From 2016-2019, we were granted the Arts Council Ambition for Excellence Award to create a major new partnership work in St Helens with Heart of Glass, ANU Productions, and the women of St Helens.
The resultant project, Helen, addresses a deep and radical need to dismantle in order to reveal, expose and rebuild. Developed in a town with a higher than national average of domestic abuse, Helen responds to an urgent need to address violence against women in all its forms; the systematic, the structural, the domestic and the social.
Women in the Arts and on Tools
Helen was concerned with the lack of progress for women across the board but for this project specifically in arts employment and trade; in the technical, design, photography and production roles and also the sizeable barriers women face in construction and trade industries.
Idle Women formed a cross-sector collaboration with women in trade, including electrical engineer Diane Mills, female plumbing franchise Stopcocks, and female film company Luca, to ensure that only women were employed in every aspect of Helen. Training opportunities, including a film school and construction training, were embedded and Stopcocks launched their third annual Women Installers Together as part of this project.
Idle Women often work to create partnerships with specialist support services for women. For Helen, we partnered with the Helena Domestic Violence Refuge. Women and children learnt bricklaying: through a process of watching YouTube videos and working it out together, we created brick planters in the communal garden space that were filled with edible plants as well as installing a fruit orchard on the grounds for everyone to enjoy.
Idle Women Institute
Idle Women invited women to join a programme of skills workshops at the Refuge and at the repurposed Idle Women Institute in the town centre. Developed with Diane Mills and Stopcocks, these workshops included using power tools, learning the principles of electrics and plumbing, as well as other survival skills such as bolt cutting, lock picking, and disguise.
Through these workshops, we dismantled the interior of a street-level building, removing walls and fittings, then renovated the space to install heating, a kitchen, and new wiring, resulting in a fit-for-purpose space made by and for women.
Land Rover Project, Dina Rončević
The space to the rear of the Idle Women Institute was transformed into a workshop for mechanics and welding. We drove a Land Rover Defender into the space, and artist Dina Rončević worked with groups and individuals to explore the basics of mechanics before completely dismantling the vehicle. The project culminated in a series of 1:1 MIG welding workshops.