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The portrayal of Blackpool’s tower, illuminations, and piers is well documented. But what do we discover if we explore a place set back from the prom? Along with a group of photographers who assemble every week at a community centre in Hawes Side, I have discovered how Blackpool could be seen in an alternative way.

What do we think about, when we think about creativity? Is it useful, what does it communicate? As children, perhaps the first things we do could be described as creative, dancing as a way to move and mark making to learn to write. Using our senses to learn and explore what is around us and who we connect with. In the simplest form is creativity a human condition that lives within us all? Perhaps creativity is a form of well-being that exists in everything from planting a seed and anticipating its growth to learning your grandmother’s recipe, making a jigsaw with your aunt on a wet Sunday afternoon with The Sound of Music on in the background over Easter, being shown how to forage for blackberries from your grandfather, or sharing stories through an old family photo album.

In November 2022 I began a project with a group of photographers from the Blackpool Centre for Independent Living. The group has varying levels of learning disabilities but that is not their only story. This story explores the time we spent together making images inside the ward of Hawes Side. Set back from those traditionally photographed areas of Blackpool, we explored green spaces, made new friends in carpet shops, and enjoyed a famous Cottage Chippy lunch, all while exploring how diversity and new ways of looking can enrich and perhaps bring together the local community.

The project was commissioned by Leftcoast and supported by photographer Donna Hannigan. I had met some of the group before while working alongside the brilliant Tina Dempsey and a group of Blackpool-based visual artists called The pARTnership who have had work shown at The Grundy Gallery and twice at The Manchester Contemporary Art Festival. The pARTnership somehow found its footing through lockdown when Dempsey continued to find ways to work remotely with the artists in a project entitled Keeping Connected Through Art. Through this I was lucky enough to facilitate a socially distanced portrait session in collaboration with the New Langdale artists in Stanley Park.

The Hawes Side photography group, or the New Langdalers as I like to call them, met weekly for six weeks. We aimed to walk toward spaces that were familiar. I grew up nearby and remember Yeadon Way when it was a derelict train track, spending time playing in overgrown fields, taking the shortcut to school via what people called the Donkey Steps. Some of the spaces were not accessible due to mobility or wheelchair use but we found a way to explore what else Hawes Side has to offer, using our cameras to tell our stories while addressing themes related to places of gathering, green spaces, walkways, paths, signs and light.

We questioned what purpose a camera might hold and found they allowed us to look at things in a new way or from a personal perspective. We returned to Bostonway Community Centre after each session to reflect on good and bad images. Can a picture of a bin be good? Should an image be straight? Where should the light fall? There are lots of rules in photography if you choose to follow them. But photography is a creative tool – what else can it do? Photography feels powerful, it is instant and permanent at the same time how can we share the action of image-making?

I often think about creativity and photography as a shared experience. It’s often a conversation starter and someone once suggested that it could be conservation itself. It is easy to forget a moment, a memory, or a place once time passes, and the environment and people change. Photography is such an accessible tool with more people than ever making amazing images, it is rewarding to have captured something that stirs response, especially in the times of social media. Throughout the six weeks, we told our own stories beginning with Bostonway, Crossland Road Park, Burton Road, a place of employment, and the Marton Institute, taking in the grand B&M Bargains, the Cottage Chippy, and even once a garden centre.

The New Langdale Photography group collected images culminating in a short film shown at Bostonway Community Centre on the 30th March where we enjoyed cups of tea and popcorn. The New Langdalers images were placed onto jigsaws and badges – exploring what else an image could be, how they can explore alternative stories and become something we can hold, explore, and become something that travels or a shared experience. The New Langdale Photography group sessions continue – allowing and taking up space through creativity, challenging traditional elements of image making and what Blackpool and its residents represent.

Watch The New Langdale Film at Bostonway here

Header Image: Elizabeth Gomm

Donkey Step Images: Claire Griffiths

Workshop Images: Donna Hannigan

Project Supported by: https://leftcoast.org.uk/about/

Follow the link and add your own social history stories and images inspired by New Langdale Photography group Google Map wellbeing photo walk – Hawe Side Ward Blackpool

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