Phone Box Artist/s – Shebang Collective – Berry Hill

Shebang is a collective of artists, activists and organisers: Jenny Cashmore, Nichola Goff and Sarah Wyatt. We are based in the Forest of Dean and engage in artist led activity to affect positive social change. 

We engaged with:

Locals; The Globe Pub ; Rugby Club; Local shop; Forest of Dean Archives; Innovation Lab and BBC Radio Gloucestershire 

Research at Berry Hill:

Our approach:

Getting to know the communities, place making, skill sharing and building on the strengths of the community.

To raise awareness of the Phone Box as a space that could be engaged with and utilised by the local community. To make a number of interventions in and around the phone box – encouraging gatherings and local interactions at the location.

Thinking about COMMUNICATION old and new as a theme, we have been exploring communication methods and how they have impacted on the social fabric of the Forest of Dean. Recent advancements in the ways we communicate give us instant connection – communication at our fingertips – but the Forest of Dean is a rural place with intermittent mobile phone signal and disparate towns and villages.

Since the age of the phone box there has been a shift in social patterns. Contemporary society is becoming more divided, more ‘indoors’ and with less social meeting places. Loneliness and isolation are big issues on the agenda of change makers in rural places.

In this context we set out to look at how things were for the older generation in the Forest, how things are for young people now and how we could explore those narratives in relation to the phone box. This manifested as a number of pop up style actions and interventions with the phone boxes at both sites.

“I know of few more fascinating areas, and, entering the Forest of Dean by whichever route you choose, you can soon sense that you are in a self-absorbed community where the inter-relation of landscape, work and the different generations demands more than the usual flickering attention”                                                                  Dennis potter- The Changing Forest 1962

Development of ideas:

We have been working with two Phone Boxes; Berry Hill and Oldcroft. Our phone box locations are located at the start and end of the planned interactive trail. 

We aimed to develop a social event, co-produced with the communities at each location with a view to bringing people together. We set out to get to know both communities to get a sense of a personality for each place with a view to developing events and site-specific interventions to begin and end the Weekend arts Trail. 

OLDCROFT: A spread out residential community around a small common,with no local social amenities. Oldcroft would have been the first stop on the phone box trail.

BERRY HILL: A vibrant and active community focussed around the central amenities of The Globe Pub, shops and Rugby club. Berry Hill would have been the last stop on the Weekend Arts Trail.

What we did:

Through a series of engagement events and interventions we met people, listened to stories, explored the Dean Heritage Centre Archives and formed a working partnership with the Innovation Lab to develop ideas. This manifested in our aim:

To turn the phone box into an interactive space that people would be able to engage with based on the style of Googles ‘Alexa’.

Our phone box would be voice/motion activated. Research in Berry Hill highlighted a strong community spirit and a deep connection with the Vorest Dialect so we hoped for the phone box personality to centre around this and include key phrases. The phone booths, transformed as Alexa (Google) style interactive personalities were intended to reflect different generations of Forester. Berry Hill phone box would become a male forester of 50+ years, speaking forest dialect and would represent the older generation of Foresters. Oldcrofts personality would reflect its contemporary counterpart in a younger, new generation of Forester.

“If This Box Could Talk!” Community member, Berry Hill.

Alongside this work we intended to produce a final closing event for the Phone Box Art Trail on the final day of the trail (Sunday). This would be created with the local community. It was intended to work alongside the Globe Pub, playing music and inviting local groups to get involved. Refreshments would be provided drawing on traditional and modern recipes.

27/10/19 Making Contact

Cleaning the phone boxes and leaving calling cards to introduce the project and invite locals to get involved.

08/11/19 Interview with BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Introduction to our work and putting a call out for phone box inspired songs to create a playlist for the upcoming pop up event.

13/11/19 Balloon Intervention

Balloons left in the phone boxes as a pop-up intervention, drawing attention… something’s going to happen…

16/11/19  Berry Hill Engagement Event

Pop up gathering with gazebo, bunting, refreshments and snacks. Invites delivered locally before the event as well as on social media and by email. Played a special playlist with songs that were all related to telephone boxes, and telephones. Met locals, recorded some stories, and had conversations with the people that visited.

27/12/19 Berry Hill Christmas lights event

At the event we asked: Whats the best thing about Berry Hill? and How has the way people communicate changed?

During our research we discovered ‘The Changing Forest’ by Dennis Potter (born and bred in the Forest), written in the 1960’s, the book describes the impact of the profound cultural and social change happening at that time, and the resistance to change present in the older Foresters then. A time of change that still very much resonates across post industrial communities now.

“Strongly ‘local’ speech can be a sign of narrowness and isolation, and in speech, especially, the Forest of Dean is a jungle of change: already there is a tremendous, dictionary-like difference between the talk of the old Foresters and that of the younger people who are displacing them; not just in the choice of words, but in the way of saying them, the way language unknowingly breaks out from the inside of a person and echoes along the shifting boundaries of a community.” Dennis potter in ‘The Changing Forest’

Other relevant phone box projects:

Hello Lamp Post (Playable Cities), Wind Telephone (Otsuchi, Japan) and Sounds From  Another Town (B Arts)

Selection of quotes from our research:

“If this box could talk”

“Sitting out ere in the Summer, back then that phone box was the only connection you ad, it would ring and we’d take it in turns to answer and i’ll never forget this once a woman phoned for me and our mother answered the phone”

“Good ole days they was… but it got a lot to answer for that phone box, a lot to answer for!”

“Weekends that phone would never stop ringin”

“It’s a great community spirit”

“People really look out for each other”

“People don’t talk face to face anymore”

“Conversation is way gone now… and the forest dialect, you don’t get dialect on a screen do you? 

Further information, images & links:

You can find more information on the Shebang website

What we enjoyed about the research period and our hopes for future development:

The Phone box project has been a great opportunity for us as an arts collective to engage with our local communities and the area in which we live. To develop artworks in conjunction with the local community,  getting to know the area better and thinking about placemaking locally to help create stronger communities in the area around the phone boxes.

It has been fantastic to get a creative opportunity like this in the area we are living in, something that doesn’t come up very often; to develop innovative contemporary, socially engaged public artworks in partnership with local organisations and communities.

The Phone box project has been a great opportunity for us as an arts collective to engage with our local communities and the area in which we live. To develop artworks in conjunction with the local community,  getting to know the area better and thinking about placemaking locally to help create stronger communities in the area around the phone boxes.

It has been fantastic to get a creative opportunity like this in the area we are living in, something that doesn’t come up very often; to develop innovative contemporary, socially engaged public artworks in partnership with local organisations and communities.

Email  shebangcollective@gmail.com

Website http://www.shebangcollective.wixsite.com/shebang