Bridging the Gaps: Beath High

HoB 1I am the artist in residence in the ‘Bridging the Gaps’ project that PAS (Planning Aid for Scotland) is running in Cowdenbeath over the next few months. The project is concerned, as so much of planning is, with place. It focuses on what makes the three project areas – Hill of Beath, Crossgates and Kelty – good, bad and what needs to be different. We have already started by gathering the ideas about the places with the young people, we will move out into focus groups in the community, and will then combine all of these ideas into art works and pop-up exhibitions in the places, about the places. We might even compete for money from the Aspiring Communities Fund to make some of these ideas real.

We started the project with my interactive performance piece, Plan, which encourages the audience-participants to imagine themselves part of a jury who must design a new town for 40,000 refugees in an imaginary, post-war 2017. We did Plan with some of the pupils at Beath High, who we are going to be working with over the following weeks and months.

It was pandemonium.

The budgeting was, unexpectedly perhaps, the most engaged part of the exercise for the young people, with debates about the quality of housing people should be allowed, whether a town really needed a sports ground, a football pitch, a leisure centre, and a theatre, instead of houses (turns out it sort of did). When it came to arranging the town, though, there was a sense that it didn’t matter, that putting things down was enough. It was really difficult for the pupils to imaginatively start from scratch. There was a lot of chat about whether the new town looked like Kelty. Even when we came to name the place, there wasn’t a sense of ownership that there has been every other time I’ve done the show. I eventually suggested we call it New Town. A gap. A creation that is just a place to exist – a town that’s not anywhere and belongs to no-one.

I was strongly reminded of Greater Belfast by the theatre maker, Matt Regan, a show about Regan’s complicated relationship with the place he is from. A line that came back to me when the kids had no sense that the place they were building could be, should be, would be worth anything: ‘Things that come from where I’m from are shite, d’ye know?’

As our discussions moved from the imaginary in the first week, to the real in the second, we made place maps of the areas where the young people live. I was working with a group of girls on a map of Kelty. Fife, where Kelty is, and Kinross-shire, where I’m from, are neighbouring East Central Scotland regions divided by a common M90. In Kelty secondary age children can either go to Beath High or Kinross High, where I went to school, but the difference between the places and the people is striking. The Scots language use is much higher at Beath High, the language variety in general is much more distinctive, with differences in vocabulary, intonation, pronunciation etc. After our session me and the other project leaders travelled around the areas where we will be working with the community. The memorials that we saw in each area were dominated by mining, everything from statues of individual miners to honour those who died in accidents, to murals of fossils that made the coal that made the town.

We will be moving on to collecting the young people’s stories about the places on their maps, which we will embed in audio form in the drawings using technology/magic. And I have no worries about this. It might seem that giving teenagers free reign to create from a blank page is what they dream of. But it was when we started listing each shop, building, pub, on a single junction in Kelty that they started to get excited, telling me their stories – good and bad – how the places we were drawing made them feel. There is no no-place. The game at the heart of Plan is nothing, but Kelty, Hill of Beath and Crossgates are real – really good, really bad, really boring, really scary, really nice, real.


2 thoughts on “Bridging the Gaps: Beath High

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s