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Invitation to Pull Up A (virtual) Chair with Anne Langford

You get to know the place where you were born and brought up, don’t you?

Duncan Grant: Brewery
My version of the old Russell’s brewery which was by the river

You know what you like and what you don’t like. And have a picture in your mind about what that place is like.

But it’s not often you get the chance to see that place through somebody else’s eyes.  As a proud born and bred Gravesender myself,  I’m very interested to see how our community is perceived by somebody – ‘an outsider’ – with a fresh perspective on the very familiar.

At the beginning of March, artist Anne Langford issued an invitation on Facebook for residents of Gravesham to get in touch with her. She wanted to hear about what it is that people living in Gravesham take pride in, and  what it is about the borough that makes them proud.

Anne Langford © Gary Weston
‘Pull Up a Chair, Gravesham’ is a collaboration betwen Anne Langford and LV21 © Gary Weston

Anne admits that she ‘loves chatting and is a little bit nosey’, but her request was not made just out of idle curiosity – something to keep everyone amused during lockdown – but to initiate a month-long Arts project that she is undertaking, in partnership with Gravesend’s independent, floating art space and performance facility, LV21.

The Arts Council England funded project, called Pull Up A Chair, is  a research-focused project run by Brighton-based organisation Quiet Down There, exploring how residents and communities participate in and enjoy (or don’t enjoy) arts and cultural activities. A longer term objective for the independent arts organisations involved – in Gravesham’s case LV21 – is to plan what more they can do to involve local communities in arts and cultural activities.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
To mourn the loss of her ‘live’ project, Anne I decided to burn a matchstick chair on the foreshore of the Thames – the river that connects her to Gravesham.

Pull Up A Chair  offers a new spin on the familiar concept of an artist-in residence: one that was developed through a collaboration with Apexart based in New York City.  In this model, instead of embedding an artist within an institution – a university, museum or art gallery, for example – artists are asked to immerse themselves in a community for a month, experiencing what it is like to live, work and play there.

Artists are paired with locations of which they have no knowledge, and which they have never visited previously. The idea is that they approach their work with no pre-conceptions about a place or its communities.

During their residency, artists are asked not to produce artwork but, instead to follow an intense programme of activities around the locality, to meet the people, and to report on their activity via social media.

 

The Gravesham project, which has a loose theme of ‘pride’,  is one of three linked residencies each of which has been affected by the pandemic.

In Luton, a collaboration between artist  Alex Parry and Revolution Arts has now been completed but was cut short by the pandemic.  And the project in Swale, Medway, with artist Chloe Cooper and Ideas Test,  was reimagined because of Covid, and took place in June 2020. You can read Anne’s reflections on the loss of Arts projects during the pandemic on her blogpost Resorcing the Ruins.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
This chair Anne found in the street has become the focal point of her virtual residency from her London flat

Pulling up a virtual chair
Anne Langford’s residency in Gravesham was due to begin in March 2020, but COVID put paid to that. Funding constraints meant the project had to be completed this financial year, so Anne has been challenged to develop the model even further, by looking at what can be a achieved through a ‘virtual residency’.  In fact, Anne has only visited Gravesend twice – once before the project started to meet everyone at LV21 and once, as part of the project, for a solitary walk around Trosley Country Park which she reported on in her blog. The rest of the time, she has explored Gravesham via her computer, from her home in East London.

Anne Langford: PullUp A Chair, Gravesham
Inspiration from Anne’s visit to Gravesham

‘It’s been interesting finding out how to do this remotely, and how to get some sense of immersion in the project when, essentially, I’m in the same flat I’ve been in for a year,’ Anne says. ‘So I’m sitting here with a little bottle of water from the Thames at Gravesend and a little pot of soil from Elizabeth Gardens. I’ve got  some ropes from LV21, a piece of  flint from Trosley Country Park and some chalk. I’ve been on a Google Earth tour and let myself get lost in Wikipedia.’

If the project had run to plan, Anne would have lived in Gravesham for a month and followed a schedule of events – maybe volunteering at the Food Bank, or joining a yoga class – talking to people she met. She was particularly looking forward to ‘ship spotting with Betty and Arthur’! But  beginning the project in lockdown, although she had a number of telephone calls lined up with notable residents, Anne wasn’t sure she was meeting the people she really wanted to reach.

David Banfield: Woodlands Park gates.
‘Beauty abounds in the Borough. History around us. Great buildings’ said one Facebook respondent.

