two months notice to move out because the building, the whole building was being sold; the Zion Baptist Chapel and the Zion Terrace, and he put the two ideas together and he thought ‘I’ll get a housing co-op together and we’ll buy this place’ so whilst standing up in that room putting the catalogues together he was telling me about it and I thought ‘what a wonderful idea and this would solve my two problems’ it would give, you know, it would give me you know, a secure place to live where I had all you know, as a member of the housing co-op I’d have control over my own housing and a building that could be a theatre, so I just....I bought into it and immediately I said ‘yes’ and I’ve never looked back.

    TW:

    Right. So how long have you actually been here?

    CH: We’ve been in this house since December the 23rd 2002. The co-op was formed in September 2001.

    TW:

    Right.

    CH: We didn’t manage to get the original, obviously because we’re in the Nutclough Tavern, we didn’t get the building that we wanted, the Zion Baptist Chapel and terrace; that is where the name comes from, Zion, although now we’re still....officially on all our paperwork we’re Zion Housing Co-op we’re actually calling ourselves Nutclough now

    TW:

    Oh do you?

    CH: We do yes.

    TW:

    Do you have to formally change that name then, if you wanted?

    CH: Yes, yeah, we’d have to because we’re registered with ICOF, the Industrial Co- operative....thing [laughing] and our bank account is with Companies House so we’d have to re-register which would cost us a few hundred pounds and we haven’t got round to doing that yet, but we tell everybody that we’re called Nutclough.

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 12

    TW:

    I see. How many people live here?

    CH: Eight.

    TW:

    Right. And how do people get to live here then? Do you have like a list where people can apply?

    CH: Well, ideally we would like to have a reserve of members in waiting, but we’ve never been able to achieve that; it’s always happened that when a room’s come empty we’ve had to advertise and then see who comes along. We’ve quite recently acquired a new member......and that seems to be working out very well. He’s a most energetic young man

    TW:

    Do you have any plans to expand or do some new building, or is that out of the question?

    CH: Well.....this is something that comes up from time to time and there are people in Hebden who would like to live in a co-op but for one reason or another, either they’re a family – it wouldn’t suit them to live in a space like this where here, every person has an individual room but the rest of the house is communal and for a family you know, they’d have to pay the rent for every room; it would actually work out quite expensive for a family, so we’ve often thought about maybe buying other properties so that......for families or other people to be members and to be housed, but.....some people in the co-op are quite understandably, don’t want to enlarge our financial commitment any more than it is, you know, and especially as we seem to keep having to borrow more money in order to be able to deal with sort of major maintenance things that come up, so...

    TW:

    Fair enough. I want to ask you about Hebden Bridge really because you did say earlier you didn’t think the local people totally accepted outsiders shall we say, off- cumdens as they call them, and half the people in Hebden must be off-cumdens now

    CH: They must be

    TW:

    So, how does that mix work? I mean, what’s your experience of born and bred and people from other areas? How do they blend together?

    CH: .............I’m trying to think......it’s the.....most of the people that I know well are off-cumdens like me; most of the people who have been involved in things I do are

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 13

    likewise with a few exceptions. Mostly when you meet more indigenous people they’re working in some of the shops and the pubs and so on, or.....that’s mostly how you know, where the two communities are inter-faced and in schools.....I mean I don’t have children myself so.....obviously there’s a lot more integration where people have children of the same age and they’re taking their children to school.

    TW:

    Right. I just want to ask a question about the future really. If say in twenty or thirty years’ time, you know, the work of Treesponsibility flourishes and Transition Town works really well and the sort of, the alternative people that are in this area carry on believing in that ethos and move forward, how do you think it will affect the landscape because you said you loved the harshness of it and it reflects kind of like the inner being of people. If it changes over a period of twenty or thirty years, how do you think that will then, you know, if you could live for another thirty years and then see what the landscape was like then, how do you think that would reflect on human nature?

    CH: Well the moor tops would really stay the same. If the Treesponsibility plan goes ahead, which is to.....a lot of our tree planting is for flood mitigation because even though it’s dry at the moment, the climate change scenario for our area is that we will get more incidents of heavy rainfall, so we try to get land in the water catchment area that’s on the steep valley sides so there’d be trees on all the steep valley sides.....the fields from the Transition Town, from the local food point of view, all the fields that were originally farmland would be productive from growing vegetables and there would also be managed woodland where the woodland would be coppiced to produce firewood and for some timber products. There would be some wind turbines in the landscape; there wouldn’t be.....the landscape wouldn’t be by no means dominated by wind farms; there would be water turbines in the water producing electricity that would be using the old water mill infrastructure which is in most of the rivers is still there.

    TW:

    That’s a good master plan! Is there anything that you would like to say – I’m not asking you a question; is there anything that you would like to say about your feelings or vision of this area?

    CH: ..........I’d like to see more of people working together and appreciating and supporting each other. I’d like to see people taking more responsibility for themselves in the way they live their lives.....and I’d like people to be.......yeah, to be more involved in decisions that affect their lives and affect our community, and generally for people to be more relaxed, less suspicious of each other and I think more of a need to slow down as well, I think really the key to tackling climate change and reducing carbon emissions is not to – well we couldn’t replace our present energy consumption with renewables, but we need to use less energy and I think we need to slow down, do less work, so less work and more community

    TW:

    ChristinaHooleytransPage 14

    Right that’s a good idea I think. Well I think we’ll end there if that’s alright and thank you very much

    CH: Thank you Tony. It’s been really interesting actually, talking and I’ve enjoyed just talking!

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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