Thread of Life

Revisiting a project in the year of its 20th anniversary.

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Will the threatened storm wash away the feast for the tribes? Touch and go but we were blessed – it didn’t rain and a fantastic gathering it was too.

The ‘Thread of Life’ was a project initiated by the Countryside Commission to mark the upgrading of the Cotswold Way Footpath in the summer of 1996. Professional artists (performers, musicians, sculptors, craft and costume makers) worked with children and teachers in four rural Primary Schools close to the southern end of the Cotswold Way – Hawkesbury Upton, Horton, Marshfield and Old Sodbury. In addition to the workshops in schools the project also included a visit to Bristol’s Theatre Royal to see Travelling Light Theatre Company perform ‘Tir na n’og’ (a play* based on a Celtic myth), and culminated in an event “Lughnasa – a gathering of the clans for a ‘Celtic’ summer celebration” on 12th July 1996 at Old Sodbury Camp, an Iron Age hillfort on the Cotswold Way.

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The event also provided the opportunity to say farewell to the pupils moving on to secondary schools. The project was managed by Travelling Light Theatre Company with Changing Places Environmental Arts Trust and supported by South Gloucestershire Council (Northavaon at start of project) and the Countryside Commission.

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Old Sodbury Camp, the Iron Age Hillfort, provided a broad framework of ideas for the entire project and was used as a vehicle to explore the geology and natural history of the site and how these elements determined or affected the development of the immediate and surrounding landscape. The major theme however was The Celts, their history, culture, art, myths and stories, hence the connection with the Travelling Light performance and the Celtic title of the celebratory event.

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I was part of the team involved in the devising process for the project from its earliest stages, and researched and wrote the book that provided a historical and geological context to the Celts and to this particular landscape along with imagery and ideas for activities for teachers to use with students to further explore the Celts. The pack also included seeds known to have been grown in the Iron Age and notes about Celtic music and instruments with an accompanying tape.

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The teachers’ resource pack for the Thread of Life project

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Introduction to the Thread of Life project and themes

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Sample page of ‘sampled’ images and text

During the project, and in keeping with the non-written Celtic tradition, I echoed the role of a Celtic storyteller by recording photographically the developing threads of performances and workshops in the schools and the final event and ‘wove’ them together to create a picture story of the entire project, which was produced in poster form;  copies were given to everyone who had participated.

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*Travelling Light are currently (February 2016) reviving the play for touring for it’s 20th anniversary under the title ‘Into the West’

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