Meet our new Programme Director, Rob Drummer

We’re all thrilled to welcome Rob to MarketPlace as our new Programme Director who joined the team in January. Over the coming months there’ll be lots of opportunity to meet with Rob but for now read on to hear more about his background in the arts and how you can get in touch to hear more about our plans for the year ahead.

MP: Welcome Rob! Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a bit about where you’re joining us from?

R: I have joined MarketPlace after seven years running a youth arts charity and theatre company, Boundless Theatre, a longstanding Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. Before that I have held commissioning, artist development and programming roles at the Bush Theatre in London and at HighTide Festival Theatre in Suffolk, where I started my career. Supporting diverse artists to create extraordinary theatre, as well as my work growing communities of teenagers and young adults are huge influences on my approach here at MarketPlace.

I grew up on the Isle of Wight in a working class family, with limited access to culture and am the first to appreciate how valuable creative opportunities are to living happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. I am passionate about how we build connections, especially in places that are rich in culture such as Fenland and Forest Heath; even if the resources or opportunities to be creative have historically been limited. I’m also an optimist and see only opportunities where there may be challenges. I can’t wait to learn through listening to everyone we’re working with at MarketPlace.  

MP: What are you most looking forward to over these first few months in the role?

R: I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone that we’re working with, all of the communities we’re supporting and better understanding the ways we can be helpful. I’m really keen for everyone to be honest with me and share their thoughts on what MarketPlace can be doing to support every person engaging with our activity as well as learning how we can be better and work together. I’ve already seen how much the whole MarketPlace team is here for our communities and are passionate about growing and supporting everyone to get stuck in to creative opportunities. I’m hoping that if you’re reading this, then you might share your thoughts on the culture you want to get involved with on your doorstep. Then it’s our job to turn that into action.

MP: Is there a way that people can hear more about our plans or get in touch with you?

R: Definitely, the first thing I would say is make sure you are subscribing to the newsletter you’ll then be the first to know what we’re working on and how you can get involved, as well as being able to get in touch with us directly to make suggestions.  

If you want to get in touch with me directly though, you can email and we can set up a chat to talk more. No thought is too small, or too large!

For now, thank you for your ongoing support of MarketPlace and I hope we’ll get to know each other better over the coming years.

Get on the Mural

The Get on the Mural project is a collaboration between the Walk’n’Craft group, St John’s Community Centre and artist Rose Croft. Mildenhall’s ‘Walk’n’Craft’ group (a previous MarketPlace project) wanted to work on a mural on the walls of St John’s Community Centre; and the Get On the Mural project was born.  

Working with the centre manager Luke Stokes, the group wanted the mural to celebrate the people of St John’s estate. They invited the community to nominate local people and share the stories behind the nominations. A special launch event was organised at the community centre in September, where people gathered to share their stories. 

More than 30 stories of local people, both past and present, were submitted for consideration. The ‘Walk’n’Craft’ group and the community centre committee carefully selected who would be represented on the mural. Those not included had their images transformed into stickers and pasted on the metal fence. 

MarketPlace commissioned artist Rose Croft to lead this project. Rose collaborated with the group to design the mural, which she painted onto the outside of the building. 

On October 27, the grand unveiling of the mural attracted an enthusiastic crowd. The event also showcased a storybook, compiled by The Walk’n’Craft group to accompany the project, in which all nominees were featured. 

Feedback from the project was very positive with many people saying it was “just like the old days”.

Photograph by Michael Warin

The St John’s Get on the Mural Project is in partnership with Keystone Trust.

Louise Eatock, Creative Producer, Forest Heath

Let’s Imagine a Dragon!

To discover what local residents want to see and take part in at St George’s Festival on 21 April 2024 in March, we delivered a creative consultation event called ‘Let’s Imagine a Dragon!’ Free and fun drop-in creative activities for all ages at March Library were designed to inspire play, creativity and imagination. We used the opportunity to showcase and celebrate this year’s festival, showing films featuring the parade dragon displayed in all its glory and including specially composed music by young people.

Residents were invited to interact with artists and designers including Ricki Outis, Carey Outis, Liz Falconbridge and Karin Forman at ten different stations and get hands-on with giant neon green chickens, willow crocodiles, giant skeletons, digital dragons, a poetry scavenger hunt, and more… 

Thomas Lawes, a Babylon Young Associate, showed how to draw and design your own dragon on an I-pad with Tag Tool, which could then join a ‘digital family of dragons’ projected onto the wall for all to see.