‘I thought how do I get out and meet some of those “other” people, because the project is about starting new friendships and relationships with people that don’t know about LV21, or LV21 don’t know about them,’ Anne explains. ‘So I asked, do you mind if I just go on Facebook – there are a lot of Facebook groups all over Gravesend – and let me see if they’ll let me post and say hello. And it’s turned into this phenomenal source of  people who I probably wouldn’t have met another way.’

Through her Facebook page, Anne has begun to make contact with the everyday community groups that meet around Gravesham.  She’s discovered the Harvel Hash House Harriers (a drinking club with a running problem); the Chalk Village Gardeners Club; the supper club in Higham Village, run by a chef that, in normal times, sells out just from people in the village; and a local Beaver group. She’s also spoken to some local personalities, like Genny, The Confidence Queen , a conversation that left Anne ‘fizzing with energy and joy’.

‘At the beginning of the project I was feeling a little despondent,’ Anne says. ‘And now it has turned into a really joyous thing. I’m just loving connecting with all these people ready to share – sending in photographs and saying, I’ll put you in touch with so-and-so, or I’d love to meet you for a socially distanced walk. It feels like at the end of a long Covid year, Gravesham is giving me a real gift!’

It is the often overlooked stories that Anne is looking for, the ‘ordinary everyday’.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
Sri Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara

‘I read an article about how a lot of Scandinavian countries work on the basis that most of us will live an ordinary, rather than a extraordinary life,’ Anne says. ‘And because of this,  they make the ordinary things in public spaces, comfortable and beautiful, as well as functional. And I’m interested in that – how if we just valued the ordinary and the everyday, our lives would be so much richer.’

Anne Langford
Anne grew up in a small town in Worcestershire. Originally, she dreamt of being a jockey but later decided to become an English teacher.  But while at university in Aberystwyth, Anne ‘fell in love with drama’ and decided that her future lay there.

After she left university, Anne landed her dream job (‘living in a caravan in the middle of Wales and earning peanuts’) working for Equilibre Horse Theatre, a company that made art and theatre productions in communities with horses.

 

The company, which no longer operates, presented classical riding as a theatrical art form, involving  performance artists to explore the centuries-old relationship between people and horses

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair: Gravesham
Horse lover, Anne, spotted the Romany racing Sulkies on her visit to Gravesham

‘It combined my first love, horses,  and theatre,’ Anne recalls. ‘Mid-Wales is a really creative world – all the farmers are poets and musicians. It’s part of their life.  So when we did an open day where dressage trainer, Georges Dewez, shared how he trained the horses and local musicians played some music and a poet performed a poem, everyone said they loved it and asked us to do it again. And from that it grew into this big theatre performance.’

When the company took a break, Anne returned to the Midlands and worked in a call centre for a bit, before moving to Belfast for a couple of years, as a producer with a small touring theatre company called Kabosh.  After that, she came back to the UK, to work as a local government arts development officer for Worcestershire County Council.

‘That job was amazing!’ says Anne. ‘It’s one of the things, professionally, I’m most proud of. Because, after  growing up in a small town without any theatre, I set up a rural and community touring scheme that took professional performing arts into village halls and community centres.’

Anne Langford: The Resilience Project. Anne in the water through an antique lens)
Anne Langford: The Resilience Project © L.M.H.C

But although Anne was working in the Arts and doing important work to increase access to theatre, something still niggled with her.

‘I knew I loved the theatre and I loved performing,’ she explains. ‘But I didn’t have much confidence in my own ability as an artist. I would get involved in productions but as a volunteer, rather than professionally. And then finally, in 2005, I got the confidence and the guts to put myself through drama school.’

It was a great move. She emerged from E15 in London with a Masters in Drama and her own theatre company.

'You Were Us / We are Here' - a performance by Yard Youth photo by Edith Whitehead
You Were Us/We are Here – a performance by Yard Youth © Edith Whtiehead

 

Since then, working mainly freelance, Anne has mixed up working as a performer, with producing and directing shows.  And, increasingly, she has become interested in making work for people who wouldn’t necessarily think of going to the theatre, telling the stories of those whose voices, otherwise, might not be heard.

More recently, she worked for 18-months with Clean Break a theatre company who work with women affected by the criminal justice system, on a show about loneliness and belonging for young women on the edge of society.  She also completed another project with young people at  Yard Youth in East London, looking at their experiences of being in public spaces and the treatment they receive from adults and those in authority. And she has worked with a group of LGBT+ emerging artists at the Park Theatre, in London.

