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Beverley has long been a town of sanctuary since the Middle Ages. Famous sanctuary stones stand at its edges and a towering Minster at its heart, marking an ancient boundary line where fugitives could seek shelter from the law. Today, Beverley remains a town of sanctuary but of a different kind – as a safe place to live and work; as a place to escape away to on holiday; as a place of creative sanctuary – a town filled with arts and culture.

For the online Beverley Puppet Festival in 2020, we created a pilot outreach project with care home & sheltered housing residents in Beverley. This consisted of a mini shadow theatre kit being left with a staff member for residents in each home – complete with lamp, torch, puppets, reflective items & scenery. Remote advice was offered, and an online tutorial, but due to lockdown it was really the proactive staff member in each place who made the project happen. Photos and video clips were sent back to Beverley Puppet Festival, which can be viewed in the Beverley Puppet Festival Participant Gallery.

In 2021, in partnership with Beverley Minster, this project developed into “Sanctuary in Creativity” – reaching not only the care homes but also partnering up with local primary schools to form intergenerational friendships and develop stories, using the Minster’s Sanctuary films as conversation starters. These films were re-enactments of the stories of mediaeval fugitives who came to Beverley. With some help from Ali Bodley, Beverley Minster’s Outreach officer of that time, three schools were engaged who were paired up with four residential homes. We created six mini shadow theatre kits to extend on the successful model of the 2020 remote Education project – and extra puppets were added to the existing kits of two care homes who took part again. The pre-made puppets served as examples to show how further ones could be made.

A participant at New House care home using the shadow kits

Residents at Figham House, (under the guidance of Elaine Ablett), exchanged letters with year 5 children at Swanland Primary School, (thanks to Lisa Martin), and their memories inspired the children’s puppet show.

Year 2 children at Keldmarsh Primary School (under the guidance of Kellee Osborne) performed a story about knights and dragons which New House (under the guidance of Amber Sutcliffe) then developed with their own local twist.

Year 6 children at Cavendish Primary School (with Karen Richardson) and residents of Claremont House (with Megan Furniss), and Town View (with Sarah Van Rijn) all participated too.

Keldmarsh Primary School year 2 children holding the shadow puppets they made

Due to the current circumstances, Indigo Moon Theatre were unable to visit like in pre-pandemic times, (other from assisting with filming at Cavendish school’s final session), so all the credit for this work must go to the participants and their proactive staff members. A massive thank you to all who overcame obstacles of illness, hospital operations, staff shortages, difficult visitor rotas, quarantines and lockdown restrictions – constantly shifting sand, etc!).

The month-long display at Beverley Minster showed some of the participants’ own puppets, along with video clips and photos. During that month Beverley Minster received 5,996 visitors.

We also exhibited an example shadow theatre kit as used in the schools and care homes, this proved to be particularly popular with visitors.

The display was launched with a socially distanced family activity morning attended by 54 people –who made shadow puppets and acetate projected backgrounds. It was a carefully regimented but joyful event – as maximum six families per half hour were socially distanced, provided with the materials they needed at each table, then watched the videos and tried out their creations behind a screen.

Participants test out their puppets at the Beverley Minster workshop morning

Due to the shifting sands of the pandemic restrictions, it was a very difficult time to engage more than a small handful of schools and care homes in this project. Schools were suffering from whole class bubbles being suddenly sent home at any time, and care homes had staffing shortages due to many self-isolating – also because the reintroduction of family member visits under very strict rules meant much reduced activity time for any staff members involved. Nevertheless, we found this work to be extremely valuable at this time in lighting up people’s lives. Those who were able to participate thoroughly enjoyed it and gained confidence through it.

It was frustrating as an artist to not be able to go in and deliver in the same way as would have been possible in person, because at the end of the day artistic expertise shared in person can never really be properly replaced – only touched upon. However, this project enabled existing relationships to be developed and new ones to be forged.

The remote shadow theatre kits are still in the possession of the schools and care homes as an ongoing resource for future participants to continue enjoying. All the teachers have expressed an interest in doing this, and, subject to staffing issues, we are hoping the residential homes may do so too.

Links are still on the Beverley Puppet Festival website for any of these schools and residential homes to continue sharing their creations should they want to – and on the same page a link to the original tutorial video from 2020 remains available for anyone – including any new staff using the kits of both 2020 and 2021.

Many thanks to our funders Arts Council England and Beverley Town Council and to our partners Beverley Minster and all of the schools and care homes for making this project possible!