It seems a long time ago since my first ever film commission, which was for the NUM filming the Miners Gala in Durham. It was in the days of large cameras with dock-able lenses and huge battery belts like something The Terminator would wear. In 1989, I thought I’d do my own film making until the time I got my act together and got a proper job (it wasn’t even known as ‘Indie film making’ then). 28 years later, having made over 300 films, some for broadcast, I have now given up on the notion of “regular 9 to 5 employment” altogether. For me working in the arts is a way of life.

I do feel proud that somehow – often against all odds – our team and I have managed to keep One to One Development Trust (formally One to One Productions) going throughout different governments and recessions. There have been many changes and different paths in my journey as a film maker. The biggest change has been in technology.

Bands and Banners Judi Alston on camera 1991

I remember using a cranky old typewriter to produce our first ever business plan in 1988 which won us an award of ‘The Most Innovative Business in Yorkshire and Humber’ from Barclays Bank. Our first ‘public funding’ came shortly after from Wakefield Council, allowing us to get a whole suite of video equipment including an AVID editing system. In the early 1990’s we felt like pioneers of non-linear editing and community film making. Visitors would come from all over the region to see our ‘cutting edge’ studio. I remember some peoples shock and prejudice when we were filming – a woman with a camera! TV cameramen were the worst.

Shuttling through the timeline of our work, the common thread throughout it has been our core values and a strong set of ethics about working with communities; engaging people often on the margins; promoting, celebrating or exploring heritage; engendering a sense of community pride and well-being.

Whizzing onto July 2017, a rainy night at Castleford Tigers RLFC, a packed-out ‘best room’ full of fans, players, supporters and other well-wishers. We are launching the Cas Tigers Heritage Project: a two-year Heritage Lottery funded project with Tigers Trust to create an online ‘Memory Box’ and Virtual Museum to engage fans, the Club and the wider community on a massive move to their new purpose-built stadium (imminent but delayed). It’s been a truly amazing and very enjoyable heritage project. As our guests are trying on VR headsets and exploring the Virtual Museum we’ve created, I have one of those weird out-of-body type moments where I can see so clearly what it means to have kept our integrity as artists, but to have also been open to changes in technology – and being able to adapt creatively to use it.

Packed House Cas Tigers Heritage Launch

I love how media can be used now, the way it has converged. How ‘digital’ can bring things together. At One to One through our in-house studio Dreaming Methods we are advocates and pioneers of what many describe as a new artform: ‘digital storytelling’. I am still passionate about film and documentary – but my interest and appreciation of media is also now on how we can fuse it together; how we as artists can push the boundaries both creatively and technically and how we can engage others in this creative journey, using our skills to influence what will come next.

We’re currently creating a digital story called WALLPAPER VR with funding from Creative England’s Games Lab Leeds initiative (check out our teaser trailer). In my experience of working in the arts, it’s not often that you get the opportunity to take an existing project into a second phase or to develop it further. However, this is the case with WALLPAPER, a narrative game originally funded by the Arts Council back in 2014 as an interactive installation for a gallery setting at Bank Street Arts, and part of a research project with Sheffield Hallam University (SHU).

WALLPAPER is the story of PJ Sanders, Head of Product Innovation at US based company POPPITECH. Following the death of his mother, PJ returns to the UK to his historic home, Dalton Manor, which has been in his family for generations. Needing to clear the house and prepare for sale, PJ toys with his latest product; an experimental device primed to help him uncover the mysterious history behind a room in the house that has remained locked since his childhood. It’s an immersive experience about family secrets, mysteries and the future of technology.

Mrs Smith Cas Tigers Heritage Project launch 2017

Re-purposing WALLPAPER from a digitally projected installation to a Virtual Reality experience is indeed a challenge. We tested audience reaction by creating one scene in VR as a prototype – the reaction was very positive (as you can see in our Being Human Festival film documenting responses).

To do this type of intensive processing work you need easy access to the right tech and a highly resilient attitude to problem solving! A big challenge for us now is being able to keep to date with the hardware and software that we need to do the work. Capital Local Authority grants like those that funded our production studio in the early 1990s seem like a distant dream.

There is a creative buzz around Wakefield now. It’s been gathering momentum over recent years. Big initiatives like The Hepworth and the recently successful Cultural Destinations funding from the Arts Council are the headliners but there is also a rich DIY culture of pop-up events and festivals.

