Clayhill Arts Interviewed for BBC Radio Somerset

Clayhill Arts was interviewed by Charlie Taylor for BBC Radio Somerset for their Arts Hour feature. You can listen to the full interview below:

Or follow along with the transcript below

Charlie Taylor: So, Let’s start off our Arts Hour now by heading to a farm near Bridgwater. It might not be the obvious place to go, but actually Clayhill Arts has really been making a name for itself in the last year or, so let’s head to Deborah Parkes, co-director and founder of Clayhill Arts. Hi Deborah, thanks for chatting to us this evening. Tell us about Clayhill and how you found it first of all,

Deborah Parkes: Well first of all, thanks for having us Charlie, it’s great to speak with you! So Clayhill, yes, we’re based just outside Bridgwater. We set the place up a few years ago now. It is myself and my husband who set it up and we were in Nottingham before this, but we came down Somerset and were searching all over the county for the right sort of property to run a residential training business. We were based in Frome for a month, travelled all the way across the county. We kept gravitating West, and then found Clayhill Farm. We searched about 50 properties overall, Clayhill was number 49.

Charlie Taylor: So patience paid off by the sound of it?

Deborah Parkes: Yeah, definitely. It sort of had everything we wanted – and more! So our ideas have grown a bit whilst we’ve been here…

Charlie Taylor: Right. Okay, so for those who haven’t been and I haven’t been, but I have seen pictures and it looks like you’ve managed to get through some pretty difficult types of with COVID there. So tell us, what is it? What does it look like? Because actually, it’s not your typical farm is it, why don’t you tell us a bit more about it.

Deborah Parkes: Yeah, so it’s kind of traditional farmstead. Historically it was a wheat farm and what we have now is a  converted granary, which is where we have a large dining space, and then the old stables, we’ve converted those into bedrooms, and then what would have been the threshing barn, this where we have our teaching space. It’s now light and open, but used to have lots of hay in it and we tried to keep some of the features of the old farm within the building just to celebrate its history really.

Charlie Taylor: That’s funny, we did a series when I was presenting breakfast last week about repurposed buildings, things that have been changed into other uses. This would be a perfect example of that farm into art gallery! So what sort of exhibitions have you been able to have, or workshops have you been able to put on even with all we’ve been through, as I mentioned, these very tough COVID times?

Deborah Parkes: Yeah, so we were building up to the launch of our training program in 2020, but as we all know, everything changed a little bit. So, during that time, we were being creative and adapting. We were speaking with local artists about what they needed and wanted during that sort of time.

One of the artists that we’ve been working with Amanda Lynch, who I believe has been on the show with you before? We were talking together about putting on an exhibition, and how we could do that in a in a digital sort of sense. We had a set of old letterpress trays here which in turn became the Restriction Exhibition – a response to the pandemic, which we launched online but sits here as a physical archive. So, anybody that visits our future course program will be able to engage with that whilst they’re here, as a document of this time.

During the COVID lockdowns, we had a chance to step back and look at what we had on offer. We spoke to our tutors about what resources they could provide for us, which we could then put up on the website for people to access. We were able to put up a few some training videos that kind of thing, but we are really looking forward now and excited for our program which will be launching next February with some real in life courses where people can get making again and learning with one another and developing their creative skills.

Charlie Taylor: Oh it sounds great. It sounds like you made the best of what obviously was a difficult situation for all of us. And yes, we had Amanda on your right. We spoke to her about the exhibition she put on with the teeny tiny things in little compartments. I can’t quite remember exactly the term you used but that sort of thing. How did that go down? Were you able to see the numbers of people looking in? Did you get good feedback for it?

Deborah Parkes: Yeah, so we have people visiting from all over the world in a digital sense. And that’s been really great to engage with a wider audience. A few of the artists that were involved, we’ve actually gone on to develop some future projects and ideas.

We’ve got Louisa Crispin, who is going to be an artist in residence with us here next year, during the summer. This will coincide with a few of the nature courses that we’ve got going on and another one of the artists involved in the show, we recorded a podcast with them so exploring their whole creative process and how they’ve been dealing with things that are during the pandemic. That was Andrew Kozlowski, he’s a comic book artist, and he was talking about kind of creative strategies that you can use to deal with difficult times like we were going through last year. So we’ve got some of these up in the resource section that we have on our website. So if you’ve not been able to visit in person, we’ve archived things there, so there are lots of things for people to engage with.

Charlie Taylor: Oh fantastic. That sounds like the place to go if you’re interested in finding out more about upcoming exhibitions, all those residentials and things you’re talking about, it must be quite exciting for you to think about the prospect of welcoming people to the farm?

I actually have cycled past, I’ve been down the road which leads you there and I spotted your big sign that said Clayhill Arts This was during COVID when I was out on one of my you know what one bit of exercise that we were allowed to do for days! I was out cycling and thought that when you get there you know, it is very rural despite the fact is only just offer quite a busy road the A39, you actually do feel very rural, very away from it all. It’s going to be a nice experience, isn’t it for artists to escape from the world?

Deborah Parkes: Yeah, definitely. I mean, that was the real appeal when we found Clayhill Farm. That’s where the name comes from the Clayhill, and when we found the entrance at the top of the lane and wandered our way down, you’ve suddenly got this farm with all of these sorts of open views. And it really is like taking a real breath when you get here. We overlook the Quantock Hills and have things like the native roe deer trotting their way through the field and there’s a rabbit warren nearby, so it’s a very kind of peaceful sort of spot.

That was something we were specifically looking for. That whilst you’re here, you know, the training that we offer is intense and you’re kind of working through that, but you’ve also got time to just step back from things and and assess what it is that you’re doing, where you’re going, what you need help with and talk to us whilst you’re here and we’ll help you through that creative journey that you’re on.

Charlie Taylor: Sounds brilliant. Remind us, for people who want to find out more, there is a website or can they can they drop in? Is that a thing for you guys? Or is it more of a booked appointment?

Deborah Parkes: We’re happy for people to to visit but it’s easier if you do just let us know beforehand just that we can check we’re here! The website is the best place to go which is clayhillarts.co.uk We’re also on social media @clayhillarts, although that’s been a bit difficult this evening, go check us out on that.

The website has everything on there though, so you’ll see our full course program, which starts in February, either as residential or you can visit as a day visitor as well. Always happy for people to get in touch, about any sort of training needs that they’ve got. We want our program to be audience led, so let us know what you need to learn and we’ll get the people here for you to come and get involved!

Charlie Taylor: Brilliant. Sounds great. Deborah, thank you so much for speaking to us this evening. That’s Deborah Parkes, their co director and founder of Clayhill Arts, based just outside Bridgwater. It’s well worth looking at their website. It looks great and I’ve only got to the top of the lane. There’s quite a drive down to the actual farm itself so we’re only seeing pictures of the farm but well worth a look if that’s your kind of thing. Get in touch with them.

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