As a freelancer I am fortunate enough to have a number of long term working relationships with organisations, people and places. The longest standing of these is the Conway Centre, standing tall on Anglesey. I write this just before I pack my car and head down one of my favourite roads, the A55. (Now my job involves a lot of roads so indulge me this!)
Do you know about this place? It’s a very special place to me and very many thousands of young people that have passed through it’s doors over the decades of it’s existence. Butted up along the banks of the Menai Straits, its history is linked to the HMS Conway. A Merchant Navy training school for its boy sailors. I have been in the entrance as slightly misty eyed elders have asked to come into the building to see the awe inspiring painting of the buildings namesake and predecessor, sat on an oil painted Mersey River.
I first came here as a PGCE Drama trainee teacher in 1993. A weekend for Cheshire Teachers that introduced me to many like-minded colleagues and subsequently friends.
One of the greatest fortunes of my professional life was training to become a drama teacher with the astonishingly wonderful and much missed John Welshman. Anybody with the good fortune to have met and worked with John will know what I am talking about. Via John and our brilliant lead tutor Professor Allan Owens I was introduced to the centre and subsequently Simon Taylor, the drama advisor for Cheshire at the time and the other most significant influence of the educator I hope to aspire to be today, the peerless and equally missed, Sue Welshman.
During my first year of teaching I took my first overnight school trip to the Centre for the GCSE Drama Weekend. Now a powerful institution that I have the privilege to still be part of today. One of the artist workshop leaders had decided he was going home. I remember Sue coming to me and saying, (not asking that is important because just saying that I would do it was empowering enough for me!) that I would complete his day of workshops.
It was exhilarating just being asked and I have contributed to the vast majority is of these high quality weekends ever since. Three more weekends following the vision of this simple but incredible model are lined up this year, driven by the brilliant Debbie Cottam and led by Dr Helen Newall and myself.
Every couple of years I get stopped somewhere, usually in Chester but it has happened elsewhere and asked if I am that ‘drama guy’ from the Conway Centre? One of the many thousands I may have menaced on one of these weekends… Always happy to say hello and they are always nostalgic of their experience.
I could wax lyrical of the 10 day summer schools when we would arrive with an idea and up to 100 young people and leave with a unique production to take a back to Cheshire. As it was!
The many drama workshops, storytelling sessions, even staff training I have delivered there means that though I may only walk into the building a couple of dozen times a year it feels a bit like coming home.
I have hired the centre in my time, notably for my 40th birthday weekend. When I taught full time I was part of whole year group trips that involved Outward Bound activities, woods, problem-solving, ropes high and low and the beautiful docks.
Long may it continue with its high aspirations of providing amazing experiences for all the young people that walk through its columned entrance.
I have learned there, laughed there and felt a bit like I have lived there.
Have you? It would be great to hear your stories, your experiences and perhaps see some of your pictures too.
Off I go. I wonder if there will be snow on the mountain?
My visiting artist bio at the centre
If you are interested discussing Drama Workshops, Storytelling or any other collaborative project we might develop together – do say hello!
SPECIAL OFFER! To celebrate the release of Cathy Cross & Jane Hewitt’s brilliant book:
All bookings taken in January & February 2016 will receive a free copy from me on my arrival!