Boingboing blogs from… Sheffield

Imagine Exhibition Event, 6 September 2016, Sheffield

by Simon Duncan, Boingboinger

Hi everyone, it’s Simon Duncan here. I’m writing this blog to tell you about my journey to the Imagine Exhibition in Sheffield. If you’d like to follow along and mark off the resilient moves, which I used on this trip, you can find them on the Resilience Framework for Children and Young People.

On Tuesday the 6th of September 2016 I took my first ever trip to Sheffield for the end of programme exhibition for Imagine, a Connected Communities research programme funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) through the Connected Communities programme.  More information is on the Imagine Programme website.

My job was to present on the Designing Resilience Initiative and co-facilitate a workshop on our Resilience Tools, alongside Scott Dennis and Lisa Buttery.

I’d like to believe that I looked like a consummate professional while I sat on the train travelling towards Sheffield. I even tried to read an article on resilience in order to be informed and ready to engage with all of the other event participants. That said, the way that I was perceived by others on the train may have been somewhat different from the image of professionalism that I was trying to project. Having stayed up late the night before travelling, my eyes were drowsy and frequently closed as I tried my best to read the article and scrawl notes on the page. My situation was exacerbated due to the rattling of the train, which rocked me into a brief sleep, like an overgrown baby in a wheelchair. Looking back on it now, I hear Angie Hart’s words echoing in my ear about the importance of getting enough sleep.

Fortunately, I awoke a few minutes before reaching Sheffield station. Grabbing my notes, I watched intently as the station staff put the ramp down and asked if I needed any help. In that moment my mind flashed back to when I was very young. In the 90s the trains and buses were very inaccessible for people with disabilities. My mum would have to struggle to get me aboard with my chair. It’s heartening to see that access to transportation has gotten better. We still have a long journey ahead to make the transport network fully accessible and beat the odds for disabled people. Careful not to get too carried away, I got down the ramp and quickly exited the station. I was raring to start some Sheffield shenanigans with other Boingboingers who had attended the Imagine Retreat before the Imagine Exhibition.

However, my plans were a little delayed. As usual my sense of direction failed me, even though I had been told that the hotel is only five minutes away from the station and been given a route to follow. Map reading is a life skill that I have yet to develop, even with the invention of GPS and Google Maps. I will admit that I felt a little bit out of my depth, but with rain threatening to fall I had no choice but to be brave and continue searching for the hotel. By chatting to a couple of friendly Sheffieldonians I was able to find the route to the hotel. There was only one problem. The route was uphill and with my luggage I might as well have been ascending Mount Everest (OK, fair enough, that might be a bit of an exaggeration!). It would have been tricky though. Luckily for me, the hospitality of the community shone through once again. I was pushed up the hill by a native Sheffieldonian and a Glaswegian man far from home and finally reached my accommodation for the evening. It was only by leaning on others that I was able to achieve this goal.

After a short rest it was time to go downstairs and meet with Anne Rathbone to discuss the presentation, that I would be delivering the following day, and future Boingboing work. I also had a bit of time to catch up with an old friend, who is now a Boingboinger (yay!) Shahnaz Biggs. This was just before dinner, so we were both ravenous, so it was a sweet salvation to hear that dinner was being served. Even now, the thought of the food makes me salivate!

While sating my hunger, I met a couple of hilarious women from Newport Mind; Rhiannon and Tiffany. Newport Mind is an organisation which provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, and promote understanding. Amidst the giggle we were having, they told me that they had decided to get tattooed with diamonds to commemorate the Imagine Event and exemplify resilience as a concept. You can see a picture here!

Rhiannon's diamond tattoo

Rhiannon and Tiffany chose the diamond design to remind them of this event for several reasons:

  • They were literally situated in the Diamond building on Sheffield University’s Campus for the Imagine Retreats Workshop sessions.
  • Just like us Boingboingers, they see resilience as an attribute which is highly valuable in the same way as diamonds.
  • When a diamond is formed carbon is subjected to immense heat and pressure, but once it is extracted from the ground it is not broken. In fact, its value has been increased because of the adverse situation it has endured. We could say the same thing about any marginalised person that is facing adversity in society. Their experience makes them incredibly valuable to society as an ‘expert by experience’.

