Highbridge Podcast Episode 2 - Nornen Project & Seed Sedgemoor

The Highbridge Podcast

Dec 30 2021 • 31 mins

Podcast ident  0:10
You're listening to the Highbridge podcast celebrating the people, places, and history of the Highbridge area in Sedgemoor

Mell  0:27
This season is funded by seed which is a consortium of community organizations in Sedgemoor comprising of Bridgewater senior citizens forum Bridgewater Town Council, Community Council for Somerset homes in central Somerset film, and young Somerset, which is funded and supported by Arts Council England. Creative people in places lottery funding, and the Arts Council and a warm welcome for myself melt Herford host of the hybrid podcast in this our second edition we'll be hearing from Karen Curtis, all about the northern project, and we'll be hearing from Scott O'Hara about seeds schedule before we speak to Corinne Curtis about the dawn and project let's try and set the scene is Daniel Hawthorne.

Daniel Hawthorne  1:11
It all started during the first days of March 1897. When a howling southwesterly Gale swept up the Bristol Channel, bringing with it high seas driving snow and sleet. Many ships soon found themselves in distress. Among them the Norwegian bark Nornen, which had tried to ride out the storm in the lay of the land the roads, but had found her anchors dragging. She was being driven towards Berrow mudflats. The crew desperately tried to save her, but we're fighting a losing cause. When the mists cleared on the morning of March the third, the cripple ship was spotted just off Gore sands her sails blown to rags by the Gale. Down the ramp to her aid went the Burnham lifeboat, the John Godfrey Morris, which had been on station at the town for the last 10 years, launched down the rails on the jetty. The lifeboat with its crew with 10 oarsmen battled through high seas and winds to the northern. Despite the Gale, the lifeboat managed to get alongside the helpless ship, just as she was being driven onto the sands. The ship's crew of 10, together with their dog, were taken off by the lifeboat and landed safely at Burnham at three o'clock in the afternoon. The rescue is recorded on the honors board of rescues made by the three lifeboats at Burnham during the period from 1867 to 1930, and which today stands in the entrance to the Burnham RNLI Station.

Mell  2:39
So that sets the scene for the Nornen project. So I popped along to Apex Park where I met up with Corinne, Curtis, and asked her more about the project.

Corinne, Curtis  2:49
The Nornen project is essentially creating a brand new theatrical production based on the story of the Nornen which was wrecked off the coast of Barrow. And that happened in 1897. So next year will be the 125fth anniversary. And we're telling that story. And I'm a professional actor and puppeteer, but I'm developing as a producer to make sure that I can deliver this. So I won't be performing and I'll be producing, which is plenty, and I'll go back to the beginning. So I mentioned I lived away for a little while in London. And because I'm a massive geek, I was still keeping an eye on |Burnham on Sea.com. Because Burnham is my hometown, that's where I've grown up. I love it. And there was an article about a councilor who had proposed potentially using some of the Hinkley Point money to create an outdoor performance space at the apex. And I got very overexcited and thought must show that there's a you know, support for this. And this is how it could be used if they want to put that into funding applications and things and started thinking of it. Well, the shipwreck, I knew that there was a wreck. I didn't know how it happened or anything like that. But I thought big epic kind of story where you could have a mixture of professional performers and community class so you can have lots of community involvement. And I mentioned this to this counselor and I sort of went Oh, it was just an idea. And nothing more happened. And during the pandemic. I had a chat with Nick White at Wassail theatre company they are Somerset Theatre Company. And it's all kind of gone from there really started looking into the story and it's just fantastic. It was a horrendous storm. absolutely awful, awful conditions. It was snowing sleeting gale-force winds. A lot of ships were battered in the area and the Nornen and tried to take shelter in the lay of Lundy, which being a local girl I know the name of Lundy and go I know it's nearby but I'm geographically challenged 40 miles that they were pushed by the storm from Lundy to Berrow, and it is a genuine miracle that they weren't smashed to pieces on rocks and that they landed rough they land They got absolutely wedged. It wasn't until the next morning that they were discovered when the mist cleared. And the lifeboat burn and the John Godfrey Morris was launched and sent out and it took them hours because although the main storm had died down, the winds were still horrendous. But they reached them and all 10 crew and their dog were rescued. And I just loved that there was a dog. I have lots of questions about this dog, and also images of how on earth you've got it from the ship to the lifeboat. But not only were they rescued, they were then brought ashore and given refuge by lots of locals in Berrow, and the crew and the captain was so grateful they've given various artifacts to various families that sheltered them, including the figurehead, which then gave the name to figurehead cottage in Berrow. And the figurehead is still in Berrow village hall. We've also recently discovered through doing this project that someone has the ship's bell that their ancestors were given, which is just incredible, we're starting to get lots of sort of tangible links back to it now, which given it the 125 years ago, almost is just amazing. And that's one of the things that I'm really enjoying, and I wanted to get out of it was was reaching into the community,

