May 4th, 2023
Singing Mamas joined with the Holding Time Project Manchester mothers to create a warm afternoon of storytelling and chorus for the end of the writing workshops at Manchester Art Gallery.
In a cheerfully decorated room, we listened to moving accounts of night time terrors, love unrecognisable and regrets over lost freedoms. We were joined in solidarity by a Singing Mamas group, who offered solace and joy in the form of song.
This project sets out to create change, locally and nationally. At its heart is womens’ truth.
If we want to see the statistics of breastfeeding change, we need to listen to mothers. Most of the outputs from the project are about encouraging mothers who have overcome the obstacles – many of them structural – to talk about how they managed it and what it cost them.
One of the central issues that comes up again and again is that it might be ‘natural’ but it isn’t easy.
And along with encouraging women to talk, this project is about getting the whole community to listen and see.
The structure of the project means that women start with themselves. One of the first exercizes Rachel asks mothers to begin with, is to describe their experience of breastfeeding to a partner….and then listen as they then describe this in the third person to the group. This simple device offers a distancing that allows mothers to really their own story. Knowing their story is different to telling their story.
Once the storytelling workshops have progressed, a live event allows mothers to perform their written work. To stand up infront of others outside of the group and own their story. This is a celebration of the journey they have taken by committing to the writing process and increasingly, these performances are accompanied by singing.
Our ambition is to expand these performances, combining them with animation, live instruments and other artists into a whole program of singing, listening and seeing in 2023.
Alongside the exhibitions, interviews and workshops, these live events add a dimension of urgency to the process of opening dialogue, deepening conversations, challenging sterotypes and changing attitudes.
We all learn in different ways; moving, listening, looking, reading. By targeting the soft emotional centre, the project attempts to bypass the intellect where we store our prejudices.
It’s an ongoing experiment, each project an education, each city informed by the last. With each new iteration, mothers arrive empowered, determined, informed by the projects that have gone before. In this the Holding Time Project is a movement. As the recent evaluation by Dr Clare Maxwell at Liverpool John Moores University states,
Findings point to a unique project that has impacted positively on mothers and the general public. Upscaling, expansion and capturing a wider more diverse audience are required to realise the true potential of Holding Time. With expansion, the project has the potential to reduce cultural barriers to breastfeeding, whist supporting those mothers who do breastfeed in the UK’s currently challenging environment.– Dr Clare Maxwell, LJMU
Rachel New at the Manchester workshops