After eating, I was quickly introduced to many people including: Wassilis Kassis and Elias Kourkoutas, two of our Imagine Project partners based in Germany and Greece respectively. I was meeting so many amazing people that before I knew it, it was time for me to try my hand at getting enough sleep, once again.

I woke up with a start the following morning, the day of our presentation. Before breakfast I practiced my script and got myself washed. It was only then that I realised a minor crisis had arisen. My shirt for my next day’s work in Swindon had been crumpled in my luggage. This forced me to predict a good experience of something new, as I tried ironing for the first time. In case anyone doesn’t believe me. I even have photographic proof. I hope I did mum proud! I found out later that I wasn’t the only one who faced adversity that morning. After a make-up mishap, Lisa really had to remember to look on the bright side, as she remained focussed on the primary goal of excelling at her parts of the presentation.

Simon ironing

After donning my Boingboing t-shirt and a quick breakfast, it was time to begin the exhibition. The event began with a short introduction by Professor Kate Pahl (Principal Investigator for the Imagine Project) who chaired the event. Angie facilitated a short activity focussing on culture and identity. As part of the activity, all of us got to swap identities for a few minutes. This exercise in empathy reminded me of the many different types of adversity that we all face and that we should never try to say that one form of adversity is “easier to deal with” than another.

Showtime arrived soon enough. I was a little nervous, but I needn’t have worried. I was so well supported by Scott and Lisa during the presentation that I simultaneously envisioned the three of us as a kind of Resilience Charlie’s Angels. Think of any well-known trio you know. Examples could be The Supremes or Destiny’s Child. They should all step aside, because Scott, Lisa and Simon were in the building!

Following the presentation we gave the workshop participants an opportunity to have hands on experience with the different co-produced resilience tools. (You can find out more about the specific tools in my blog about The Utopia Fair at Somerset House.) It was wonderful to see so many people from different nations all actively engaging in our activities. Here’s hoping that the Co-designing Resilience programme will become well-known internationally and that the tools we’ve produced will help facilitate fruitful conversations about resilience for people living in adversity. My biggest wish is that people left the workshop feeling both empowered and inspired to talk about their personal resilience, and start conversing with others about how we can overcome adversity. It is only through communication and collective that we can overcome social inequalities.

After the first workshop run through, it was time for lunch. The Imagine Project certainly tried to ensure that all participants had a healthy diet by providing a fully vegetarian buffet. During the break I found out about another project showcasing at the event, “Portraits of British Muslim Identity” by Zahir Rafiq. Through his portraits, Zahir aims to showcase the richness in the lives of those in the British Muslim community. One subject of his work is a woman who is a bodybuilder! Zahir’s work is especially important to challenge misconceptions, in a time when the tabloid news is trying to unjustly present the majority of Muslims as terrorists, not people with humanity.

After lunch, we ran the workshop for the second time. Fewer people attended but we did have some Boingboingers join us, which boosted our confidence.

As the exhibition part of Imagine drew to a close I was invited to view a video about young mums in Scotland and the adversity that they face. I couldn’t help but be reminded of my mum once again. I thought about the profound impact that my mum has had on my life and the progress that she has helped me to make over the years. If I think about where I started from, as a baby with Cerebral Palsy, I never would have thought that I’d be working for Boingboing at this point. Thanks for playing a big role in making that possible, mum!

Before the end of the Imagine event, everyone had some round table discussions about the impact of culture and art on society. Unfortunately Anne and I had to leave early to catch a train to Swindon for a meeting the next day. It just goes to show that there is rarely rest for the resilient!

Signing off while imagining my next train ride!
Simon Duncan

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