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TAKE ME TO... Peterborough

  • Date: 25 January 2011
  • Artform: None
  • Area: South East
older man showing family photo TAKE ME TO participant shares his experiences, Photo: Nicolas Henninger

Arts organisation Encounters has shown that simple ideas can have a profound impact on how individuals feel about the city where they live and those they live alongside.

In November and December 2010 Encounters led TAKE ME TO, an innovative project to discover Peterborough's most treasured and inspiring places, through the eyes of its inhabitants. TAKE ME TO is part of Citizen Power Peterborough, a joint initiative between the citizens of Peterborough, The Royal Society of Arts, Arts Council England and Peterborough City Council that explores new ways of making the city a better place to live.

Moving across the city by minibus, participants were invited to take part in a very personal tour - visiting the places in Peterborough that mattered to them and sharing their stories. In return, each participant was invited to listen to the stories of others in interesting and unexpected settings.

Rather than looking at the city as defined by geographical or community boundaries, the city was 'mapped' by individuals and their experiences. The stories to emerge from the tours ranged from humorous to incredibly moving, and reflected the remarkable history of Peterborough and its future aspirations.

'Through things like this people could become part of the city. It made me realise that Clarence Road still has the same family culture; different make-up of people, but the same values. My grandparents lived there and it had that culture when we were children. Maybe it's the proximity of the houses that makes a difference [...] Today I've seen how diverse the city is and an acceptance of different cultures.' Sue

Accounts from TAKE ME TO participants reflect a strong sense of belonging from people of very different ages and cultures, showing how art can be both poetic and of public benefit. Powerful memories were evoked as people retraced their footsteps; and new friendships and connections were forged as people began to trust each other. As cities face the challenges of economic austerity and an increasing feeling of alienation, TAKE ME TO has shown that these can be overcome by the generosity of spirit reflected in individuals and communities brought together in this way:

'I take away from today a priceless chance to hear the stories of strangers. We might never have had anything in common. Humbling.' Mixy

The TAKE ME TO project culminated in a winter feast where participants shared their favourite dishes, their experiences of taking part and made pledges about how to develop the new relationships they made through the project. The event was hosted at the Becket Chapel of Peterborough Cathedral and created in collaboration with Nicolas Henniger from the arts organization EXYZT. Since the feast, other groups in the city have expressed interest in developing their own TAKE ME TO tours to share their places and stories with others:

'You only have to scratch the surface a little bit to see what's here. We're all in our own bubble but the tours have shown me that you don't have to do much to get out of it. My biggest hope is that this tour can be spread further so more people can share this ... I can now view Peterborough as somewhere that I could find my space in, a home, belonging.' Lorraine

'Participating in TAKE ME TO has made me challenge myself about how I connect with others in the community.... and how I can carry on doing this.  I find myself making sure that I make the most of the encounters that I have with people who come and chat to me as I am out picking up litter in the area.... it is a surprisingly good way to meet your neighbours!' Hilary

This event took place as part of Arts and Social Change, one of the seven strands of Citizen Power Peterborough. Arts and Social Change is a practical exploration of how the arts can play a part in social change by developing a sense of belonging and community spirit, and can help citizens to become more involved in deciding the priorities for the city in the future. Speaking of the project's legacy, Jocelyn Cunningham, Director of the Arts and Social Change strand said:

'TAKE ME TO is a wonderful example of a simple and artful idea. We've already had interest from schools, but the project could be adapted for community groups and the public sector. We are hoping to show the photographs from the project in libraries across the city.'

For more information on Citizen Power Peterborough visit: www.citizenpower.co.uk