More Than 100 Stories is a commission led by artists Sarah Butler and Nicole Mollet that explores and creatively maps the Creative People and Places programme.

Cycling the ‘Northern Belt’| Friday 25th September: Roots and Wings, Hull


I am surprised by the landscape approaching Hull – wide, flat expanses; drainage ditches and canals; lines of whirling wind turbines. It feels like  a very different place to those we've cycled through for the previous two weeks. We take a problematic route (egged on by google map's confident blue line) and end up on a tricky footpath by the edge of a wide canal. It is far from easily cyclable. We re-route, delayed, but glad to have seen this extraordinary network of waterways. My companion comments 'this used to be the M1' and we look across the calm, empty water and contemplate what it must have been like in its heyday.

Hull itself is a surprise too. We cycle through a visibly deprived area on the outskirts of the city and are taken aback to reach the centre, with its grand buildings and distinct sense of heritage (and great pubs, we discover later).

My time in Hull is spent meeting with people who have intersected with Roots and Wings, Hull's CPP project, in various ways – all smoothly curated by Michael Barnes-Wynters, project manager for artists, curators and educators in the city. Michael has been organising regular networking and development sessions bringing together local artists with creatives from across the UK and beyond to share their creative journeys. 'It's about the creating the confidence and the opportunity for people to grow collaboratively, rather than in silos,' he tells me.

Jessica Leathley, who heads up the Untold Stories project (part of Roots and Wings) for Hull libraries tells me that Hull is an 'end of the line' place, traumatised by the collapse of the fishing industry in the 70s, with a sense of being ignored by the wider world (that story again). And yet, she tells me, there is a tangible sense of hope for the future – a new contract with Siemens for renewable energy and others on the horizon; preparations for City of Culture in 2017. She describes Untold Stories as a way to give the people of Hull the opportunity to tell the stories they want to tell about the city. She talks about a 'bedrock' of storytelling, underlying all of the Roots and Wings work, and articulates her hope that this becomes a ten year project – 'what a resource' she says, to have that depth of knowledge about the city. We discuss the ethics and practicalities of collecting and sharing stories, and she talks about how the library service's involvement in Roots and Wings has opened them up to working with artists, to new partners and new approaches.

I meet with Lou Hazelwood, a local artist, who tells me how Roots and Wings has created new connections within Hull, has strengthened existing connections and has 'opened things up'. She talks about the team's belief in everyone, not just a select few, creating a space of equality, openness and opportunity. Talking about Hull being a smaller town, a little off the radar if you like, she tells me: 'you can experiment without feeling you need to produce'. There might be issues in terms of artists' confidence but she feels there is space in Hull to play and experiment and develop a practice. She talked about how Roots and Wings is genuinely celebrating what exists in the city and what has been done already without funding – 'we need to get past the financial stuff,' she says 'sometimes people think they can't do anything without money.' She has benefited from Michael's support with writing a Grants for the Arts bid – she tells me how his confidence in her and rigorous questioning helped her reframe the (successful) bid. She also went on a 'go see' visit to the Tate, funded by Roots and Wings, which prompted her to rethink her approach to process in a way that has profoundly affected her work.

Jason Bowers and Rebecca Shipham – graphic designers and teachers who have recently set up Creative Briefs, a company developing creativity and enterprise across a range of age ranges – were also awarded 'Go see' funding. They visited Liverpool, to explore how the City of Culture had affected small businesses in the city. They talk about how Roots and Wings have supported their developing work and created new connections for them. We discuss being an artist in Hull and they echo something Michael has already said, that in Hull you can't walk too tall, or blow your own trumpet, because you'll be shot down – a delicate negotiation between confidence and perceived arrogance...

Finally I meet with  Bacary Bax (Bud Sugar), a local musician who has worked with Roots and Wings on several projects, including busking on buses and setting up Slip and Slide – a waterslide in the centre of Hull accompanied by a mini music festival. Roots and Wings encouraged him to do all the associated work of making Slip and Slide happen: risk assessments, council negotiations etc. 'I didn't want to know all that stuff,' he tells me, 'But now I'm glad I do.' For him, Roots and Wings are helping him realise his ideas, build his profile, develop his ideas and his skills, and they pay him properly! They have 'inspired me to think my creativity's worth something' he tells me. 'Now I can say, this is what I've done, so what next?'

Roots and Wings feels very embedded within the warp and weft of Hull – rooted in its stories; sitting within the libraries' plans, and the city's hopes for 2017, building on the skills and interests of their creative community.