Read the poem marking a year since The Spring Arts Centre in Havant was forced to close due to the pandemic

A heartfelt and poignant poem has been written to mark the anniversary of an arts centre’s enforced closure due to the pandemic.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 8:57 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd April 2021, 9:02 pm
Poet and performer Arji Manuelpillai. Picture by Martin Brown

But the poem, The Story of a Building, also celebrates those who make The Spring Arts Centre in Havant more than just bricks and mortar – and also looks to a ‘bigger and bolder and stronger and taller’ future.

Poet and performer Arji Manuelpillai was commissioned to write the piece.

He says: ‘We've done a lot of work with The Spring in different capacities, so even though we're far away, we're quite connected to them.

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‘It's really exciting to be part of what The Spring’s doing, and have a relationship with an arts centre that's making change locally.

‘My partner is a visual artist, she's done outdoor games with them and trails for children, we also run a theatre company so we've been there a lot with shows.’

As A Line Art, Arji and his partner Anna Bruder have previously worked with The Spring on projects including Fold Our Town, Ready Steady Lift Off and the Climate Challenge board games in local libraries. They also designed their interactive museum trail.

At Christmas Arji did a project with The Spring where he wrote personalised poems for the centre’s supporters and then delivered them on the phone. The idea for this poem grew from there with centre director Sophie Fullerlove.

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‘That was really good during lockdown,’ says Arji, ‘so then Sophie suggested we try this little thing, and it's turned into something quite big now.

‘Initially it was a just an idea to raise some awareness that they were going to reopen and that they're excited about it.’

While the poem relates specifically to The Spring, it also speaks to the wider struggles which the arts world has faced over the past year.

‘It's been a difficult time because there's uncertainty surrounding the theatre industry and the arts in general,’ adds Arji. ‘Then at the same time it's been a year of innovation and creativity because we had to innovate to find work.

‘I've found a way of working on Zoom that I never thought was possible from last year to now – we did an online series funded by The Arts Council, I did a series of workshops funded by the Corn Exchange in Newbury, I've written about 50 poems over the phone for people in Stockton and Havant and in Suffolk,

‘We've found ways of working, so it made me realise we put brackets on ourselves saying: “I'm a poet,” or “I'm a whatever,” but at the end of the day, if you're able to respond creatively to the challenges that you face, then you can do whatever you want.

‘It's the act of being creative that's important.’

It’s been a weird quirk of the past year that it has also opened Arji, who comes from a Sri Lankan background, up to new markets that he’d never even considered before.

‘For a long time it was working blind, then slowly we managed to turn it around a bit more.

‘It's a very real battle trying to find the market.

‘Now I’ve got a global market to pitch my workshops to. I get 10 or 15 people to sign up at £10 or whatever and then suddenly you've got yourself a model, whereas before, to get 15 people to a venue to pay money that was asking quite a lot. Now they're more open.

‘It's weird because it's made us more global – we can reach America and other parts of the world but at the same time, the pandemic and the worries of Brexit are doing the opposite of that – making us smaller.

‘It's crazy on Zoom – I ran workshops with LGBTQ people from the Tamil community, which is my heritage, from nine different countries, coming together and talking about queerness.

‘It's crazy to think I've never met a Tamil person who's queer before, let alone 15 coming together in a Zoom chat – there were people from Malaysia and Canada – and you think: “Wow, you can make change globally now”.

Arji also believes that smaller, independent centres have been able to respond quicker to the pandemic than the big organisations.

‘I really think the smaller arts venues, places like The Spring have really blossomed because they've been able to react and be responsive to the challenges they've faced.

‘Whereas the bigger venues, like here in London, say South Bank Centre, The Barbican – they can't do that because they've got layers and layers of people working there, and that's so important.

‘The arts need to be responsive in that way, it needs to look at what the politics of the situation is right now, instead of us just responding to grants and the application process.’

With this new-found access to a wider, global audience, Arji hopes this won’t be lost when we return to ‘normal.’

‘I hope that time and money is put into evaluating and understanding the stuff we've learnt, and how we can take the online aspect of the work into the sphere of being in real life and the coming together of those two worlds.

‘And when it does, it's going to change the way everyone looks at numbers because the engagement online is so different to engagement in real life and how you measure those things.

‘Then funding is given for a certain area, but you could get people coming in from, say, Ghana or something. What do you do then?

‘Some workshops I've done, for young people with special needs and learning difficulties, they have to ask them: “Are you from this postcode? Otherwise you can't do it...”

To see more about A Line Art click here.

To hear Arji’s poetry podcast and find out more about his work, click here.

To find out more about The Spring, go here.

The Spring

This is the story of a building,

A special building, a closed building,

Been 'closed for a year' type of building,

With a museum on 40 winks,

And a main space that's now mainly space,

A layer of dust like dew before the sun comes up,

A theatre with curtains as heavy as dislocated arms,

Lights: closed eyes, costumes are lost ghosts,

A string of posters for shows that never were

A cafe deserted like a spaghetti western

When the baddies come out

But this isn't a sad story,

Because we've seen too many of those,

This is a story of hope, a story of a building

Bigger than the sum of its bricks,

A building disguised as a human pyramid

Of volunteers and runners and actors, web designers,

Delivery drivers, musicians and artists and staff

And YOU thousands of you, all stood arm in arm,

With poems in your hands, paint in your fingernails

Stitching together a hundred origami cats

YOU on a kitchen table slash stage slash desk

YOU turning a living room into a theatre

Transforming a pan into a hat

Fairy wings from cereal boxes

All of you, you are this building

A building that will reopen bigger and

Bolder and stronger and taller

To let the world know

This is more than just a building

This is The Spring

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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