I want us to have the opportunity to do a really high-quality theater production in our town, we deserve the opportunity to have something really high quality. But I also don't want to just rock up and be like I've made your show be grateful. And because it's such a local story, it's so important to have that local voice in there. Which is why I decided to set it up the way that I have where we held our local history talks with the brilliant John Strickland, which of course you can see, which is fantastic. And then we're having our making theatre workshops. And then as part of the development process in January, we'll have a professional cast and creative team creating the show. But again, community members, whoever wants to come along is invited in come in and take part in that, see what we're making, how we're making it and have your say in how our story has been told. I think that's so important. And then the actual production itself will have a mixed cast. So there'll be the professional cast supported by a community cast. So we can we put that real local link into it. But yeah, as I say that all those connections that are coming out just from the history talks, and just chatting about it to people, you're just people are going oh, actually my great grandfather, or, actually my cousin has, and things like that. And it's just amazing. It's so exciting. And a really nice that say for John Strickland, who runs the local history groups. And he's he's starting to get new information coming in, because people who haven't previously they did like the history. And now seeing this and going oh, I know something to do with that, which is just fantastic. So I feel like whatever happens with the production, there will still be some legacy with capturing more information that pretty soon will be lost. I love history, particularly like ancient history, and not very interested in modern history. In censuses, like the world wars, I did a lot of that at school, but it was always the ancient history that I enjoyed with the people that you're interested in. And if you can highlight who they are, what was important to them and why it was important. But particularly with this story, the lifeboat crew chose to go out into those conditions and put their lives at risk, and for us to care about that. We need to know what those lights were. So that's why I'm really interested in digging around and finding out about that. But also, I'm looking forward in the sense of having to plan a production, which now is going to be in summer 2023. Now I'm starting to think about the potential for other kind of local history stories, but also, like John said, recording those stories that are now and I think that's a more complicated one. Because when it's so close to timelines of what is happening now that will become history soon. Is it just the in this particular moment in time? I'm thinking about that thing. I kind of operate in the two past and kind of future

Mell  9:22
Did you always know there was a story there?

Corinne, Curtis  9:25
No, No I barely even knew about the wreck. Really. Just while I was living away, actually, I came back for a visit. My dad mentioned about this wreck. And I thought What are you talking about? So he took me out to see it. So I was just sort of vaguely curious about it. And then say when I started thinking about a large-scale production that could you know, facilitate community performance as well as professional performance, something on an epic scale. So what's the story with the wreck? Then? If you go on the local Facebook pages, you'll see lots of people love taking photos of it. They don't know what it's called, and they don't know where it's coming from or why it's there. How long it's been there. So started looking into it. Oh my god, this is a fantastic story. Why have we not heard about it? Why is it not one of those local legends for everyone knows about? I think some people do, particularly those who are sort of Descendants of say, the Anderson family and things like that, you know, they have had some of those stories loosely handed down, but it's just been in passing by the sounds of it. But people seem to be fascinated, and it's such a great story. And people have so many questions, some of which we're not going to be able to answer. And just because the, the records no longer exist or have mysteriously vanished and things like that there are a few mysteries surrounding this, which is quite intriguing.

