This project has been part funded by the Dedham Vale AONB and the Suffolk Coast & Heaths AONB Sustainable Development Fund


Where We Meet

Every Thursday this autumn I’ve been escaping to Stowmarket for the ‘Where We Meet’ project run by Suffolk Artlink. Each week the same group of ten children from Year 5 visited the handily situated next door residential home to work with a bunch of the residents, taking part in chatting/writing led by me or art session led by the artist Caitlin Howells.

From the beginning it became obvious that my session wasn’t going to involve the participants writing – many of the residents were living with various stages of dementia – so it evolved into a conversation or ‘chatting room’ with Candida from Suffolk Artlink writing down good words or thoughts or memories as they emerged. It felt like a real luxury that we had time to evolve this – things like, Caitlin having the idea of starting with a song at the beginning and then allowing the group to play around with the lyrics. So we made up our own words for ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’ and ‘She’s Coming Round the Mountain’ and I suggested an old Scaffold number, ‘Today’s Monday’ which we also ‘customised’.

Each week we would have a different theme for the ‘chatting room’ – some worked better than others. So colours (based around the autumn leaves) worked well where as ‘sweets’ didn’t and just became a list of sweets rather than any memory around them. And there was always a crossover between the writing and the art with Caitlin using some of the words and phrases as part of her making (creating things like leaves and hanging them from ribbons with the words written on them).

My favourite session was when we discussed the moon and it quickly became pleasingly creative and a little strange. ‘What does the moon taste like?’ I asked one resident called Nancy. She looked at me like she hadn’t quite heard what I’d said to her (mostly she’s asked if she wants a cup of tea or coffee or whether she’s too hot or cold). So I asked again and Nancy smiled, said, ‘you are daft!’ and then thought a bit more and said ‘well, they say it’s made of cheese, so I suppose it would taste of that.’ But what kind of cheese? ‘Primula’ came the answer immediately. And then Doreen disagreed and suggested  a blue cheese -‘Gorgonzola. Because you can see the blue lines running across the moon’s face.’

It all came to a close with a Celebration event, where we sang the songs (our own versions) and the children performed some of the group poems - that’s when the picture was taken. And here's the moon poem - the final line is a contribution from a lovely resident called Margaret, who if asked a question would often respond with a very apt song.



It’s like a tablet dissolving behind a cloud

It’s white chocolate and tastes like milk

It’s a reflection of the earth


Its hung on a fishing hook

And in Ipswich they cut the moon down

It’s like the egg guy who fell off the wall


It’s a golf ball or just a round ring

It looks like a glass of milk

Or the top of a prit-stick from above


The moon is a melon or sometimes like

A chocolate orange segment

It’s luke warm mouldy milk


It has a happy face

The moon works most nights

And yawns and says, ‘I’m tired’


When the moon goes dark the birds go quiet

The moon is always over the mountain

It’s as scary as a sunflower


It’s as cold as a dog’s nose

It’s as cold as a polar bear’s igloo

It’s white because of all the snow there


The other day the moon got embarrassed and went red

And when Nancy was watching it

through the window, it disappeared!


The moon doesn’t like the sun

It’s friends with the sea

The moon dreams of coming down to earth


The moon tastes like gorgonzola or Primula

It smells of sweet peas or dafodils

When the moon is bright, she sings…

‘Take these chains from my heart and set me free…’


Celebrating the Sea with the Royal Philharmonic


At the beginning of July 2015 I spent the week working in Lowestoft for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. That's a sentence that I never expected to be able to say. Lowestoft is my hometown (it's still my nearest town). It's where I worked in a bookshop for fifteen years going back and forth over that bridge. It's my patch. So, I was really delighted at the chance to do the 'Celebration of the Sea' project with the RPO. Basically they were doing a performance on the Friday evening at the Marina Theatre in town and in the week leading up to it, they were working in town with local groups to create a 20 minute piece of music, songs and words. Workshop leader, musician and composer Jason Rowland would be responsible for the music and putting it all together. I was assisting with the words for the songs and the poetic interludes. And to help us create this, both of us got to work with local groups.

After introductory and research sessions in Lowestoft on the Monday - at the Mincarlo trawler and at the Maritime Museum - for the next three days I worked with the Over 60s Club in the mornings, with the residents of Coppice Court in the afternoon and then with a 'volunteer' local writer, Ann Hutchinson, at the end of the afternoon.

It was a great week. The project re-connected me with Lowestoft and gave me the chance to meet some good people. Below are four stories behind some of the poems we created.




