Invisible Folk is a not for profit organisation dedicated to providing grass roots creatives with a platform to make new work in partnership with heritage and arts organisations. We aim to give voice to marginalised communities and point out the role of folk song in the lives of ordinary people.
Some people get left out of history books. Sometimes it is women and girls, descendants of immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, people living with disability in body or mind. In creating this walking tour of Bedford High Street we sought out those voices. That meant that D/disabled, Caribbean and Lesbian people all described Nelson Mandela's visit in 2000 and provided many other stories of this historic town which is home to many communities. We interviewed Italians, Poles, people from the black community, the LGBTQ community, people living with disability, British people, historians and museum curators. We interviewed Special Constables, members of the territorial army, artists in glass, musicians and singers, writers, carers, radio broadcasters and cooks. We then edited it down to make a coherent story. This tour is available on the IZI travel app and it was made in partnership with Bedford Borough Council and their High Street Heritage Action Zone Project, The Higgins Bedford and most of all the people of Bedford.
The Invisible Folk Walking Tour of Bedford High Street in the voices of members of marginalised communities.
Community Engagement is a challenge for every council and for the people of a town. Very often distinct groups keep themselves to themselves and don't communicate with the council or with other communities. Ignorance and mistrust can grow. This project was to connect with as many marginalised groups as possible and to record their experiences and stories of life on Bedford High Street and in St.Paul's Square. This was part of the High Street Heritage Action Zone project which was funded by Historic England.
After World War Two London Brick needed to increase productivity dramatically at its factory in Stewartby. They recruited from India, Italy and the Caribbean. This sudden influx of different populations into Bedford changed the town and continues to be a dynamic in the life of its people today. Each community established social and sporting clubs, churches and temples, restaurants and shops. We wanted to hear about these and the extent to which there had been mixing between the communities. Walking tours, like history books and other heritage projects are rarely presented by marginalised voices and rarely tell the stories of marginalised groups. We set out to include those voices and those stories.
Most heritage projects are created by and for White Britons. Their voice is important and is included here, but it is not the only one. Central Government identify marginalised groups as being Women and Girls, those of non English descent, members of LGBTQ community or those living with a physical or mental disability. We worked closely with Lydia Saul of the Higgins Bedford and Jess Mittler of Bedford Borough Council to identify people from all of these groups. We conducted fifteen interviews online and we made audio recordings. Locations on the High Street we chosen as a result of the clusters of stories we were told in these interviews. We created forms for the interviewees in this project. One explained the uses to which we intended to put these recording and seeking the interviewee's permission. This was given every time. We also designed a demographics survey and that revealed that this was an inter generational project with volunteers ranging from 18 to 83 years old. It also confirmed that we talked to people from the LGBTQ and the D/Disabled communities. We also spoke to people who self identified as White British, Black British, African/Caribbean, Polish, Italian and European. We also designed a form offering people the opportunity to withdraw their contribution after the recording. This was uniformly declined. The conversations included personal memories, memories of one's own community and awareness of other communities. It was about families and the similarities and differences between the generations. We talked about Bedford cultural landmarks to explore what the communities had in common and where they differed.
We had an exceptionally high response rate and the vast majority were enthusiastic participants. We gathered personal, cultural, community and universal stories and memories. These will be passed on to The Higgins Bedford. We found that many people had good memories of Bedford and were keen to share their stories in a positive and enthusiastic voice. Several people said that no one had ever asked them for their stories before. The volunteers were able to tell us that they thought Bedford was a great town because of its diversity and tolerance. All of the communities represented had good things to say about Bedford. Invisible Folk is pleased to have been able to facilitate a project that was uniformly declared a joyful experience.
“Its really strange how all these memories are coming back, I couldn't think of them earlier.” Lissy Malt - D/Disabled
“I have an element of love for the town that I live in”
Anita Powell - Black British
“Its an amazing melting pot we have here.”
“We're integrated now, we're part of the community”
“People don't understand it until they're here and then when they are here, they never want to leave.” Joe Leonelli Italian
“We've been blessed with so many people from all over the world.”
“If we eat the same food, we are the same people.” Libby Leonelli Italian
The timescale for this project was too tight. We had two months to complete whole project. As a result there was not time to chase up people who failed to respond to invitations to participate. As a result no one from the Asian or Neuro-Diverse community was interviewed. We would like to have exceeded the government's definition of marginalised communities and included other groups such as prisoners, children, councillors. All of the interviews were conducted online. This was at once a benefit and a disadvantage. The quality of conversation is better face to face but conducting them online was safe at a time of Covid and helped our geographical reach.
Community Engagement is difficult. Some groups find that their community is best served by their own self help. Once they turn inwards they become hard to reach and it is difficult to know what provision can be made for the life of that community and what bridges can be built in the areas of language, healthcare, education, commerce, religion, law and order and every other aspect of civic life. The first step is to listen to them. Many initiatives have failed. Invisible Folk is very pleased and proud that this little cultural project has succeeded in hearing the memories and stories of the people of Bedford.
© Invisible Folk
Invisible Folk has run three projects in partnership with the Higgins Bedford Museum supported by the Arts Council. This film seeks to understand how the Brickworks' international employment policy has a beneficial effect on the town today. The film formed part of the museum's From Bunyan to Brickworks exhibition.
Our film presents the landscape and climate around Bedfordshire in its beauty and dread. It was part of The Higgins' Under the same sky exhibition. I wrote the score for the film and other pieces and recorded them with local folk musicians. The music was released on an album called Under the Same Sky by Jon Bickley and the Invisible Folk Club Band.
I wrote a play called The Lacemaker's Answer for this project We also commissioned Gemma Khawaja and Catherine Earnshaw to join me in making new settings for traditional Bedfordshire Folk songs and for Lace Tells.
Invisible Folk partnered with The Higgins Bedford Museum to stage an all day folk festival.
we curated a stage at the Rickmansworth Folk Festival