We are currently preparing to showcase WALLPAPER VR at two local events. The first is at Nostell Nights – a great initiative by Nostell Priory to run themed events every few months with a rich art focus and different performers. Explore the beautiful Nostell environment (and its attics!) and enjoy a DJ set provided by Long Division, a bar by Wakefield Beer Exchange, poetry by Paul Bateson and other creative stuff. We will be showing WALLPAPER as in interactive projection and VR experience. It should prove to be a magical night and well worth the visit.

Friday 9th September WALLPAPER at the Nostell Nights: Hidden Spaces event https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/events/629f94bb-6c75-4192-900b-3fcc0c6fbbdd/pages/details

At the end of September, we are delighted to be part of the Wakefield Literature Festival ‘Talking Loud and saying summat’ organised by BEAM and A Firm of Poets. We are part of the ‘We Need to Talk About Music’ programme talking about music, literature and life.

Saturday 30th September 11.00am Mechanics Theatre: WALLPAPER VR Launch and talk about developing a narrative game with soundscape for VR https://www.wakefieldlitfest.org.uk/events/331-wallpaper-vr

It’s been an interesting and exhilarating journey to get where we currently are and to be launching our latest projects. We would love you to attend Nostell nights, and our Lit Fest Launch. Both events are free (£5.00 to book on the Nostell Attic Tour in advance).

So, if you fancy experiencing something “out of the ordinary” (or out of reality), and having a hands-on play with our latest technology – which is somewhat different to the “cutting edge” tech we used in the 90s! – you know where to come. 🙂


Wakefield Jazz ~ Festival Programme 2017

Wakefield Jazz is proud to be celebrating their 30th Anniversary during May 2017 (and on 2nd June).

They are branding the 5 weekly gigs as a Jazz Festival including a Northern Line band, an International artist, a currently in vogue band, a favourite for entertainment and a reprise of the band, and music, commissioned for their 25th Anniversary.

On 5th May The Firebird Quartet gets things going – Jazz North Ambassador artists.


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12th May the consummate entertainer Jay Phelps brings his quartet.

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19th May  Wakefield Jazz actual anniversary date, featuring the Jonathan Gee trio with Tim Whitehead playing Jonathan’s Wakefield Suite and other material.

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26th May  The Dominic Galea Quartet.  Dominic makes a rare visit from Malta with his London band.

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Finally, on 2nd June the season concludes with a band making lots of waves since the launch of their new CD.

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Full price for each gig payable
at the door £10.00
Students £5.00

Special offer available for purchasing multiple tickets – see website for more details.


Future Creativity – Rutland Mills

Remember 6th April 2017 – that was the day the Rutland Mill project truly went public. The takeover of the complex of mills on The Calder has been discussed for many years. Indeed, during this very meeting it was commented that a sign advertising ‘a dazzling water-side development’ had been there in excess of 8 years. The company taking over the mills, Tileyard, said they’d get their crowbar that very evening and remove it – this really is happening.

Tileyard is an existing company that operates from Kings Cross, London. It is a large, creative community comprising music studios, songwriting workshops, commercial retail units, graphic and digital design studios, film and videogame design and, well, far too many to mention here. Their website can tell you more.

The ethos is one of collaboration and the building / complex is designed more like a village, with purpose built social areas, cafes and restaurants that encourage sometimes unlikely meetings of minds.

Tileyard intend to effectively turn Rutland Mills into Tileyard North. In the opening statement of the afternoon of panels and discussion, Leader Of The Council Peter Box expressed how ideally placed Wakefield is geographically for this type of wide ranging creative hub. The core Tileyard team then went on to discuss the size and scope of the building, with opportunities for all level of creatives to get involved followed by a panel of creatives who had experience with the London Tileyard, which backed up the huge possibilities of so many different creative industries being under one roof.

The team advised they expected ‘lights on’ within 12 months with an opening at some point in 2018. The plans for the space are now being developed but are clearly not set in stone – we were shown different examples of what one space could be used for and they were happy to point out they want to build to the specifications of the people who will use it. Finding them is the first step, rather than build it and then see who may come along. Some members of the panels based in London openly said they would be purchasing space, so excited were they about the opportunity to have a northern base.

