Colour photograph of a white caravan from outside the wooden orchard gates, framed by trees, with a red brick tiled cottage behind it. If you look very carefully, you can see a Westie immediately behind the gate.


Holton Lee

Visit 10: 26 - 29 January 2007

Colour photograph of mostly bare trees, brown bracken and faded grass
Heathland near the cottages

We return to Holton Lee after a ten-week break that has included the Christmas holidays. Holton Lee is holding its first open exhibition for disabled artists, and the private view is tomorrow, Saturday. Alongside this the NDACA steering group is going to hold a weekend get-together, to discuss the progress made last year and to make plans for the future. The weekend is therefore going to be quite historic in terms of the development of disability arts, and I am looking forward to it tremendously. It will also be the first time that I will have met the steering group as a group, although I know a number of the members anyway.

Beforehand I am torn between wanting to see Holton Lee in the snow, and hoping for calm, mild weather and good driving conditions. In the event it is fairly cold but with no sign of snow; slightly disappointing, but probably for the best. I do not lose hope of seeing Holton Lee under snow later in the winter, though: not very accessible, but extremely photogenic! As Holton Lee is so close to the sea and the air is full of salt, however, I may be deluding myself about my chances.

We arrive at around 3pm, and I go straight to the office to join Tony, Trish and Hayley to give a hand with their preparations for the weekend. I also find out where we are staying, and who else will be in the cottages. Almost every member of the steering group has arranged to attend, so we will have two very full houses as well as the local people who will come each day. My biggest concern is to establish who else is addicted to Celebrity Big Brother, and who would rather opt for voluntary euthanasia than sit through it. This way we can work out which sitting room will be devoted to this weekend's finale, and which will be left for the rest. There will be a double eviction tonight at 8.30pm, so there is no time to lose!

Close-up colour photograph of a silver birch tree uprooted by the winter storms
Silver birch uprooted by the winter storms

The Holton Lee team is, as usual, trying to do two things at once: in this case, preparing the catalogues and voting forms for the private view (there will be a 'People's Choice' award); and preparing the paperwork and presentations for the steering group meeting that will follow. Trish, Hayley and I also have to discuss how they have been getting on with the Calm database programming, and what we will present to the steering group on Sunday about the online version of the archive, or NDACAWeb. Somehow we manage to do this, but I later get stuck trying to link one of the new office laptops to the overhead projector, and eventually decide that it is high time to find my way to the cottage.

Julie has already driven the van down to unpack, so I take one of the Trampers. Although I find these easier to use on the road than off-road - which is what they are intended for - I still find it quite a challenge, and remind myself to fill in a grant application when I get home for a different type of off-road mobility vehicle that I will be able to drive much more safely and easily. While the Trampers are controlled by a motorbike-type control that involves twisting the handle bar and holding it back, the model that I am opting for is more like a tricycle - though a very stylish one! - and has finger-tip controls. I trialled it in December and have obtained the necessary forms for the grant, but have been putting the paperwork off: now it seems quite urgent! However, Genie is delighted to be out in the open, and runs along beside me quite happily. By the time that she would like to slow down, there are headlights behind me, so as the lane is single-track, we carry on at the same brisk pace to the cottage where she is more than happy to find her basket and a drink!

Colour photograph of the top half of a woman (in profile) dressed in a green coat with a purple ski hat and blue bag, riding an off-road scooter with woodland in the background
Pat Place gets to grips with the Tramper

Tonight we will be sharing Gateway cottage with Joe Bidder and his partner Hilary, Pat Place, and Allan Sutherland. Joe founded the national organisation Survivors' Poetry, and his long and illustrious CV also includes chairing the Arts Council's disability committee. Pat founded and directed London's Xposure Disability Arts Festival for several years, before moving to become London Disability Arts Forum's chief executive, which is her current job. Allan is the director of the Edward Lear Foundation, as well as a respected writer on disability arts with a particular specialism in film. He has been responsible for carrying out the bulk of the research about the archive material held by other disability arts organisations, and will play a central role in carrying forward the dispersed archive project. They are all happy to share a (very good) fish and chip supper, which is collected from nearby Upton. None of them, however, wish to watch Celebrity Big Brother.

Fortunately only one person has arrived next door so far, James Wear, who was Holton Lee's first artist-in-residence in 2000, and he has a five-month-old baby. The baby has stayed in Yorkshire with its mother, but James has become as addicted to CBB as Julie and I because, like us, he has had plenty of opportunity to watch television in the evenings and few opportunities to do anything else. As the new boiler in his cottage, Woodland, has failed to fire, though, and the manufacturer can't send a representative until the next day, there is a price to pay i.e. sitting in a very cold room for an hour while everyone else enjoys the warmth next door. Still ...

