The Dulwich Sourdough Course at Bell House

A group of “bakers in the making” gathered at Bell House on Saturday 26th May to learn to art of sourdough bread making from local baker Christopher Garner. We were a mixed bunch: ranging from experts who wanted to learn more, down to complete novices.

With only three ingredients, flour, water and salt, sourdough should be easy to make. Christopher explained the science behind sourdough: it is a method that uses wild yeast and lactobacilli that are naturally present in the flour grain. The acidity of the loaf is created by the lactic acid produced by the bacteria and the holes are from carbon dioxide made by the yeast.

We started by making our own sourdough starter: organic dark rye flour and water. This was set aside ready to take home and nurture lovingly like another child… we were even encouraged to give it a name! Mine is called Bubbles.

As ours wouldn’t be ready for at least a week, Christopher introduced us to his three and a half year old sourdough starter, Dominic. He had made a “Barm” which is a mixture of starter, flour and water the night before. The Barm was combined with white flour and water to make a soft dough. Salt was added last as it mustn’t come into direct contact with the yeast. We kneaded vigorously, although not for too long, learnt about the windowpane method, where a small amount of dough is stretched thinly, to check if the dough is ready, folded the dough and left it to prove.

About four hours later our beautiful loaves came out of the oven.

Kneading away!

Kneading away!

Fresh loaves 

Fresh loaves 

The sunny garden was perfect for a delicious lunch of homemade soup, bread and cheese before we headed back into the kitchen to make a cottage loaf using a conventional yeast dough. We went home with bags full of fresh bread which tasted all the better for having mixed our laughter and labour into them.

“We really enjoyed the workshop on Saturday. Thank you very much. Everything was spot on.”

“I hope your starter is alive and kicking?! My ´Tomba’ is doing well and is very bubbly!!”

“Looking forward to the next workshop with Christopher on brioche or croissants!”

Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy - A Talk at Bell House

“For those who know how to read I have painted my autobiography”


Last week, Rosalind Whyte came to Bell House again to talk about the new Picasso exhibition at the Tate Modern, as part of the ongoing series of art lectures at Bell House. The lecture on Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy was completely sold out, and for good reason.

1932 was a marvellous year for Picasso; it is unsurprising the Tate Modern have curated a whole exhibition focused on it. Wondering whether to go see Picasso at the Tate? Already braved the crowds? Read on for four surprising facts about the art  in this exhibition…


1)    The autobiographical nature of the paintings in this exhibition are fascinating. Rosalind Whyte told us that Picasso said, “The work one does is a kind of way of keeping a diary”. Indeed, Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy includes works that span Picasso’s meteoric rise to fame in the art world, and carefully depicts his passionate love affair with Marie-Therese. It was an “intensely creative period” in Picasso’s career, and some of his works were completed astoundingly quickly.


2)    Tension between opposing forces is a common thread drawing this exhibition together. Some are more obvious, such as the opposition of Olga (Picasso’s wife) and Marie-Thérèse (Picasso’s mistress) in his work earlier in the year. Others are more subtle, and only apparent when explained by an expert such as Rosalind. For example, Picasso’s own struggles with his development as an artist bleed through– his dilemma over whether to pursue sculpture or painting (a tough choice also faced by Amedeo Modigliani)


3)    Picasso was influenced by an octopus. Yep, an octopus. Not long before 1932, Picasso’s friend Jean Painleve shot The Octopus. Whyte believes this may have had a profound effect on Picasso, as can be seen in his portrayals of Marie- Thérèse as an almost octopus-like form in Reclining Nude, 1932. Indeed, Painleve’s film is shown alongside these works in the exhibition.


4)    Playing with reflections and a seemingly double vision was common when painting Marie- Thérèse. Often painted as having a double face, Picasso was able to gently suggest the many dimensions of his lover. But what was the purpose of this? Was it to invoke ideas of the sun and moon? Chronicle how she aged? Or suggest that, with all these facets, Marie- Thérèse was everything Picasso was looking for in a woman?


1932 was charged with love, lust, loss and fame for Picasso. Rosalind Whyte took all of us at the Bell House talk on a fascinating journey; guiding us through these tumultuous months, and the wonderful art that came of it.

Our series of art lectures continue later in May, with a talk on the Royal Academy’s ‘Charles I: King and Collector’, given by Graham Greenfield. Buy tickets below.

SEN Jigsaw Conference - 21st April 2018

Following hot on the heels of the BDA conference, the SEN jigsaw conference, now in its third year, had an interesting line up of speakers.  The day started with psychologist Sally Goddard-Blythe explaining the “Draw a Man” test, which enables non-verbal assessment.  Children often leave out the bits that they don’t feel so good at, such as no hands if their motor skills are weak.