Mell  10:44
Where was the boat from again? have you found any more about it

Corinne, Curtis  10:51
Norway, so far, I did contact the Norwegian maritime authority. Last year, when I started looking into it. I didn't didn't have any response. So we know that it was Norwegian owned, it had a couple of owners prior to that it was French built, and it was bought by a company in Norway. We know that the captain was most likely Norwegian, and it was his dog. As the crew, there is no information that we've been able to find so far. And now the writer is starting her process that she's starting to look into that side, because it's the side we know the least about in terms of the crew, we just don't know the records. From three weeks prior to the wreck don't exist. The records of the resulting investigation into the wreck have gone missing. Interestingly, the captain had a subsequent ship which vanished. I don't know if he was really unlucky, completely inept, or a little bit dodgy. So don't know the movements for the I think about three weeks prior to the wreck. But they know that they were around this area, that theoretically, this group could be from anywhere in the world. Because sailors, you know, you wouldn't move from port to port and particularly that kind of journey that you're going to to and from Norway and America, there's lots of chance to pick up sailors from all over the place, which is really nice for us, because it means we can play with who is in that. And we can hear lots of different voices, rather than just assuming everyone's Norwegian therefore I've got to go to Norway, Norwegian actors, we can have anyone from anywhere, which is wonderful. And going back to the past and present thing. It's really lovely to be able to draw parallels between what was happening in the past. And what's happening now what we think might have happened in the past. Because again, it's a little bit of a soapbox moment. I love period dramas on TV, but I'm very sick of them being whitewashed, and I have various conversations with people go, Oh, you can't just put them in when they weren't there. And when you say to them, black people have been in Britain for centuries, they kind of get a bit flustered. And so I don't want to be perpetuating that idea that all of our history is white, white, white. And this is a fantastic opportunity to have all of those voices that would absolutely have been around at the time, and would really have been in the seafaring community because that was a very multinational community. But also tying that in we now we have so many people of all backgrounds, risking their lives to save people at sea, and to save people at sea no matter what their background is, like the RNLI I've been saying a lot in recent months, you know, our mission is to save lives actually doesn't matter what that life is. If it's at risk, we're saving it. And I think that's absolutely right.

Mell  13:43
Would you say that your experiences when going to school in Highbridge area and doing what you've done? Are you aware of other people that were in your year that have gone on to do things,

Corinne, Curtis  13:56
and a lot of my friends have moved away and gone off and done other things? Yeah, a huge variety. And actually, I think that's something that does need to be celebrated more is what people have gone off to do. And it's, you know, another way of saying, Look, this is a place to be proud of leaving school and having a load of children. Absolutely fine. But that's not your only option. And you know, you have options, you can have aspiration, whereas I think now they are a lot better at those things are thinking outside the box and actually really encouraging people if they don't know the answer, say, Well, let's find someone who does. I think having more stories from more people who have come from this area and come through that school, saying, Look, this is what I've done. This is an option, I think is so valuable. And it's something that I'm trying to get in there and do you generally go away to make things happen? And but I feel like we're on the cusp of hopefully things happening here. So People can come here to do things. And that's something I've been really keen on is bringing people into Somerset. And also, you know, there has been a mass exodus of creatives from the industry, but also from Somerset, particularly, you know, back in 2012. I think it was, was it 2011? thereabouts. Somerset County Council axed 100% of the arts funding. And so the Arts Council follow suit, essentially, it just really reinforced that creators aren't welcome here. That is very different. Now, there is a lot more creatively happening in Somerset kind of as a reaction to that. But it's been very, very difficult. I want to use this as an opportunity to pull some of those creatives back to Somerset, and to show that we can make that work here.

Mell  15:50
So with the Nornen Project is there an online blog, and a place people can keep coming back to me revisiting to find pictures of you on Instagram and Facebook.

