[BLOG] Weather Memories and Connections

Published: 22/05/2019

In our latest guest blog, Amerie Rose from Encounter Theatre & Therapy writes about their latest project work "Weather Memories and Connections" Encounter Theatre & Therapy won our Q4 Community Grant award and we're delighted to welcome them back in this guest blog.

In February and March 2016 Amerie and Samantha from Encounter Theatre & Therapy visited 6 AgeUK Exeter groups and hosted two Tea Party events at RAMMuseum. It is a good job the sun was shining...
 

 
It is hard to believe, on a beautiful sunny day like today, that just a few short weeks ago we were seeing images on the news of our beloved countryside inundated with water and facing the threat of super snow storms heading our way across the Atlantic.
 
In the face of news stories which are more reminiscent of something from biblical times, Samantha and I are painfully aware of the sensational spin the media likes to put on what are, in fact, natural occurrences. It seems a little unfair really. Today, most of us depend on life-line services which can be effected in times of extreme weather events. Making a mountain out of a mole hill, or more specifically, claiming that a ‘total white out’ is on its way when all we saw locally was a bit of soggy sleet, does not help us to feel safer in our homes. Throughout the ages, humankind has grappled with the forces of nature. Our suspicion is that these ‘scare stories’ may have more to do with selling newspapers than advising the population to be a little more careful until the threat passes. 

With this in mind, we conceived the Exeter Weather Memories and Connections project, to celebrate the stoic attitude of our elderly local residents who have been soldiering on through the decades ‘Whatever The Weather.’ We wanted to offer our local elders something of the safety and connectedness that solid facts, some shared tales and a sense of playful fun can bring.
 
Samantha and I are dramatherapists, with a background in community art and theatre practice. We met in 2010, and now run a small social enterprise called Encounter Theatre & Therapy 
 
Dramatherapy has as its main focus the intentional use of healing aspects of drama and theatre as the therapeutic process. It is a method of working and playing that uses action methods to facilitate creativity, imagination, learning, insight and growth.
British Association of Dramatherapists: www.BADth.org.uk 

Encounter Theatre & Therapy combine our different modes of working to bring a range of services to our local arts and health sector: from clinical psychotherapeutic interventions, to community arts projects, to professionally produced theatre events. This makes us quite unique. We are passionate about and skilled at creating high quality art experiences for our participants. Through dramatherapy, we bring an additional layer of understanding to our work which means we can also work safely and effectively with some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
 
For the Exeter Weather Memories and Connections project, we drew inspiration from the Whatever The Weather exhibition, which Exeter’s RAMMuseum are hosting in partnership with MET Office, National Trust and University of Exeter until 10th April 2016. The exhibition recognises the weather as a favoured topic of conversation in British society and acknowledges the diverse way that floods, storms and heat-waves are represented in the media. The premise is that our lack of control over the weather has an unsettling affect on humanity and can leave us feeling helpless in the face of natural phenomena. We also looked at our local history. Some of you will remember The Devon Floods of 1960 when more than 1,400 homes suffered loss and damage. Although much of Exeter escaped, the city’s residents looked on from the top of the hill as the River Exe burst its banks and Alphington, Cowick Street and St.Thomas became a lake at the bottom of the hill. Through searching Devon Record Office and our local library Samantha and I were able to find and collect photographs and newspaper stories and began to build up the material for a drama session to bring to local elderly residents in Exeter.
 

1960's Cowick Street Floods. Image courtesy of Exeter Express and Echo
 

This kind of work cannot happen without wider support and we feel very grateful to the other agencies who partnered with us to develop and then deliver our ideas. About a year ago we spoke to the RAMMuseum who were pleased that we wanted to work with one of their exhibitions, could see how it would help them to widen their audience and subsequently offered their logistical support. Last summer we successfully applied to Exeter City Council for a grant which enabled us to run the project as paid artists and facilitators and make it free to attend for the participants. We approached AgeUK Exeter who saw this as a valuable opportunity for their service users, many of whom live independently, to participate in a city wide cultural activity. Then, just after Christmas, we heard from Lydia at Bluebird Care Exeter and East Devon that they were awarding us their Community Grant, which allowed us to bring the project to even more local elders. 
 

So, in February 2016 Amerie and Samantha visited six AgeUK Exeter groups run by Becky (West Exe Day Centre), James (Men In Sheds), Mary Jane (Heavitree and Beacon Heath Social Groups), Mike (Imperial Social Group) and Sue (Sycamores Day Centre). We met wonderful men and women who have lived in Exeter all of their lives, or have moved to Exeter more recently from all over the country and further afield. Some remembered the Alphington and St. Thomas floods clearly and some had been children at the time. Everybody had something to say about one of our favourite British topics...The Weather.
 
We read newspaper headlines and articles from 1960, provided by Devon Archive and Local Studies Service.

 

 
Participants shared their experiences of the weather through personal stories and hearing those of their peers, with some people talking about their feelings of vulnerability as dependent residents within our communities. We heard all sorts of memories of friendship, detours to and from work, lifts on the Army DUKWs, thoughts about neighbours, professions and helping one another through challenging weather and circumstance.
 
We acted out the River Exe flood using songs, fabrics and instruments, laughing and singing together, and supporting each other to not be swept away by the water. Together we found the sunshine, looked forward to the coming spring and shared ideas with each other for what to do when the weather gets tough: be that a frosty morning or a sweltering summer’s day in Exeter 2016.
 
Then in March, the project culminated with two combined group visits to RAMM’s Whatever the Weather exhibition and a Devonshire Cream Tea Party in the museum. This gave participants an opportunity to meet members of other AgeUK groups whom they may not otherwise meet. We were also joined by visitors from Exeter City Council and Bluebird Care. Together we reflected on our experiences of the weather, this project and the exhibition. 
 

 
Thank you to all our participants from AgeUK Exeter, to Exeter City Council and Bluebird Care for generously funding the project, to RAMM for hosting our exhibition tour and Tea Party and to The Weather Gods for, remarkably, keeping the rain away each day we were together. This project has given us all a playful and poignant reminder that the rain may come, but it always goes away again. We are left with the sensation of warm sunshine on our skins. It has been a privilege to work with you all.
 
If you would like to find out more about Encounter Theatre & Therapy, please visit our website - www.EncounterTT.co.uk or call us on 07543 584328

And finally, here are some Top Tips from our groups on how to look after ourselves in times of extreme weather: 
  • Keep warm in winter.
  • Hot water bottle, pyjamas, teddy, duvet.
  • You can take shelter: ‘In the rain or the falling snow, back to the van we will go’ (memories of a railway engineer)
  • I listen to music, read, or watch something on television that makes me smile.
  • I will reach out to a friend or relative, phone them.
  • I have a nice cup of tea or hot chocolate.
  • I do some crochet.
  • I feel safe and happy in my home, in my room.
  • My daughter looks after me, she's always there. I keep myself busy.
  • Mucking in. Laughter. Get on with it.
  • Stay in. Have a visitor over.
  • Check on the neighbours.
  • Get yourself away to somewhere with hot weather.
  • Strip off if it gets too hot, go for a swim.
  • If I panic, I feel better when I connect and share how I am feeling with others.
  • Put on wellington boots in the rain.
  • Help save lives, do different things.