Penge Men & Women in Sheds, and the Breaks & Joins podcast

January 21st 2022

Yesterday I went to Penge Men & Women in Sheds to collect a chair that they were fixing for me.    This nationwide (586 ‘Sheds’ in the UK currently) project began as ‘Men’s Sheds’, aiming to create a space where men could come together to chat, to make stuff, to mend, to connect.   Each ‘shed’ works differently, but most of them welcome things to fix that the local public bring in, but they also make things to sell or to give; house signs, planters, wooden toys.  I’ve heard of a men’s shed that built props for a local theatre company.   Over time these have expanded and many now include women who love fixing things. Many of the people are retired, or work part time.  They have skills to share, and the people I met love figuring things out.  The sheds also have a social function; they are community spaces that serve their communities.   They did a brilliant job on my chair – it is better now than it was before it broke.  The quality of the mend is better than the broken part, and I was tasked to look after it and respect the beautiful repair, which I will.

Working on Breaks & Joins continually leads me into wonderful conversations where the connections between mending our stuff, our selves and our communities light up, and we are celebrating some of these in our first series of podcasts, launching on Friday, February 4th !     We have spoken to amazing people about all kinds of repair. Look out for Rose Sinclair @dorcasstories talking about textiles, and the Dorcas clubs where women who’d come to the UK from the Caribbean created a space to gather and sew, for Raj Bhari (Peaceful Change Initiative) and Claire McDonald (Artist and Unitarian Minister) sharing experiences of bad breaks to a limb and how the mending is going; Sudip Chakroborthy talking about community fractures in Bangladesh, with Ali Campbell, and Suzi Warren, founder of Stitch it Don’t Ditch it, talking about public mending events.

They will be coming out weekly for 8 weeks; you will be able to find the link on our Insta page breaks_and_joins and on this website

Breaks & Joins

how it started…..

The Breaks & Joins project, like most projects, began when some very separate thoughts collided.   I discovered a repair café, led by Mo Sumah, in the Telegraph Hill Centre, which is very near to where I work for half of the week.  I had begun to use the Crystal Palace Library of Things to borrow electrical equipment, like a sewing machine, a hedge trimmer, a carpet cleaner, because I don’t need to own these things and I was thinking about how to lessen my belongings and chuck less stuff away.   But I also got interested in the language around mending, and the attitude. Mo’s foremost attitude is curiosity, as he delves into whatever people have brought for him to look at.  The first time I met him he was mending someone’s child’s scooter.   He was full of appreciation that this woman had already started investigating what was wrong with it, to the extent of ordering the spare part she needed. She just needed some help with the last stage.   She spoke to us about her horror at the thought that if people didn’t mend their children’s scooters, there would be, somewhere a mountain of discarded scooters. “Where do people think they go?” she asked.   Mo talked to us about his own feelings about how much is thrown away in London. His specialism is TV sets, and, when he finds one on the street he fixes it and redistributes it.   So all of this, very much against the background of increasing awareness of the urgency of the Climate Emergency, began to speak to thoughts about how we can repair relationships, and how we can mend things in ourselves. I started to talk to collaborators, including Chick Blue Lowry, a film maker and facilitator, Raj Bhari, a peace builder and conflict resolution specialist, Rose Sinclair, a textiles expert, and Amanda Mascarenhas, a theatre designer passionate about reusing and recycling. Together we began to think about how we might engage with local communities in Lewisham to explore all of these links more closely.  Writing in September 2021 it’s important to say that all this started before Coranavirus was part of our lives.

Our first step was to do a callout for films of people mending things, and I’ll talk about these in the next blog. You can view all of these on this website


It was a great pleasure to be the baker for the Bread project as part of the Gratitude Enquiry. This part of the project took place at Oval House Theatre with participants from the theatre’s young artists and from the local group Stockwell Good Neighbours, alongside storyteller Surya Turner, Sue and myself.

We baked different types of bread on three separate occasions, with each bake marking a development in our discussion and investigation into gratitude. We explored gratitude both in conversation and through the physical process of baking tailored breads for each other and exchanging them when they were ready to be eaten.

The three types of bread were milk rolls; rolls with nuts, seeds and dried fruits and spiced buns. For the rolls with inclusions and the spiced buns, the bakers paired up and asked each other what they would most like in their breads, giving rise to interesting and personal combinations. In our final session the spiced buns were exchanged with messages of gratitude.

