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Dreamboats – Collecting Flood Recollections, Advice, Hopes in Kirkstall

One of the tough nuts to crack for an organisation called Playful Anywhere is how to inject an element of playfulness into collecting responses to an event like flooding. If you have been impacted, its was probably not much fun and we didn’t want to make light of that. Also, we were very concerned to not lay claim in some way to the amazing community response to the floods – the glory very much belongs to those who did the messy, cold, hard work to get Kirkstall back onto its feet and continue to do so – we just want to find a different way of documenting it.

With this in mind, we took this question to Playful Anywhere’s People Place Play event held at  ODI Leeds on 22nd April. This was a gathering of people “doing amazing stuff in neighbourhoods, city centres and with communities which bring smiles to peoples faces.”

The workshop part of the day gave opportunities to prototype how you might approach a community project in a playful way, so we used this as a chance look at how we might use origami boats to collect stories, ideas, advice – we called the idea “dreamboats”.


Dreamy Mc Dreamboat

Thanks to everyone at event took part and helped us to work out whether making boats might practically work, what sort of questions might work well and how to approach a difficult subject. The teamwork paid dividends! There were loads of other brilliant ideas prototyped, including Elaine Cresswell from Blue Green Liverpool‘s and team’s crazy golf course!


Elaine and team’s crazy golf


Prototyping at People, Place, Play

Before releasing the dreamboats idea onto the world we further gamified it by adding a spin the bottle select a numbered question and we also decided to add the boats to a giant bottle – a ship-in-a-bottle message-in-a-bottle to the artist, Gemma.


We collected messages, drawings, advice, stories and plans, on specially printed paper, and then folded them into boats at the Flood Clean Up Party organised by Team Kirkstall, and at a 6-day residency in Playbox01 at Cardigan Fields Leisure park, right next to the River Aire (a site that flooded back on Boxing Day).


Gemma Latham – waiting for your message in a bottle

The messages in the bottle were sent to Gemma to be shaped into pieces of Caddis. More of that in our next post…

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Creating Caddis: Collecting Reactions to the Boxing Day 2015 Floods

The next few blog posts will tell the story of how the Flotsam & Jetsam team have collected recollections, reactions, advice, objects and data about the floods that occurred on Boxing Day 2015 to feed into the design of a floating work of art called Caddis.

The floods were a landmark event in the story of Leeds. The flood levels were unprecedented in living memory and the impacts of the flood has taken local people on an emotional , physical and financial journey they really did not want to take. The flood has stimulated change in Kirkstall, the area our project focuses on, as well as an ongoing clean up process and a remarkable collective response from people from near and far.

In the process os creating Caddis we have sought to make an artwork that marks the floods and people’s experiences of it. We also invite consideration of what might emerge from this experience – like the caddis fly emerging from the water to live the next stage of its life.


Photo: Kirkstall Road, 27th December 2015 by Betty Lawless


Collecting Things

Caddis artist, Gemma Latham joined the flood clean-up organised by Team Kirkstall back in May with the aim of collecting items to be included in Caddis. This was the first of a number of planned community clean up days to tackle some of the rubbish along the river deposited during, and since, the flood.

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In Gemma’s words

It was amazing to see so many people turn out, people of all ages and backgrounds. It gave me a sense of community spirit that I imagine pulled people together in the flood clean up (with less of the devastation and urgency). The event was brilliantly organised, lots of tea and biscuits, essential ingredients which were gratefully received by all. I had intended to collect items that could be added to Caddis but the reality of the types of items being pulled out hit me quickly.

I was concerned by sanitation and physical bulk of items so decided to document items photographically to be included in the artwork in image form. I think this is a better representation of type of items that were actually there.

I have never seen so many tyres, and cannot believe they all came out of one small stretch of river, transferring them all back up the path to the collection truck became quite the challenge, rolling them by hand. I quickly became quite skilled at it but wish I had honed the skill of rolling a hoop with a stick when I was younger. The most unusual item I encountered – a statue.

The best part if the day was to be able to chat to people about their involvement in the flood clean ups and the caring of the river in general while working together to make the river cleaner.


The statue reminds me of the votive offerings often found by mud-larker extraordinaire Nicola White which, once found and recorded, she respectfully returns to the river. The range and number of offerings, often statues of Hindu deities, is fascinating.