Several parents bringing their children to the library said they thought they would spend half an hour at the event, but ended up spending 3 hours, having fun themselves and watching their children dress up as mice and strawberries!

The day wasn’t just designed for children and families, it was a day which inspired everyone. Even those reluctant to take part couldn’t resist trying on Mandinga Arts’ magical puppet costumes and become someone else for a few minutes!

The young people from 20Twenty Productions came along and were hugely inspired by the creative activities, especially having fun dressing up as hyenas and zebras with Mandinga Arts. Charles, the puppet creator, was on hand to explain how the puppets were developed and made – from initial ideas, to mock ups, to the real deal!

People added their ideas for next year’s festival, as well as which activities they most enjoyed to maps created by artist Carey Outis and Beth Haysom from Babylon Arts. 

350 people came through the doors. It was wonderful to see everyone laughing, having fun and letting go in a safe, warm environment – on a very wet and windy day! 

The community voice is shaping our planning of creative activities for the festival. We are now pulling together ideas for pre-festival workshops and on-the-day activities based on feedback from local people such as let’s have:

  • Drawing and painting
  • Making dragons on the Ipad
  • Shadow puppets
  • Animated dragon drawings
  • Puppetry workshop with stuff to try on and do
  • Wildlife and dragon-inspired costumes
  • Dragon cake making
  • Storytelling
  • A choir
  • Escape room
  • Dragon egg rolling
  • Willow sculptures

‘Imagine a Dragon’ has already inspired the local secondary school to ask Mandinga Arts to put together workshops for them to create dragon heads for the parade next April.

“It was fun and amazing” – participant

“The day went brilliantly! There was so much laughter! Families seemed really engaged, even the ones that were a bit reluctant because of the word poetry’’ – Charley Genever, Poet

Many thanks to Fenland District Council and March Library for helping and hosting, and to our other partners on the St George’s Festival committee.

Peggy Mends, Creative Producer, Fenland

Writer Belona Greenwood introduces Voices of Forest and Fen

Marketplace’s area of operations stretches from the fens to forest and heath, strongly atmospheric, richly historic landscapes full of stories. Nature writer Robert Macfarlane describes entering the Fens like ‘crossing a border into another world.’ Equally, walk into the forest and you can listen to the trees bearing witness to all that has occurred around them. 

Capturing and writing creatively with the community about these unique worlds is what a new Marketplace community project, Voices of Forest and Fen is all about. Inspired by Dylan Thomas’ 1954 verse drama Under Milk Wood, our text will embody the special nature of our landscapes and the lives lived there past and present.

Those of us of an older generation might remember Under Milk Wood narrated by the hypnotic voice of Richard Burton full of strong, lyrical description of place and the comic, compassionate deeply human voices of the local population. It was a complete portrait haunted by the spirits of the dead. This is what we aim to achieve, to invite members of Fenland and Forest Heath communities to come together in a series of writing workshops to create our own verse drama of what it is to live and work here. 

The workshops are open to members of the community who want to help create this picture of where we live. We will explore what the fens and forest mean to you as individuals and build a sense of place with words – researching lives from the past who haunt our landscapes still, figures who do not have to be famous, it could be that you write about a great grandfather who had to leave to go off to war or an aunt who never set foot outside a village. We will write about the lives of people in the past, and how they lived, as well as to capture the voices of the present. We will also create monologues and dialogues from water, trees, and sky. After all this shifting land so altered over time should have a voice too. 

The workshops are open to beginners and those with experience of writing. In six two hour sessions, I will lead you through the process of research, and writing and finally, will edit everything together. There are two groups, one for the fens and one for forest and heath. 

The content of the project is very much guided by you who know the stories, have smelt the changes in the wind, and walked the paths.

We hope that some of the writing on the way to the creation of a final performance piece will become public readings at festivals and events around the region. In the end we will have our own version of Under Milk Wood – a frieze of voices over time and descriptions of the land we share that no one will ever be able to forget. 