Loaves with inclusions (makes one loaf)
300g bread flour (any type of bread flour, as you wish, we used a granary flour)
200g water – warm
0.5 tsp salt
1.5tsp active dry yeast
Spices, dried fruit, nuts and seeds as desired

Combine the flour, salt and yeast and any ground spices you are using. Add the water to the dry ingredients and mix to form a dough. Knead for 10-15 minutes until it passes the window test. Add any nuts, seeds and chopped up dried fruit. Knead for another minute to incorporate these well. Shape the dough into a ball and put into a bowl covered with cling film. Rest in a warm place for an hour.

After an hour, take out the dough which should have doubled in size. Knock out the air and then shape into a ball again, trying to tuck the dough under as we did in the workshop, creating tension in the outside of the ball.

Heat your oven to about 220C or gas mark 7.

Place the shaped loaf onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper which you have lightly rubbed with olive oil. Cover the loaf with cling film that you have also lightly rubbed with olive oil. Leave to rise for 30 – 45 minutes in a warm place, until doubled in size.

When it has doubled in size, remove the cling film. Dust the top with flour. Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until crisp and golden.

Spiced buns (makes 6)
290g flour – granary flour or a mixture of white and granary
1.5tsp active dry yeast
0.5tsp salt
1.5tsp spices
20g melted butter
20g caster sugar
100g stout such as Guiness Extra Strong
80g water – warm

Combine the flour, salt, sugar, spices and yeast. Melt the butter and combine with the beer and water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix to form a dough. Knead for 10-15 minutes until it passes the window test. Add any nuts, seeds and chopped up dried fruit. Knead for another minute to incorporate these well. Shape the dough into a ball and put into a bowl covered with cling film. Rest in a warm place for an hour.

After an hour, take out the dough which should have doubled in size. Knock out the air and then gently shape into a sausage in order to slice it into rolls. Cut into 6 equal pieces and shape into rolls, trying to tuck the dough under as we did in the workshop, creating tension in the outside of the ball.

Heat your oven to about 220C or gas mark 7.

Place the shaped rolls onto baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper which you have lightly rubbed with olive oil. Cover the rolls with cling film that you have also lightly rubbed with olive oil. Leave to rise for 30 – 45 minutes in a warm place, until doubled in size.

When they have doubled in size, remove the cling film. Mix an equal quantity of hot water and caster sugar and brush each roll with it. Bake the rolls in the oven for 15 – 18 minutes until lightly golden. If desired you can get a shinier finish by brushing again with the sugar syrup half way through baking.

BREAD and flexibility

The BREAD project – a partnership with Ovalhouse and Stockwell Good Neighbours had a false start, as we had to cancel the original date and reschedule.

My memory of  a really good holiday is peppered with moments of having to do yet another email round with my Project Manager, Sabrina, in order to try to reorganize two participant groups, a venue and four artists. It was absolutely crazy in one way, but I also remember this sense that everyone wanted to make it work, so there was a wave of goodwill urging us forwards.   The new project shape meant that less people could do it, and that we didn’t get to try put a project which is intended to be a kind of intensive – four days of baking on the trot. But of course that doesn’t mean that it fails. This kind of work is always responsive, responding to people and places and events, and I think that one of the big questions for participatory artists is what you hang onto for dear life and what you let go of. The new shape brought a new pattern; people’s slightly different availability actually revealed new possibilities, and we discovered that baking together really is a process in which you make and reflect and make and discuss and make and then consume! So we all want to do it again…….


written by participants to welcome the bread as it came out of the oven

Here you are –

Lovely to look at,

Tickling my taste buds


Made by us

And you’ve made it thus far.

And now

We are ready to

Consume you

We mixed you, squeezed you, we kneaded you

And now

We are here to welcome you in our midst


Oh Bread

We thank you


Appearing hot, golden, with that fresh bread smell

Ready to eat

Gratitude & Letters


and letters.



I have decided to ask for a letter for Christmas.  Watching fans being made and written on during our Fanmail workshops was like watching Christmas presents being wrapped and unwrapped. So much was poured into the fans and so much pride was taken in making them as beautiful as possible – to be given away.  Like the process of writing a letter, we didn’t know how each fan would turn out or what it would say, until it had come into being. We learnt things about ourselves in-the-making. Why, for example, do I want to hide this message in the depths of the folds? And why did I choose the largest, shiniest paper for this person’s fanmail?

