Reviews and comment from the Demon Crew - creative writers at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy volunteering

De Montfort University had a momentous week of Cultural Exchanges Festival 2019. We have seen, heard and read all about it: from Baroda Exhibition to Will Self and his talk on psychopathology, from Dr. Mark Griffiths’ technological addictions to Arts in Prison. Yet little is said about the people behind the festival.

No doubt students of Arts and Festival Management have done an outstanding job at organising events and making them run smoothly despite train delays, technical issues and the mysteries of disappearing pens/microphones/tickets. However, some other people got involved in this as well.

You may have seen us at the front desk of Clephan, behind hospitality tables at Vijay Patel and Hugh Aston, by the lecture theatres dealing with box office and guest lists, standing on the stairs between the floors directing people to events, drinks, bathrooms and exits. All dressed in black, smiling and ready to help – we were the student volunteers.

Honesty is my disgusting personal trait – I was as scared to go volunteering as people were scared of atomic bombs during the Cold War. The thought of messing up key details, directing people wrongly or just not being good enough was stressed me to the point where I nearly gave up volunteering in the very last second before my first shift.

But as I came into the festival head office and saw stressed-out event managers and all the work they put into organising, I knew I could not let them down. It's important to be there for these people, not just for your CV or self-confidence. Being a part of the festival at its very core, making connections with other volunteers, easing the tensions of head office, making jokes and bringing joy to people – every little helps. Being a volunteer awakes the warmth of one’s soul.

And if you have missed an opportunity this year, there are still festivals to come and people to give help to.

Maryia Lall

Festival volunteer - joining the Cultural Exchanges team

Being a volunteer at the Cultural Exchanges Festival 2019 was one of the best experiences of my life. The festival had an amazing atmosphere, hosting scholars and cultural artists each of whom had their own story to tell. I heard Kenneth Morrison talk about war hotels; Kassia St Clair on how fabric changed history; John Young's sound installation based on World War 1 recordings; the award-winning writer Nikesh Shukla and finally South Asian dancer and LGBTQ activist Shiva Raichandani. 

Each day I was assigned a different task. I worked on the box office (checking people in), setting up the room for the speaker, ensuring things like water bottles were provided, giving out questionnaires and pens, etc. The tasks may sound quite dull but the excitement from the audience and the team itself made it worth all the effort.

The team consisted of several 3rd year students who organised the festival as part of their degree course (Arts and Festival Management). Then there was the volunteering team which had a fair few undergraduate students (I think we were a group of 20, more or less) who had the pleasure to work alongside them, as well as having the opportunity to meet some of the amazing artists too.

It was an experience which will not be forgotten. #CulturalExchangesFestival2019Volunteer 

E J Manso Henriques

Jailhouse rock

A forty-piece orchestra walk into a prison…

Chris Heighton, Head of Music at DMU and Simon Bland, resettlement caseworker at Her Majesty’s Prison Leicester gave an informative, emotive, and educational seminar.

The Talent Unlocked programme began with the wild idea to take a 40-piece orchestra into a prison. This incredible experiment included 4 double basses, a drum kit and a whole load of music stands. Of course, this is no ordinary feat, especially since every instrument had to be checked before it was admitted within the prison walls.

This performance was an important moment in the prison’s history as it was the first orchestral performance there in 191 years. The way the speakers described the initial anxieties about going to do the performance in prison was enlightening but when I heard the result of the concert I was blown away.
The music that they had chosen to play were orchestral renditions of classic rock songs: think AC/DC, Queen, Oasis and even the theme tune from Match of the Day. All the arrangements were created by the Adrian Varela from the Philharmonia Orchestra and the recording of Bohemian Rhapsody actually gave me goosebumps. After the concert the band, prisoners, and prison staff all talked together. It sounded like an amazing experience for all involved.

"in a world of people consuming through a screen, the sound of a real instrument is largely lost, while the live performance is almost a haunting experience."

Rosella Hazeldine

From "bored" to "alive" - arts in prison

“To ride out the bad times, where words can’t explain how you feel art can… it might prove to be my salvation.” – Prisoner at HMP Stafford.

These were just a few of the touching words we heard yesterday, where the panel who work closely with inmates from both HMP Leicester and Stafford spoke about the positive effects the Talent Unlocked programme has.

Talent Unlocked works with inmates to create art in all forms, helping to develop transferable work skills and improving prisoners' their mental health.

Panel members expressed the importance of the rehabilitation process within the prison, so these men can willingly re-join society with a different frame of mind, and how this programme aids that process.

It was inspiring to see the passion of the panel members who have gained support from funding bodies and prison governors so that an arts festival can take place in prisons.

A survey of the men attending events showed that they went from feeling “bored”, “fed up” and “nervous” beforehand while afterwards they felt “encouraged”, “alive” and “very happy.” Jacqui Norton, from DMU Arts and Festivals Management team, says these are “key reasons we must keep going.”   
In HMP Stafford, where the average stay is 10 years and the suicide and self-harm rates are very high, a prisoner said, “Art has been an opportunity to rebuild… to believe in myself again, given me hope for life beyond the gates.”

I commend the third-year students for organising this festival and including this important event.

Millie Steptoe

Women's research matters

The #DMUResearchMatters event offered an eye-opening insight into the social value of university research as four women talked about their academic work. 

