One afternoon Owen Lewis, TEDxYouth alumni, gets a message from Andy (the Curator for TEDxBrayfordPool).
“There’ll be a digital event in a few days,” Andy informs.
The significance of the 16th May is that it was supposed to be TEDxBrayfordPool 2020. A new decade of new “Ideas Worth Spreading”, but then you can naturally guess what happened, like all big events globally it was postponed for the safety of everyone involved. So as lockdown toils on for a lot of us we just decided to go digital.
In the space of a few days Andy and his inner circle got swiftly on with creating magic, managing to gather a strong roster of 23 TEDxBrayfordPool alumni - from Women and Youth to flagship and even backstage folks. What was an idea in isolation very quickly became a bigger idea in isolation: this time with a team of 23+ people involved.
TEDxBrayfordPool 2020: Ideas in Isolation was a whole-day event on the joys and perils of life within a (hopefully) once in a lifetime pandemic. A capsule of friendship, anxiety, coping, creativity and simply people doing their best. Throughout four engaging digital discussions this is what happened...
Session 1: The Lockdown Letters - Andy Farenden, Owen Lewis, Tanya Akrofi, Paul Stringer, Dr Fran Lambrick and Justine Taylor
The Ten Thousand Tales Project is a UK-based venture started by the very people who joined us for our first digital session! Strangers send letters to each other about their experiences in lockdown, talking about the many complex feelings they go through and their most intricate thoughts and anecdotes.
As with all digital conferences there are technical difficulties. So I waited patiently in the waiting room of Zoom.
The session kicks off on a reflection of the work that each panellist does, with one common link: their love of storytelling. From Tanya who is a writer and storyteller by trade and Paul who uses film/photography to weave stories together to Fran and Justine who report extensively on environmental issues and the violence that protesters face.
Up until this point I had been listening to what they were saying absently, just spending time washing the suds into my hair, and I only properly was able to focus when the conversation merged into horrific tales of the mistreatment of protesters across the country, especially environmental activists. This wasn’t shocking, but it also was. What Justine and Fran spoke about was the twisting of the freedoms we supposedly have in our country.
Tanya reflects on her experiences of disability in relation to freedom, talking about how as events move online that she feels a sense of freedom that events are becoming slightly more accessible to her.
The panel ends with some lovely questions from our audience around whether writing has felt like therapy in a sense and how people started to write their letters.
You can listen to “The Lockdown Letters” session here.
Session 2: The New Normal - Katy Taylor, Jo Tolley, Lyndsay Muir and Andrew Whitehouse
When Katy Taylor was doing her research prior to hosting “The New Normal” she found that just typing “the new normal uk” brought upon two billion Google results, and therefore quickly gave up moving swiftly onto introductions.
The first question Katy throws at the panel is a simple “how are you?” This didn’t seem relevant to me initially however I quickly changed my mind, as Andrew reflects on his need to keep busy (which I can heavily relate to), Lyndsay reflects on her need for routine and Jo on her need to stay positive for herself and others. It’s a little snapshot of how people are adapting to this unusual way of living.
Swiftly on comes the question of what normal means to our panellists, based not only on the title of this session but based on Katy’s rebuttal of the term “normal”. It’s not shocking that the others agree with her that the idea of being normal isn’t entirely positive: Andrew reflects on his experiences of raising his children and not being perfect (or “normal”), Lindsay agrees with him and adds that differences are actually ordinary, and Jo simply sums it up as “Yeah, there’s not really a ‘normal’”, which I appreciated for its succinctness.
After a lengthy and engaging discussion on how everyone felt about this idea of returning to our “normal”, a question is posed by the audience: “What’s your advice for autistic people struggling with all the changes going on at the moment?” Whilst the question is thrown around the group, naturally since Andrew Whitehouse is a specialist in neurodiversity he addresses it first with fairly simple advice: to just keep the autistic person in question happy and looked after (especially in regards to autistic children). Jo Tolley inputs some interesting advice: to stay creative and to really hone into those passions if you can.