'You Were Us / We are Here' - a performance by Yard Youth photo by Edith Whitehead
You Were Us/We are Here – a performance by Yard Youth © Edith Whtiehead

 

 

‘I’m really interested in the creativity and storytelling that is there in all of our lives,’ she says. ‘Even if you don’t go to the theatre or if you say you’re not creative, we are all storytellers. Everyone tells stories, in the pub or to a friend. Sometimes theatre companies will approach you and say, “we’d like you to work with this group of people on this issue”, and that’s great! But I often think there’s been a step missed out, around spending time with people  and finding out what it is that they are interested in.  That’s why when I saw the opportunity to apply for Pull Up A Chair, I was desperate to do it because it was a chance, as an outsider, to find out what people like about a place and what they don’t like. To give them free rein to get excited or let off steam.

‘We tend to think of culture as something that happens on a big stage in a shiny theatre, but actually culture is the stuff we do every day – it’s the supper club, it’s the gardening group, it’s the running club. That’s what culture is and we need to celebrate it.’

Anne Langford@ Pull Up A Chair, Gravesham
Anne Langford: The Thames at Gravesend

Early Impressions
Although she has only been working on the project for a few days, Anne is already beginning to form the impression of Gravesham as a borough whose identity is strongly shaped by its association with the Thames.

‘I’m really interested in the idea of an estuary and what it means,’ she says.  ‘There’s constant change both to the landscape itself and to the population. The river brings people in and out, and people have come and gone from Gravesham over the centuries. It’s a place that is constantly being built up and taken down. And it seems, more recent movement is just repeating this pattern.’

Anne has also detected a strong  sense of connection among residents.

Anne Langford: Pull Up A Chair
Anne Langford

‘There seem to be phenomenally rich and connected layers of community in Gravesham and people have a real affection for the place,’ she reflects. ‘And they’re not naive. There is a knowingness about the bits that are not so pretty, but it is really lovely to hear people talk so passionately about the place they live in.’

Links
You can follow Anne’s residency journey, which ends on March 31st 2021, on her blog .
If you’d like to suggest any ‘must not miss this’ Gravesham places to visit, people to meet (via a phone call, online or in person when restrictions allow socially distanced outdoor meetings later in March) or stories and thoughts on what ‘pride’ means to you, please send an email to info@lv21.co.uk or post your suggestions on Anne’s Facebook page.

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Iron Pier Brewery: The Art of Brewing

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery

As regular readers of this blog will know,  my art has ended up in places I’d never imagined.

It’s been on fabrics for Liberty London,  https://www.libertylondon.com/a book cover for Faber & Faber, https://www.faber.co.uk/9780571355075-milkman.html pencil cases in Japan and shirts in Russia.  And this week it is appearing on beer cans in Gravesend, courtesy of the Iron Pier Brewery and Taproom https://www.ironpier.beer/

Iron Pier Brewery
I’ve been drinking at the Iron Pier since it opened in 2018 and they’ve hosted a couple of exhibitions of my art.  Tucked behind Perry Street on a small industrial estate, it’s a fantastic place with a great community atmosphere – and the beer is even better!

Iron Pier Brewery: Charlie Venner & James Hayward
Charlie Venner & James Hayward

The brewery is run by head brewer James Hayward, who used to run the Caveman Brewery in Swanscombe http://www.cavemanbrewery.co.uk,  and his business partner Charlie Venner who, previously, ran The Compass Ale House, in Gravesend http://thecompassalehouse.co.uk/ which James used to supply.

At Iron Pier they produce a range of cask , keg and barrel-aged beer to their exacting standardsas they say on their website,  it is ‘lovingly crafted, full-flavoured and perfectly conditioned’. https://www.ironpier.beer/beers

The brewery is named after the Gravesend town pier, which is the oldest surviving cast iron pier in the world. And many of the beers brewed there, such as Rosherville Red and Perry Street Pale,  have names drawn from the local area.

‘We always knew that we wanted to be part of the community in Gravesend,’ says James. ‘So having the taproom on the same site as the brewery gives us a real link to that community. But we also wanted to be a brewery that went beyond the local market. We supply pubs locally and in East London, and we do brewery swaps, where we’ll send our beer up to Yorkshire or Manchester  and they’ll send theirs down to Kent.  Last year , we took our beer out to a beer festival in Germany. And it’s really nice, being in Germany as a brewery from Gravesend.’

Duncan Grant: Brewery
Russell Brewery, Gravesend

Brewing in Gravesend
Iron Pier is the first brewery in Gravesend for  nearly 90 years. In 1932, Russell’s brewery, in West Street – famous for their Shrimp Brand beers – was acquired by the London brewing giants, Truman.  By 1935, brewing had stopped on the site, although it was used as bottling plant for about 50 years after that.

