Jenny Mitchell has conducted workshops in environments ranging from Caribbean Womens' Writers Alliance, NUT Black Teachers' Conference, Clean Break Theatre Company and various Summer Literacy Schools.
North Kensington Amenity Trust manages the 23 acres of land beneath the Westway A40 in west London for the benefit of the community. Their proposal was for a poet to work 2 days a week for 3 months: 1 days working with local groups, and 7-10 days working with neighboring supplementary schools. They needed a poet who would be sensitive to and aware of issues pertaining to migrants and refugees. Local community groups participating in the project include: users of the Migrant Refugee Resource Centre; Skate Boarders atthe Skate Park; Landscape Gardeners and Sports Development Team at the Trust; Sport Centre/Gym users; Westway Sports Academy; 60 plus and Open Age and Kensington & Chelsea Community History Project.
The Westway Poetry Placement was the first project in a public arts programme at North Kensington Amenity Trust, (a charity established in 1971 to manage the land underneath the motorway), and organised in conjunction with the Poetry Society and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Workshops were organised in unusual forums including a nursery centre, football terraces, and Portobello Market, as well as several supplementary schools, and participants ranged in age from 5 to 97.
One of the principal aims of the project was to create a survey, using poetry, to find out what people living locally, working for the Trust, and using Trust facilities, felt about the Westway and the surrounding area, and how they would like it to be in the future.
What people really think about the area under the Westway can be summed up easily: it's a useful mile-long umbrella when it rains.
But the hopes and dreams people brought to their poems about the Westway turned it into a cocoon where true community, and a connection to nature could be nurtured. In this world, differences would join people together, and lives lived unspectacularly -just as the Westway does its job routinely - would be appreciated and given space to flourish.
Children wrote about their communities with great pride, and saw the Westway as a frightening animal which, on closer inspection, was frightened and misunderstood: the Westway became them, just as their communities reflect them.
All of this was done by giving voice to a motorway often seen as a concrete abomination. Words were used to see the degraded anew, and the work produced by participants proved that creativity is a basic human instinct, and craft, simply a matter of emotional focus.
- Jenny Mitchell
December 1999 - April 2000