Tanya was involved in Chickenshed’s ‘Space Between Us: Intergenerational’ Project and is one of the warmest, most open people I have had the pleasure of meeting (it seems to be a theme for those involved with Chickenshed!). It’s incredible how much you can learn in half an hour, and I would encourage everyone to ‘really focus on someone, hear about their life and their past’; it’s a truly enriching experience. Thank you for sharing your story Tanya.
"The project was the most uplifting, inspiring experience I had had in years and I literally felt alive again having feelings of purpose, camaraderie and community."
You're With Me
I come from a musical background, and I wanted my children to be involved in music. My daughter got a place at Chickenshed when she was 7, and I felt really lucky to have been given that chance. So I came here every week for 12 years and watched all of the performances, sitting in the audience and thinking how incredible it would be to be a part of it, how the children came alive on stage, how proud they were to be there. I remember once my eldest daughter told me that Chickenshed was her life. I knew they both gained so much from being there and as a parent it was incredible that they could come somewhere so inclusive, where they could learn about difference, create these friendships and learn to treat everyone equally.
I didn’t have that as a child, I was classically trained and tunnel visioned, practicing 4-6 hours every day, being screamed at with doors slamming if I played out of tune. It was a very strict way of playing an instrument, not at all the way of Chickenshed.
Reflecting though, yes, I had a very strict father who shouted at me for 10 years about practicing, and, yes, that did cause a lot of emotional trauma for me, but I had the most amazing career travelling all over the world playing with an exceptional orchestra. Some of the best times of my life, playing with the best musicians and the best conductors in the world. It wasn’t me who was tunnel visioned. It was my father. Probably out of fear of me being a failure more than anything. Probably his immigrant refugee status in this country after his became ruled by Hitler. Probably his age, that of a grandfather, with 21 years between himself and my Mum. I had a love-hate relationship with the cello, maybe if I’d had more of the ‘Chickenshed’ way I would not have given up playing.
Anyway, obviously, the girls went to University, and it all stopped. I never planned to stop coming here but it didn’t feel like I had that connection anymore. I no longer felt comfortable, the connection was lost.
2.5 years ago, out of the blue, I received an email asking if I would be interested in doing workshops for over 50s. I sat on it and didn’t respond. At the time I was very depressed, I felt a real disconnect with the girls having gone to uni. I was very involved with their friends; our house was one of those houses where everyone used to come when they were little, and I missed that. I suddenly had this massive feeling of disconnection from everything in the past 18 years. I had given up 2 careers and all my creative side because I had developed a pain condition. All my creativity had been focused on my children, so when they went to Uni I felt like I was crashing to the ground. Eventually I read the email and told a friend about it. I was sitting in her living room and she just turned to me and said ‘You have to do this, I know how much Chickenshed meant to you, do it now, reply now, I’m watching you because I know you won’t do it otherwise’. I don’t think, without that friend, I would have done it.
I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that it was Chickenshed, I just had to turn up, it was bound to be amazing; and it was.
I was feeling so shut down emotionally, surplus to requirements. Feeling that I had lost my job after 18 years, so I got here feeling quite nervous, fearing the unknown. I walked into the theatre and saw 30- 40 other people, Rachel and Charlotte. But they were just the right people for this and made us feel so at ease, so comfortable.
After the first workshop I came home and cried because I was so out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t upset in a bad way; I think it was realising I had shut myself down for so long. But there was a lot of laughter. People started opening up, talking about things that maybe outside of this experience they would not have felt able to do so. As the weeks went on, I used to come home and my husband said that he couldn’t believe how my face changed from week to week, how my eyes just lit up every time I had been there. I finally started to feel myself.
The way people are today, a lot of it is time, they don’t have time to really focus on someone, hear about their life and their past. Even now, although there is a real bond between the original SBU group, we are still learning about each other, and that is really exciting.
With the younger people on the programme, we didn’t see them to start with. When we eventually got together, I remember we were in the studio and we had to mirror each other, imagining that we were looking at ourselves when we were that age. It broke down the barriers between ‘us and them’. One thing I remember really clearly was during the final performance, backstage I hadn’t realised how dark it was going to be, and I had a sense of panic rise up in me not knowing what side of the stage I needed to come in from. When I felt like this there was a young girl there who would grab my hand and say, ‘You’re with me!’ and that was it- they looked after us. It’s created a bond between us, young and old, that still stands 2.5 years on.
I find when I’m out and about, I might be looking at a younger person and giving them a great big smile and sometimes they look at me to say ‘What are you doing?! Why are you smiling at me? Do I know you?’. You forget that at Chickenshed the barriers are broken down when you walk through the door.
The experience has enabled me to reconnect with my emotions again, re-find my creativity and know that I do have something to offer, after so many years of feeling I had nothing to offer anybody. It had got to quite a dangerous point where all I wanted to do was run away, not tell anybody and just go; I’ve not had that feeling for over 2 years now. The project was the most uplifting, inspiring experience I had had in years and I literally felt alive again having feelings of purpose, camaraderie and community. The incredible friendships that were formed from this, my friendship group mushroomed, and I feel so grateful to have been able to have formed these friendships that I would not have had without this experience.
As a result of SBU, I have become very involved in other projects at Chicken Shed and also the new “Something Changed” project. Being given the opportunity to now help and observe the new group is a privilege and I’m excited to see how people grow and flourish through the same opportunity that I was given.
I couldn’t stop talking about the SBU programme then, and I still am talking about Chickenshed now.
Written By Holly for Tanya
If you would like to find out more about Chickenshed and the experience that changed Tanya's life head to https://www.chickenshed.org.uk/ and follow @the_sbu_programme on Instagram