Tileyard are now undergoing a process of making connections on a more local level and are keen to connect. Wakefield Arts Partnership will be reaching out to them, in order to represent all our members and supporters, and we look forward to discussing the project in more detail.

What are the questions you’d like to see asked?







Save The Date – June 10th

Wakefield Arts Partnership invites you to put June 10th in your diary for a special event.

After an exciting year of development for WAP in 2016 and in response to the city’s funding success of £223,000 through the Arts Council’s Cultural Destinations programme, we will hold a day and evening of events at St Austin’s Theatre bringing together local artists and cultural organisations to socialise, network, plan, share, create – and have a bit of fun too.

The event will be free and open to all. We would like to involve as many of the districts creatives as possible in this event, and in turn begin to represent them as Wakefield’s cultural offer continues to grow and develop. It’s your chance to get involved with everything that is going on, whatever your background or experience in the Arts is – all are welcome.

Please, save the date. The day time event will feature artists, activities, food and drink and will run from 2pm – 6pm. The evening event will be organised in collaboration with Long Division Festival and will feature live music, film and art. Details will be released over the coming weeks.

If you would like to be involved any any aspect of the event, showing your work, performing, volunteering etc then please contact Dean at longdivisionfestival@gmail.com for more details.

We hope you can join us to plan for Wakefield’s Cultural future. Feels free to share this with friends and peers.


Reflecting on 2016

At our final meeting of 2016 we looked back on the year and I think we were all pleasantly surprised to see how much the group had achieved over the 12 months. It has felt like the year where the group has really started to bed in and push forward successfully on a range of projects.

Our work in 2016 followed on from the ground work from 2015, notably the report written by Andrew Dixon in July 2015 which looked at Wakefield’s current cultural capabilities. We sought to build on connections with the wider organisations that had come to visit us in Wakefield, such as Liverpool COoL.

It may not sound incredibly exciting, but the fact the steering group had regular (and interesting!) meetings was an important step in solidifying the group. The commitment of the organisations on the steering group has made the whole experience hugely positive and inspiring for those around the table.

The big project of the year was the Hidden Wakefield Commission. Funded via Beam’s Arts In Place II Arts Council programme, Wakefield Arts Partnership commissioned Andy Abbott to create a project that sought to discover the hidden, unknown, under-appreciated, historical and secret cultural elements of Wakefield life. Using innovative augmented reality technology, and combining it with physical pyramid structures that appeared across the district, Andy and his team collected stories of Wakefield Cultural life, both past, present and future.

The Hidden Wakefield project is now available to explore online, and sits alongside another achievement for us in 2016 – the creation of our own website and social media channels which we will now continue to develop in 2017.

Wakefield Arts Partnership also had chance to explore outside our district limits and visited our new friends over at Liverpool COoL. COoL is a similar group of cultural organisations to Wakefield Arts Partnership, but is further down its road of development, including larger joint projects and additional resources, such as dedicated project managers. It was an inspiring and useful trip and will certainly be maintaining the relationship, whilst seeking to build more in the coming year.

Finally, two of the great accomplishments of WAP in 2016 were funding bids. Although our bid for funding to the Yorkshire Festival was unsuccessful, it was the first time that the group had collectively submitted an application, a process which included meeting with the Director of the event and creating a vision of a festival-type event in Wakefield. Writing funding applications is hard enough, but to complete one as a committee of different Arts organisations is especially tough! So even though the bid was unsuccessful, it was certainly an achievement for the group.

Over the summer, Wakefield Arts Partnership was involved with and present at all the meetings that were held to discuss Wakefield submitting a Cultural Destinations bid to the Arts Council. This whole process involved all the major cultural organisations within the city, and Wakefield Arts Partnership was proud to be there representing its members, right down to the smaller organisations and independent members.

Our Steering Group member Beam was chosen as the lead organisation on the bid and with support from WAP and across a frantic number of weeks, the application was completed with input from many organisations.

2017 got off to a great start, with the news the bid had been successful, with Wakefield being awarded £223,000 for a three-year cultural programme.

Wakefield Arts Partnership is now incredibly excited to meet for the first time in 2017, to discuss how Cultural Destinations will affect the city and our work, and for us to build on the exciting and enjoyable work of 2016.

Written by Dean Freeman.





Luke Jerram Credit Helen Lisk

Wakefield is buzzing with culture this February!