The letter I want for Christmas doesn’t have to be on a fan, but if I was writing it, (and perhaps I will be) I know the fan would help me. Like using a gift to communicate a feeling, I’ve seen that fans can hold half of the meaning in a non-verbal way. Like walking, one step left, one step right, the fans make their communication with words and image in step with each other, pulling each other along. It’s very effective!

What better gift than a letter, given a bit of help by beauty? What more beautiful than a fan, enriched with very-meant words?  Fanmail’s new, hybrid language has taken flight this year and it’s been both glamorous and gratifying.



Anna Sikorska

Dec 2016

Fanmail launch

The launch of Fanmail was part of the Sydenham Festival, and we invited the Sydenham Singers to sing while people moved among the trees. The fans were suspended on lanyards, and you had to pull them down to get a closer look and then let them spring back, up into the trees. It was absolutely lovely to walk peacefully around the copse, or through the Victorian Greenhouse, with the singing in the background.

fan with message on tag
fan with message on tag

The choir leader, Janna Goodwille wrote

The singers had a very thought-provoking time I think. I led them more into contemplative singing than I would normally do in a workshop, focusing on places people and things they would like to thank, and I think the performance aspect of it was quite a new experience for those I’ve been working with for a while. Providing more of a meditative soundscape to another installation rather than being the main event was very touching for some people. I think the singers felt part of something bigger than themselves, well beyond the choir and that was special. I enjoyed it very much too.


Fanmail Reflections

The 2nd project of the Gratitude Enquiry has just come to completion.  Fanmail took place at Sydenham Garden, a beautiful oasis in South London, where people go to garden, sing, make art and grow back to health after, or in the middle of physical and mental health challenges.

We met for four Mondays with 9 participants, doing that wonderful combination of skills learning, chatting, thinking, and being quiet in the company of other people.

Sorting out the folds
Sorting out the folds

Workshop 5.00_44_03_24.Still096 DSC00139 Folding the pleats is not without its difficulties, especially for those who struggle with dexterity, or, who are used to doing things fast and imprecisely. One participant wrote afterwards; I was pleased I could enjoy the precision of making ‘sharp’ folds without getting too stressed – it works anyway, even if you are by nature ‘a bit sloppy’!

We introduced the idea of including messages on the fans in the second week. The seed for the idea had come from what was a thank you letter, folded in to a fan shape because it was ‘Fanmail’.  But we knew that we had to introduce the message idea carefully, so that people could participate in this bit to the extent and the depth that they wanted. In my research I had read a paper on ‘Gratitude and Happiness’ (Watkins, Woodward, Stone & Kolts 2003). These scientists had conducted an experiment in which they set out three tasks; to think about someone to whom they were grateful; to write about their gratitude to someone; to write a letter to someone to whom hey were thankful that would be sent. In terms of positive effect on the participants, the thinking exercise was twice as beneficial as the letter writing. The letter provoked some anxiety about the possible reception of the thank you, which the other two exercises did not.  I wondered how this exercise might help us, and this coincided with development of a set of ways to make fans developed by the two visual artists, Mia Harris and Anna Sikorska.  The different ways of folding offered the opportunity to seal a message completely in the fan, so that it is present, but never visible; the opportunity to write a message clearly visible to any viewer, and the opportunity to write a message and the fold the paper in such a way that only the recipient would know where it was and be able to peep inside.  This offer allowed a huge variety of response; public thank yous, messages to family and pets who had died, private messages including messages to oneself, and the possibility to , as one  participant put it “lay something to rest”.

Reflections on I live in it : Project Volunteer, Tinka Werner


Workshop 4.5

Being involved in the project felt like home – felt like a place where I could take creative risks, where I could experiment with ideas and movements and share thoughts I never thought were relevant to share – and at the same time feel a deep connection with the other participants. The space of the project felt very quickly very safe and I saw that it´s not only me who felt this way. An older participant said after a free dancing exercise: “that´s the first time I´ve danced” and later added: “and felt safe”. How? How was the project scaffolded, so it created such an appreciative and safe atmosphere?

