“And shall these dry bones live?” Ezekiel. Discover DeCrypt is the project to regenerate the historic church of St Mary de Crypt and the Old Crypt Schoolroom in Southgate Street, Gloucester, bringing them back into full use as a place of worship, a community hub and a venue for art and culture, open and accessible to all.
As part of the project we ran a community arts project, Dry Bones Live, to raise awareness of the opportunities there would be, and to engage with the local and more extended community. The passage from Ezekiel worked well as a starting point; our regeneration of the church and schoolrooms can be described as bringing the ‘dry bones’ of heritage to life, bones being a particularly apt symbol for a church named after its medieval crypt.
What did we do?
Artist Jake Lever created a simple card template from which adults and children could make their own model bone. We called these bones WishBones; participants were encouraged to think about their own lives and communities, the value of heritage and how it might benefit the community. They were invited to decorate their WishBones in any way they liked – words, drawings, collage – and use them to express their wishes for themselves, their families and communities.
‘There are no rules and nobody is judging you. This is not a competition; it’s about enjoying your own creativity and seeing what happens.’
We provided a selection of materials including paint, glue, staplers, crayons, pens, pencils, felt tips, stickers, glitter (particularly popular with children), coloured tissue paper, photocopied pictures of the building and documents relating to it, plus a variety of additional collage materials. We also provided abundant wet wipes, cloths and bin bags (it could be a very messy process!).
Jake also made a 2.5m long boat, the Ship of Bones, to carry the WishBones symbolically into the future and the rebirth of the buildings. When people had finished their WishBone they were invited to place it in the boat with the others. When the buildings reopen in March 2019, Jake will use the collected bones to make a community art installation and everybody who has contributed one will be invited to the opening weekend to see their bone on display in the church. Some people (mainly younger children) preferred to take their WishBone away with them, but most were very pleased to leave it with us, together with contact details so we could send them an invitation to the opening. (All personal data was of course stored appropriately in accordance with the revised data protection regulations!)
‘You can draw, write, paint or collage: make a picture, a list of words or phrases, a rainbow of colours or no colour at all, doodle, make patterns, write a poem, tell us a story…anything you feel like.’
We encouraged people to relax and enjoy the experience. Children seem to be much better at doing this than adults! We found that parents often came to accompany children, but once they started to make their own WishBone, they became engrossed, surprising themselves with their own creativity.
We started the project during the summer months while the church was still open, then once the buildings closed for refurbishment in September, we took the WishBones and the boat to a range of different community settings. We ran the workshop in schools, museums, other heritage buildings, on the street and in the Cathedral.
How did we use the workshops to build relationships?
It takes most people between 25 minutes and an hour to make a WishBone. Sharing this creative activity, like sharing a meal, happens around a table, everybody sitting and working together side by side.
‘As far as possible, I’d try to make my own WishBone while visitors made theirs. Even when visitors needed help with something like cutting out or stapling, I was never the ‘teacher’ – we were all on the same level. That felt very important.’
While your hands are busy, it is very natural to start a conversation. You can admire somebody’s drawing or choice of colours. You can ask them more about their choice of words. Or you can offer something about your own work. Sharing a story about something that happened to you can often be an easy way to encourage others to share their own thoughts – it doesn’t have to be anything very personal.
Sometimes people don’t know where to start and need some helpful prompts. We used this as an opportunity to open a conversation – again sharing our own thoughts and hopes first, and never putting any pressure on anybody. Some people prefer to keep their thoughts private and that is, of course, completely fine. But with many people we were able to hold a fruitful discussion that often laid the groundwork for a future relationship.
In all our engagement the starting point was to offer people a genuine welcome, to give them our attention and time, to make them feel comfortable and positive about being there. If we were successful in that, everything else could follow.
Community Engagement Officer