Here are just a few of the highlights…..


Open Mic Night – Women ONLY

Wed 1st Feb, 7pm, Customs House

Women’s Voices Ring Out event hosted by the Well Women Center.

The Empty Nesters’ Club
Wed 1st – Sat 4th Feb, Theatre Royal Wakefield

Club artwork 2017

Written & directed by John Godber

Join Vicky Barret for the inaugural meeting of The Empty Nesters’ Club. If your children have left home and the nest is empty, this is the group for you!

Vicky will share her story of empty bedrooms, fresher’s flu, boyfriends, long goodbyes, motorway service stations and trips to Ikea; and how she fought back to be the woman she is today: exhausted!

Derek Nash

Fri 3rd Feb, Wakefield Jazz

derek nash

Wakefield Jazz surges into February with Jools Holland’s alto sax player Derek Nash and his all-star Acoustic Band.

Sat 4th Feb, 7.30pm, Unity Works

Mik Artistik’s Ego Trip

 mik artistic

Coffee, cake and conservation

Thurs 9th Feb, 10 – 11.30am, Nostell

Ever wondered what happens when the house doors close for winter? See what the conservation team get up to, to look after this special place and have a go at some conservation techniques yourself.

Seamus Blake

Fri 10th Feb, Wakefield Jazz


We are particularly proud to present the world class American Seamus Blake with his Hammond Organ trio. This is an Orpheus Project presentation by NorVol Jazz and Apollo Jazz.  He comes from New York to play almost exclusively Northern Clubs (though London has also grabbed him).  The BBC will record one of his gigs.

Sat 11th Feb, 10pm, Unity Works

Mike Skinner DJ Set

February half-term @ Nostell

Mon 13th – Fri 17th Feb, 11am – 3pm, Nostell

As nature starts to wake up, join us for family fun from making bird feeders, scrapbooks, playing games, crafts etc. Find out more. 

Dennis Rollins

Fri 17th Feb, Wakefield Jazz


We present a quartet featuring Doncaster-born Dennis Rollins. This National figure is with a band of established London players.

Sat 18th Feb 7.30pm, Unity Works

Midge Ure

Sing! Dance! Act!
Performance Academy Pontefract Showcase
Friday 24 & Saturday 25 February


A chance to see some of the most talented young performers in West Yorkshire as Theatre Royal Performance Academy Pontefract hits the stage for their annual showcase.

The Family Band

Fri 24th Feb, Wakefield Jazz

Wakefield Jazz brings a band formed in Leeds together again after 2 members moved to London. The Family Band plays high energy music inspired by the work of Ornette Coleman.  This gig is subsidised by Jazz North.

Sat 25th Feb, 9pm Unity Works

This Is The Eighties with Terry Hall


Coming soon!

Gala Dinner & Variety Performance
Thurs 2nd March

Theatre Royal Wakefield’s Gala Dinner & Variety Performance returns for another year and tickets are selling fast. Unity Hall hosts a champagne reception and a mouth-watering three course dinner, as well as the chance to win a number of unique auction lots. After the Variety Performance, guests will return to meet the stars of the show at the post-show party. Find out more.


Harrison’s Garden

Luke Jerram Credit Helen Lisk

(Image: ‘Harrison’s Garden’ by Luke Jerram. Photo by Helen Lisk.)

Saturday 25 March – Sunday 9 July

Nostell looks after a very special longcase clock made by local born inventor, John Harrison. In 2017, this handcrafted masterpiece is 300 years old and to celebrate, we’re hosting a contemporary art installation of 2,000 ticking clocks by world renowned artist Luke Jerram. Find out more.


Wakefield granted Cultural Destinations Funding

Wakefield Cultural Consortium, consisting 16 local organisations, has been awarded £223,000 from Arts Council England’s Cultural Destinations initiative, for a three year programme, to enhance local cultural offerings and encourage visitors to Wakefield.

Wakefield has a unique heritage and a growing cultural offer – from festivals to cutting edge contemporary art – and as a result, is one of 16 successful Cultural Destinations applicants. Led by Beam, the consortium will see local arts and cultural venues team up with tourism businesses and the wider business sector to promote Wakefield as one of Yorkshire’s leading cultural destinations. Together they will embed culture within the district’s ambitions for economic growth, jobs and improved skills.