To wrap up the session the panel discusses what one thing they’d really want to take from lockdown into the “new normal”.
You can listen to “The New Normal” session here.
Session 3: Business As Usual - Richard Askam, Lizzie Jordan, Lisa Spring, Zoe Burnett, Ryan Lovett, Elinor Vettraino and Thomas Dunning
Richard Askam starts off by claiming that there’s no plan for this session - which is clearly a promising start! So we just get a taste of our biggest panel of the day and what they do. Followed by, in the vein of the previous session, what each person’s “new normal” is.
The discussion does quickly shift onto this idea of “business as usual” though with Richard asking Zoe about her feelings about going back to work at her nursery from June 1st. She just chuckles and reflects on feelings of worry, talking about the lack of social distancing that would happen if everyone went back at once. Thomas is the only one who has almost a taste of “business as usual”, as he works within the food production industry, but outside of that adhering to the lockdown has enabled him to really focus on himself and the mental health advocacy he does.
Then something interesting is said by Lizzie, she comments on the fact that this period of actively working from home has made her think about all the time wasted by commuting and using public transport in oppose to digital methods. Richard agrees, saying that “finance directors all over the country are going to be looking at travel expenses and saying ‘wait, why do we need that again’ once lockdown is over", simply because we can do most things digitally and it is so much more productive.
After responding to a question on what the panellists think they’ve learned about themselves throughout lockdown, Elinor, as a lecturer at the University of Lincoln, pays a honest tribute to the students of 2020 - who not only have had their graduations and celebratory plans disrupted but will face one of the most competitive job markets in decades. It will not be business as usual for the class of 2020 and it was nice to have the panel reflect on that for a moment.
They wrap up with heartfelt messages of what they’d tell their 16 year-old selves based on what they’ve experienced over the past few months and what they’re capable of. Which I think was a lovely note to end on for our penultimate session.
You can listen to the “Business as Usual” session here.
Session 4: Creativity Under Pressure - Sarah Hughes, Annie Bocock, Dominic Jones, Melody Clark, Kieran Jordan and Ben Simmons
Now I, Annie Bocock, the voice of the TEDxBrayfordPool blog, will admit I was slightly jealous when the news broke of a new event. I wasn’t given any notice, let alone invited to speak, until Thursday at the crack of 9pm.
The final panel of the day kicks off as it always does: with introductions, and I was surprised on re-watching it due to my complete inability to look at the camera when I talk.
Introductions lead onto Ben reflecting on the sense of loss he felt that he wasn’t able to complete his tour this year with The Wildflowers Which is followed up by all the cool opportunities that people have unfortunately missed out on due to the pandemic.
And then a question comes in about the pressure to be creative with the amount of free time we have and how our social media engagement has changed. I think myself and Melody found a similar trend in the fact that it fluctuates, but was stronger and more poignant in the beginning. I go on to talk about my own experiences in slowly trying to market this community that I’ve been building and how difficult it is sometimes to be motivated to stick to a challenge you set (looking at you Quarantine Bonanza).
Sarah makes a lovely note that despite everything, we would still create what we do regardless if anyone paid attention or if you got money, and that’s a really lovely sentiment that I think we all relate to to an extent. We as artists need to enjoy art again.
As my fellow panellists started to expand on this you could see progressively more of a smile on my face, my laptop bouncing from how excited I’m getting hearing them say things that resonate with me. Of course the concept of doing art just for fun isn’t new, but as someone who isn’t an artist professionally (really) it’s exactly what I like to hear and preach.
And to add to my ever growing enthusiasm we are asked “how do you find yourself out of the creative block?” Dominic goes first, talking about how you often just need to start creating, and to not really have any firm idea of what the finished product looks like. Kieran adds that saying that finding a different medium to your day job to explore is helpful in learning to not resent being creative.