All posts by Ria Hartley

Workshop #2 Paper Mache Bird Making and Chalking Event

Despite the day of showers here in Hackney on Saturday, the Broadway Market round the corner from Sunbury House was full of hustle and bustle with passersby curiously peeking in at the events space sparking conversations on the show. We opened the workshop in the early afternoon with the chalking event pausing questions about migration, hope and freedom. The workshop, Led by Zoe Holloway, was inside our performance space where people were invited in to create a Bird out of Papier mache, and design, style and decorate it to say something about themselves or someone important to them.

There was lots of cutting, sticking, painting, gluing and talking amongst the participants, and we even had a life size bird fly in and out and around Broadway market!!!

We have some fantastic new creations to add to the design of the space ready for the FREE matinee performances of A Wing A Prey A Song  on Wednesday 30th October at 2.30pm and 7.30pm @ Sunbury House, 1 Andrews Rd, Haggerston, London E8 4QL

We hope to see you there




People like birds go on dangerous journeys in search of a better life. But do our migrations of the heart end in freedom or do we lose ourselves along the way?”
Join us to create your own papier mache bird and migration story which will become a part of a set designed for a new play in progress & a public chalking activity.
Saturday 26th October 2.30 – 4.00pm
Meet @ Sunbury House, 1 Andrews Road, Haggerston, London E8 4QL

I like to think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet

In a widening field Journeys in Body and Imagination Miranda Tufnell and Chris Crickmay write that:

‘The stories of our lives include many places -places lived in, visited, remembered, heard of, and dreamed about. Some’ of these hold a special significance -the place we were born, the place we’ regard as home, places we love to go, places we avoid. Every place is many places -for you and for me each place will be different’

Thinking back I consider my high school experience. I was the new girl at school five times, in the five years of my senior education from 11 – 16. In each new place and school I began with a slightly different version of myself, reflecting and learning from each past experience to take forward into the next. I got better at it. On the first day of each new school year, I would stand at the front of a class of strangers and the teacher would introduce me as the new girl. This is Ria, she has moved from….lets all welcome her. I would look up at the thirty faces staring back at me and feel nervous and embarrassed and hope for a friendly smile or gesture, someone to sit next to, someone to have lunch with, a group who would invite me into their already established clic. It still kind of feels that way for me, when beginning in a new place, standing in the presence of strangers and being the new girl.

I would make good friends, and then I would leave again. I would try to stay in touch, but the momentum would fade as I kept moving and there became more and more people to keep in touch with which became difficult to keep up. When I finished school, I just kept moving. I didn’t really know where to go or where to begin so on impulse one day I jumped on a train, I had no money and no ticket but decided that I would just see where it took me and leave where ever I might end up to chance. I started in Rugby and I waited to be asked for my ticket, but no one came. I got off at Manchester, my city of birth, and although I had not lived there for a long time, it made sense to me to begin at the beginning and be in a place where I knew I could stay with family if the shit hit the fan. But on my way into the City I met strangers whom I told my story to and they invited me to Reading, so I went there for a while and met someone who invited me to Leeds, so I went there for a while. I carried on doing this until one day I became stranded in Tamworth late at night. It had been three months and my Mum was quite worried about me, so I went home.

Looking back at my naivety and the risks I took as a young woman travelling around the country, taking on the invitations of strangers, although I like to think that strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet, I can say I am much more cautious today. But there was a kind of knowing and a kind of trust and mutual agreement I could sense in people and a lure to the places they took me. I felt as though I was entrusting guardians guiding safe passages through my nomadic existence. I was on a quest, searching for a place to stay and to call my home. But at the time I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for.

Some twelve years later I initiated the Train project, a two week drift across the UK rail network by train, never leaving the stations and only stopping to change platform and direction. I slept, ate, washed, and performed on the trains and at stations for two solid weeks. I had come to realise that home had become a series of beginnings, where placelessness, in motion was my stability. Like birds flying off for the winter, their home is in between places, they have left but not yet arrived and for a while travelling is home.

My grandparents whom had migrated from Jamaica in the 60s both worked for British rail up to their retirement. There beginnings here were then invested in the connectivity of others through transportation, and it suddenly occurred to me that the trainline not only connected me to them, geographically, but to their labour and lives and our history. I was in search of more than just a place to stay, I was also looking for a way to make sense of my identity, my heritage, and my other homes.

I Dream of Building a New Nest in a Place once Known as Home

It was in 1962 when my Grandparents Hubert and Matilda Douglas migrated from Jamaican to England. This was the year of Jamaica’s independence, just over fifty years ago now. I know my farther came over later in 1971, and the experience really unsettled him, he never quite felt at home in England. I often wonder if his being unsettled passed onto me as I move from place to place.  Being born in Manchester in the 80’s me and my cousins marked the first British born generation of our family. We would all gather at the family home, our Caribbean nest. I loved those times and Matilda’s cooking, always something on the hob and the scent of spices floating through the house. There were times of laughter, there were times of sorrow. When Matilda was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago, I hadn’t anticipated how quickly she would lose her memory and abilities, that she would need full time care and subsequently lose the family home.

Hubert had passed on some years before and it felt as though a whole part of my world was disappearing with Matilda. Her stories, her memories, her home, all fading away, no longer can I smell the scent of her cooking, nor hear her sweet voice recall the family’s history. Our nest is empty. We do not gather there anymore, there is no flock, no afternoon rum or dominos. Everyone has flown off in different directions, and with that I think about freedom. We all have a new kind of freedom, the kind in which I know is not the same for our family back home; we have a privileged freedom which comes with our documents and status to this place. It means we have a kind of independence that does not rely on the community of family. I wonder if this was the freedom that my Grandparents anticipated in their long and difficult journey to Britain and the many years of labour and struggles that followed. I wondered if they imagined that with freedom also came the scattered flock, dispersed and moving outwards in many directions. Things change and I embrace this, but as I glide with the freedom I was given, I smell the change of season in the air and look upon the many birds migrating for the winter. I never liked the cold here and sense the movement in my wings drawn to warmer lands and I dream of building a new nest in a place once known as home.

The migrations project offers me new perspectives on journeying through narratives, and new insights and ways of looking at migration. I personally feel blessed to live in a land with such a thriving migrant community, where I learn so much about the world around me through the people that I meet here. There is a kind of knowing when you are from a migrant family that is hard to explain, like an acknowledging of being a person of the world, carrying many stories within your body of places known and unknown. Stories are so important for all of us, to tell and to listen to. It is the core of our human connection, consciousness, communication and the way in which we relate to each other and our environments. Storytelling, illustration, song, poetry and rhythm are ancient ritual practices embed in all our routes and I am curious about how they have evolved through creative visions combining new technologies and media. I am very excited about the collaboration between the artists on this project and very much looking forward to the readings of A Wing A Prey A Song on 30th October 2013.

Matilda and MeImage from the telling of my story Matilda and Me