Partners in the Wakefield Cultural Consortium are: Beam, National Coal Mining Museum, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Nostell, Wakefield Council, Theatre Royal Wakefield, Wakefield College, The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield Bondholder Scheme, Cognitiv, Wakefield Arts Partnership, The Art House, Faceless Arts, One to One Development, Unity Works and Xscape.

Jenny Layfield, Wakefield Cultural Consortium, said: “We are so pleased to have been successful in our bid for Cultural Destinations funding. Wakefield is only two hours from London and punches well above its weight in relation to cultural and tourist attractions, the support of the Arts Council will enable us to start a proactive conversation with our regional and national audiences and ensure that Wakefield builds on its strengths and expands its visitor economy.”

Sarah Maxfield, North Area Director, Arts Council England said: “This is fantastic news for the North. This investment will capitalise on the rich variety of arts and culture on offer here – positioning places as diverse as the rural Lake District, the metropolitan borough of Calderdale, and cities such as Sheffield and Manchester as leading cultural destinations. Over the coming years we hope to see these ambitious projects encouraging growth in the local visitor economy, and attracting more people from across the country – and indeed the world – to these great places.”

Cultural Destinations is an initiative that was developed by the Arts Council as a result of a three-year partnership with VisitEngland, the national tourist board. The programme aims to increase the reach of those experiencing arts and culture, the sustainability of cultural organisations in local destinations, and to encourage the public and private sector to work together to support the growth of the local visitor economy.


Uncovering Hidden Wakefield with the Centre for Dark Matter – Andy Abbott’s Artist Blog

This Summer Andy Abbott was commissioned by Wakefield Arts Partnership to undertake a research and engagement project across the Wakefield district focusing on its hidden and under appreciated aspects. In this blog post he relays his experiences and reflections.


My proposal was to create a travelling pyramid that appeared at events and places across the district. The pyramid would act as a vessel for gathering information and anecdotes from people as well as displaying their contributions. The pyramid was called the Centre for Dark Matter – referencing Gregory Sholette’s writing on the ‘hidden mass’ of informal cultural activity that holds everything together.

As an artist I had undertaken similar projects in other Northern towns and cities (my Festival of Pastimes series in Hull, Leeds, Stoke-on-Trent, Blackburn, Oldham and Rochdale plus the Bradford-based Guided Goitside with the art collective Black Dogs) and I’ve long been fascinated with independent, do-it-yourself, and amateur activity as well as the role alternative and radical histories have in placemaking.

Although I’ve been an occasional visitor to Wakefield – mostly through my connections with its DIY and punk music scenes – it wasn’t a place I was overly familiar with so I was excited by the opportunity to learn more about its hidden aspects.

Uncovering Hidden Wakefield

The project began by gathering contributions through market research style engagements with the newly formed Dark Matter team at Unity Works Comic Convention and online which, alongside some of my own research and visits around the district, provided the initial contents for the pyramid.

pyramid-hepworth       chili-fest-looking

To maximise the number and type of events at which the pyramid could appear I opted for a modular structure made from collapsible card boxes decorated with a simple yet eye-melting design by Ben Holden who had come up with the striking look of the project. The design incorporated special codes so that the pyramid acted as a digital canvas for an Augmented Reality experience. Viewing it through an iPad or smartphone allowed you to see inside.

pyramid-inside     pyrmaid-inside-2

The contents of the pyramid were constellations that represented people, groups or events from Wakefield’s past, present and future that people thought deserved more recognition or that were special to them. After browsing the contents of the pyramid visitors were asked what they would put inside and these contributions were included in future appearances.

The Wakefield Centre for Dark Matter and team appeared at The Hepworth family day, Ackworth Chilli Festival, National Coal Mining Museum, Nostell Priory, Castleford Queens Mill, Pontefract Museum, and Altofts and Lightwaves Literature Festivals. I also did smaller scale workshops and interventions at Lofthouse Grange dementia care home and as part of the Wakefield Art Walk. In total we reached around 2800 people with the project and had conversations with over 600.

nostell-2  hepworth-kids

The pyramid proved an effective device for facilitating deep and rich conversation about Wakefield. Passers-by were able to learn a bit about the area by browsing the contents. This also helped jog their memories or prompt them to think about their relationship with the area. The discussion also happened online using Twitter and Facebook posts as well as the Wakefield Arts Partnership website.