After graduating the Master programme in Applied Theatre at Goldsmith’s and working as a new-born facilitator in mostly movement based workshops I got the opportunity to volunteer for “I live in it”! By reflecting on my own feelings while participating in this exceptional intergenerational project I understood much more about safe spaces than any theoretical text I read could explain to me.

The creation of a physical and metaphorical safe space occupies high priority in the field of participatory arts as it is considered ´an important precursor to any collaborative activity.´[1] The term describes the transformation of a specific location into a space in which participants feel safe to learn new skills and to develop a way to express themselves. That is why I want to reflect on which aspects of the project may have created the safety and freedom of expression.

Workshop 4.7

Before every session started in the project space, the group of older participants met an hour earlier in the library of Mulberry School to have tea together. This informal gathering, in which sometimes organisational stuff was getting done but most importantly was the chance to have a conversation outside the project context, developed to a ritual which held the group together. Although the tea time was part of the project, the space had almost no formal rules and the facilitators did not engage with the participants in a specific way. As project roles were suspended, there was no differentiation between facilitators, project managers and participants. In this space everybody was met on a very personal level. This quickened the process of getting familiar with the people and with the relationships between them, which evoked feelings of comfort and safety which extended inside the project space.


Another factor I would say created this safe space were the thorough explanations of the tasks and exercises the facilitators asked the participants to engage with. Sue, Ellie and Jamie gave examples from their own lives and disclosed personal stories to make clear what the exercises were about. But their self-disclosure and openness also cultivated an environment that provided congruence. The facilitators were genuinely relating to the participants. They were themselves part of group work where they shared their stories, worked on them creatively and presented them in front of the rest of the group. Also in the project context the line between participants and facilitators was blurred and every story in the room was considered. The facilitators were not only professionals who do their job of facilitating an intergenerational arts project but authentically live the concept.


Although the time was short, there was always time for questions and comments. I experienced the facilitators as very empathetic, attentively listening to what happens in (and outside) the room and using this input from the participants to plan the next session. Every small presentation, mostly expressed with movement, was captured and remembered by the facilitators. When the performance piece was assembled, they acknowledged each movement and the owner who had the idea for this movement. This was an extremely powerful moment and I only really got it, when one of my movements were chosen. How proud I was, that something I had developed was chosen to be part of a performance and would be shown in public. Of course, I was and my work was already on stage and shown publicly, but this particular movement of mine which was chosen had another impact on me – it captured a very important moment in my life and was deeply personal. At the same time, nobody in the audience would know that it´s my movement, which freed me of any judgement, so I could enjoy and embrace the movement as such, witnessing the other participants doing it and sharing it with the audience.


These few aspects I talked about are not by any means the only ones which created this safe space. But in the end, I think, the most important notion was, that there was no greed for sensation. The workshops were not facilitated in a manner so that the participants were asked to disclose personal stories they were not happy to share. The tasks were about sharing small moments of which everybody could think of and which make all of us unique. At some points, tasks were given, in which every participants had the time to think by herself and later showing the essence of her thinking expressed in a movement or a text. So, not every story we explored in community was verbalised. Nevertheless these stories were present in the body, room and performance. That is why I feel being a part of the ´I live in it´ project was so exceptional. The facilitators attitudes´ towards the participants and their stories illustrates how a relationship may be created so that everybody in the room is able to express their feelings, thoughts and ideas. And this is what matters.

[1] Mary Ann Hunter, ‘Cultivating the Art of Safe Space’, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 13 (2008), p.6.

I live in it- jamie’s reflections

Jamie’s Blog


Jamie accompanying workshop
Jamie accompanying workshop

I always find it a bit mysterious how the sound / music I make for a piece of dance forms itself. A lot of the early stages consist of me making things and then waiting for those things to make connections with other bits of sound or with movement and thus finding their place in a piece. In the case of ‘I Live In It’ I had some free time before the project officially started and I decided to spend some of it making a library of musical materials that I could bring in to rehearsal. I didn’t know what the rehearsal process would turn out to be like yet and I figured so much of what we made and how the making process would unfold would depend upon the people who took part, so I just launched out on making bits of sound with the idea of gratitude to our bodies kind of hanging around in the air somewhere in the hope that it would make me gravitate towards sounds that fit the project.