Once the evictions are over, Julie and I opt for an early night to warm up again, while the rest of our cottage gather in the kitchen at Gateway and enjoy the wine that was picked up at the same time as the fish and chips. The cold notwithstanding, James has retired next door for his first full night's sleep in half a year. It is a beautiful clear night, and when I let Genie out before retiring myself, the stars are out in force and I realise that they are much brighter than during the summer. I'm not sure whether this is because the skies are clearer, or there is less light and other pollution at this time of year.

Colour photograph of bare trees, with yellow-brown reedbeds behind them, and water lying on the grass under the trees, with a grey sky
The reedbeds leading down to Poole Harbour (with deer hiding in them)

Around 11pm there is a bang on the door which fails to disturb the drinkers, and I get up again to discover the inimitable Julie McNamara getting out of a taxi. As she is staying next door, I feel obliged to point out to her that she should have at least two glasses of wine before attempting to sleep in the cold, and she duly complies. I find myself joining in too, so it is actually about midnight before I really go to bed. At this point Julie Mac has been laughing about my long-standing interest in popular girls' fiction, and I do not want to break it to her that Dorset is now being marketed as 'Enid Blyton Country' ...

The next morning I attempt to get up relatively early, in order to check on the caravan before the private view starts at 11am. Genie and I take the Tramper up to the orchard, where we are pleased to discover that all is apparently well - including the moles apparently continuing to thrive. I bless Dave for putting the caravan next to the fence that divides the orchard off from the garden of Ashtree cottage: it shields us completely from the winds that sweep across the fields from Poole Harbour, and in this case must have saved the day as December consisted of one storm after another. I do, though, realise that there are still some small holes to fill in the front of the van, so make a mental note to do this on Monday.

Elsewhere Holton Lee is, as always, a hive of activity. As Genie and I make our way to the Farm House, I see that the students' garden is coming on apace, and that a poly-tunnel is in the process of being constructed in the field alongside it. The Barn extension is more than half-way to completion, and so the whole outline of the building has changed. There is no sign of the deer - obviously, as the light is good and I have my camera with me - but the horses are frolicking in the Camping field in front of the Barn, as the mead where they were previously grazing is too wet. And a steady stream of visitors are arriving for the private view, which is great.

Colour photograph of bare branches outlined against a blue sky
Treetops by the site of the archive building

We go into the Farm House, where the steering group is gathering for coffee and introductions before going on to the private view, and I am grateful to have a hot drink. Genie, though, finds it hard to understand why I would want to be back in the office at the weekend, and when there are so many interesting smells and goings-on outside. She is even more indignant when she sees Maggie Woolley's 'hearing' dog in what she considers to be her own territory, though manages to contain herself. Deborah Williams has also arrived, as have David Bower and Isolte Avila from Signdance Collective who I have not met before, but look forward to talking to later. Local members include the aforesaid Maggie Woolley, a Deaf Arts specialist, and the sculptor Mike O'Hara.

After coffee we head for Faith House Gallery (named after Faith Lees, co-founder of Holton Lee) and a really great show. Later the full story of this will appear on the arts section of the Holton Lee website, together with the catalogue and so on, so here I will just admit that Genie ended up back in the van because she was not happy to see Maggie's dog enjoying the show too. This confused one visitor no end, as he was looking for 'the little dog' in order to identify me and talk about this blog (thank you, if you are reading this). It underlined the truth of who is the star of this blog, and I hope that sufficent news and photos of her are being included for all of you. It was great, too, to see other disabled artists from London who had come down especially to see the show, including my mate Sally Booth who was presenting some of the work that she is doing in Japan, and a new friend who I met at a consultation event for a London Disabled Artists' Database last year.

Colour photograph of grassy open space, surrounded by trees, with a blue sky
The archive site in the morning sunshine

Following the private view - which included a substantial buffet lunch - the steering group head back to the Farm House and see a presentation of the architects' plans for the NDACA building, followed by an intense discussion about this. Everyone is very impressed with the designs submitted so far by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects. The group is also briefed by Tony on the progress being made on the funding of NDACA, and on what part they might play in helping to raise the rest of the money. (If any funders or donors are reading this, then please contact Tony if you are able to assist.) Finally, we begin to talk about the proposed MA in Disability Arts at the Arts Institute Bournemouth, and about what such a degree programme might contain and who it would be aimed at. Liz, who is the Director of Services at Holton Lee, acts as one of the BSL interpreters - everyone here seems to be extremely multi-skilled! Trish takes copious notes, for distribution later as well as an aide memoire for action points.