Corinne, Curtis  15:59
Yes. So we have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for my sins. It really is just social media at the moment. as things progress, I will hopefully be developing a website and things like that, up until relatively recently, it has just been me is the northern project. So there is a lot to it. And it's why I'm doing all the marketing. I'm the casting director and the producer, I'm community outreach. And you know, there are a lot that I've created a bit of a monster. But now the writer, the director, designer, community outreach practitioner, they're on board. So those things will start to hand over to them.

Mell  16:43
So people go to Facebook, just putting the Nornen project Yeah,

Corinne, Curtis  16:46
N O R N E N project. And that does. And it's the same on Twitter. And Instagram is the same @ Nornen projects on all of them. And we also have an email address, which is Nornenproject@gmail.com. So if anyone has any questions, they're more than welcome to get in touch that way.

Mell  17:05
Thank you very much, Corrinne Curtis for your time and every

Unknown Speaker  17:08
successful project. My pleasure, thank you very much.

Mell  17:13
So running up towards Christmas, I'd popped along to the Cooper's Arms in Highbridge and met up with some other people that have been working on projects funded by seed Sedgemoor. And I wanted to find out more about the actual organisation. So I spoke with Scott O'Hara, the director of Seed Sedgemoor.

Unknown Speaker  17:29
HI, my name is Scott O'Hara,

Mell  17:31
the evening that we've just finished. What was the title of that? And what was it all about?

Scott O'Hara  17:34
Well, it was kind of a meeting of all of our interested people who've been pushing along creative arts activities in Highbridge over the last 12 months. So that's really two types of people. We have our Sowers and Growers, who are the community members who put their hand up to say, yes, I want to help make Highbridge, a more creative place, and have been involved in setting what the priority is going to be for Highbridge arts projects and helping us choose which ones get commissioned. The other group of people are the artists and organisers who've actually been running these activities over the last 12 months. And the whole purpose of the meeting was to bring them together so they will meet each other. Find out about each other's projects. And very importantly, help us work out how we can bring these projects together and create some kind of hub, creative hub for Highbridge that can carry forward into the future

Mell  18:37
So your accent you're not from Somerset area.

Scott O'Hara  18:39
No, I'm from Australia originally grew up in Tasmania and live most of my life in Sydney. And I've been living in the area here now for three years and working for seed since January 2020.

Mell  18:54
So what is Seed what's so special about Seed?

Scott O'Hara  18:57
So Seed is a creative people and places project. There are 31 of those projects funded across the country by the Arts Council England. Seed is the only one presently in the Southwest. And our remit is so small, and we exist to try and provide new opportunities for people in Sedgemoor to engage with arts and creativity and heritage, with a particular interest in focusing on people who don't normally engage with those kinds of things. Now that could be as an audience member, but it could also be as a participant. So our whole way of operating is to try and find out why people don't participate and put on activities they might be interested in and try to remove the barriers that prevent them from participating.

Mell  19:52
Your pilot originally started in Highbridge, but you're you're moving out and trying to expand across the Sedgman area.

Scott O'Hara  19:58
That's right. It's We're not a big enough team, we don't have enough resources to simultaneously operate across Sedgemoor all at once. But we do do some search more wide projects, like our front garden music festival. And a few months ago, we had a project on buses on Sedgemoor buses that went all over the place. So we still do a fair bit of that. The next areas we're moving to in 2022, Axbridge, Cheddar and the Polden villages. Then in 2023, we'll be bringing our attention to Bridgewater,

Mell  20:37
They all sound as though they all have very different needs, because they're all different sizes and different locations.

Scott O'Hara  20:42
Absolutely. The way that we work is the first thing we do is try to find community members who will talk to us about their place, what it means to them, what its strengths are, what its identity is, and then also about what's missing, and what they would quite like to do but isn't available in their area, or even things that maybe they've traveled to engage with or enjoyed elsewhere. And then we start to set with them priorities for things that could happen in their local community. And then we put out expressions of interest to artists, to see if they are interested in making those things happen. And then you access funds that are available. Well luckily, as I said, we've got quite solid funding from Arts Council England. We leverage that against some other sources of income. So we have at the moment, a generous annual grant from Sedgemoor District Council. We also have been able to get funding from some parish and town councils as well. Burnham On Sea and Highbridge town council have put money into Seed this year, nearly £20,000, most of which we're actually investing in a public art project on the seafront wall at Burnham and we will soon be launching a public voting process where the three best proposals we've received will be put on exhibition. And the public will be voting to see which one they actually want to see commissioned.