The Face He Never Forgot

There are some grand old photographs of lifeboatmen in Lowestoft's Maritime Museum, which gave Jason Rowland - our musical director and workshop leader - the idea for a 'lifeboat opera' as part of the Celebration of the Sea performance. So, it was my job to get some words, ideas or poems on that theme at my daily workshops with local groups. But the main inspiration for this piece came from Ann Hutchinson, who had volunteered as a writer for the project. We met late afternoon at the final session of each day at the Marina Theatre and Ann, being a local girl, had maritime connections. Her grandfather was a fishermen who had quite a life and one story he used to tell was the day he came across a drowned body in his fishing nets. 'It was a face he never forgot,' she said. It was a great line and we had to use it! And so we began to use details from her Grandfather's life for the lifeboatman and the poem started to take shape. We also used some lines from the other workshop sessions - some descriptions of the sea from Coppice Court and the Over 60s Club too. But it was Grandfather George who became the star of the lifeboat opera...

The Face He Never Forgot

Son, father, grandad
George? What Gladys?
Dominoes and cards games
Allotments and coupons

He’d say, You young wor-mon
Or What yer doin boy.
Three sixpences
And a packet of sweets

Boyish smile, red cheeks
Gentle hands, my Grandad –
He’d only use a knife to eat
The way he did at sea.

There in the distance
Thunder grumbles
And the Great Grandfather clock
Tick tock tick tock

Crackling lightning
Whistling howling
Head down against the wind
Peddles fast to the lifeboat shed.

Heave Ho! Heave Ho!

You could not tell
the sea from sky
the faint bell
the cry for help

Heave Ho! Heave Ho!

and the waves crashed
rough with white horses

the drifter capsized
life in his hands.

Arms reached out
struggled to grasp

The over strained strength
the  split second hold

The grip weakened
The Boat rolled

And their hands slipped
And slipped
And slipped

Till the tips of their fingers touched

And their eyes met
The face he never forgot

by Ann Hutchinson
& Dean Parkin




And The Waves Crash at Coppice Court

I always enjoy working with 'normal' people (perhaps that should be 'regular' people?). And by that I mean people who don't think they can write or haven't had the chance to. I can imagine the residents at Coppice Court laughing at the idea of me calling them normal. But it was a pleasure to meet them and create some poems with them.

Coppice Court in Lowestoft is a supported housing scheme for young families. And I got the chance to run three hour-long sessions there, over three days, as part of the Celebration of the Sea project for the Royal Philharmonic. And in the unpromising sweltering summer weather, we came up with some good group poems - with words or lines from everyone attending - about the beach, a sea battle, and (the residents' idea) what it’s like living in Lowestoft today.

It turned out that quite a few of them had an interest in writing (so, perhaps they weren't so 'normal' afterall) - whether it was prolific letter-writing, an autobiography for their children, or a rather good idea for a sitcom. Often the problem was knowing where to start - so using our theme of the sea, we brainstormed around the subject and I wrote them all on a flipchart and gradually, like polishing a pebble, something shiny emerged.

And The Waves Crash

The random sandbanks
fishing rods and old tales
summers and sandcastles
shouting parents and kids
rough with white horses
music and teenagers
counting the waves
and the waves crash
Dead fish and jelly things
sand artists and dolphins
chocolate chip ice-creams
sand in your sandwich
messy hands and wet wipes
sugary doughnuts
watching the boats
and the waves crash

Looking for stones with holes
driftwood and fishing nets
seaweed and seagulls
seaworn glass, skimming stones
energetic screaming kids
cuttlefish and feathers
listening to shells
and the waves crash

The Residents of Coppice Court 


The Social Roundabout at Coppice Court

'Can we write a poem about this place?' the residents at Coppice Court asked. They'd written four poems about the sea for the Royal Philharmonic project and were keen to use the same process for writing about where they lived. How I could I say no. So, we brainstormed words and phrases and things that made them laugh about the place. They were great at getting the real fine details down. And they had a dark sense of humour too. 'What should we call the poem?' I asked. 'How about white trash? That's what people think of us!' But that was shouted down with 'What about the Social Roundabout?' And that was that...

The Social Roundabout

Family and home, clean and safe
Buzzing – Hello, who is it?
Glove puppets in luminous hats
Ask the landlord

Deep fat fryers and fire alarms
Urban foxes and cats in the bins
Cameras and sirens
Magnolia and council green

My neighbour’s tree
School runs and gossiping
Dirty handprints and secrets
Backstabbing or chinese whispers

People come and go.

The Residents of Coppice Court