Sally investigates how movement and physical activity have impact on learning.  Many young children starting school have immature neuromotor skills, and Sally explained that this can have a significant effect on their learning outcomes and behaviour.  She would like to see schools implement a daily exercise programme and physical developmental testing of children at school entry and key stages.

Later in the morning, Libby Hill spoke about the links between bad behaviour, language and communication.  She is a speech and language therapist, and works with many bright children who do not understand how to behave in social conditions.  The impact of speech, language or communication difficulties on children can have a huge negative impact on many aspects of their lives.  She demonstrated how behaviour is a not just language, but a method of communication.  We were introduced to the ABC of behaviour:

-     A for Antecedent, you need to know what was happening before

-     B for Behaviour

-     C for Consequences. 

Children who need the most help often ask for it in the least helpful way!



In the afternoon we learnt about visual stress and dyscalculia.

Bob Hext, from Crossbow Education, explained how visual stress is often associated with special learning difficulties.  It can manifest in many ways: movement of letters, blurring and fading, rainbow blobs, letters changing size or space, glare, colour and skipping lines.  But luckily there is help to hand.  Simple measures can make a huge difference, such as using rounded fonts - they create a more fluid experience, and then using colour overlays can have a magical effect by relieving the symptoms of visual stress.

Judy Hornigold finished the day by decoding dyscalculia, which is a specific learning difficulty for mathematics. While many people and children struggle with maths, they are not necessarily dyscalculic.  If you have dyscalculia you cannot understand whether 9 is larger or smaller than 6, you cannot assess if there are four apples on the plate without counting them one by one (subitising), you cannot spot patterns, you may have left/right confusion, and an inability to understand the passage of time.

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There are strategies that can help; creating patterns with Cuisenaire rods can allow a child to explore and develop understanding. Diagrams can also be invaluable, as they encourage visualisation and a way to ‘model’ the maths.


Several of the speakers from the SEN Jigsaw conference will be coming to Bell House over the next few months, bringing their insights to Dulwich. We can’t wait to welcome many of them to our inaugural Dyslexia Fair on 22nd September – stay tuned for more info!


If you’d like to see what dyslexia support Bell House has been offering in the last few months, be sure to check out our YouTube channel, where we post the highlights of our most useful talks: 


Why should we bother about sleep?  Dr Fran Knight at Bell House

Most of us love sleeping but we also believe that we don't get enough sleep. Despite this we'll probably sleep for the equivalent of about 25-30 years across our lives. Plenty of experiments show that the sleep quality and quantity affects our memory, our cognition and our behaviour.  This is so much so that some researchers even say that how well young people sleep is the main predictor of their academic performance. 


No surprise, then, that the Bell House speaker, Dr Frances Knight, is a huge fan of good sleep. She is based at the UCL Institute of Education researching the effects of good and bad sleep, and looks at ways to improve our sleep - especially in children. Fran has studied the different types of sleep that are needed such as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and SWS (Slow Wave Sleep), and how long we sleep in each of these cycles as we age.


Fran Knight's "good sleep guide" suggests that the most important steps for parents are:

- Establish a routine and stick to it

- Arrange the bedroom so that it is a "sleep haven"

- Keep the bedroom media-free

- Avoid exciting video games in the hour before bedtime

- Beware sugary or caffeinated drinks 

- Make sure your child exercises regularly but not just before bedtime


Good sleep appears to have a number of important functions including memory consolidation, helping with recovery from injuries, clearing waste and promoting growth.  In contrast, bad sleep leads to impaired attitudes and poor cognitive functioning; it can lead to challenging behaviour and emotional problems. Fran Knight described some experiments where people take tests before and after sleep and they consistently performed better in the morning, after a good night of sleep. 


One way to help children improve their sleep is an app that UCL are developing called Mobero Intervention which promotes healthy sleep, especially targeted at children and teenagers with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder). This app helps cement a good routine that both parents and children can be involved in, with a rewards-based system for good behaviour. Fran also considered the idea that certain foods may help - such as almond nuts and brazil nuts - and some music may help such as theta wave and delta wave music.