Mell  22:19
They're making the art because they're going to decide they want to look at

Scott O'Hara  22:22
That's it essentially it will be commissioned by the community rather than commissioned by Seed. So we've gone through the consultation process and shortlisting process. And we have teams of community representatives, our Sowers and Growers, members of the council and other people like that. Looking at the long list, to bring it down to the three that we're going to present to the community to make the choice.

Mell  22:48
I look forward to seeing how many of these projects happen over the next 12 months, and the growth of Seed across Sedgemoor with all the other projects that are about to happen.

Scott O'Hara  22:56
Yeah. It's going to be a very exciting couple of years. And hopefully, we'll be well on the way to our goal of making Sedgemoor a more creative place than it is today.

Mell  23:06
Thanks very much Scott.

Scott O'Hara  23:07
You're welcome. Good to talk to you.

Mell  23:09
Recently, I was invited to be a guest on BBC Somerset and was interviewed by Luke Knight. He wanted to find out more about the Highbridge Podcast

Luke Knight  23:18
We're on to the world of podcasts here on connected and we're taking a trip to the town of Highbridge Mell Turford is the host of the Highbridge podcast and joins me now to tell us a little bit more evening to you Mell. How are we?

Mell  23:30
Good evening, Luke, nice to hear from you.

Luke Knightr  23:31
And you, thank you for being here and talking all things podcasting. Now, it's a fascinating subject area in particular, because it's just very popular, isn't it? Everyone's listening to a podcast these days.

Mell  23:43
It's the biggest growing thing on the internet apparently at the present moment

Luke Knight  23:47
while you're leaping on that bandwagon fully on you with the the Highbridge podcast and at very rightly so because Highbridge needs to be put on the map if it wasn't already. So how did you start it? And what What made you start it in the first place?

Mell  24:03
Well it all came about because an organisation called Seed in Somerset Seed Sedgmoor. They they were looking for people to actually come forward with ideas. And I was one of many people that came forward. They were looking for creative ideas. So I came forward and suggested a podcast and other people did theater things. Some people have done painting, history things and lots of different projects. And I just wanted to sort of tap in and sort of capture the atmosphere of of what Highbridge is what it's about and the history of not only what's gone but the history that's currently being created by these projects and by people that currently live in Highbridge

Luke Knight  24:40
yes because I found now no offense to anyone who lives in Burnham but I feel like Burnham steals Highbridges thunder a little bit at times because we've got Burnham and Highbridge weekly news we've got Burnham Highbridge railway station so I mean Highbridge needs to sort of get on the map a little bit more as an independent doesn't it?

Mell  24:56
Absolutely. And and that's one of the reasons for doing the podcast. And why the organisation actually wants you to sort of fund lots of projects to promote Highbridge in particularly. So we're very proud to be connected with Burnham on sea, but we've got our own history as well. And this, there's areas where the history actually laps over in both areas. So a lot of people are very keen to sort of promote what Highbridge had to offer and what it still has to offer.

Luke Knight  25:20
So talk to me about a typical podcast, then what would you sort of delve into? Or is it a different thing each week? What sort of things do you have?

Mell  25:28
I try and try and out for different themes at different times. So I'm, I tend to be led by what what I get as feedback from the people of Highbridge. So if I'm looking for something that may be is to do with the church so that the first one I did was to do with them Blues in the Pews project, which was a music project, fantastic event, once a month. And I just thought, What a great idea blues in the pews. So I thought, well, that's in the Highbridge. And that's the sort of place that you wouldn't expect to have such an event. So that's one episode. Another episode will be about the Nornen project, which is all about the shipwreck that happened down on the Burnham coast. So we do sort of go over to Burnham side, but a lot of the events all connected with with the families that lived in in around that area.

