Phone Box Artist/s – Shebang Collective – Oldcroft

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:

Local residents; Forest of Dean Archives; Innovation Lab; BBC Radio Gloucestershire

Research at Oldcroft:

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 Oldcroft showed a small residential area lacking in a community facility of their own where the community could gather. It was suggested that the phone box could be a one person disco, and indeed in the past phone boxes were places where you could dial up and listen to popular pop songs. The personality here would be younger and more modern focusing on playing music to promote gathering. 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.

Alongside this work we intended to produce a gathering, an opening event for the Phone Box Art Trail on the Saturday, produced in conjunction with the local community. Oldcroft was going to have a breakfast/tea party gathering on the common to mark the opening of the whole trail. It was intended to work alongside the residents to bring people together. Refreshments would be provided drawing on traditional and modern likes.

27/10/19 Making Contact

we cleaned the phone boxes and left ‘calling cards’ to introduce the project and invite locals to get involved. A local family came to join us and helped out.

08/11/19 Interview with BBC Radio Gloucestershire

An introduction to our work, promoting the upcoming art trail and putting a call out for phone box inspired songs to create a playlist for our first 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…

17/11/19  Oldcroft Engagement Event

A pop up gathering with gazebo, bunting, refreshments and snacks. Invites were delivered locally before the event as well as on social media and by email. We played a specially selected playlist with songs that related to telephone boxes, and telephones. We met locals, recorded stories and had conversations with community members.

Other information, key findings and research that has informed our approach:

Vorest Youth culture in the words of Denis Potter- The Changing Forest 1962

“And in the damp grass of a warm evening I saw an image which seemed to me to be full of this kind of change: a youth, in bluey, tight jeans and a conscious, almost painfully copied nonchalance in his chew-style walk (if you know what I mean) crossed the grass to the road with a transistor radio held like a biological specimen on the crook of his open hand. Less than a hundred yards away, the band was playing…”

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:

“I remember walking past phone boxes and them ringing. It was usually a wrong number or someone looking for someone.

“Oldcroft doesn’t have a community space of it’s own”

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