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 20: 29 May - 1 June 2008

Colour photograph of a hand print in mud and grass, alongside animal track marks

The weather has been poor throughout the month, so after last year's experience - when the weather in the UK was colder than in Siberia, as well as being very wet - I have held off opening up the caravan until after the late May Bank Holiday. It is hard to believe this is the 20th visit that I have made to Holton Lee! For a long time, Holton Lee was only a place that I heard about from other people, often in texts as friends excitedly told me about the encounters that they had with nature here. As I could not have afforded to holiday here - and on an artist's earnings still couldn't! - I never dreamed then that one day I would be engaging so intensively with the Holton Lee landscape and community. For me, as for so many disabled people, Holton Lee offers a space where it is possible to be far more independent than it is at home, and that is only one of its attractions.

We arrive from London at about 3pm, and head straight for the stables where my off-road scooter is waiting for me. There has been a problem with the power where it is usually stored, so Wally and his team have been keeping it charged for me. This is just one of so many kindnesses that they have shown us, thus making it possible for us to manage here without full-time PA support. I leave Julie to recover from the long drive over a cup of tea, and ride the scooter over to the orchard to uncover the caravan. Once we arrive Genie immediately starts rolling on the ground, and I wonder why I bothered to bath her the night before.

Fortunately Paul, who has begun to make charcoal on site this year (and will soon begin to run demonstrations) is around and helps me to take the cover off. Underneath the caravan is clean and dry, thanks to all of my PA Ashley's hard work last autumn. Sadly Ashley is no longer working for me, but I thank him silently - it would have been impossible for us to stay on site if the caravan had been dirty, because we have no means of cleaning it ourselves. By 5.30pm, when Trish arrives from the Farmhouse, all of our belongings have been unloaded and we are able to sit in deckchairs in the late afternoon sun and catch up.

Colour photograph of a grey (actually brown, grey and red) squirrel.
Genie was too tired to spot the squirrel outside the orchard gate.

Later we spend a quiet evening - the power problems have meant that we are unable to connect to the mains as usual, and our battery has very little juice left in it after the winter. Thank goodness the stables team have come to the rescue again, and will charge it for us before our next visit. Hopefully, though, it will not be too long before the mains power is restored - our fridge and all of our plug-in electrical items rely on the mains connection, and it will be very difficult to manage without it once the hot weather arrives. Regular readers of this Blog will remember that I am also a fan of Big Brother, which is due to start next month. However, now it is lovely just to be unpacked and spending a peaceful night.

It begins to rain around midnight, but the morning starts out bright - quite a relief as the weather forecast has not been good. I attempt to take some shadow self-portraits to continue my series when I come back from retrieving Julie's borrowed scooter from the artists' common room, where it has been charging overnight. Unfortunately it clouds over again while I am preparing my camera, so we head into Wareham instead to stock up on essentials such as food, and batteries for the torches and radio. Wareham boasts a wonderful range of shops for such a small town, and I am particularly pleased to be able to buy a tofu ice cream from the wholefood shop. The weather has not improved, but as I cannot digest cows' dairy products, an ice cream is a rare treat and welcome on any occasion. The ironmongers, which stocks the most incredible variety of products, is able to supply me with all of the batteries that I need - as well as a few items which were not on the list, including a feather duster and tea cosy, neither of which I was able to resist! My morning of retail therapy is further improved by stopping at the old pottery on the Wareham Road, which sells very few pots but just about everything else of a giftish nature. I am particularly pleased with a traditional espresso pot that will make a single espresso, which has been reduced to £3.

Colour photograph of a recreated Iron Age hut, in the process of being restored.
Genie wonders who the little house is intended for.

After lunch in the caravan, I go up to the Farmhouse to see Trish and to catch up on the latest NDACA news. We are unlikely to hear if the Heritage Lottery Fund has approved 'match funding' until the autumn, so building cannot start this year. However, the final planning permissions will be applied for over the summer, and as much will be done as possible to ensure that building can start shortly after the final funds have been raised. It will be the first summer that there has not been building work taking place at Holton Lee since this residency started, although there are currently workmen crossing the site daily to repair the railway line that runs across the bottom of the fields opposite Faith House Gallery.