 First up was Hazel Kemshall whose Four Pillars model is used throughout the UK and Europe to monitor sexual and violent offenders and prevent further crimes. Her research helps to develop policies and to provide better information to EU countries about international 'sexual tourism'.

 Newspapers run scaremongering stories but Hazel's talk helped me understand just how much work goes into prevention. She also talked about the possible negative effects of Brexit in this area.

Criminologist Lucy Baldwin conducts research into mothers in prison. She detailed how prison can ruin some mothers' lives, even after their release. Schools often know nothing about affected children or how to support them, and many mothers become heavily depressed or worse, believing they've failed in their maternal role.

Lucy's inspiring work gives hope to many mothers motivation and helps them succeed in recovery from substance abuses or just to get back on their feet after release. Her research changes many women's lives.
Lala Meredith-Vula spoke about the concept of 'Blood Memory' and blood feuds: a sort of former 'Alabanian Judicial' system. On 1st May 1999, citizens of Alabania held ceremonies against the will of the government to put an end to blood feuds, many of which were more than a hundred years old. Lala took photos of the event secretly, and these are now one of the few mementos of the event.

Her work has gone global, being shown in galleries and across social media, bringing together people and their memories.

The final talk was given by Vanessa Bettinson who explained the crime of coercive control, which has only recently been recognized in law as a form of domestic violence. It's a primarily psychological form of abuse that causes victims to alter their typical everyday behaviours by threatening and punishing them. 

Her work providing evidence on how coercive control works and its effect on victims has recently come to the fore as in the recent appeal lodged in behalf of Sally Challen which has resulted in a retrial. 

I was inspired by the work of all four women and learned a great deal more about the world in which we live.

Lydia Morgan

From silliness to success - with Funmi Adewole

When you hear "Storytelling Workshop", what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, it was sitting down and taking notes on how to write or tell a story, but Funmi Adewole managed to teach her workshop with a twist: it was dynamic, interactive and fun. 

Funmi began by having everyone introduce themselves, breaking the ice, which really set us up for success for what was about to come. After telling us a story and discussing the different ways we could embellish it, she got us moving

We walked through the room, mostly laughing at how silly we felt, but everyone was having a great time. After that, we stood in a circle and sillier things followed, making us more and more comfortable. 

She built us up to the moment where we were split into groups and were supposed to plan and, embellishing, retell segments of the story we had heard earlier. After rehearsing, every group has its own little show and I cannot put into words how much fun and how interesting it was to watch the ways people worked the segments out. 

Proud of their success, everyone applauded, smiled and then watched Funmi retell her story, embellishing this time. As she spoke, she made us believe in the fictional world and carried us straight into it. 

If you ever have the chance to attend one of Funmi's workshops, you shouldn't miss it. It's a different experience and words can't do it justice. 99% of the people there weren't performers, but you could tell that 100% had a great time. 

P.S. We finished the workshop by doing 'the strange animal's dance' and you would have needed to be there to understand what I mean by that. 

Valentina Verba

Fear and terror

Photography: Kaitelin O'Brien
John Young's To the Red Sky was strictly an audio performance. I was quite dubious about sitting for an hour surrounded by speakers in a spotlight beam, listening to a recording of sound from the First World War. We were advised to keep our eyes closed to capture the essence of the experience. Still uncertain, I did so. Then it began.

 “He used to say to me…
  …Do you think you’ll get through?”
This is one of the lines that stuck with me.

A gust of electroacoustic sound rotated around the room as if someone was circling the edge of a fishbowl and I was the water within, confined and tormented. I had to put pressure on my feet to remind myself I was just sitting and listening, and that I was in the same place where I had been before I closed my eyes. There were crashes, clatters and clanks rebounding from every corner of the room. The speakers spat at me. I was haunted by harsh whispers, punctured by shots of sound. Then sporadic droplets of high frequencies gave a sense of hope that was soon swallowed by a battle of sharp shots and deep tones.

I felt the paranoia, I felt the interrogation, I felt the anticipation. I was in the trenches. 

The way John was able to manipulate these sounds to provide the sensation of trench warfare was astonishing. 
 The Imperial War Museum holds the oral recordings used for this remarkable performance.

Friday, 1 March 2019

An unprecedented hope

Munroe Bergdorf is 31-year-old activist and model who has inspired many to love themselves and fight for their rights. In a world of oppression, privilege and power, she is the contrast we all need

Seeing someone like Munroe, who I’ve idolised for so long, sitting in front of me talking about her hopes for the future of the world gave me an unprecedented feeling of hope. I don’t feel hope very often and in truth I am very cynical, but there is something fundamentally soothing about hearing Munroe talk about herself. It rubs off on you and makes you think that maybe, just maybe you also can make a change. Munroe didn’t romanticise herself, her cause, or her struggles as a transgender black woman but she was authentic and kind.

Munroe being unapologetic about her identity is a breath of fresh air, during the talk she discussed the micro aggression of having to explain and discuss her identity and oppression. She talked about the notion of not having to actually partake in discussions with people who belittle your experiences.

As a black woman I related to what she was saying. In the past I’ve had people roll their eyes at me and minimise my experiences. It’s a micro-aggression and I sometimes forget how it actually affects me. It makes me feel like my opinion doesn’t matter, like I can’t be vocal about things that matter to me and it ever so subtly leaves me questioning my position in society.

Her advice to value yourself enough not to justify your importance and rights really stuck with me. Munroe Bergdorf was such a powerful presence, whose message of self-acceptance and self-love really stuck with me.