Truman bottling plant, Gravesend
Truman bottling plant, 1950s

If you’re familiar with Gravesend, you can still see evidence of the Russell brewery  down by the River, near Asda.  Most of the old brewery buildings were demolished, but the original maltings – the building where grain is converted into malt for brewing – still survives, although it has been converted into flats now.  The big square section of  The Maltings with its triangular roof was part of the kiln used to heat the barley.

 

Duncan Grant: Hop picking
Duncan Grant: Hop picking

Hops
Hops are a key ingredient of traditional brewing,  and hop-growing has always been an important agricultural activity in Kent, which is still the biggest hop-growing county in the country. At the end of the 19th century there were about 200,000 acres of hop fields in the UK, now there are only about 6,000 acres.

‘It has shrunk pretty much every year from 1897 to 2017 because of lack of demand,’ explains James Hayward. ‘Beer styles change. Most people now drink so-called continental lagers and those don’t use many hops really, so the hop market completely crashed. But it is coming back a bit now because small brewers like us tend to use a lot of local hops.’

Duncan Grant: Hops and blueberries
Duncan Grant: Hops and blueberries

There are many different hop varieties and new hop strains are being bred all the time, in England and in other hop-growing countries like USA and Slovenia. Every month Iron Pier  brew a different Joined at the Hop beer, where an English hop is partnered with a hop from somewhere else.

‘It’s a form or research and development for us, ‘James explains. ‘It gives us a chance to see what works well, and we’ve found a few that we really, really like. There’s a Slovenian hop, Styrian Cardinal, which we used in a Joined at the Hop beer and that is now in our Session IPA.’

Although much farm work is now mechanised, in the UK  hops are still mostly picked by hand as they always have been. I was talking to my mum, who is ninety in a couple of months, about when, as a child, she used to go hop-picking with her family. The Kidd family lived locally to the hop fields so, for them, hopping was a series of day trips over the two or three week harvesting period. But some large hop fields had accommodation on site and families, particularly from East London, used to stay on site to pick.

My mum dug out a couple of battered black and white photos and agreed to talk about her experiences for the blog.  Friend and composer Ian Kirton kindly offered to edit it altogether.  If you like the music, which Ian composed, you can listen here: https://www.pond5.com/royalty-free-music/item/104662981-mind-and-body-gentle-warm-emotive-inspirational-instrumental

Anyway, here is my mum, Kathleen Grant (nee Kidd) reminiscing.

Iron Pier Brewery: Take-away service
Take-away

Thinking outside the taproom
Before the coronavirus emergency, Iron Pier were planning for a busy summer – full tap rooms,  more community events, beer tents at local festivals, as well as providing beer for pubs and festivals across the country. So when lockdown started, pubs closed overnight and summer events were cancelled,  James and Charlie had to come up with a Plan B to keep their business afloat.

Plan B (part 1) was a socially distanced,  takeaway service. If  locals weren’t able to pop out to the taproom or a local pub for a few drinks with  friends, at least they could enjoy a pint or two of Iron Pier beer in the comfort of their own home. And, as James explains, it is all going very well.

Iron Pier Brewery, Gravesend‘When the virus first struck and the pubs were closed we were terrified, because selling our beer to other pubs was such a big part of our business. But our take-away 4-pint and 2-pint carry-kegs are going insanely well – even better than when we had the bar open. We started with two hours on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but we’ve had to extend Fridays to three hours now because the queues were just getting too big.’

If you fancy a carry out from Iron Pier you’ll find collection times on their Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/ironpierbeer/

It’s in the can
Plan B (part 2) swung into operation last Tuesday, as Iron Pier started canning four of its beers – Keller QueenSession IPA, Rosherville Red and  Breezy Day IPA – to sell through the takeaway service and its new online shop. https://www.ironpier.beer/cans.  

‘We always had this idea in our heads that we were going to put our beer into cans,’ James explains. ‘It was originally part of our third year plan, but when this all kicked off it was like, well we’re  not making beer for pubs any more so let’s do this canning thing now.’

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendJames and Charlie and I had already discussed the possibility of putting my artwork on the cans about a year ago, so they were able to move from idea to product really quickly. ‘Yes,’ James laughs. ‘We didn’t need to find a designer, so for us it was just finding somewhere on the can to put our logo so it didn’t get in the way of the artwork and we were done!’

While the beer is brewed on site, Iron Pier brought an external contractor into the brewery to can the beer.  In the future, if the new cans prove popular, the brewery might consider purchasing its own packaging line.

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendBy the end of Tuesday, the brewery had three out of the four beers ‘in the can’. But there was a small technical hitch with the fourth.