compton-organ-twitter           pontarc-twitter

Contributions ranged from historic figures like Charles Waterton (the pioneering conservationist), John Harrison (inventor of the marine chronometer) and Barbara Hepworth; local celebs like Karen Dews (kickboxing champion) and Kate Taylor (Wakefield historian and writer); events like Gawthorpe Coal Race, the Rugby League ‘Watersplash Final’ of 1968 (at which Wakefield’s Don Fox missed a conversion in the last minute of the game), the quickly-shut-down Finger in a Matchbox rave at Thornes Park in the early 90s, and the Community Iftar held by Wakefield City of Sanctuary earlier this year; groups like Pontefract Calligraphers, Elementals Moot (a meeting for modern pagans accessible to all) and Bygone Bikes (vintage bicycle enthusiasts); places like Horbury Lagoon, The Heronry, Pugneys Country Park, and Empire Drive Thru Fish and Chip restaurant; and organisations and venues like Wakefield Hospice, the Mental Health Museum and the forthcoming West Yorkshire History Centre.hepworth-constellation

Over 100 of the contributions were turned into entries for the Centre for Dark Matter. Each was represented by a constellation with a short description narrated by poet Kirsty Taylor. These have been archived as an online gallery made by One to One Development Trust at www.darkmattercente.com.


As the engagements went on I was able to start to get a better sense of what ‘Hidden Wakefield’ was. It became clear that the project wasn’t so much about secret things no one else knew about so much as people’s particular relationship to Wakefield’s past, present and future.


The research started to build a picture of a much more rural, caring, relaxing and regenerative place than mainstream opinion about Wakefield might suggest. I was surprised by the regular mention of country parks, wildlife, supportive groups and voluntary organisations. Even the anecdotes about the historic Wakefield Police’s heavy-handed tactics were described to me as ‘tough love’. I wonder whether this organic, grassroots mutual care and support has been a necessary response to the decimation and damage communities suffered through the decline of the mining industries that were once the beating heart of the district.

lightwaves   pontefract-museum

Likewise I picked up on a deep-seated respect for the heritage and past of Wakefield where generations of families had been in the same area, but also a tradition of welcoming new arrivals – whether that was the Irish navis, Scottish and Eastern European miners and more recent migrants from the Indian subcontinent and Middle East. The practice of solidarity and community organising honed by Trade Unions in the district has most recently been applied to antiracist campaigning and migrant support actions from We Are Wakefield and the initiative to become a recognised City of Sanctuary.

The people of Wakefield’s ability to come together in the face of adversity and create something new was embodied in some of the venues that hosted the Centre for Dark Matter. Queen’s Mill in Castleford, The Brig in Altofts and Lightwaves Community Centre were initiatives by local residents, groups and community activists to make collective use of valued facilities that were under threat of closure. The results include a Heritage Trust run flour mill; a community library housed in a room of a former Working Men’s club; and arts festivals and youth employment advisory services in a repurposed leisure centre. Without excusing the circumstances that have led to these unusual partnerships, they have had the benefit of creating a space where people with a broad range of backgrounds, interests, ages and faiths encounter and work together.

altofts-inside altofts-outside

There was also a playful, innovative, creative and sometimes bizarre and naughty side to Wakefield that came through in conversations about Wakefield as the ‘Merrie City’ in the 18th Century, Holyground Records (the ‘UK if not the world’s first independent recording label and studio’) and Bretton Hall College in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Nostell Free Festival in the ‘80s, The Castleford-based Yorkshire Art Circus which ran for nearly 30 years, Heppy’s club and its Fish and Strip nights, the dance and rave scenes in the ‘90s and the more recent DIY and independent music and arts scenes that have produced Long Division festival, Philophobia record label, Wakefield Westgate Studios and Crux Art Space. The chilli eating competition as part of the Ackworth Chilli Festival at First Impressions Garden Centre was one of the highlights of my year. All the participants were under 16. The competition was won by Neve (pictured above) who put in a particularly brave performance.


This is just a glimpse of the fascinating conversations and contributions people brought to the Centre for Dark Matter. The best were often personal and very specific to that person or group and with these, of which there were many, it felt like the conversation became an end in itself rather than an exercise in gathering data. Still, in order to move to the next stage of the project I began to put the contributions into rough categories of Nature, Heritage, Invention and Care that I felt accommodated the range of material.