After this Genie and I go pottering around the heath and woods, where I am able to continue making my hand-print series. I have had a lot of treatment on my hands over the winter, so they are now only in soft braces, but I continue to find the process of making a difficult one, which allows me to engage more fully and thoughtfully with the process than otherwise. When the NDACA building goes up, the architects have suggested that we encourage everyone connected to Holton Lee to make a hand print in the outside of the cob wall that will form the back of the building. Over the summer, I am hoping that I will be able to shoot a long-planned movement video, which just focuses on hand movements. This would form part of my final show here. As we continue around the site we also see that the 'Iron Age' hut is in the process of being restored, and Genie is fascinated by it.

Later I receive a call to say that my friend Helen Aveling has arrived from Kent. She is renting one of the cottages for a week, so I am looking forward to using her bathroom as well as to seeing her! I ride my scooter over the heath to the cottage, with Genie racing along beside me. She is very happy, and insists on running virtually the whole way. It is a rare treat for her to be able to run with me, since my power chair and mini-scooter are too slow to allow this. I am delighted too - it is such a contrast to be free and independent within 350 acres of nature reserve when I am rarely able to leave my home unaccompanied in London. In the summer months at least, Holton Lee offers an amazingly accessible environment for people with a wide range of impairments. In my own case, the soft, relatively level ground allows me to walk far more than I do in London, when most of my walking has to be done at home, while the very fresh air gives me the energy to do more physically too. This means I also return fitter than when I arrive, however tired all the activity leaves me. Meanwhile having Genie and a phone with me on site is all I need to ensure that I am safe in the event of suddenly becoming ill.

Once we arrive at Gateway Cottage, Genie is surprised to see Helen, but takes this in her stride too. She is used to seeing friends pop up in strange places - we often have visitors when we are camping in Pembrokeshire, as well as meeting up with people Genie knows when working around the country. Once I have checked that Helen has everything that she and her PA need, we leave her to settle in and return to the caravan, with Genie insisting on running most of the way back too. Then we have another peaceful evening, with me reading while Julie plays Tetris on my Nintendo DS Lite - a recent birthday present to me from Julie! - and we both listen to Classic FM on the radio.

Colour photograph of my shadow cast across a puddle in the lane.

On Saturday morning I remember to take my camera with me when I go to get Julie's scooter from the common room, and am rewarded by getting a range of shadow pictures at different spots near the caravan. Although the weather continues to be better than forecast, the one in a puddle seems particularly apt! Genie, who has come with me, waits patiently while I take them. I have no fear that she will move whatever the provocation, since having failed to spot a squirrel on the lane opposite the caravan on our way out, she is obviously not properly awake yet. One of her many pluses is that she has never been an early riser!

On the way back we see Sally Booth, who arrived the night beforehand for the private view that afternoon. Sally has in fact been here most of the week, but had to return to London for a couple of days to meet other work commitments. She is exhibiting a range of work in the new exhibition at Faith House Gallery, 'Light', and I am very much looking forward to seeing it. Sally and I first met when we were both awarded Arts Council grants from the Innovate fund to produce light-box work, and our interests have continued to cross regularly ever since. She tells me that she'd come over to visit the night before, but thought we were asleep as the caravan was so quiet and dark!

After a chat I take my scooter and Genie and go to visit Helen, with my washing things safely in the basket on the back. Unlike the day before, Genie rides on the footplate - she is obviously tired as she shows no sign of wishing to run! She is pleased to see Helen again, though, as am I. We have a coffee together and catch up before I shower, and afterwards we settle down to discuss work. Helen is currently editing a book for my smallpress company Bettany Press, Unseen Childhoods, on the representation of disabled characters in 20th-century books for girls. The book is due to be published by the end of the summer, so we have plenty to talk about! Helen is also in the process of completing a novel aimed at young adults, and we have an intriguing discussion about possible sequels before I head back to the caravan.

