• Devonport Column and a special Plymouth night

    Last night, it was a real privilege to witness the rebirth of Devonport Column. The place had been crowded all day apparently, with too many people queuing to be able to make their way up to the top of the newly refurbished tower. Never mind, there will be plenty of time for those who couldn’t get in to come back. We got there in the evening when the tower had been closed in order for the pyrotechnic team to stuff it full of fireworks. The place was going to go off with a bang.

    But before it did, around 9.30pm, there was a magnificent projection show. It is difficult to describe now quite how good it was. For about ten or fifteen minutes, the column itself was used as a screen to show the history of Plymouth and its place in the world from the time of its first opening in 1827. Using words and music and a beautifully crafted video show, we watched both a history show and a cheeky cultural overview, with witty cross-references: John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (surely a key Plymouth cultural reference if ever there was one) to Scott of the Antarctic, via World War One and even a touch of Kraftwerk (does anyone remember the brief 1977-ish phase of robot dancing in pyjamas in Union Street?).

    The Real Ideas Organisation have been working hard to develop this area, and last night was a celebration of their vision of a restored Devonport. There was a genuine sense last night that this could be the start of something very new and very exciting. Project leader Ed Whitelaw spoke about the mix of people who had attended the day: from the Mayor to local councillors and MPs and the top Navy brass to local people curious both to see the restored icon and also, clearly, to express a sense of ownership of this scheme. This didn’t have the feeling of a top-down, hegemonic arts installation; it felt like an area expressing its identity. If we are to be considered for City of Culture in 2017, then yesterday will hopefully be shown to the judges as an example of what we can do here.

    Obviously these are early days, and Devonport itself has a long way to go before it recovers some of the pride and swagger of the 19th century, pre-Plymouth years. But this, and the restored Guildhall, is a start, and last night’s show should be welcomed by everyone in this city. It was a triumph.

    Oh, and then the fireworks went off.Devonport Column

  • Issue 16 of international creative arts magazine tribe out now

    The sixteenth monthly edition of international arts magazine tribe is out now at http://www.tribemagazine.org/magazine.html. This issue features Jude Buffum, Norio Fujikawa, Cristina Venedict, Michael Jantzen, Sarah Ahmad, Celeste Rojas, Pedro Almodóvar, Rogério Degaki, Robert MacNeil, Stephen Harwood, Kim Niehans, Lee Auburn, Tom Warner, Felicity Notley, Brogan McCulloch. Do please take a look – tribe is one of the finest contemporary arts publications in the world today.

  • Our first title, from Big Issue John Bird, launches with London show

    For a social enterprise whose objective is to help members of the community to realise and release their stories, we couldn’t be more pleased to announce that our first title will be a new book by social entrepreneur and Big Issue founder, John Bird.

    John’s book with us, Why Drawing Naked Women Is Good For The Soul, will be published in a week’s time, in ebook and initially a limited physical edition. We are collaborating with John on a six-night London run of shows in early May to promote the book, and here’s some information about that:

    Big Issue founder John Bird’s six-night London show

    What makes a man move from wrongdoing to do-gooding? For John Bird, it was the pursuit of art. As a boy locked up in remand homes or prison, he used art as a way of thinking. Living on the streets of west London, he enrolled for evening life classes at the Chelsea College of Art, and combined a life of crime with a love of art.

    On May 6th, John Bird opens a six-night show in London entitled Naked Bird, in which he is interviewed about current politics and the need for social change by fellow Big Issue founder Phil Ryan. In the second half of the show, John will be interviewed live on stage by a member of the audience, whose naked shape he will draw while he answers her questions about the role of art in his life.

    Bird will be simultaneously launching his new book, Why Drawing Naked Women Is Good For The Soul, which goes on sale on 6th May.

    Art, for John Bird, is about redemption, and he hopes these six nights will be an opportunity for Londoners to come and talk about making change.


    John Bird: “I was born into poverty, brought up in care, and have lived through a lot. My life’s journey has included spells as a thief, prison inmate, artist and poet. I launched The Big Issue in 1991 with the help of Gordon Roddick of The Body Shop in response to the growing number of rough sleepers on the streets of London. Together we believed that the key to solving the problem of homelessness lay in helping people to help themselves, and were therefore determined to offer a legitimate alternative to begging. I have always drawn, I have always felt a need to draw, and I feel that only by doing so have I been able to save my soul.”

    Naked Bird runs for six nights, starting at 7.30pm each night, at Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Road, Camden NW1 1TT: http://www.theatrotechnis.com/show.php?id=101

    Tickets for the show are available from http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/search.php?tm_link=tm_header_search&language=en-us&keyword=naked+bird

    Why Drawing Naked Women Is Good For The Soul will be published by The Word Machine CIC on 6th May as an ebook priced £5.99 and a limited edited physical edition priced £9.99.


  • The War in Plymouth: Destruction and a New Beginning

    Today we are delighted to be able to announce the award of  Heritage Lottery Fund grant for our oral history of Plymouth during the war and the ten years of social housing which followed it.

    Plymouth was damaged very badly during the Blitz, with 4,000 homes being lost in the bombing. But during the ten years of reconstruction between 1945 and 1955, 17,000 new homes were built in the City, creating new neighbourhoods such as Efford and Southway. This oral history project, lasting 18 months, will gather as many interviews as possible with Plymouth residents who remember the period, and will culminate with a series of exhibitions, a permanent online archive of all of the interviews and a book summarising the findings.

    Simon Petherick, head of The Word Machine CIC, says: “We are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. We are keen now to hear from families and individuals in Plymouth who would like to take part in the project. We want this to be a comprehensive account of Plymouth residents’ experience of war and its aftermath, and how that experience shaped our city.”

    The project will be guided by Plymouth University’s Professor of Contemporary History Kevin Jefferys and his second-year History students.

    Plymouth residents who recall the war years and the ten years of social rehousing are encouraged to contact The Word Machine CIC to have their name added to the list of interviewees. Any Plymouth residents who would like to be trained in order to carry out some of the interviews over the next 18 months should contact The Word Machine CIC too.

    If you would like to join the project either by being interviewed about your memories of Plymouth at the time, or by becoming one of our citizen interviewers, then please contact us on simon@thewordmachine.org. Or join our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheWarInPlymouth or find us on Twitter @wordmachinecic.


    1. The Word Machine Community Interest Company is a new social enterprise based in Plymouth which aims to work with local people to enable them to realise and release their stories.

    2. The project will work closely with Plymouth University, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office and Plymouth Museum.

    3. The project will work with Plymouth social enterprise FotoNow (www.fotonow.org) to create a simultaneous photographic record of the participants.

    4. About the Heritage Lottery Fund

    Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 35,000 projects with more than £5.3bn across the UK. www.hlf.org.uk.

    hlf logo

  • Welcome to The Word Machine CIC

    The Word Machine Community Interest Company is a new Social Enterprise based in Plymouth, Devon. Our objective is to work with members of the community to help them realise and release their stories. We’ll be using this blog to post up information as we grow, and hopefully welcome in collaborators and commentators.