Luke Knight  26:12
Excellent. Well, we'll look out for that. Now, you are partnered up with a local group called Seed, Somerset, aren't you tell us about that partnership?

Mell  26:20
Yes. See, this is the Southwest creative people in places project for Sedgemoor. And what they're basically about is that everybody has the right and ability to be creative. And they're just there to try and make that happen. So they're looking all the time for people who've got projects that they want to reach out to the community. And they sort of then source somewhere of getting some money to get off the ground, basically, and make it work. So they're looking for sort of their, their the bridges you so to speak, they sort of make it happen. I'm just the podcast side of things. There's lots of other things going on the theater productions. There's, there's lots of art projects, there's history things. There's just a lot going on in Highbridge at the moment and you just need to be like sort of around the area and you'll on the Facebook pages, and you'll see that there's things happening to Highbridge, that has never happened before. It's it's great. It's just great to see it here.

Luke Knight  27:10
Yeah, absolutely. But I mean, it's one thing, knowing that there's a lot to go on a lot going on in Highbridge. But it's also another thing, getting people to talk about those things, and you got lots of friendly people to talk to and get involved with the podcast.

Mell  27:21
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the people I speak to most people is, as you've probably find on the radio that I've done, nobody really wants to listen to what I've got to say. And it's just like, it's they do, you're a real person, and you have real experience. And my angle is just I don't care whether you've lived there for sort of just a couple of months or a couple of years or whether you've lived there all your life. You've got an experience and a view of what you like about Highbridge. So that's that's what I tried to celebrate.

Luke Knight  27:46
That's funny, isn't it? Yeah, we get that a lot here at BBC Radio, Somerset as well, when we call up people and just say, can you talk to us about this? And they say, you don't want to talk about that. Do you? Really? Are you interested in it? Yes. It's a story. It's not obviously it's nothing to them, really, because that's what they're involved in. But to us, it's a really interesting story. So you must get that all the time.

Mell  28:04
Yes. I mean, I try and take the angle of, I've got a real passion for genealogy. But my angle is not necessarily about just looking into the past. It's about creating the history of today. So what we what we're doing today is going to be history in the future. So I look on using podcasts as a way of capturing those pieces of history that the future generations can actually listen to these people talking about and not just read about it in a book. That's why I love radio. And broadcasting generally, is is just a great way of reaching people. Sort of spiritually, almost, because it's it's real voices real people. You're not distracted. You're just listening to a voice.

Luke Knight  28:41
That's that's what it's all about, isn't it? And how big a following Have you got? Have you got a lot of people listening?

Mell  28:47
What at the present moment, I only launched it at the beginning of last month, so I'm not sure we're just about 100 at the moment. Crikey. I'm really quite pleased considering that. Like, it's not like I've got a massive TV campaign behind me or anything. So I'm just thrown if I can build on that each month, I'll I'll be very happy.

Luke Knight  29:03
Excellent. Well, it sounds like you're doing a great job Mell. Thank you very much for coming on the program. If people want to explore this podcast, if they want to listen, how many episodes have you done so far? Well, where can people find it?

Mell  29:15
Yep, there's one episode up there. At the moment, there'll be another one going up for the next seven days. You can find it at Highbridge podcast.transistor.fm. Or you can go to Sedgemoor media.com. And you'll find the button on there. Or you can just find this on Facebook or Instagram or even YouTube. Just put in the Highbridge podcast and you'll find that I've put the audio up there as well.

Luke Knight  29:37
Excellent, simple as that. Mell, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on the program talking about the Highbridge podcast and actually I don't say this very often. Thank you for having such a crystal clear line. It has been wonderful talking to you. I can tell you deal in broadcasting, radio and podcasts because you've got your own proper microphone and everything has been a glorious experience talking to someone in such crystal clear quality

Mell  30:00
Thank you very much, Luke.

Luke Knight  30:01
All the best for 2022 and have a lovely Christmas. Mell,