ABOUT JERICHO - ARTS ITEM
Opening the heart of Jericho
Posted - December 03, 2011
Clare Cochrane reports on her project to stimulate Jericho stories and memories
One evening I was walking through Jericho from the bridge over the canal to the Picturehouse, and found myself on Cranham Street. All along the top half of the street stretched one, long-boarded- up building. It looked so sad and lonely, sitting empty and forlorn in the heart of Jericho – a community that I’ve always experienced as warm and friendly.
This image of Grantham House, cold and abandoned, began to haunt me. I became curious: What had the building been used for? Who used to live there? Why had they left? What stories had they taken with them? As both a reader and teller of stories I know that the world in which we live is woven from the threads of our experiences and perceptions, and our tales from real life, shared with each other through conversations. The silence of Grantham House therefore echoed loudly in me whenever I walked past it, or thought about it.
So began my project ‘Opening the Heart of Jericho’. My interest soon expanded out from the building itself. I found a forgotten memorial bench at the back of Grantham House and ended up researching and reviving the memory of a poet who had lived there, Mary Hampden Jackson. This led to moving her bench to Mount Place and holding a reading of her poems there one evening in August. I found some of the former residents of Grantham House, now living at Furnace House at Lucy’s Ironworks, and filmed them chatting about the old days, and their memories of living in Jericho. After talking to Paul Cullen, I began to think about the impact of forthcoming new developments on the wider community. This and my many conversations with people in the area made me realise how much you all love your home, so I held a stall at Jericho Street Fair to gather words and phrases for a collaborative poem, ‘I Love Jericho’, which I wrote and delivered house to house in September.
Tuning in to Jericho recollections
Then at the start of October, I invited all who love Jericho to drop by St Barnabas Church, and talk to each other about your love for the community that you live in, open-heartedly. Over the afternoon people came and wrote postcards to future residents of Jericho, watched the film of Pat, Winnie, Alice and Ann talking at Furnace House, and sat and talked to each other about Jericho. Why hold this kind of event? So often community conversation events are organised for a particular goal – to collect people’s views on a proposed development, for example. These sorts of events are really worthwhile, but communities also need opportunities to focus conscious attention on themselves, to deliberately feed the ‘community spirit’ that they rely on when facing times of upheaval.
Communities are built out of communication, and this work, ‘Opening the Heart of Jericho’, was sculpted from conversations. I talked to people about the history of Jericho, about their own memories, about their worries, about what they love in Jericho. As an artist, my material is conversation and dialogue, and out of these things I make experiences that I hope bring people to a conscious awareness of the communities in which we live – our immediate, geographical and thematic communities, and the wider community of our society.
I can’t say, in the end, what has come from this project, but I hope that it has, in some ways, opened the heart of Jericho a little wider, and fed the warm fires that burn in all who love this magical corner of Oxford. I hope that I’ve been able to make a little contribution to helping Jericho face the changes that Paul Cullen anticipated with its community spirit strengthened and emboldened. Thank you to everyone in Jericho for opening your beautiful community to me.
If you missed any of Opening the Heart of Jericho, or you want to read the poem ‘I Love Jericho’, watch the film of the ladies of Grantham House or download the booklet about the project, please go to Opening the heart of Jericho.