‘A new process in the brewery always involves a bit of a learning curve, and something usually goes wrong,’ James explains. ‘We brewed all four beers for the canning day  but when we began filling the Breezy Day we noticed that we were still pulling through hops from the fermenter, so we decided not to can it that day.’

The team is going to  polish up the Breezy Day  ready for when the canners return in a week or so.  In the meantime, the other three canned beers are for sale. You can buy them in cases, or individually, through the take-away service or via the online shop.

‘We were really happy to see some great dissolved oxygen numbers in the can,’ James says, ‘so the beer should have a decent shelf life, which was the main thing I was worried about.’

Iron Pier Brewery, GravesendIn normal times, Iron Pier would have held a big knees up to launch their new cans, but since these are not normal times, you are invited to a Virtual Launch/Meet the Brewer/ Beer Tasting event, this evening (17th May 2020, @ 7.30 – 8.30pm) hosted by the Admiral’s Arm micropub http://www.admiralsarm.co.uk/  Follow this link for more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/241388767208060/

Hope to see you there. Cheers!

 

You can follow Iron Pier on:
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ironpierbeer/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ironpierbeer
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ironpierbeer/

My original ink drawings, as well as digital prints, of the art used on the beer cans and in this blog are available from the gallery on this website. https://www.duncangrantartist.com/shop/

Keller Queen (Small Town #141)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-141/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-141-print/ 

Rosherville Red (Small Town #132)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-132/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-132-print/

Session IPA (Twenty-eight poplars)
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/twenty-eight-poplars/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/twenty-eight-poplars-print/

Breezy Day IPA (Breezy Day)
Original ink drawing: SOLD
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/breezy-day-print/

Russell Brewery (Brewery)
Original ink drawing: SOLD
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/brewery-print/

Hops and blueberries
Original ink drawing: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fruit-series-hops-and-blueberries/
Digital print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/fruit-series-hops-and-blueberries-print/

Hop pickers – SOLD

 

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Only 261 more days until Christmas …time to think about who’s coming for lunch!

 

Visit Duncan Grant’s gallery
How many of you remember the Hand of Artists project back in 2015, when 108 artists designed two sets of playing cards that raised £3,000 to benefit community art charities?  For a trip down memory lane, flick through the slideshow at the bottom of this post.

Well, now it’s time to get out those paintbrushes and pens and get involved in a new community art project to benefit another local good cause.

On 25th December last year Adrian and Andrea at No 84 Tearoom and Eatery at Echo Square, Gravesend https://www.no84.co.uk hosted a traditional Christmas dinner, free of charge, to anyone in the local community who would otherwise have spending the day alone. The event was funded entirely by No. 84.

I’m organising a community art project to fund another Christmas lunch at No. 84 this year (2019) and I’d love as many people as possible to get involved – wherever you are in the world, whatever your your age, artistic skills, experience or ambitions. All you have to do is design a Christmas card and donate it to the project.

Designs will be made into A6 cards (at cost by Singlewell Stationery and Print http://www.singlewell.co.uk/) and sold in packs of 6, with all profits going to fund the 2019 Christmas lunch at No. 84. If we raise a lot of money, any extra will be donated to Crisis at Christmas.

Nearer to Christmas, we’ll have an exhibition of all the cards at No. 84 and a launch event. If loads of people get involved we could also have other exhibitions or events at local venues.

If you want to join in, here is what you have to do:

  • Let me know you want to take part via ‘contact’ on this website, or via Facebook etc
  • Design a Christmas card that you are willing to donate to the project free of charge
  • Get your design to me by the 19th May 2019
    You can send a digital image of your artwork (minimum 300 dpi) to duncangrant158@gmail.com – please put your name and contact details in the email
    OR
  • You can send me the original to be photographed by the talented Roger Crosby. Please remember to write your name and contact details on the back.
    For those of you in the Gravesend area, I will arrange some local collection points and let people know where these are via Facebook. I’ll also put an ‘Event’ on this website and keep it updated with the latest news and information.
    If you live further afield and need to send an original, drop me an email and I’ll send you my postal address.

RULES
Only one – designs must be rectangular. They can be in any size and any medium because they are all going to be photographed.

Here is what I’ll do:

  • Collect the images and arrange for originals to be photographed
  • Get the cards printed and put into packs
  • Arrange the exhibition(s) and launch
  • Put them up for sale online and at events
  • Collect the money and forward it to No.84 to cover all the costs of Christmas lunch, with any extra going to Crisis at Christmas.

Please get involved, it will be fun.  Here are some pictures from Hand of Artists 2015 to get you inspired.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Picture at the top of the post is ‘Small town at Christmas:
Original https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-84/
Print: https://duncangrantartist.com/product/small-town-84-print/