From summer 2011 until summer 2012, Joshua Sofaer was artist-in-residence at Morland Court in Werrington, Peterborough. Over the year, Joshua worked with the Residents Association and local artists to develop a programme of activity that would improve the environment for tenants and encourage a sense of community.
Morland Court lies at the heart of Werrington New Town Development in Peterborough. Built in 1986, it has 51 single-occupancy flats. In 2009 Morland Court formed a Residents Association and joined forces with their landlord, Hyde Minster, which is part of the Hyde Group, to tackle anti-social behaviour in and around the building and to foster better relationships with the local community. To further this resident-led change, Morland Court invited an artist to increase residents’ interaction and involvement.
The residency programme, ‘Context Matters’, was part of Citizen Power Peterborough, a two-year collaboration between the citizens of Peterborough, the RSA, Arts Council and Peterborough City Council to explore new ways of making the city a better place to live. Citizen Power sought to establish connections between people and communities, to support them to become active citizens and make a positive difference in the city.
As artist-in-residence, Joshua had two main roles: to create the opportunity for social interactions between residents and to support and develop local artists. After a period of discussion, negotiation and testing out ideas, the project How Morland Court Got Its Name was born.
How Morland Court Got Its Name reached out to the local community with an invitation to enter a competition, followed by a series of workshops and excursions, and the construction of a new sign for Morland Court. All public-facing elements of the project including the competition flyer, workshop facilitation, and sign were produced by Peterborough artists.
A creative competition was launched across Werrington, with the flyer distributed to all 12,000 households. It invited people to respond to the theme of How Morland Court Got Its Name, with a written or recorded story, a drawn or painted picture, or a photograph. By issuing this invitation to its neighbours, Morland Court signalled that it aimed to be community minded. By inviting creative responses while blurring fact and fiction, Morland Court sought to create a positive sense of excitement and ‘myth’ around the building, replacing the negative reputation that it historically had with new narratives and meanings.
At the same time a programme of events offered workshops and excursions to build community in shared activities. These included writing, photography, drawing and t-shirt printing workshops, and a trip to the internationally significant Flag Fen archaeological site.
The winning competition entry was by Peterborough resident Emily Henderson. Her story is of a pirate captain and a shipwreck, and of three young people Moira, Olivia and Robert who lend their initials to the M-O-R of Morland Court. It asks us to imagine that treasure could be buried underneath the foundations of the building, a building that was named after local people who are unaware of the influence they had.
Peterborough artist Stuart Payn interpreted the story in a new sign for Morland Court. His strong graphic monochrome style, depicts Moira, Olivia and Robert sitting on a treasure chest. That we see these characters depicted in front of us, allows us to enter into the fantasy further and begs the question: “What did happen to the treasure?” “What is inside the box?” Perhaps as residents begin to talk about the sign, the story will develop. There are new chapters to be written in the story of Morland Court.
What participants said:
“Having an artist-in-residence at Morland Court over the past year has provided many opportunities for me to participate in new experiences. The creative writing workshop was particularly inspiring and has given me the confidence to continue on this path.”
Fiona Ward, Morland Court Resident
“As Chair of Morland Court Residents Association, I have worked closely with Joshua on the artist-in-residence programme. There have been lots of contributing factors that have helped to improve the life for residents over the last year, not least the capital investment in the building by the landlord. This has been complemented by the residency, which has given us a chance to come together as residents in shared activities. Personally I found the photography workshop very useful and have seen my technique improve. At first I wasn’t sure about the new sign, but now I think it is great. It’s certainly something that we can take pride in and talk about as residents.”
John Abbott, Chair Morland Court Residents Association
“As a local resident, what I loved most about this project was the thought processes it encouraged. Names and origins interest so many of us, and at the workshop it was a revelation to see some of the stories and meanings the Brownies were conjuring.
Working on the illustration for the flyer was a wonderful chance to encourage curiosity and excitement about one of our own communities.”
Illustrator and Workshop Facilitator
“This competition has been a real kick for me to get writing again. It’s been about 2 years since I produced anything so having a deadline and a brief really energised me to sit down and get on with it.
Obviously I was not expecting to win and it was a wonderful surprise to learn that I had.
At first I was overjoyed with the thought that I would be an iPad owner (something I could never financially justify) but after a few days the realisation that something I created would be illustrated and mounted on a building overtook that.
The sign will remain for many years to come and the idea of giving a whole building a beginning will last forever. I am incredibly honoured to have created the legend and hope that others will build on it over time.”
“Developing and creating the Morland Court sign along side Joshua, the residents and Emily’s winning story, was a challenging experience which managed to draw upon the whole Swiss-army-knife of my artistic process. It is very rewarding to see the final result on the wall, which brings this collaboration together quite nicely and hopefully for years to come.”
Stuart Payn, Artist
“Working with the RSA and Citizen Power has been revelatory and has unveiled some of the inner workings of these organisations. I now know a little more about where these organisations fit into communities.”
Paul Spencer, Morland Court, Artist in Residence Liaison
“Working with Joshua over the last twelve months to support the residency at Morland Court has been a very interesting experience. The Hyde Group is currently undertaking a programme of reinvestment within the building and through the competition How Morland Court Got Its Name, Joshua managed to link the historical context of the building with the present day physical and reputational regeneration of the building. It’s been interesting to see how this has been interpreted by the community. The project has encouraged discussions between the residents of Morland Court as well as with the wider local community. It’s been a pleasure to see the developments in interaction and involvement and I hope the legacy of the project will continue to be a positive talking point within the community in the future.”
