TiA Briefing 1: Coventry City of Culture Trust.
29 April 2021 via Zoom.
This is the first in a series of briefings organised by Together in Action Trust in offering key information to interested organisations on important issues relating to Coventry.
In this briefing, we get an update on the Coventry UK City of Culture 2021 plans and how local organisations can get involved. In addition, there is an update on the Coventry Sacred Space Initiative.
Erica Whyman – Vice-Chair at Coventry City of Culture Trust, Deputy Artistic Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Directing Faith.
Jen Davis – Associate Director on Faith.
Jon Davis – Senior Producer, Coventry City of Culture Trust.
Deepak Naik, TiA Coventry Sacred Space Initiative.
Mohammed Bashir, Community Coordinator for of Coventry City Council introduced the proceedings.
Erica has been passionate in developing an idea for a major event as part of the City of Culture year. She is currently working on the project and the COVID pandemic has been a major hurdle to cross. The team would like the project to be collaborative and with high impact, especially across all the faith communities. Erica will be directing the event.
The key objective is to celebrate the extraordinary stories of faith in Coventry. Erica was very much interested in the concept of forgiveness and how interfaith work plays a role in the city.
The project is called ‘Faith’ which is a 24-hour invitation to find out what keeps each of us going in tough times, and together it will explore how people of faith, and of non-religious world views, understand and celebrate the chapters and the mysteries of their lives. It will encourage, challenge and spotlight discussions around who and what we have faith in.
In terms of the general narrative, the journey will begin with an opportunity to eat together across the city, and to learn how we each mark our weekend, this unique piece of theatre will tell the stories of Coventry families, sharing their very different relationships with faith and hope, through a series of journeys in the streets and through the faith buildings of the Coventry Sacred Space (an area which runs from the city centre into north Coventry and encompasses faith buildings from almost all of the major religions as well as green and other sacred spaces that are used by people of all faiths and none).
Told through music, theatre installation and ritual, it will unfold an epic overarching story, culminating in an extraordinary moment that everyone can take part in. Erica stressed that this event is more than a piece of theatre as our hope is to illustrate the rich tapestry of Coventry’s faith communities.
In terms of the specifics, on the evening of Friday 10th, September 2021 audiences will be invited to eat together in 3 or 4 sites across the city including some places of worship and a green space where people will come and share food and talk together – subject to COVID rules. The intention is to bring different cultures and traditions together.
On the morning of Saturday 11th September 2021, there will be lots of ‘open house’ types of activity across the places of worship, green spaces in the Coventry Sacred Space. The open house can take a myriad of forms, for example, it could simply be a place of worship opening doors and inviting people in. The team’s designer, Tom Piper, is thinking about how we might use the idea of ribbons and Coventry’s history of weaving to create a tapestry of threads that joins different areas of the Coventry Sacred Space together. Different faiths or groups sensitivities will of course be taken into consideration with some of the aforementioned activities and we’re also in close dialogue with colleagues from the Jewish community with regards to how we mark Shabbat during the weekend.
Later in the afternoon, the narrative journeys will begin, they are being co-written by playwrights Chino Odimba and Chris O’Connell but will be further infused by a large group of Coventry based writers who have come together under the city voices project. The narrative journeys will be more like play but will use the city as their backdrop. Each journey will be a promenade piece of performance and will last around 25-30 minutes’ walk, different journeys will have different sets of audiences.
One of the themes of the narrative journeys will include ‘arrival’ and what it means to come to the city for the first time. One of the story strands will take place in the 1970s and will explore a group of characters who have just arrived in Coventry from another country and will focus on Coventry through the eyes of someone who has just arrived here.
Another story strand will look at the ‘future’ and will focus on the grandchildren of the family we meet in the 1970s. This story will explore the young people’s relationship with their elders as well as the challenges and positives of growing up in Coventry and navigating how faith operates in their lives.
The other major strand is our changing relationship with the city. Do we have ‘faith’ in it? The city is our canvas, where are the places we go, our relationships and as the changes occur, how does it shape the future. What is it like being a modern-day person living in Coventry?
