Seaton History Group, Aberdeen
The Seaton History Group are local enthusiasts who decided to change their image and engage actively with the wider community, including the local school. They introduced P4 pupils to former playground games and, when the school moved into temporary premises, they helped to enliven a rather dingy playground with art work. They have also embarked on a ‘Rough Guide to Seaton' involving the schoolchildren. This includes some research for stories and history with plans for a website and an ‘audiowalk' where volunteers from the group will act as guides.
The Talking Tearoom
One of the Group's recent successes has come about through the concept of a 'Talking Tearoom'. The Art & History Group met with artist Merlyn Riggs at a visit to the Scottish Sculpture workshop at Lumsden near Huntly, and were impressed by her 'tearoom' concept. People from the community come along and are introduced to members of a group and all tell their different stories. It is an opportunity to meet a new group informally and find out what is involved and perhaps join a future project.
Conversation is the best way to generate ideas, states Merlyn Riggs - the artist who creates these environments where participants feel so relaxed that real dialogue flows freely. She believes that indeed everyone is creative and she creates contexts in which people can express creative thoughts and ideas through everyday activities. In the case of talking tearooms, this is social engagement through the medium of sharing food. Merlyn uses food to open doors to new ways of thinking. Food can be used in either performances or events to encourage and enable people to interact based on a simple template of ‘eat, talk and listen'!
In particular, Merlyn brings together people who would not usually meet. They sit around small tables and enjoy tea, home baking and conversation. The model lends itself well to bringing people together across generations with a topic for discussion suitable to venue, place and audience. Although the talking tearoom is a one-off event, the energy it produces often creates a legacy.
Successful 'talking tearooms'
In Huntly, people aged 50 plus made soup and shared recipes with a group of young people. This resulted in at Halloween for 300 people. It has now been established as an annual event thus creating a tradition and giving the older generation a platform and a voice. Next year the young people will host the Soup-In. Last September a talking tearoom was the venue for a mother and toddler group and older adults. They got on so well that they are now meeting monthly and running the Tearoom by themselves based on the same format.
The success of the ‘Talking Tearoom' event for the Seaton History group was due to the enthusiasm of members with everyone involved in putting up posters in local flats and shops, local radio announcements and word of mouth promotion. One of the guests, a journalist from Borneo, met a member of the group who served with the Gordon Highlanders in the 1950s, and from this meeting the pair have met for an interview that was published in the Borneo press - just one example of the buzz generated.
The group learned that it is good to move out of one's comfort zone although it can seem daunting at the time. However this is compensated for by the buzz afterwards and the motivation to try something challenging again.
Quotes from the group
"I would never of felt comfortable speaking in front of a group of people, if it hadn't been for the involvement in the Art & History Group."
"The tearoom was a great success. Everyone came together and made it work. We were a bit nervous about talking to people we didn't know but once we got started it was great. Everyone had a great time."
At present the group is planning a ‘Rough Guide to Seaton'. This involves training the group in interview skills, hosting further events, where they will invite the wider community to meet and share stories. Some have started training to deliver arts projects alongside Arts Development to the local primary school children. The group's intention is to meet with the children to share their stories about favourite parts of Seaton and, in return, support the children to create artwork and stories. The project's findings will be collated in a guidebook.
Email: Merlyn Riggs (Talking Tearooms)
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