Another notable trend from the engagements was that people were more comfortable and willing to talk about the past and present of Wakefield rather than its future. Not only did we receive a greater number of contributions about Wakefield’s history but in general people were visibly more animated and verbose about the past than the future – or even the present – of the district. This reluctance to think freely and positively about the yet-to-be is not exclusive to Wakefield. Times are hard, especially in those many cities and towns who exist in the shadow of past achievements and seemingly more successful neighbours. For these places it’s tempting to look through rose tinted glasses at greener pastures as I’ve experienced living in Leeds and Bradford.


It did lead me to thinking, however, about how I could present the fascinating research that had come from the people of Wakefield back to them in a way that would encourage a playful contemplation of the future. I became interested in the astrological and cosmological aspects of the project that so far I had only used for metaphorical and aesthetic purposes. One theory about pyramids is that they were aligned with the stars and used to watch the night sky. This prompted me to create a Wakefield Zodiac using some of the entries and material gathered by the Centre for Dark Matter.

I also became interested in the language of divination, particularly that used in horoscopes, and how it could be played against the more perfunctory tone of the entries in the pyramid. I began splicing existing horoscope texts with the text and content of the Dark Matter Centre to create a series of Wakefield Zodiac Horoscopes. These became a print designed by Ben Holden and were the base material for a composition for voices and synthesizer.

I also made the contributions to the Wakefield Centre for Dark Matter into a deck of cards that could be used for ‘education, play or divination’. The Cards for Dark Matter is a 78 card deck, each with a person, group, place, event or organisation from Wakefield’s past, present and future, divided into suites including ‘Nature’, ‘Care’, ‘Heritage’ and ‘Invention’. The deck also includes trump cards and Charles Waterton as the Fool as a nod to the stories I was told about his many pranks.

card-example-1 card-example-2 card-example-3

As luck or fortune would have it one of the groups I had come across early on the research, Elementals Moot, were holding a session on divination and they kindly invited me along. I was treated to my first ever tarot reading which I found an unexpectedly profound experience. I was inspired to share this in some form through the project.

wake-zodiac-print cards-played-prince-albert performance-2

I presented the outcomes at the Wakefield Art Walk on 30th November. The Wakefield Zodiac print was a free giveaway available to pick up at various venues on the walk. I performed the Wakefield Zodiac composition as part of the Unity Words event at Unity Works with Toria Garbutt, Kirsty Taylor and Jacqui Wicks as the voices. Divination games using the Cards for Dark Matter were played at The Prince Albert pub in Wakefield Westgate Studios and at the Wakefield Beer Exchange.

cards-played cards-played-beer-exchange cards

I was glad that the divination cards were especially well received. When I had had my reading by Krystal at Elementals Moot I enjoyed the candid way in which the reading was performed and the open-ended and subjective way in which the cards could be read. With the Cards for Dark Matter we took care to explain that the deck was not a real tarot set nor were our readers – artists Alice Withers and Lucy Courtney-Clegg – trained. The cards, however, still acted as an effective lens through which participants could think about and reflect on their future. It was gratifying to hear that people had meaningful experiences through the interaction and that this may in some small way help them approach unknowable times more positively. Or, less grandiosely, that they would make good stocking fillers for their Wakefieldian friends and family!

Rounding Up

The Wakefield Arts Partnership received the project positively and felt it had fulfilled their overall aim to creatively engage Wakefield communities in a dialogue about place – stimulating and gathering the sharing of information and stories that highlight local distinctiveness. The longer-term aim of the commission was to put the partnership in a position to take forward the creation of an Alternative Guide to Wakefield and they felt that the outcomes of the Wakefield Centre for Dark Matter can influence or feed into that. It also helped test new ways to engage residents and visitors and try out a district-wide, collaborative working method.

One of my own aims with the research and engagement around Hidden Wakefield was to learn more about the district, its histories and people with a particular focus on lesser-heard voices and narratives. What I uncovered reminded me what ‘alternative’ or ‘underground’ activity could be. It’s not necessarily all radical counter-cultural activity and activism – although Wakefield has its fair share of this – but includes the innocuous and everyday too. I found the revealing aspect of Wakefield was less the things, places and events themselves but more in the manner in which people related to these. In this way the project went towards proving the adage that ‘it’s the people that make the place’.