Once the meeting ends, Genie is pleased to be released from the van and to have a run down to the cottage alongside the Tramper. Before this I am able, finally, to introduce her to Maggie's hearing dog in the way approved of by dog trainers et al. (Having only whined at Maggie's dog rather than doing anything to disgrace herself, I would have taken Genie into the afternoon's meeting. However, at the beginning of the afternoon Barbara Lisicki arrived with her dog, Kim, who had already been stuck in the car all the way from London, and I decided that two dogs in one meeting was enough until such time as they had all been properly introduced to each other elsewhere.) Genie appears to have had a very long sleep - obviously last night's and this morning's runs, together with the fresh air, had caught up with her.

Colour photograph of a woman with short hair, sitting in a wheelchair with a Westie on her lap, waving her hands as she talks, with a flip chart behind her and two younger women sitting to her right
I bang on about programming, supported loyally by Hayley, Trish and Genie. Photo: Julie Newman

In fact, Genie is not the only one to be sleepy from the fresh air, and while most of the rest gather next door, Julie and I head for bed after Big Brother finishes. (By this time I am aware that, although just about everyone else except Deborah Williams denies wanting to watch Big Brother, not everyone is telling the truth. However, only those honest enough to admit it get to see it.) It would be great to be able to spend more time catching up and talking about everything and nothing, but neither of us are able to do more than totter to our room. We do, though, have Xmas presents to open from Wally and Denise at the stables, which are all the more fun for being late.

The plus side of our early night is that, the next morning, we have had more sleep than anyone else in the group - some of whom have had very little sleep indeed! This is just as well, as I have to start off at ten o'clock presenting the plans for the online version of NDACA - NDACA Web - and describing the Calm database, while Julie, who is passionate about documentation, is photographing the weekend for posterity. Fortunately Genie is prepared to sit quietly on my lap throughout this, only occasionally giving a deep sigh of boredom when I get too techy which I imagine echoes at least some of the feelings in the room. I am unable to resist pointing out to Julie Mac that the reason Trish, Hayley and I will soon have the opportunity to see how Calm works at the Somerset County Archives is that the archivist is a school story collector!

The rest of the morning goes well, and all too soon it is time to say goodbye to the group. Only Allan and James will be staying with us until Monday - Allan has a meeting then in Poole; I will be working with Hayley; and James faces too long a drive to start back in the afternoon. Genie, Julie and I head off on the Trampers for the woods and heathland, delighted to be there again. Julie, who has had more time to explore the site than me, shows me the Horseshoe Pond for the first time - Genie, of course, has already been there with her. We then make a long detour when what appears to be a path comes to a dead end, so by the time we get back to the cottage we are extremely cold and tired.

Colour photograph of bare and leafy trees and bracken, reflected in still water
Horseshoe Pond

However, as if by magic Allan and James are sitting with a full pot of tea when we come in through the kitchen door, and immediately a cup appears in front of me which is extremely reviving. Three or four pots of tea later, we have made sufficient progress with the content of the M.A. programme to think about food, and Julie nobly volunteers to go with Allan to the Chinese takeaway and off-licence in Wareham. By eight o'clock we are all sitting in front of the Big Brother finale, tucking into a good dinner with a drink beside each of us (lemonade for James). Allan has been supplied with the Sunday papers, but watches anyway. Even though the result is a foregone conclusion, it is good to see the show end (in more ways than one) and to relax after such an intense few days.

On Monday, unsurprisingly, we are all extremely tired. Genie in fact refuses to make her way up the lane at anything faster than a walk, and is delighted when I have to stop to take a phone call from Asian Woman magazine about my latest Bettany Press publication, Two Chalet School Girls in India, which has sold more than a thousand copies in its first two months. Given the rows over Big Brother, it has seemed to me to be timely to press-release a story about some of the commonalities between British and Indian women. It is, though, the first time that I have ever carried out a press call in the middle of a field!

Once I get to the office, Genie settles down while I am able to see the great progress that Trish and Hayley have made in customising Calm and in beginning to enter the data. I give them some feedback and agree the next priorities for the work, as well as meeting with Tony to talk about our future work. I am also able to type up the suggestions that have been made by the steering group for the M.A. programme. Julie meanwhile is kind enough to drive into Wareham and buy filler for the caravan, and then to mend the holes with the help of Derek, Holton Lee's chief gardener. By the time that five o'clock comes, and we head for home, I have a great desire to see my own bed and am ready to leave. It has, though, been a huge privilege to participate in such a ground-breaking few days, and I look forward to returning as soon as possible.

Visit this page again when there will be a link to more photographs from the steering group meeting.

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