Promoting equality in Milton Keynes through the Arts

Budding stars of the stage performed to highlight all people are equal and should enjoy social, political and economic rights and opportunities.

Image copyright: Shaun Armstrong

Back to Back Theatre

One of Australia’s most successful arts organisations, Back to Back Theatre’s work is driven by the belief that all people are, in principle, equal and should enjoy equal social, political and economic rights and opportunities. At the heart of the organisation is an ensemble of professional actors, some of whom have learning disabilities. In addition to producing award-winning live theatre shows that tour internationally, the company also develops experimental residency models that promote collaboration between artists and host communities. Their distinctive approach and ethos has been the focus of previous academic research .

The Democratic Set

Originally devised and designed by Artistic Director Bruce Gladwin, The Democratic Set is one of those residency models. It is an approach to creating short films and performances that, when edited together, capture a unique picture of a community at a particular moment in time. Using a custom-made film set — a neutral room with two opposing doors — The Democratic Set is also a physical space to be pushed, extended or manipulated, with each participant having full control over what they do with, or on the set.

Image copyright: Shaun Armstrong

The Democratic Set MK

The Stables, the charity that produces IF: Milton Keynes International Festival, managed the delivery of the Democratic Set in Milton Keynes for The Open University, working with Ursula White of Independent Cinema Milton Keynes (ICMK) to engage the widest possible range of local participants though a community liaison programme.

The 2011 census reports that people of BAME origin made up 26% of the population of the Borough of Milton Keynes and 18.5% of people living here were born outside of the UK.

In addition to those recruited by Ursula, Milton Keynes residents who were walking through centre:mk on the days of the filming were also invited to take part, adding to the diversity of participants. Participants were given the freedom to express themselves as they wished on set, so were not ‘directed’. However, the project was framed by the question of ‘home’, and the meanings of home in a fast-paced, globalised world, and aimed to showcase the diverse individuals and communities that make Milton Keynes their home.

Those who call Milton Keynes their home

The 2011 census reports that people of BAME origin (those identifying as an ethnicity other than White British) made up 26% of the population of the Borough of Milton Keynes and 18.5% of people living here were born outside of the UK. These figures are likely to have increased since 2011 as the local population is estimated to have grown by more than 5% since then. What is more, large technology companies from both India and China have opened UK bases in the city that have attracted workers from overseas.

  • What does it mean to have, to create, to be, or to feel at home?
  • What makes different communities and individuals — migrants, refugees, minorities, the differently abled, the young, the old, those with and without physical homes — feel or be at home?
  • How do we dwell, inhabit, or create a home in a world of instability, inequality and flux? How do make homes an era of migration? Can one be at home whilst on the move?
Image copyright: Shaun Armstrong
  • Is having a home the same as being or feeling at home?
  • Is having a physical home a sufficient condition of feeling at home? Is it a necessary condition?

The film

Before watching the film, take a few moments to think about what you expect to see in this portrait of a community. Afterwards watch the film and reflect on the questions below.

What does your home mean to you?

Think back to some of the questions we’ve previously asked:

  • What does it mean to have, to create, to be, or to feel at home?
  • What makes different communities and individuals — migrants, refugees, minorities, the differently abled, the young, the old, those with and without physical homes — feel or be at home?
  • How do we dwell, inhabit, or create a home in a world of instability, inequality and flux? How do make homes an era of migration? Can one be at home whilst on the move?

“I don’t really have anywhere that I feel at home”

Here is some of responses participants had to say about their own perceptions of home — including how family, music, and the digital images that they carry in their pockets make them feel ‘at home’:

“When we were first married we lived in five houses in about four years. We had one big rug, very little else, but wherever we went, when that rug went down it was home.”

“When all the things that matter are digitally stored, how do we keep our digital home safe?”

“Home is not bricks and mortar is it? Actually, when I go to my house, I don’t like being there.”

“It’s not that it’s necessarily that house that is home, and it does feel like home, but I think it feels like home because I have so much memory entwined in that space. It’s your memories, no one else’s, you are the embodiment of your home.”

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