A set of 7 cards with hand-drawn illustrations on them. The largest in the centre has a drawing of an anatomical human heart over a pink traditional heart-shape
Navigating with Kindness by Lydia Bevan

Navigating with Kindness series – a response from Alan Lane, Slung Low

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15 May 2020

The latest piece in our series of responses to prompt cards from our resource Navigating with Kindness comes from Alan Lane, Artistic Director at Slung Low.

Slung Low is an award-winning theatre company specialising in making epic productions in non-theatre spaces, often with large community performance companies at their heart. They are located at The Holbeck in Leeds, the oldest working men’s club in Britain. There, they run a traditional members bar, while the rest of the building is an open development space for artists. Slung Low believes that access to culture is a fundamental part of a happy life, and that actions, however small, can have a big impact.

Alan is our second contributor in this series to reflect on the prompt card “Are you living your values?”. (You can read the first response to this card from artist Maria Amidu here on our news and blogs page).

The given prompts were:

Are your core principles and values being enacted in your life at this testing time? Are they being challenged or encouraged?

In what ways is the Covid-19 situation prompting you to behave differently, perhaps to reflect more on your values and to behave or respond differently. Have you noticed others – individuals or organisations/institutions – adjusting their behaviour to better reflect their core values?

Alan responded with the following piece, which invites us all – both as individuals and as organistions – to ask ourselves “What are we for?”…

Living your values

What are we for? It’s a question that we’ve been asking a lot in the last two months.

We know what we are much more clearly than what we are for.

We are a theatre company. We make theatre. Are we FOR that? We run the oldest working men’s club in Britain. We sell beer. Are we FOR that?

We can’t do any of those things now. Halted first by concern (our members using the club are predominately the elderly, with what we now know are called “underlying health conditions”), and then by government decree.

So, what are we for? When in doubt cling to each other. When sinking, hold to the mast. That is one of our mottos (we sink things more than you would imagine). Run to the centre of the thing when things get difficult. Send the blood to the heart when in danger.

The heart.

What are we for? We’re not for selling tickets. We’re not for selling beer. We’re not, it turns out, much for selling anything.

Do we make something then? Are we makers? What are we for? In this crisis we’re spending most of our time doing two things. I’d argue that they are both creative acts. Both acts of love. And both acts of service.

We became the ward lead for social care referrals. What that really means is we call people in trouble, promise them food and whatever else they need, find it and deliver it. By sundown. We work with 80 volunteers, the tiniest budget for anything we’ve ever done, and it takes all day. Every day.

And we opened an art gallery. We posted a letter through the door of three and a half thousand houses saying, if you paint something, or draw something or  take a photo and leave it on your doorstep, we’ll take a picture and print it on waterproof board and mount it on a lamppost.

These two things are stories.

We’re story tellers.

The first story is that no one in our community gets left behind: if you are hungry you will be fed. We tell the story and then we pay the price of that promise- which is to make it true.

And the second story is that each of these locked down homes in our community is crammed full of creative brilliant people: people capable of making art that’s worthy of being exhibited, of being seen by their neighbours.

This is what we are for. This is the heart you rush blood to when in danger. It is the mast you cling to when the water level rises. We tell big stories and then make them true in the world.

So, what are you for?

Funded by

Arts Council England
Paul Hamlyn Foundation