At lunchtime we all meet up at Faith House Gallery for the private view of 'Light', a group show by local and national disabled artists. The view is well-attended as usual, boosted further by the fact that this is Dorset Art Week. Sally has produced an experimental range of lightboxes, as well as mounting drawings on tracing paper directly on to the windows at the front. For once the light at the back comes from the exhibits rather than the light streaming in the windows from Poole Harbour, and having the shutters down makes the space seem unfamiliar. As well as Sally's work, I am struck by Paul Cade's plaster cast of himself, with fibre optics implanted into it. Plaster work has a particular resonance for disabled artists, because of its use within medicine.

Colour photograph of my shadow cast across the forest.

The Stables Studios are also open to the public for the week, and later in the afternoon I go down to see the artists' work there and to chat to them. I particularly enjoy meeting two members of the First Dream collective, who met when they attended a series of photography workshops here two years ago. First Dream, who consist of Nathan Bolger, John Mondino and Chris Veale, also have a projection on show as part of 'Light'. This week they are sharing a studio with Sally, and I enjoy seeing more of her drawings.

I also see Derek, who is working in the garden, and enjoy catching up with him. Over the past two years, tasting Derek's organic salad and vegetables has converted me to an entirely different way of eating - quite a mean feat considering I am a 40-something Essex girl. Derek though is slightly horrified to hear that I am now keeping a vegan kitchen at home, and recommends that I eat more fish! He is more enthusiastic about my plans to grow vegetables in pots at the back of my studio, and we discuss the merits of disabled people growing things in pots rather than raised beds. Later still I rendezvous with Wally's team at the current stables, and we enjoy what has become our traditional fish-and-chip gathering. With Derek's advice in mind, I order fish as well as chips!

After this we meet up with Sally, and go to watch the deer at the Chase Manhattan hide. Then Genie and I go back down to the cottages to pick up my DS Lite from Helen, which I'd left charging after Julie had played it till the battery was flat the night beforehand. Julie has insisted on having it back before she goes to bed! Genie is extremely reluctant to go out again, and insists on riding on the footplate all the way there, although she perks up again and decides to run part of the way back. Despite only intending to go as far as Wareham, Helen has visited Corfe Castle after the private view, and although she has had a good time she is now very tired, so we don't stay long. Instead, after getting the caravan ready for the night, we go over to the Barn where Sally is staying for a late cup of tea which eventualy ends at midnight. Genie nearly has to be dragged out of the caravan, but cheers up when she realises that we are at least intending to stay indoors!

On Sunday I manage to take some more shadow portraits and make hand prints after picking up Julie's scooter from the common room, this time further afield in the woods. Then I return to clear up the caravan, while Julie goes to meet Helen for a photo-session that will be used for the back cover of Unseen Childhoods. Following this we all head off to lunch at the nearby Craft Courtyard, along with Helen's PA Lydia. This is another opportunity for some retail therapy, and I am delighted to be able to buy eight stoneware dishes for 55p each as the pottery there has been clearing out their back room. The dishes are beautifully made and originally retailed for more than £5 each, so I am very happy. We also visit the sweet shop, where I stock up for the journey home. I seem to have done far more shopping this visit than usual, but it is nearly seven months since we closed the caravan for the winter so there is a lot of time to make up!

Colour photograph of a hand print in mud and sand, alongside animal track marks

Eventually we return to Holton Lee, where we get ready to return to London. Ali, one of the artists from the Stables Studios, is kind enough to help to get the caravan battery out, ready for Wally to charge before our next visit at the end of the month. It has been great to meet all of the new artists in the studios, as well as to catch up with old friends such as Abi Kremer, who also had work in the exhibition. Holton Lee provides a space for local artists as well as national and local disabled artists, and I think we all appreciate the opportunities for exchange that this creates. I am looking forward to taking advantage of the delay in the build by being able to focus on my own art work when I am here this summer, and also to spending more time generally with the other artists working here.

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