Henry is an award-winning poet, theatre maker and workshop facilitator from Ludlow, Shropshire. He is committed to discussing community experience particularly in rural areas. Working with a multitude of arts organisations across the country and internationally, Henry uses his writing and performance practice to deliver successful community arts projects designed to reconnect local people with the places they call home.
Since winning the Apples and Snakes Emerging artist competition in 2017, Henry has gone onto be mentored by the likes of T.S Elliot Prize Winner Rodger Robinson and Lemn Sissay MBE. He has been the longest reigning, regional poetry champion of Kent and continues to run his own creative workshops. For the last year has worked as a facilitator for the award-winning arts charity ‘Create’
I engaged with:
Members of the Sling community and young people who have experience living in Forest Of Dean.
Research at Sling:
My goal was to gather stories from members of the Sling community and that of any young people who had experience living in the Forest of Dean. These stories would provide an insight into how different people from a range of age groups thought of, remembered and interacted with the place that they called home (past or present). This would, in turn, form a series of poems written by myself and those attending my workshops.
My research was comprised of several strands.
- Firstly, by exploring the area around Sling as well as talking to local businesses and those using their services.
- Secondly, by leaving postcards and notices in local venues for people to fill out and contribute their stories to my collection (this was somewhat unsuccessful).
- Next came the online approach. I utilised local Facebook pages to spread word of my project, in particular interacting with the ‘I Grew Up In Sling’ page, from which I had a fantastic reaction. I also used social media to connect with a personal network of extended friends who had experience growing up around the free party scene in the Forest. This was particularly useful during lockdown when I couldn’t get to Bristol to where they now live.
- Lastly, there were the creative writing workshops. These online workshops should have provided an introduction or bridge to eventually doing workshops in person. However, as the pandemic has stretched on, these online sessions were all we were able to complete. I’d like to invite anyone who came to them to contribute their works to this collection.
Stories from the research:
- Getting caught in a torrential downpour whilst walking far from any decent shelter. Completely soaked to the skin, I couldn’t help but laugh and be happy, isolated and surrounded by the bountiful and lush nature. Until I had to wait for the bus and the December afternoon rapidly darkened. I was immediately taken back to being 14 again. Later when questioning a source about their experience growing up in the Forest, one of the first things they spoke about was the exact same scenario when they were younger.
- It was amazing to hear the similarities between various people’s experiences and I found I could relate almost all of them to my own growing up in Ludlow.
Listen to me reading my poems:
A collection of 6 poems dedicated to anyone who has lived or grown up in Sling and the wider Forest of Dean area. With special thanks to Canopy Creative Network.
Here’s one of them, you can read the rest here.
They say things have changed around here
and perhaps it’s true.
Perhaps, we don’t leave doors unlocked
like we used to.
Perhaps, they built houses
where we built fires in our youth.
And those staple names who hired us,
their doors no longer open.
And where are the familiar faces?
The ones we went to school with,
grew with, kissed.
The ones who moved onto bigger things
or have gone to better places,
the ones we miss.
I wonder did my parents say the same at my age?
Will my children reminisce about their good old days?
They say things have changed around here
and the price of a pint is no exception.
But I’ll still raise a toast to those memories
and the future whatever it brings,
for some things do not change I am certain,
the beauty here still steals my breath every day.
Like the mist swaddled trees on a cold morning
ensuring my heart does not stray
What I enjoyed about the research period and our hopes for future development:
For me, the things that make life worth living are being out in nature and connecting with people. This research phase allowed me to do both. Even when lockdown restrictions prevented me from being able to return and physically visit the Forest of Dean, I was fortunate in being able to continue to connect with its people online. Having the time to focus on learning about and interacting with this area in detail has been an incredible experience that I value deeply.
I would still consider my work here far from finished. There were many more aspects of the project, such as working with local youth groups to further my research, that fell through due to the pandemic. This is an area I am keen to revisit and develop. I’d love to be able to run some writing workshops with these groups and with anyone else who wold like to contribute to the project to expand the collection of poems and stories about the area. Eventually this would become an archive of memories, stories and poems about the area, installed in the Sling Phone Box for all to experience.