Two borough artists hail success of lockdown project

They have celebrated the way creativity has kept communities connected and active during a very difficult 12 months.

Friday, 23rd April 2021, 1:30 pm

Anna FC Smith and Helen Mather had their plans for These Lancashire Women are Witches in Politics, which looked at reformers from Leigh in the early 19th century, thrown out by the imposition of lockdown last March.

Started in January 2020, groups of people were meeting at drop-in sessions in Leigh Library to create banners drawing on a satirical print from the 1800s about women being involved in politics which had influenced designs created by local school pupils.

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Artists Helen Mather and Anna FC Smith

And the move to virtual and remote art has been a huge success for Wigan artist Anna and Helen, who is originally from Leigh but now lives in Manchester.

Anna said: “We couldn’t believe the response, particularly as people started to send their work back to us.

“Banners were returning with notes about how sewing for the project had helped them relax, and made them feel a part of something.

“Having this new community of stitchers made us feel connected too.

“I think we sent out about 90-odd packs in the end, which was amazing.

“We had so many lovely, heart-warming messages from people saying they didn’t know what they would have done without this and it had helped them, and we were writing back saying we felt the same.”

Helen said: “Everything suddenly stopped, and people were feeling anxious and suddenly alone, including us.

“There was such a demand for people to get involved in a creative activity through the first lockdown, we ran out of packs within a week! We’ve had such great feedback from people, but I feel more than that, we have made connections with people through a very strange time.”

These Lancashire Women are Witches in Politics took its visual cues from details in a print mocking female reformers in politics.

Anna and Helen were looking at the women activists of Leigh who campaigned in 1819 for working people to have the vote.

As well as creating banners each sewer also attached a design to a piece of their own clothing they were happy to donate.

The artists then also created online workshop to make tassels and sigils, with the Leigh Sewing Sisters group sending in around 150 tassels.

The project was intended to be highly collaborative, drawing in Compassion in Action service users, Community Cadets, St Joseph’s Primary School pupils, The Turnpike’s children and young people’s groups, Wigan and Leigh Archive volunteers and members of the public.

The artists think around 400 people in total have now been involved.

Anna and Helen also organised a programme of events they had hoped to hold at the Leigh gallery on Zoom, exploring the project’s ideas of powerful woman, threats to the status quo and authorities and shaming rituals.

Online audiences heard about the Leigh Female Reformers from historian Yvonne Eckersley and academic Ruth Mather, and there was also a musical performance from Rachael Finney, poetry from Wigan writer Louise Fazackerley and a conversation event with Leigh LGBTQ+ campaigner Jess Eastoe.

A regular group of 27 people now meet regularly on Zoom with free packs of materials being sent out to them.

And the works that have been created during lockdown will all go on display at The Turnpike next month as part of the art centre’s reopening.

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