We love following Nicola’s tweets @TideLineArt – as a mud-larker, she scours the foreshore of the tidal River Thames around London and collects items, some of which she makes into art. She is extremely knowledgeable about the items she finds, some of which are very old or appear with surprising regularity. Her excellent website, complete with blog posts can be found here.

Linking in with our name, Flotsam and Jetsam also a documentary film of beachcombers in Texel, an island off the north coast of the Netherlands. The graphic designer we have been working with, Justin Grasty, brought this film to our attention, and we are so glad that he did.

Here again, the water deposits items with stories –  in Texel at the rate of two tonnes per day – some objects have stories which can be unpicked, some remain tantalising puzzles. The characteristic currents in this area of the North Sea mean that the shape of the object thrown in affects where is will wash up in predictable patterns. If you want to know how that shape of a shoe affects its destiny if thrown into the sea, watch this film!

Flotsam and Jetsam on Vimeo.

The beachcombers and Nicola find many messages in bottles and this influenced how we devised a game to collect stories and information about the flooding in Kirkstall – but more about that in our next post.

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Data Made Manifest

Today I popped along to ODI Leeds for one of their Friday lunchtime lectures to see a live-streamed talk by Giles Lane with the title “Data to Stimulate Your Senses”.

Giles has been working with data sets for a number of years to give them a life and form beyond the limitations of a computer screen or graphical representation and is especially interested in appealing to a whole range of senses by making 3D objects to represent data. You can watch the really interesting talk on Youtube.


What does this have to do with a project about flooding on a boat, though?

Well, for part of the design of our boat-mounted, floating work of art, Caddis, artist Gemma Latham will be taking open data from the Boxing Day Floods and about the River Aire and other Leeds water bodies and making the patterns tat the data creates into 3D printed tiles which will be part of the Caddis. Other tiles on Caddis will embed stories and images from the floods, told and created by local people. The Flotsam & Jetsam / Playful Anywhere team attended the Flood Hack at the ODI back in March to see how open data sets about water management and human responses to the flooding were being used by developers and a whole range of Flood Hackers to look at the issue of water management in creative new ways and were inspired to incorporate some of the data into Caddis.

If you are interested in getting involved in the next Leeds Flood Hack event at ODI Leeds, you can find out more about booking a place here.

The final chance to get involved in creating a 3D printed tile for Caddis with Gemma Latham will be on Saturday 18th June at Seagulls Paint. It’s a free workshop and a great chance to see and get involved with 3D printing and other making activities. Click here for details

If you come and take a boat trip with us over the weekend of 2 and 3rd July, you can take a ride inside Caddis and be inside a physical manifestation of the patterns that the water data creates. I don’t know of too many other places where you can do that…


Digital Making and Craft Workshop

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Would your community benefit from a Playbox?

Playbox in Cardigan fields

What is Playbox01?




Playbox in Cardigan fields


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Free Making Workshop with Gemma Latham and Seagulls Reuse

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Flotsam and Jetsam in Playbox01 #1

The Playful Anywhere Playbox 01 was craned into place for a week’s residency at Cardigan Fields, Kirkstall today. Until Sunday 5th June we’ll be collecting information from local people about the Boxing Day 2015 floods to feed into the design of our floating artwork Caddis as well as making, playing and connecting with the site at Leeds Industrial Museum.

Our visitors today added more story ships to our message in a bottle, made Lego models of Kirkstall, stitched boat bunting on our almost 100 year old sewing machine, crafted caddis fly larvae, played Pooh sticks on the River Aire and of course took a break to hula hoop too. A chilly but playful day!

Our container also features a pop-up tourist information bureau with information about the area exhibited in all kinds of creative ways by local children from Year 3 of Kirkstall Valley Primary School. The class will also be helping to design and make pieces of Caddis with Gemma Latham next week and taking a boat trip on the canal at the end of June. We are delighted to be teaming up with the school in such a creative way.

Thanks to our lovely hauliers, Cramscene, our hosts at the site Land Securities, our neighbours at Leeds Industrial Museum for their support and partnership and finally to our funders Leeds Inspired.

Tomorrow we welcome local craft and recycling heroes, Seagulls for some mosaic making with a LED twist!


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CRAFT, MAKE, PLAY at Cardigan Fields

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