Christina Ford was selected through an open call to Barking & Dagenham for a locally based artist. For over four months during Spring 2017, Christina built a new community network made up of over twenty local families. Christina facilitated regular social activities for the group with sessions such as arts and crafts, cooking healthily on a budget and family drama workshops; providing a safe, supportive and flexible space for local single parents and their children. This was set up under the umbrella of the charity Gingerbread who campaign for and on behalf of single parent families.
Christina’s residency allowed us to reach single parent families in the borough, a demographic of the community that can become quite isolated. Her project was a really good example of the territory that artists have to navigate when working with the public in this way.
It was a tough balance between community building, care and support for those participants facing multiple difficulties in their personal lives, calling into the house at sporadic moments because of their situations – This lead to the creation of a new artwork, which was put on at the White House during her residency
The sessions she ran allowed Christina to gather stories and testimonials from the parents and children to inform her performance piece. Inspired by verbatim and political theatre, the performance aimed to echo the voices of single mothers, that often go unheard. Christina found that the lives and experiences of the mothers she worked with were varied but their main commonality was their challenges when looking for and entering employment.
Another Single Mother starred a number of mothers and children from the group, telling each other’s stories from their perspective. Audience members were taken through the house through a series of situations that were hilarious, exacerbating, hysterical and joyous, through the trials and tribulations of being a lone mother. One audience member remarked ‘a hilarious piece of theatre about a seriously not funny situation for many women in the borough’.
Christina’s residency, as Chad’s had done, galvanised people in a way that brought a lot of energy to the house. Its many strands allowed the people that took part to try lots of new things, from the children learning how to make ceramics to the mothers learning how to act for the first time. It gave everyone involved in the final performance, as well as the wider network of parents that came to see it, immense pride.
Christina took on the dual aspects of what a residency at the house can do, making a new and challenging piece of art and created real change for her community. Through this work Christina has been supported directly by Gingerbread UK to keep working with parents in the borough. The Gingerbread Dagenham group continues to meet. They engage in a series of workshops, developed in consultation with Christina and the council on healthy eating and fitness.
Christina became such an important part of the house during this time, having worked with her since we opened through Chad’s project; so much so that we offered her a job as our Engagement Coordinator. Christina ran the Front Room Programme for the summer of 2016.