When fledgling arts organisation Twisted Trees Productions found itself struggling to fly, founders Ami and Melanie didn’t give up. Instead, they embarked on a Window Wanderland journey that brought hope to their neighbourhood and a new lease of life to their creative enterprise.
In September 2019, life was on the up. Postgraduate artists and former art teachers, Ami Horrocks and Melanie Cove had teamed up to form Twisted Trees Productions and had embarked on delivering art and wellbeing workshops to clients including Manchester City Council. Despite this successful start, by the spring of 2020, it was clear that Covid-19 was going to have a significant impact not only on Ami and Melanie’s day-to-day lives but on their ability to deliver their creative workshops.
As the pandemic wore on, the two artists were looking for ways to lift each other’s spirits and to bring some joy to their neighbourhood. It started with Halloween. They challenged each other to create spooky window displays to give local children something to enjoy while they were out on their trick-or-treat trail. In the run-up to Christmas, they noticed that the residents of one local street had put up their lights early, so Ami and Melanie challenged them to fill their windows with colourful Christmas art displays too. Having seen the positive effect these artworks were having on people, the pair decided to embark on a Window Wanderland for the whole village of Romiley.
“Being a part of Window Wanderland nationally gave us credibility”, explains Ami. “We applied for funding from Stockport Community Fund and we were successful. We also invested some of our own money to produce packs of materials to sell for a small profit. People loved these and were more than happy to buy them to contribute to the event.”
While the village of Romiley is a gateway to the Pennines National Park, it is also on the fringes of Stockport’s urban area and many of its residents live in a large social housing estate. Keen to make their Window Wanderland open to all, Ami and Melanie secured a bursary from the local council to provide resources free of charge to less well-off residents.
Ami and Melanie put their art teaching experience to good use. They created a help sheet to get people started, flyers with inspirational images, along with the packs of materials. They also ran some online workshops and produced videos. Melanie focussed on strategy and logistics, Ami on the materials.
They set about contacting all the volunteer organisations in the village with a view to cascading some of the activities, including the Friends of Romiley Station and Sustainable Living Romiley. They even braved a particularly rainy day in the park to encourage local residents to take part! Ami had good contacts at her children’s school and offered them free art lessons, resulting in a splendid Year 6 display for the school windows.
Given the very broad demographic of people taking part, Ami and Melanie kept things really simple – all window displays were to be made using the stained-glass window effect, using coloured paper and black card. This gave the designs a consistent identity, and provided a level playing field for participants and a simple framework in which people could work – “Too much choice brings misery!” laughs Ami.
Romiley Window Wanderland’s theme – ‘Spring: growth and hope’ – was deliberately positive. Melanie explains. “Running the Window Wanderland gave me a purpose and a feeling of hope… that’s where the theme came from. We wanted people to be able to tell their own story and to understand that they don’t need to be an artist to tell that story through art. Some lovely stories came out of it. One little girl had recently helped with lambing, and used that as the inspiration for her window display.”
The process of making was a really important part of the Window Wanderland, especially given the impact of the pandemic. The Twisted Trees team ran a Window Wanderland workshop with new parents while their children were with babysitters. This had a profound impact on the people who took part – the opportunity to temporarily step away from their parental responsibilities, to be creative, to tell their story, had a hugely therapeutic effect.
Twisted Trees also worked with volunteers at the Life Centre, Romiley’s community hub, to create a huge group art piece for the Centre’s window – a pictogram map showing all the voluntary organisations in the village. This was no mean feat – there was a very short turnaround time and they had to be extremely careful about Covid safety – but it was great to have such an eye-catching window display in the centre of the village to introduce to the Window Wanderland event.
Ami and Melanie put a huge amount of effort into supporting their Window Wanderland creators and were managing communications with more than 100 people in the run-up to the event. They even went the extra mile to photograph all the windows and compiled these images into a thank you card for everyone who took part.
Ami’s Window Wanderland design“Running a Window Wanderland is hard work but great for your mental health” reflects Ami. This hard work certainly paid off. Romiley Window Wanderland ran for two weeks, longer than most, and people continued to sign up and add window displays throughout, bringing the total to 68 beautiful and inspiring windows! It brought something fresh and uplifting to the neighbourhood at a time when people had been bored walking the same old streets.
By taking on this challenge, the two of them significantly upskilled, extending the expertise the Twisted Trees team now have to offer, including community engagement, publicity and digital skills. Despite not being fans of social media, they now have a profile on both Instagram and Pinterest. “It pushed our arts organisation out to somewhere we wouldn’t have been so quickly. We started working with the public much sooner than we would have done, especially with Covid. We made links within our community and it’s given us a lot of confidence,” explains Melanie.
Stockport Together Again
Some of the window designs are to be exhibited at Stockport Art Gallery Stockport Together Again – an exhibition celebrating the impact of arts on health and showcasing Stockport’s lockdown creativity – Until Sunday 14 November 2021.
All being well, Twisted Trees plan to return next year with another Window Wanderland.
Top tips from the organisers
- Start a spreadsheet to keep track of everything.
- Don’t do it on your own, there’s a lot to do!
- Assign roles so you’re clear who’s doing what.
- Try to get clusters of windows together, to make it feel more like a trail.
- Streets that started Window Wanderland WhatsApp groups had a lot of take-up.
- Romiley Window Wanderland Introduction Spring 2021
- Spring Growth and Hope at The Life Centre timelapse
- Construction of The Life Aquatic display timelapse
Would you like to run Window Wanderland in your own neighbourhood?
Don’t go it alone — join the Window Wanderland family! As you’ve heard from Ami and Melanie, running a Window Wanderland can be quite a challenge and requires a lot of planning and organisation. Our resources and toolkits will help you navigate this journey and will literally put your event on the Window Wanderland map!
Window Wanderland CIC is a community enterprise dedicated to reducing social isolation and bringing about positive experiences through involving people in the creative arts. We have a wealth of experience and have provided support to more than 200 Window Wanderland events, including Romiley Window Wanderland.
Our range of toolkits include resources such as advice guides, map listings, trail maps, publicity support and an email platform for keeping in touch with your window makers.