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’ | Monday 14th September: Heart Of Glass, St Helens


My first CPP visit. As soon as I reach the centre of St Helen’s I recognise it from a video on Heart Of Glass’s website about their bugle call commissions. Always strange to have visited a place online before you’ve been there in person, it feels like creating a false memory.

I sit with a cup of tea and aching legs and listen to Kat and Laura talk me through the programme. Struck at once by how vast each CPP project is in its scope, my mind starts fretting at the very idea of trying to represent the stories of the whole programme. But more than that, I am inspired, excited, caught up with the ambition and the scale of what people are setting out to achieve.

Sarah Butler in St Helens

Things I notice:

  • An emphasis on creating opportunities for others to make decisions, with CPP staff creating projects and deliberately not voting on panel decisions.
  • Passion. Tears over Your Name Here – a park named through a public nomination programme after an 81 year old woman with a history of abandonment and domestic abuse.
  • A fresh approach to place – creating new connections through Your Name Here.  Transforming domestic space into a place of performance, with a professional orchestra holding concerts in people’s living rooms/conservatories/gardens.
  • Threads. A conscious attempt to build connections between arts activities, so the programme builds in a coherent way.
  • Confidence. ‘People here didn’t have the confidence to call them artists’ I hear more than once. And also there’s the sense of a town with low self confidence. ‘To think, having the King’s Singers here, in St Helen’s’ Jill and Bev say. Speaking about Heart of Glass, local artist Joan tells me, ‘We thought: this is too good for us.’ I’m struck by the impact of a strong, experienced, confident team articulating their confidence in the town, its people and its artists, and what a real difference that is making. Nyesha and Rhiannon – bright, enthusiastic young artists running a pop up space in town tell me how Heart of Glass has made things possible by saying ‘You can do this, and this is how.’ As Jill and Bev commented it’s the difference between saying ‘Why us?’ and ‘Why not us?’ The local arts development manager also talks about how Heart of Glass’s existence and work has made conversations about retaining investment in the arts in the council review of services much more robust, and put the arts in a stronger position.
  • Language. I speak to Greg about the perception of the word ‘art’ and a perceived active wish from some people to disassociate themselves from it: ‘that’s nothing to do with me’. Is it a problem? On a personal level I think it is, especially when it comes to government cuts and fighting for funding...
  • The sense of a groundswell of activity that is revealing latent creativity, invisible artists; that is bringing people together by giving them something to gather around; that is reminding people they are artists or people with an interest in the arts and encouraging them to raise their game, to recommit, to take risks and grow.