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First up ! Burnley and Blackpool

The first sessions of Saturday Girl About Town started this week. After months of meetings, funding bids, writing and planning here we are.

Lots to learn with new lighting, new ways of working and wanting the project to be connected with the original Saturday Girl series but to be distinct.

My original intent of neon colours in stretch velvet expanded to other materials and fabrics. Everything in bright bright colours but different textures.

Anything goes as long as it feels right.

Is that also an attitude for this post pandemic time? I see this worn as fashion on the young. Just wild colour and an anything and everything goes look. The illusion of structures and promises and milestones of society have been stripped out of the every day and their response is worn, communicated through hyper visibility, DIY aesthetics, mixing and matching of tribal wear through charity shopping.

For me it is essential that I listen to my intuition as so much is new, is building and starting with this new work. There are decisions to be made that will colour my approach throughout. My gut and heart know what to do and I have to listen and act on the felt directions I am receiving.

It is an exciting time.

Jenn Smith, photographer and graphic designer, is on board now and, with James Lawler as project producer, we are off and running.

Visiting the towns beforehand has been important. This Saturday Girl is about connecting and making space for others to find and develop their own projects and ideas around the themes of Saturday Girl.

Connecting with local creatives, cultural producers and young people is imbedded in the work and after months on zoom, the physical meets, the walking the streets, the responding to place along with idea, is thrilling and essential.

I visited Blackpool School of Arts and tutor Andrew Walker who runs the program there. I was very moved by the way he spoke about the school, about the students and his work with them, the importance of art and creativity. Decades of inequality and lack of funding for infrastructure in Northern towns, stripping away of industry and the draining of resources from the North have collided with the pandemic. The devastation is evident on the streets here in Blackpool which has some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Europe. The campus is in the Bloomfield ward where about 29.2% of households experienced fuel poverty in 2018, almost three times the English average. The child poverty rate is 63.4%, almost four times the English average. The funding cuts to the arts across education underpin our conversation about the importance of art education, creativity and the empowerment that is found in art education, in culture.

I visit on the day of the Conservative Conference in Manchester and the day before ‘the £20-a-week universal credit uplift, introduced during the pandemic, will be scrapped, despite sharp rises in the cost of living, including fuel increases that will leave the average prepayment meter customer £153 poorer this winter. Blackpool’s most deprived and sickest people will be £1,000 a year worse off as a direct result of decisions taken by his government.’

Burnley is also high on this list of forgotten and deprived towns. BBC analysis shows the death rate from all causes between April and June 2020 in the most deprived areas was nearly double that of deaths in the least deprived parts of England. The majority of the top 10 cities and towns with the highest death rates were in the north of England. New Analysis for the BBC from the University of Manchester shows that in January 2021, at the peak of the pandemic, the Covid mortality rate in Burnley was more than double the English average, and deaths from all causes were 60 per cent higher than the English average.

These realities underpin the work as they intermingle and influence the bodily language of fashion. The playful creativity of the young is defiant, the joy and wildness is evident everywhere. it is something to celebrate.

Blackpool School of Arts turned out in force on Tuesday at Winter Gardens. The artists and creatives, the wild ones, punks and non conformists, goths, witch aesthetic, homemade clothes, and wild make up, dark and playful, they came out and they were just the most engaging, fun and inquisitive group. I could not have asked for a better session. Their style and sense of fashion is wild, creative and expressive.

We talk charity shopping, witchcraft, spirituality, crystals, DIY, art, punk. They are playful cartoon goths, green haired artists, wild and ready, funny and engaging. It is a beautiful day in the magical location that is Winter Gardens.

There were so many photos taken i ran out of battery and storage.

There were so many conversations, questions, so much pitching in with ideas and generally wanting to get involved.

Young folks need this, spaces to explore identity, connection and a sense of hope, of being seen, of finding themselves in amongst and inspite of it all.

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