DSW first blog

As the very first full DSW blog I thought I would just say a little bit about how the project itself got started.  Partly because I am responsible for us being where we are.  Other partly because it just seems like a good place to start, before I tell you about developing 'Oxygen', or about being in development with actors and creative team.

In 2008 I saw a printed copy of a photograph, of a group of people, who were predominantly women and children, holding a banner saying – 'National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies – Land's End to London'.  They were held in sepia.  Another world staring back at me, and I began to wonder who they were.  What they were doing, as some of the women steadied their bicycles, a very modern mode of transport at the time for women, as they waited for the camera to flash its light. 

I was intrigued and I wanted to know more. 


You can see the image on the Dreadnought South West Association website.  It has stayed with me for a long time now.  I have been keeping it close to me all this time.  Even now, years later when I have held an original in my hands.

I discovered that the people in the image were part of the many people who ventured along the South West route of the Great 1913 Suffrage Pilgrimage.  I had never heard about this particular pilgrimage and the more I looked, the more I realised it hadn't been that widely documented.  This made me even more curious and it struck me that I didn't really know that much at all about the suffrage movement.  So off I went to find out some more.

Held in sepia.  Another world staring back at me, and me wondering about a way  to bring it back to life.  In the twenty-first century.  

I wanted to know if their story had already been told. So I started to research in the British Library and this led me to a book called, 'Friends and Visitors: A History of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Cornwall, 1870-1914' by Kathryn Bradley.  It is published by the Patten Press, which is the publishing arm of the Hypatia Trust, in Penzance, Cornwall. 

I found a route emerging.  A centenary that warranted celebrating.

And I asked myself what might it mean to walk for a cause almost one hundred years ago, as a woman, all that way or even for part of it.  I started to think hard about causes.  I started to really think about the significance of the campaign of votes for women. 

Me in the twenty-first century with my right to vote.

And so from here I was able to begin to join up some of the dots.  Map some of the places along the route that were taken through Cornwall in 1913.  It was an inspiring start.  I wondered about a touring theatre show along this part of their journey.  One hundred years ago.

I wondered if it was possible as a centenary celebration. 

There were some early conversations with Sarah Pym, from The Works in Cornwall to test out the idea.  It was a big step at the time trying to articulate what I thought a project in response to the pilgrimage might be.  I had to go and figure this out.  I'd never led a project before.  I didn't have a language for it. 

I talked to Sarah Scaife, (curator and artist) early on about the idea and she put some good thoughts my way in relationship to heritage and research.

Then I contacted Melissa Hardie at the Hypatia Trust, after a recommendation from my friend Heidi Stephenson, to see if I might do some research in Cornwall. Melissa offered me a Fellowship, which gave me access their collections.  To have space to live and work and imagine in, at the Jamieson Library.  I did a lot of dreaming and thinking there. 

A gift.  A gift for any artist. 

When I invited director Josie Sutcliffe to join me on the project I knew I would be inspired and challenged by her thinking, experience and conversation.  We tested out some of that thinking around the project to Polly Agg Manning, when she was at the Hall for Cornwall, and her response was an enthusiasm which spurred us on.

Josie in turn invited cultural managers Sue Kay and Mary Schwarz to meet with us.  Sue and Mary then helped us to shape our ideas and were instrumental in the vision for what has become Dreadnought South West.  Through funding from the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and Arts Council England, we were able to undertake an R & D phase last year. 

Twelve months before the centenary.  The clock was ticking merrily away.

Stories appeared.  The whole route emerged before our eyes and the ambitious notion of connecting the region through the pilgrimage route took us by surprise. But we were greeted by a multitude of excited and responsive individuals and organisations from Land's End to Marlborough.  They became our partners and supporters and are with us now as we make this project work.  I will talk about this further in another blog.

Josie and I have worked closely with our lead artists Nicci Wonnacott and Catherine Cartwright from early on, and it is with them many ideas about art and activism and women's stories that have richly added to our project.

It is also not possible without the public subsidy we have received from Arts Council England, and the support from our regional officers here in the South West who have advised us along the way.

If you were to ask me what I am personally most excited about, it would be this: that the women who walked in 1913 across England and Wales are going to be  honoured.  That such a part of our rich and diverse history, that has inspired so many of us involved in Dreadnought South West will not go unnoticed.  That a history about women's voices and stories, never celebrated and marked in this way before will happen. 

We are very proud of our project and all the overwhelming and generous support it has gathered. 

Thanks to all involved and working with us.  It isn't possible without you.

Natalie McGrath

Joint Project Director of DSW & writer of 'Oxygen'

March 2013

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