CreateROSS in Ross on Wye

by Caroline Utting

A group of people arranged to meet at Ross Market Place 10am on a chilly Saturday in March. Only one of them really understood what they would be doing. The others had come with an open mind and a willingness to participate. They had been persuaded that it was worth dedicating a few hours of their time to.

Mark, the Street Wisdom leader, briefed them that the whole session would last about 3 hours but clock watching is not what it was about. Each person would work on their own to find an answer(s) to a question they had posed to themself.

The first part of the process was to split into pairs and spend a couple of minutes telling one another personal experiences of memorable streets. After a hesitant start this unlocked a number of memories and began the process. Next everyone was asked to spend 10 minutes or so on each of 4 exercises. After each 10 minutes the participants returned to Mark to give a little feedback on the experience and be given the next objective. These were to wander the streets:

being drawn to whatever caught your attention, allowing yourself to notice things and take a closer look

slowing right down to give yourself time to notice

following the story, allowing your interest to take you where it would and let a narrative develop

seeing the beauty in everything around you

The cumulative effect of the time spent doing this was that I found myself relaxing and becoming ever more aware of the buildings, people and streetscape; seeing things through fresh eyes and taking the time to enquire of others about the things that drew my interest; watching others going about their business and becoming observer as well as participant.

I was immediately so absorbed by what was going on around me I wondered off for half an hour for the first task. Because everything about this experience was fluid this didn’t matter one bit and Mark observed I had already moved onto the second stage of “slowing down” without being directed to. I was interested to hear from the others how they had “followed the story,” as they had interpreted it quite differently to me. I read a sign outside a charity shop asking for help locating a lockable filing cabinet, so I went in, found the manager and suggested a place where she might find one. Others found a story in numbers or colours on the street.

When it came to “seeing the beauty in everything around me,” I stopped wandering and just looked about. I saw families with parents caring for their children, cars slowing down to let pedestrians cross the road, a dog patiently waiting for someone to come out of a coffee shop.

The second part of the process involved going back to the question originally posed and, with it sitting at the back of the mind, spending 45 minutes or so walking the streets. The expectation was the brain had relaxed and was open to letting thoughts move through it freely and ideas develop. This was certainly my experience. Creating the necessary time and space to give consideration to a weighty matter is not always possible in our hectic lives.

For the 3rd and final part of the session everyone reassembled in a warm and comfortable setting where refreshments could be obtained and a discussion held. A cosy pub is ideal if the group isn’t too large. The morning’s experiences were gone over, the participants discussed their responses to the exercises and the thoughts that had come to them. The common experience had lowered barriers to sharing.

In this instance members of the createROSS committee formed most of the group and they each posed themselves a question around how to create a successful public festival in Ross. One wanted to know how best to engage new audiences in the arts, one what type of festival would be most suitable and I wanted to know how the members of the committee could all be persuaded to commit to organising a successful new event. The discussion was very productive with insight and clarity gained from the Street Wisdom process. Some common themes quickly developed and there was plenty of material that could be worked on at future meetings.

Thank you Mark for giving your time and experience. It was a really worthwhile activity.

A Street Wyesdom adventure at the Hay Festival

So this was the plan, right? I agreed with Street Wiz Mark , that we would attempt the, not insignificant, challenge of running a Street Wisdom Adventure during the Hay Festival…

 You are probably already on board with the difficulties that might have arisen. First and foremost (not withstanding the powerful allure of a SW stroll) there is a LOT going on in Hay during the Festival. People overfill their diaries with the sumptuous cultural cornucopia on offer. They dash madly from a lecture on late Byzantine art to an interactive exercise in philosophy combined with t’ai chi (or something similar)
It can be hard to stand out in this kind of context…and so it proved. This Street Wisdom Adventure didn’t quite take off in the traditional way and although we did not manage to prise any people away from their Festival fayre; Street Wisdom delivered in exactly the way that is normally does – unexpectedly. And this is how –
  • Rachel ( Mark’s wife) ran into a very old  friend, Penny, that she had not seen for over 10 years. Someone indeed, with whom she had crossed America, in her youth. Needless to say,  If we hadn’t set off on our Adventure, then they would not have met.
  • As we walked the beautiful streets of Hay, handing out leaflets (I had never been before) we met and talked to a large number of  people. It seems everyone is friendly in Hay!
  • At the Festival itself, we listened to a wide range of wonderful talks – from Eddie Butler (Rugby author and commentator), Victoria Hislop and from a Curator of the British Museum talking about their new exhibition : ‘Defining Beauty – the body in Ancient Greek Art’
  • Finally, we were blown away by the amazing The Unthanks in the evening concert. The trumpet solo on Mount The Air was sensational.
Thanks to Mark, his lovely wife Rachel and their two daughters, for kindly putting me up in their beautiful and peaceful home.
The big (and rather marvellous) learning from my Grand Street Adventure to Hay, is that Street Wisdom doesn’t always deliver in the way you expect; but it never disappoints.
Here’s to the next Adventure!!
Nick Hammond

Sunday Assembly meets Street Wisdom

Street Wisdom meets Sunday Assembly

Most people think of the street as just a way of getting from A to B. We hurry along, avoiding contact, screening out the city with our iPhones, blanking strangers, heads down and thoughts turned inward. Street Wisdom sees it differently. We think the street is an amazing place if you are curious and willing to break the rules of ordinary life.

So it was a thrill for us to discover Sunday Assembly – a whole tribe of people who basically think the same way as us. And even more of a thrill to be invited by the Sunday Assembly team to hold a Street Wisdom event in London last weekend when their normal venue wasn’t available so the street was, by happy coincidence, the venue anyway.

We’ve been experimenting with Street Wisdom for years, refining the experience to the point where we can now give it away as shareware to anyone who’s interested. It’s free, it’s simple and it’s surprisingly transformational.

The Sunday Assembly event forced us to simplify the experience even more as we had more people attending and less time than usual. We gathered at 11am for a bit of a briefing and a mingle. There was no real ‘ice’ to break as Sunday Assemblers seem to arrive pre-warmed up. (“You’re one of us” said a smiling lady on the street as I arrived for the set-up. “I can tell by your smile”. Sweet.) Then 200 people spilled into London’s streets to first “tune” their senses and then “ask the street a question”.

After an hour everyone was invited back to share their tales what they learned.

“Bizarrely amazing!…The thinkiest I’ve ever been…It was AMAZING…a very tangible hour of meaningfulness… I started off with quite low expectations of what I would get from this hour, but I can now say it was a revelation!”

Tweets went out:

V positive experience on my 1st @Street_Wisdom walk: seeing London afresh & thinking differently

Particularly wanderful @SundayAssembly today! Recommend everyone tries @Street_Wisdom.

One person told us “I didn’t arrive at a definite answer, but that’s ok. Doors have been opened, more wanders will be had.”

And that’s the point. There are many streets out there. And many Sundays. And now more people able to gain some Street Wisdom. Altogether it’s a wander-ful life!