There were many conversations, stories, people and places that I only scratched the surface of and deserve fuller exploration. These included the history of independent music in Wakefield; the waves of migration that have formed the city and district; the impact that Bretton Hall College has had on the cultural landscape of Wakefield; and the role that young people will have in shaping the district and how space and resources can be made available to help this.

So I hope there are opportunities to be able to continue with some of this. One of the steering group members asked me, ‘What do you think it would be like to live in Wakefield now you’ve started to see its hidden side?’ It’s impossible to predict but, if I found myself there, I reckon there’d be a welcoming and caring community to be part of and plenty more to do, explore and uncover.



Thanks to the Dark Matter engagement team (Alex Boots, Yvonne Carmichael, Lucy Courtney-Clegg, Nasra Hussen, Jack Lynch, Finlay MacTaggart, Bryony Pritchard, Josie Tothill, Alice Withers and Rose Wobbaka); Ben Holden for the design; Lucy Barker for the documentation; Andy Campbell and Judi Alston at One To One Development Trust for the website; Toria Garbutt, Kirsty Taylor and Jacqui Wicks for the voices; all the venues and staff that hosted the engagements and outcomes; Wakefield Arts Partnership and Beam for the opportunity; and especially all the individuals, groups and organisations that contributed material or took part in conversations around Hidden Wakefield.

Commissioned by Beam on behalf of Wakefield Arts Partnership and supported by Arts Council England through Beam’s ‘Arts in Place’ programme.

Images and text copyright Andy Abbott.






Hidden Wakefield in the Stars


On Wednesday November 30 artist Andy Abbott will reveal outcomes of a summer of research about ‘Hidden Wakefield’ at the bi-monthly Art Walk. Hidden Wakefield was a commission by Beam on behalf of the Wakefield Arts Partnership that aimed to find out more about what people in Wakefield value and their relationship to the city and district.


In a series of engagements that reached over 2700 people, Andy used a portable pyramid and augmented reality smartphone technology to have discussions about Hidden Wakefield. Members of the public were invited to ‘look inside’ the pyramid – called the Wakefield Centre for Dark Matter – using an iPad app that revealed constellations and star maps relating to people, groups, places, and events from Wakefield’s past, present and future. They were then invited to suggest what about the district they’d put in the pyramid for its next appearance.

Contributions ranged from pioneering conservationist and satirical taxidermist Charles Waterton, to the Pontefract Calligraphy Club, to the song Here We Go ‘Round The Mulberry Bush’ (apparently composed at Wakefield Prison), to local historian and ‘Wakefield Champion’ Kate Taylor, to Castleford-born Bioni Sampt the inventor of the honey-powered ‘Hive synthesiser’, to the ‘UK if not the world’s’ first independent record label and studio Holyground Records, to the Compton Cinema Organ in Ossett Town Hall and the community Iftar held last year at Lightwaves Community Centre.


Andy says –

“The research has been fascinating and has revealed a very different picture of Wakefield and the district to what I or others might expect. I got an overwhelming impression of a rural, peaceful, inventive and caring district with people that are proud of their heritage and keen to preserve that whilst being very open and welcoming to others.

 There’s also a naughty streak running throughout the history of Wakefield with the ’merrie city’, free festivals, illegal raves, independent and DIY culture – sometimes met with a tough love approach from the authorities – and a playful and sometimes bizarre side that includes Fish and Strips nights at Heppys and, of course, the world renowned pie shop.”

The contributions have been archived on an online gallery at www.darkmattercentre.com

and there’s still an opportunity to contribute your own via the web page and an online form.



Wakefield Artwalk Showcase

For the Wakefield Art Walk on November 30th Andy has worked with designer Ben Holden to produce a Wakefield Zodiac star chart print as well as performance for synthesiser and spoken word using Wakefield Horoscopes that will be performed as part of the Unity Words event at Unity Works at 7pm (door price is pay-as-you-feel).

If you visit the Prince Albert pop-up bar in Westgate Studios or the Wakefield Beer Exchange on Artwalk night keep an eye out for Wakefield Fortune Tellers who will be set up to offer to read your destiny through a specially designed set of Wakefield Dark Matter ‘tarot cards’.