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Thursday, July 18, 2024
PeopleAnna Ledgard

Anna Ledgard

‘I grew up in Yorkshire where my father was a vicar in a small market town. Vicarage children learn early on that you share your parents, they are not your own because your house is open to everybody day and night. I particularly loved the monthly visits of 12 local clergy, all dressed in long black cassocks, who would come to cooked breakfast before morning communion. Another abiding memory was playing with friends from primary school in the graveyard, we’d bring the dead alive making up their life stories, taking hints from the graveyard inscriptions. It wasn’t that we were disrespectful, graves are an irresistible playground for a child’s imagination.
It was a lucky childhood full of exposure to all types of people and circumstances and one in which we learned to share—these principles have been very important to me ever since. I went to Rome when I was 18 to study Italian for a year and learnt the joy of speaking another language fluently and being able to disappear into another culture. After university I spent my early 20’s in various research or administrative jobs, but I knew I wanted to do something that would make a difference somehow, I was also curious to understand more about other cultures. So I travelled to a small village near Bandung in Indonesia and spent three months studying Wayang Golek puppetry. We’d go up into the hills on a lorry with Gamelan orchestra, puppets and puppeteers to celebrate the rituals of everyday life, births, marriages, deaths. This wasn’t just culture as entertainment, but culture as completely essential to the marking of time, the passing of the seasons, the rituals of life. It wasn’t a religion but a cultural and spiritual coming-together.
During that time I’d made a decision to become a teacher. I did a PGCE and then applied for a job at a pioneering 70’s comprehensive school called Stantonbury Campus in Milton Keynes. I joined a highly motivated group of young teachers, led by inspirational education leaders—determined to make secondary education relevant to even the most reluctant learners. I spent six years totally immersed in this school. I studied Drama in Education and then adapted these principles to teaching English and Humanities—it was a way of creating entry points, drawing out students, finding the thing in the curriculum that would get them excited and curious first, then following up with the detail. The 1988 Education Reform Act changed everything in education. The curriculum became much more formal and inflexible. At the time I didn’t want to spend my life sorting exciting learning into the boxes of a prescribed curriculum or GCSE syllabus.
I went to work for London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), an international theatre festival working with the big venues bringing shows to London from all over the world, shows which questioned what theatre could be and grappled with big ideas, global politics, the environment, human rights. My role was to make connections with the experiences of young people living in this incredibly diverse city, for example, we brought Balinese villagers together with children from Charlton Manor primary school on the stage of the South Bank Centre. Realising that if we could inspire the teachers, we would reach even more young people, we set up courses specifically for them. A mix of primary and secondary teachers would be partnered with artists exploring creativity together alongside the evolving festival, eventually accredited at the Institute of Education.
In the meantime, I had met my partner Nic and we have two children Jesse and Tilly. After living in London we decided to move to Dorset. I had big reservations about moving. I thought it might threaten my work somehow by being perceived to be outside London, which of course was nonsense. But it was down on those millstones at the end of Eype Beach when we just knew “Yeah, we should do this.” We moved into a house which needed renovation, living in one bedroom with Nic going off to work and me going up to London for half the week.
When I came here I contacted Alex Coulter who was then the Arts and Health manager at Dorset County Hospital. We applied for one of the first Wellcome Trust arts grants for ‘Visiting Time’ a performance project which aimed to make a connection between the hospital and local schools working with children with cystic fibrosis and led by artist Mark Storor. We followed that with another, ‘Boy Child’ exploring masculinity with boys and men aged 7 – 70 and performed on Portland. Since then we have had 6 Wellcome Trust awards and Arts Council funding and a decade of pioneering projects, bringing artists, patients and clinicians together often in acute health settings. Today there is a growing understanding of the importance of bringing the arts into hospitals and health settings to complement the medical and give voice to patients’ experiences.
A current project is ‘The Heart of the Matter’ working with cardiologists and patients at Great Ormond Street, Bristol Cardiac Institute and the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle. Sofie Layton, lead artist, a bio-medical engineer, animators, digital and sound artists have created an exhibition which explores the heart both medically and metaphorically, using the narratives given by patients as a basis for beautiful works of art. The exhibition interweaves the languages of medicine and patient experience—it opens in London in November
All our projects are 2 – 3 years in length because it takes that time to build relationships with big institutions like hospitals. In an early project at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, ‘For the Best’ with Mark Storor, we realised that what some of the children wanted to express in the work was that they might not survive. For me this was the beginning of something which I’ve now taken on in different ways. In our society we don’t like to talk about death, we surround it with euphemism, but actually we need to be clear about how we want to live this part of our lives, as someone once said, it takes 30 seconds to die, the rest is living.
In 2009 I was nursing my best friend who died in her own home with her children and her husband. Being there with them was a privilege, sad, yet sweet too, and I learned much about how possible it can be for people to die well at home (most of us die in hospital whether we want to or not). So I looked for training that might give me more practical skills in end of life care, I wanted to understand the physical process of dying, the grief process. I have since trained with ‘Living Well, Dying Well’ as a ‘Doula for the Dying’. Hermione Elliot who set up this course had in the first part of her career been a midwife and later a palliative care nurse. She realised that the same attention that we pay to birth in the home could be paid to death in the home.
I feel strongly about every child’s right to a good education so I’ve always been a school governor, here at The Sir John Colfox Academy and I’m also a trustee of the Minerva Learning Trust. I enjoy the rigour and discipline of good governance motivated by doing the best for all children in this town. We are lucky to have great teaching staff and governors which is vital in today’s tough education climate.
Last year I was diagnosed with a quite serious illness myself. After successful treatment in the NHS I was introduced to The Living Tree, a cancer support group, which was initiated with others by Jo O’Farrell MBE who died in July. Living Tree is a really interesting model, alongside Stepping Out (exercise on prescription). We meet weekly for creative writing, exercise, arts workshops, talks on nutrition and therapies. It is what is called ‘social prescribing’ in health circles and complements medical care offering a holistic and positive approach to living well with illness. Living Tree is supported with the generosity, creativity and innovation which characterise this unique community of Bridport.’

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