Lockdown Connections

The Memory Book: A Year in Lockdown, Words and Images from TLC Arts & Drop-in, Edited, by Nigel Wood, Slap-Dash Publishing (2021)

When the first lockdown came into force in spring 2020, many arts and cultural organisations moved their operations online. While superficially accessible, this shift to digital often felt like a kneejerk and easy reaction. In Manchester, the small arts and mental health charity TLC-St Luke’s, based in the inner-city wards of Ardwick and Longsight, needed to find more inclusive methods for people to participate remotely, whilst retaining tangible and physical ways of connecting and being creative. As well as participating in artist-led art and creative writing sessions via Zoom, over the phone and outdoors (when regulations made it possible to meet), participants regularly received postcards and art materials in the mail, together with themes and ideas as starting points. Once returned, the postcards were collated into monthly newsletters and circulated to peers and contributors as physical and digital copies.

The Memory Book collates the results of these mail art projects in book form, together with placards, collages, sketchbook pages, embroideries, drawings, paintings, photographs, creative writing, travelogues, memories and personal diaries. Using materials found near to hand to observe and reflect on the long months spent in lockdown, the writing and images in the Memory Book present a valuable document of life in 2020, measured both through personal experiences and world events, that took place on a micro- and a momentous scale.

Unsurprisingly, the fear and uncertainty of the early days of the pandemic are well-captured in the Memory Book – at first, even previously routine activities such as taking a familiar bus journey felt fraught with danger for many people – as well as frustrations about the restrictions that put plans on hold and made pleasurable activities and leisure pursuits like travel feel like a far-off dream.

What also comes across, though, is a renewed appreciation of the things that are important, and particularly those that can be found close by – from our homes, relationships and gardens (for those lucky enough to have them), to nature and the local park. The Memory Book reminds the reader of the solace that can be found in small pleasures, from the view from a flat, city sunsets and watching the moon, to simple comforts such as Yorkshire tea and the radio. Some contributors used their creative explorations as a way to imagine and daydream, whereas others focused their powers of observation on the hyperlocal, for example taking themselves and others as the subjects of portraits, or detailing different varieties of moss. While each individual faced their own unique challenges, depending on their circumstances, we can all recognise and relate in some way to the experiences presented in the Memory Book.

As a collaborative publication, The Memory Book exudes a sense of togetherness and commonality, despite spanning a period when we were separated not just from friends and family but from the social activities, hobbies and activities that give life meaning and help keep us sane. It demonstrates resourcefulness, resilience and adaptability. Through being creative, we can help ourselves and others; there’s strength to be found in sharing.

The Memory Books is available as a print on demand book via Slap-Dash publishing at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stlukes

Natalie Bradbury

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