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.

The Listeners - Bolsover Stories

The Listeners by Nicole Mollett

Before going to visit First Art (which cover the areas of Ashfield, Bolsover, Mansfield and North-East Derbyshire) to see their first major event in Bolsover, I decided to do a bit of research. The night before I set off I googled ‘Bolsover’. I learnt that the town’s history is entwined to that of coal mining, and it is home to a grand 17th century castle where antiques roadshow was filmed in July 2015.

However, if you took the 2011 census results as gospel, you might think that Bolsover is the "Satanic capital of Britain". In the most recent census, 17 people in Bolsover wrote Satanism as their religion. Suggesting that there exists a healthy sense of humour in the town! Or if you read a recent BBC article about the Office for National Statistics well-being survey ( you’d be forgiven for thinking the town was in the depths of a depression, being listed as ‘Least happy place’ in the UK. What questions did the ONS ask I wonder?

Not willing to make judgements on these flimsy fragments of evidence, I set off on a five hour drive with my mum as navigator.

First Art’s operations manager, Kevan Jackson, was the first to greet us. We arrived at Creswell Crags ( one of the project partners, and the site of Britain’s only known Palaeolithic cave art. We had a chat about the progress First Art has made. I was particularly impressed by one of their earlier projects; live streaming of the Bolsover District Festival of Brass (you can watch it here; Apparently people from all over the world tuned in to watch and listen to this fantastic event. This is a brilliant way to start engaging with a community; to begin with what is already there. To acknowledge and support the existing talent and creativity.

The Caves

The following day we were booked onto the first performance by Inspector Sands. Kevan kindly arranged for us to go on a tour of the caves prior to the show. Just after 9am  we were led us to the depths one of the larger caves by our guide John Cartledge, where he explained in detail the marking of human and animal forms. It was a magical experience. My first reaction was Wow! How is it possible that something that is so important, a 14,000 year old sign of human creativity is not better known? Surely a site of such significant should have brown signs off the motorway. Although not directly a product of CPP, Creswell Crags made me think that there is often a tendency to not recognise or truly value what we already have or do. To be proud and celebrate our own unique identity takes courage, recognition, and determination.

We arrived in Bolsover just in time to join the first group going on ‘A High Street Odyssey’. We were given a bag, with an umbrella in, and some headphones to listen to the tour. It started fairly innocently, going from shop to shop down the high street. The voice gave us anecdotal information about the different shopkeepers’ lives, why they started their business, and what they love to do in their spare time. The listeners were encouraged  to empathise with the individual, the narrator invited us to look beyond the glazed surfaces and inspect the details. As we moved towards the market place the pace of the performance quickened. The voice become more agitated and lively. To my surprise I suddenly realised there was an actor is disguise who was speaking to us live, via a microphone. As he moved quickly through the crowd, it dawned on me that this was no ordinary high st tour.

Without recounting the whole act (so as not to spoil it for others), it is safe to save that Inspector Sands suttley subverted everything I had come to assume about the town. It made me look again, with newly inspired curiosity at every seemingly normal detail and member of the public. Nothing was left untouched. Strangeness is out there everywhere!

After this transformative experience, I visited the series of artworks which inhabited the front garden of the Castle. The Can-do Pop-Up cinema supplied us with welcome refreshments, allowing us to view a series of short films from both international and local origin in comfort. I enjoyed the film made by local teenagers talking to senior citizens about their lives during WW2. The young film makers articulate and intelligent observations were impressive. There was also a fictional short, made with a singular actor, about a miner trapped underground. A very harrowing piece, beautifully shot.

Young persons films


Mobile mueum

Next to this was The Moveable Museum with a work entitled ‘Good Pretty Things/Pretty Good Things’ by Katie Smith and Kate Genever. Inside an old caravan was displayed a collect of everyday objects, people had donated to the museums. Things like found rubber bands, bits of crockery, or small plastic toys. This work celebrated smaller treasures, finding meaning in obscure objects. On the outside of the caravan was hung a series of banners, all with phrases overheard by the artists in the town. Things like ‘No meat Man’ or ‘Alreet Fer Mashin’. These artworks were another celebration of local distinctiveness, picking up on the strong characters who live here.

We moved to the Babbling Vagabonds’ tent, to view the shadow puppetry show they had made with the children from a local primary school. We watched an tale of a mischievous spider, who causes havoc in a toy shop. Seeing the animation was a joyful experience. I could sense that the artists had given the children complete freedom. Thus harnessing their natural imagination, which flows so uninhibited from a younger mind.


spider animation

If it weren’t for the bitter cold, we would have stayed well over an hour speaking to the artists, they had many more stories to tell us. There were plenty more  projects to see at multiple venues across the town. However by this point, my opinion on Bolsover had already transformed beyond recognition. The Bolsover Stories festival made me realise that even with a sometimes unhappy past, with the help of a few artists a town can celebrate its identity, and in doing so turn around its’ future fortunes.


Umbrella Flash mob

Text and drawing by Nicole Mollett