Belona Greenwood, Writer, Scriptwriter and Creative Facilitator

Let’s Thrift Again

On 21 September Susie, MarketPlace’s Programme Director, and I headed to Billingham, Co Durham, for a weekend of ‘provoking performances and sustainable hands-on fun’ at the Festival of Thrift – and we weren’t disappointed…

This was the first time Billingham was host to this renowned national celebration of sustainability, creativity, and community spirit. We were delightfully entertained and inspired by an engaging mix of outdoor arts performances, live music, and an array of stalls featuring ethically sourced food (including the best scotch eggs ever), drinks and products.

We began our day on The Imagined Meadow being captivated by the masterful puppeteering performance ‘Out of the Blue’ by Autin Dance and the spectacular gravity-defying daring dance-circus production ‘Wild’ by Motionhouse, both of which explored our relationship with the natural environment – with water and in the air.

More at home with a camera in my hand than a needle, whilst Susie joined a sewing activity recycling fabric samples, I headed off to explore some of the other craft stalls where innovative artists were creating powerful messages of how we can collectively and individually make a difference and become more sustainable. Ellie Clewlow was inviting people to fold a module that becomes part of an origami quilt, while Yen from Paguro Upcycle was making jewellery from recycled skateboards – who’d have thought?

Stepping into The Allotment Patch everyone was captivated by the multi-sensory experience of the honey-perfumed Bee Colony tended by ethereal beekeepers from Artizani. Multiple hives each hid a unique, unexpected interior world.  Over the way, a long communal table hosted activities exploring growing and foraging.

Although we sadly missed Annie Sloan and Wayne Hemingway in conversation, we were able to hear from Annie’s colleagues’ tips about how to help reduce our carbon footprint by refreshing and restoring second hand furniture – which reminds me I have a bedside table and piano stool needing some TLC….

In Camp Thrift children of all ages were enjoying den building, music-making and storytelling.

At the Bandstand in the town centre, Tees Women Poetry were performing poems about nature, place and the environment. In Fashion Alley we watched a homage to trailblazer Vivienne Westwood, one of a series of future-facing fashion shows, spotted the Charity Shop Supermarket Pop Up and Teeside Hospice’s thrifty swap-shop, and enjoyed the eclectic mix of traders selling stylist handmade or second hand alternatives to fast fashion. 

In the library it was an unexpected delight to run into acclaimed photographer Casey Orr again. She was taking portraits of young people whilst wearing one of artists JJ Perangie’s upcycled garments.

At the end of the day we returned to Imagination Meadow where we joined others following IOU Theatre’s giant kinetic sculpture ‘The Wheel’. We left with a strong and joyous belief that we can consume thoughtfully and ethically in all aspects of our lives, and that our actions should benefit and not harm the planet.

Claire Sawford, Programme Manager

Teen Chill and MarketPlace Celebrate as mural is displayed in Newmarket

To mark the end of the project, artists from Teen Chill youth club were invited by MarketPlace for a celebration buffet at Newmarket’s Abbeycroft Leisure Centre to celebrate The Human Race mural. The co-created mural is part of the Newmarket in Colour project by Discover Newmarket and is now displayed in the leisure centre’s foyer where it can be enjoyed by the public.

Lead artist – Hilary Cox Condron – also attended along with the young artist’s family members to celebrate their achievement and hard work. The mural was inspired by the Mutiny in Colour exhibition at the National Horse Racing Museum. As part of the project, MarketPlace took members of Teen Chill to the exhibition where they were particularly inspired by artists Banksy, KAWS and My Dog Sighs, and were keen to have their voices heard in the piece. Over the course of several sessions with the young people, their voices came forwards and we discussed and experimented with ideas, themes and visuals.

MarketPlace Programme Director Susie Batchelor says: “We were delighted at how deeply committed the young artists at Teen Chill were to the project, and at the thoughtfulness of their creative responses. Hilary and everyone at the MarketPlace team loved their energy and enthusiasm. We are very proud that they have now formed an arts collective and look forward to working with them again on other initiatives including the Rivers of Light lantern parade which will take place in Newmarket in February 2024”.

Louise Eatock, Creative Producer

Newmarket in Colour Mural

Back in the Spring we began talking to the young people at Teen Chill youth club – run by Abbeycroft Leisure, Newmarket. We discussed various project ideas that they would like to be involved in and found that murals were of particular interest. We discovered an opportunity to take the project forwards by getting involved with Newmarket in Colour, a creative initiative set up by Discover Newmarket. This initiative commissioned several murals that will add colour to the public spaces throughout the town. 