Having a pre-prepared ‘library’ of potential sound material for a project means that from the very start I can try things alongside movement games or devising exercises and get a feel for what kind of sounds will fit this particular group of people and the movement material they’re coming up with. I can always go away and change the sound or make new sounds to suit the project more if I need to, but having sound that might form part of the piece there from the beginning also means that the sound can influence the development of the movement as well the movement affecting how the sound gets shaped and moulded. As the project evolves I think this happens some of the time in a form of sound / movement osmosis rather than things being too consciously chosen – I like the way this seems to give a feel in performance of the sound and the movement being quite organically linked. It means too, that the people dancing alongside the sounds I make become accustomed to the kinds of music and sounds I compose quite early on in the process, rather than just being presented in the last few rehearsals with something that might be quite different from what they were (perhaps unconsciously) expecting. Similarly it means that the people making and dancing in the piece and I come to know and trust each other more than if I simply turned up from time to time and then presented a sound score towards the end. It’s difficult really to prove it, but I do have a feeling when I work in this way that there is a greater sense of connection between the sound, the movement and the people who are dancing it.


I also liked the idea of somehow making some of the sound with the people who would be taking part in the piece, whether this would be ‘pure sound’ or spoken text. We tried a few things in rehearsals that either used vocal sounds or spoken texts and I often recorded discussions the group members had or the sound of activities they were engaged in during the workshops in the hope that there might be some bits from that I could use in the piece. So in the end we used a selection of specifically recorded spoken ‘praise poems’ to the body that people had written, along with bits of conversations that people had had in small groups around the themes of the project and also some ‘vocalisations’ that came out of a session we did with everyone one afternoon, with different people conducting the group in making short repetitive phrases of vocalisation or speech that accompanied a movement. I had originally thought that we might use something like this live in the piece, but as time passed it felt that there was so much to investigate with the movement that it would be better to use recorded examples that I could then manipulate using music software. There was one particular section in the final music that featured some of the ‘pure vocalisations’ that I’d recorded and also one of the participants Sarah saying ‘Bah Humbug’ in a way that had a lovely musical phrasing to it. I took this material and put it through a processing tool called a resonator, which emphasised the musical pitch of the sound and layered it along with other sounds that I had made myself. The result felt like a really nice distillation of both the actual sound that had been made by Sarah and the group, but also of the processes we’d used to arrive at it. (The original sounds in this case had come from a sound and movement exercise that had come out playing with sounds that your body might ‘say’ or ‘vocalise’). In the final piece the audience might have no idea of where the sound had originated, but it felt to me (and I hope to the audience) that the sound had a kind of indefinable integrity and relationship to the performers and to the theme.


One interesting decision that I came to make in the later stages of the project was that rather than producing a finished recording of the music / sound I would prepare the different layers that made up the piece and trigger them live using a piece of music software called Ableton Live. This had two advantages, it meant that timings could remain flexible and rather than the group having to worry about meeting appointments in the sound score, I could cue specific events to the movement as it happened at the pace that felt right for the performers in performance, (this felt particularly helpful in a piece where the dancers had such a wide variety of physicalities and where some sections had quite an improvisatory structure). There were some lovely coincidences that we had I think, all grown attached to between the sound and the movement and this meant I could reproduce them in the performance. Conversely, it also meant that there were layers or events in the sound that I could place in a different relationship to the movement every time we ran the piece. This seemed to keep a freshness and aliveness to the performance. In particular there was a section that was danced along to the ‘praise poems’ to different parts of the body I mentioned earlier. The movements often related to particular parts of the body too, but the different timing live of these poems in relation to the movement meant that there was a lovely sense of  ‘perfect fit’ and juxtaposition between the body parts mentioned in the soundtrack and those used or referred to in the dance that changed every time.


Jamie, Sue & Ellie



I live in it – Investment

The focus in the performance of I live in it was extraordinary. I had the feeling that people had ‘arrived’ at the same time, and that everyone understood that they had the right to be there on stage and to be witnessed. Tim Etchells writes beautifully about this in Certain Fragments (pp 48-49)

Investment is what happens when the performers before us seem bound up unspeakably in what they’re doing – it seems to matter to them [   ] Investment is the line of connection between performer and their text or their task.  When it works it is private, and often on the very edge of words. Like all the best of performance it is before us, but not for us.

Performance Performance Still