The flow of a river, and the fact that its water perpetually returns, mirrors the nature of time and the cycle of life. A river is home to a kaleidoscope of living things, always moving and changing. This is what makes the River Nene such a perfect focus for an arts and heritage project.
Is it pronounced Nene or is it Nen? The debate goes on, depending on where you live along this fine river, the tenth longest in the UK. The Nene Valley is home to some of England’s best kept secret destinations, beautiful countryside and interesting heritage. The River Nene wanders its way through towns and cities of the valley finally leading to The Wash.
Nenescape Landscape Partnership Scheme, a partnership of organisations working together to raise the profile of the Nene Valley, has received Heritage Lottery funding for a five-year project.
900 Voices is one of the Nenescape projects and came about as part of Peterborough Celebrates 900, a significant anniversary for the Cathedral. 900 Voices is capturing the voices of people along the River Nene from Northampton to Peterborough and is being delivered by Nenescape Partner, arts organisation One to One Development Trust.
One to One Development Trust are building an online archive that brings together information and resources about the River which will be ‘made live’ in December 2018 and will be launched with a digital art installation as a response to the project.
900 Voices is bringing together different stories, images, music, poems and film that relates to the River Nene. This content will be gathered in many ways including via social media, contributions from Nenescape partners, through arts workshops in community settings and specific interviews on audio and film. The aim is to create a ‘snapshot’ of what the river means to people who live and work around it at this time in history.
“I fell in love by the river, it was where we went on our first date – a picnic under the willow trees.” “We sprinkled our dogs ashes into the river as he always dived in whatever the weather – happy memories…” The stories that are coming forward are as diverse as the Nene itself. Some participants share a photograph, artwork or a poem, all evoking a special sense of place.
In April we ran two workshops around storytelling with the support of venues from Vivacity. The first was a workshop at Peterborough Museum with Cambridge bard Marion Leeper who worked with 15 participants on how to deliver well-crafted oral stories. It was a lively and fun workshop.
Then later in the month we invited historian and writer Dr Francis Young to come to the Key Theatre to share his stories of folklore relating to the Nene to a very receptive and interested audience.
At both events we took the opportunity to capture audio recordings of people’s stories of the river, from raging swans through to memories of famed Peterborough strongman and daredevil Walter Cornelius.
Participants have been very generous adding their photographs, paintings and illustrations to this fast-growing archive which is a rich celebration of the River Nene.
In this audio story, Charron Pugsley-Hill talks about a sculpture at Nene Park.
The Nenescape tent will be at Peterborough Heritage Festival (16th and 17th June) where 900 Voices will be gathering more stories. Watch out for future blogs on other events happening in Northampton to Peterborough and in-between over the summer.
Judi Alston – May 2018