We organised a visit to the Mutiny in Colour exhibition at The National Horse Racing Museum to inspire the group. They particularly liked works by My Dog Sighs, Banksy and KAWS.

We then spent two research sessions with Teen Chill, mind-mapping ideas with arts educator Hilary Cox-Condron before identifying themes and experimenting with designs. The group were keen to express themselves and give voice to their experiences. Inspired by the Mutiny in Colour exhibition, they were eager to incorporate some of the ideas they had seen into their own work.

During the first week of the summer holidays, the group spent three days bringing their ideas to life with Hilary at The Racing Centre. None of the group had ever worked at such a large scale, but they rose to the challenge brilliantly. They learned new stencilling techniques using templates and by creating their own patterns with masking tape. They worked extremely hard and at the end of the three days their piece, The Human Race, was complete. It has now been installed at the Abbeycroft Leisure Centre on Exning Road for all to see.

ACTS OF HOPE Greenwich+Docklands International Festival

The train strikes didn’t stop us travelling to Greenwich for the first day of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival on Bank Holiday Saturday. Family-friendly street theatre, circus, dance and installations took over the spectacular and historic grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark Gardens and Greenwich Park.

After a commute along the Thames, first stop was a catch up with Sara and Ralph from Without Walls to hear about artists they had supported and their recommendations. Fashion, dance and lip synching from Ghetto Fabulous was certainly one of the most fun catwalk extravaganza I’ve ever experienced. A quick break for Trigger telling the story of tea and the rituals of tea-making from their hand painted Tuk Tuk. Then on to disabled artist Oliver Macdonald’s exquisite woven willow sculptural installation – part theatre, part sanctuary – where Julie McNamara and friends performed A Woodland Wake for Midsummer. The words, music and scents of herbs under the canopy of trees were so moving.

Caroline Cardus’s celebrated disability protest artwork – together with new signs created especially for the Festival – called to courage, power and hope for disabled people in the UK was also on display in the park. Sadly, as we went for our second helpings of Fussy Foodies with Just More Productions, the storm rolled in and the entertainment was paused. But it made for an atmospheric trip back up the river….

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”

Desmond Tutu

Claire Sawford, Programme Manager

Brandon Country Park performance space opening

We were joined by the public at Brandon Country Park to celebrate the opening of the new performance space – the FireCrest Theatre. The space was made possible through a collaboration between Brandon Creative Forum, Brandon Country Park and MarketPlace, working alongside an incredible team of volunteers led by Mike Willett who worked to bring this vision to life.

We all celebrated the new space in style in the afternoon sun, with live music, poetry, storytelling and singing.

Local artist Flaming June, (led by marvellous our Creative Producer Louise Eatock) kicked off the afternoon. They performed a number of original songs which resonated beautifully within the space, showcasing the impressive acoustics that the venue offers.

Claire Sawford, Programme Manager at MarketPlace, opened up the rest of the performances by saying a few words. She spoke about MarketPlace’s work with local communities in Forest Heath (and Fenland) to help develop and support innovative and fun creative experiences. 

She went on to give a big thanks to everyone involved in creating the FireCrest Theatre including: Jill, Mike, members and volunteers at Brandon Creative Forum; Head Ranger Sarah Austin and Jackie, Paula and Malcolm and their volunteer helpers at the Country Park; West Suffolk Council for permission to create this space; and Louise Eatock AKA Flaming June, MarketPlace lead on this project.

Claire said: “We are absolutely thrilled to be a part of this great project which encourages people to come to such a beautiful spot and get creative in nature.”

Brandon Poetry Group stepped into the performance space next. They read from ‘Lovely as a Tree: Poems of the Forest‘ which was created from a recent poetry writing workshop with Melinda Appleby earlier this year. One poem ‘Plum Tree’ was written about the poet’s neighbour, who spent hours stewing the fruit from a plum tree while her husband was recovering from illness.

Celtic Essence performed by Diane Jackman
Plum Tree performed by Rosemary Appleton

Brandon’s Happy to Sing community choir took to the stage next. They performed upbeat songs such as ‘Top of the World’ and ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’.

The mic was handed back to Louise who wrapped up the day by thanking everyone involved, the performers and the members of the public who came to give their support.

What a great addition for the Brandon community. We look forward to witnessing the performances and experiences that will take place in this remarkable space in the future!