The other key consideration is the role of faith during ‘adversity’. The project is keen to tell a story of what it’s like to face the end of life. Coventry’s history includes some hardship and COVID has been the most prominent hardship we’ve all had to face over the past 12 months. Coventry also has such a strong history of recovering from loss, but how do we do it again?
Erica stressed that she would like it to be more than a piece of theatre, we want it to be an invitation to reflect and experience one another’s relationship with faith. Another key theme for consideration is the strong sense of a need for ‘reflection’ because there is so much to reflect on at this particular time.
The ambition of the project over the two days is to offer people different ways to connect, different resources and different places in which to reflect. This might mean experiencing different kinds of prayer for the first time, but it equally might mean being still and quiet in a place they haven’t felt welcome to be in before.
By evening, there is hope that we will gather together in Millennium Place. As dusk approaches, there will be an opportunity to light a light – something that is shared by so many faiths and by people of no faith. This is expected to happen as smaller groups enter Millennium Place and move out across the city, therefore, creating a chain of people lighting lights across Coventry. This will be a beautiful celebration of this extraordinary city.
The key question was what the team would like from the faith community?
We have got an opportunity to express and give a platform to the places of worship in the city. There are 4 things the faith communities can do:
1 – Collaborate with the project on the Friday evening ‘take away’. We’re still in the process of deciding on the sites but will be in touch very soon about this.
2 – To take part in the Open House activities on Saturday 11th September. In the next few weeks, we will send out a survey that will ask people to nominate what activities they might like to host in their place of worship/community group. Someone from the group made the very important point that the faith spaces have always been open (even throughout the pandemic) and this is an opportunity for those who wouldn’t usually visit a place of worship.
3 – There is a bit of capacity for us to work with specific communities on developing their own response to this question about faith. For e.g., one adult group, could do a performance/writing or do an installation as part of the event.
4 – We will keep consulting with you – working together in order to get the key elements right.
Q: Is it possible for some of your children to get involved?
The team will provide an email for people to correspond.
Q: Whilst the key them is about arrivals, what about people from Coventry who have lived most of their lives here and who also have helped shape the city?
The team is also open to talking to people from these groups.
Q: What are your expectations of the faith groups in terms of presenting?
As yet nothing can be promised, but very keen to look at the idea which suggested capturing a group of elder’s experiences. Entertainment/outdoor performances could also be considered, but it would more about the capacity of groups to deliver their activities.
Q: Will there be video recording of activities and access for those who cannot attend via social media platforms? There will be photographers, but there are no current plans for film making as budgets are limited. However, it is expected that will be plenty of press coverage especially the BBC and local radio and regional television.
Many of the planned activities can be found on the Coventry, UK City of Culture website.
The passion for the whole project relates to the Mission Statement.
We are looking to reimagine the role of culture in a diverse modern Britain demonstrating culture is a force that changes lives moving Coventry and the region forward.
Deepak Naik, Coventry Sacred Spaces Initiative.
Coventry Sacred Space initiative was conceived by a group of people who came from India and the Caribbean in the 1950/60s. They lived in the Hillfields area and grew up there. In 2019, a group of people met to discuss how they could perhaps bring back the experiences of that era.
Together in Action Trust is anchoring the Initiative and recently received some funding from the Heritage Lottery. In cooperation with the City of Culture and what they are aiming to do in September 2021, the Sacred Space Initiative would like to host an activity/festival on Friday 9th September and possibly another event on Saturday or Sunday 10/11th September relating to ‘Sharing the Sacred – Serving Humanity in Nature.’ The thought is how we connect with the sacred no matter who we are and how we serve each other and protect nature.
The hope is to start in the morning with a variety of activities followed by a festival which could include a funfair and food stalls etc. as it would have been in the 1960s. Then later in the evening, we reflect on how the day went and how we have come together. What have learned from each other and how we continue with the work in the future especially in terms of improving the area for future generations.
TiA will continue to work throughout the year in this area like this current briefing. Other briefings are planned.