Resident Engagement Officer – The Hyde Group
How Morland Court Got Its Name
by Emily Henderson
“Swish went the great big sword. ‘Avast Ye!’ yelled the Pirate Captain and Granddad leapt off the cannon and brought his sabre down on…”
“Oi! Careful Bobby!” snapped Moira, after nearly being hit over the head with the branch her little brother was using to tell the story of the great battle. She wrinkled her nose at him, which made all her freckles seem to move about in disapproval.
“Sorry,” mumbled Bobby, slightly annoyed at the interruption. He’d leapt off the tree stump and almost forgotten where he was in the story of the fight with the Pirate Captain so many years ago. “But anyway – that is how my Granddad killed the pirate and stole the treasure from his sinking ship and when he got home he buried it under this tree.”
“I see,” said the man in the grey suit, “but it does all sound rather fanciful. How do you know it’s not just a story?”
“Because he also took the Captain’s parrot as well. They live for a really, really long time, parrots,” toned in Moria. “Olivia’s seen it too.”
Olivia, Moria’s best friend, rarely spoke but she looked up from her seat on the fallen tree and nodded. “His name is Theodore,” she said in a soft voice from behind her long brown hair.
“I see.” The man stretched in the evening sunshine and took off his tie, tucking it into one of his green Wellington boots, covered in mud from walking around the churned up ground. “But you know, that still doesn’t make it safe for you to be here. Just because everyone has left work, doesn’t mean building sites are a good place to play.”
“Yeah, but you’re here and you’re not a builder,” Moira protested. She’d noticed some mud on the hem of her dress and was now wondering what her mother would say when she saw it.
“No, but I do work here. Well, I work here and in London. I draw the pictures of how the buildings will look and decide on some of the other details.”
“You’ve got a job where you just have to draw pictures?” Bobby looked up in amazement from poking a worm he’d found. But Moira was unimpressed.
“Mum says you’re probably going to send lots of people from London to live here, like they did in the Ortons. When this is our land and our treasure.”
Olivia looked up nervously. She’d been in trouble before because of Moria’s cheek and she didn’t want it to happen again. But the man just laughed.
“Tell me, why hasn’t your Grandfather dug up his own treasure in all this time?” he asked.
“He said the tree was only small when he buried it and then it got really big and he couldn’t get past the roots,” said Bobby. “He used to bring us here and tell us about all the ships he sailed on in the Navy and the rubies and emeralds and gold balloons.”
“Gold doubloons!” Moira corrected.
“But he’s not very well now so we thought we’d dig it up for him since the tree’s been cut down.”
“Before the Londoners steal it.” Moria’s mood was getting worse and she tried to rub the mud from her dress and made it worse too.
“Well how about I promise that any treasure found by the workers comes straight to me and I’ll make sure your Grandfather receives it?”
Bobby looked at his sister Moira who scowled.
“That would be very kind of you,” Olivia spoke up, giving a nervous smile. She seemed to come out of her dream world and then suddenly noticed the lengthening shadows and started to panic. “Oh, what time is it?”
The man looked at his large gold digital watch, which made Bobby’s eyes widen. “Quarter past five exactly,” he said. All three children let out a cry as they realised they were late for dinner and began to leave. “Wait! What are your names? So I can find you to give you the treasure.”
“That’s my friend Olivia,” Moira called, “he’s my little brother Bobby and I’m Moira.”
“Moira, Olivia and Robert. Owners of this land and the treasure within.” The man chuckled and waved as they squeezed through a gap in the fence. He turned, picked up his briefcase and walked towards the main gate where his car was parked.
It was the following Spring when the first people were housed. Moira’s father read the small article about it in the Evening Telegraph aloud. “Morland Court, they’ve called it and they’ve spelled it wrong. Should be M-O-O-R, not M- O-R. Sounds a bit la de da to me,” he said, as Moira’s mother shoved his feet off the table so she could serve dinner.
“MOR-land Court,” she put on a voice like the Queen and then laughed. “You’d think they could have named it after someone local at least.”
How Morland Court Got Its Name is a project by Joshua Sofaer for Morland Court Residents Association and is part of Citizen Power Peterborough.
Morland Court sign by Stuart Payn
Flyer illustration and design (and publication cover art) by Hannah Robinson
Writing workshop by Keely Mills
Photography workshop by Luke Payn
Brownie (Girl Guides) workshop by Hannah Robinson
Drawing workshop by CJ Mahony
T-shirt printing by Tom Matthieson
Morland Court Residents Association
John Abbott, Chair
Paul Spencer, Artist in Residence Liaison
Context Matters was managed by
Donna Lynas, Artist Director, Wysing Arts Centre
Jocelyn Cunningham, Head of Arts, RSA
Christina Green, Curator and Community Co-ordinator, Citizen Power Peterborough
Georgina Chatfield, Citizen Power, RSA
With thanks to
The Hyde Group
Charlotte Wildermoth, Resident Engagement Officer
Mike Dunn, Property Services Manager
Sarah Pizzey, Group Leader
Audrey Griffiths, Supervisor
Peterborough City Council
Graeme Clark, Project Manager, Citizen Power
DigVentures at Flag Fen
Lisa Westcott Wilkins, Managing Director
With special thanks to Creative Peterborough, particularly Keely Mills and Kate Hall for their support in accessing local artists and networks.