As usual with Bell House talks there was, after the talk, a lot of discussion with the speaker and between members of the audience.  One woman told me about how her 9 year-old son has built up anxiety about sleep and refuses to go to sleep without her sleeping with him.  Fran suggested a technique called "phasing" where you can progressively, over a few days, get your child to sleep - initially staying with them in bed until they are asleep and then staying with them in bed until they are almost asleep, then staying seated in the room until they are asleep and finally leaving them to sleep alone.  It was widely agreed that apart from being a possible short term solution, sleeping pills tend to be very disruptive to sleep patterns in the medium and long run. 

Watch our film HELPING CHILDREN SLEEP  Highlights of a talk given by Dr. Frances Knight at Bell House, about ways to help your child sleep. 


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10 things you need to know about Amedeo Modigliani

It seems everyone has seen, or has plans to go to, the Modigliani exhibition at the Tate Modern. On 15th March, Rosalind Whyte came to Bell House Dulwich to give an art history talk based on this exciting, and ever so popular exhibition. Along with almost 60 other people, I learnt loads about Modigliani’s life, his art, and the works on show at the Tate Modern.

Read More

Using your smartphone to make a short film - a hands-on course at Bell House

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A total mixture of people showed up on Saturday 24th February at Bell House, ranging in age from 20 to 65, to learn how to make films on the small camera in their pockets – which also doubles up as a mobile phone.  Some brought iPhones and others had android phones, but Cassius Rayner's course works for all these devices; particularly impressive considering there are over 200 different android phones on the market.  In just over 5 hours we learnt about light, focus, tracking and editing, and, best of all, we ended up making our own short film.  In a rather circular process, the film I made with my two team-mates was a film about a teddy arriving at Bell House to go on a film course.


The professional film-makers on the course were planning to make all sorts of short films - for charities, for businesses, and for interviews. Not everyone was a professional, and come came just for the sheer fun of doing something creative.  Cassius explained that making a good film is all about a compelling story, told in a way that's eye-catching and easy to follow, so when we were making our films, we focused on creating an interesting story. After shooting, we used a variety of different editing apps to create our finished product.

The course was also full of tips and demonstrations of useful kit, from sliders to splitters, and microphones to tripods.  None of the smartphone add-ons are absolutely necessary, but it was surprising to see the range that's available. It was great to learn how affordable and cost-effective all the equipment is, and it really did make a difference to the quality of the filming.

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Whether you are serious about making short films or just want to have fun, this is the course for you - in a month's time Cassius will be running the same smartphone filmmaking course again. It costs £65, and in my opinion, is worth every penny.  The course on Saturday was sold out, and this one will be too very shortly! Sign up now before the tickets go! - .  And if you work for a charity, then there is a specific course running on 27th April, teaching charity sector employees how to best use their smartphone to maximise filming for their charity in the age of social media:


Fragment of an envelope

A fragment of an envelope: how much could it tell you about where it was found or who it belonged to?

Andrew McLynn, chief craftsman, is renovating the Bell House windows using traditional techniques to restore them to their original splendour. While taking apart one of the box sashes, Andrew found part of an envelope stuffed inside the window frame, probably by someone repairing the window who needed to fill the gap and picked up some nearby wastepaper.

Printed on it are the words:

needs you…
Now with
extra pages
and only 85p!
If undelivered, please return to
Games Workshop
27/29 Sunbeam Road, London NW10 6JP

(characters in italics are our interpolations due to letters being missing or illegible)

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We can see that the envelope was posted by Games Workshop and it would almost certainly have carried their in-house magazine, White Dwarf, which at the time covered fantasy and science fiction role-playing games, in particular ‘Advanced Dungeons & Dragons’ (referred to as AD&D on the magazine cover below). White Dwarf increased its cover price to 85p in April 1984 so our envelope would have been sent out after that as it refers to the cover price being ‘only 85p’.

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The envelope is addressed to A. Creed. He was a pupil at Dulwich College from 1984 to 1988. Boys at boarding at school would of course have their mail sent to their school address and it’s not surprising that one of them would want to read a magazine such as this one. Was Creed delighted to read his magazine on the day it arrived, or did he squirrel it away to enjoy at the weekend when he had more time? Perhaps he passed it around Bell House after he had read it, so that boys not lucky enough to have a subscription might also enjoy reading about the latest games.

We love finding fragments of history like this, and are very lucky to have our historian, Sharon O'Connor, around to investigate everything we find! Sharon has done SO much research on Bell House, and its residents, that we have two local history talks coming up based on her work. Events at Bell House have been selling out, so make sure you book soon before these tickets go!

"Study smarter, not harder" - Revision tips for dyslexic students

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Do you learn best by listening? By reading? By looking at colours? By moving around as you learn? For many people, especially dyslexic children, the answer to this question could be the key to unlocking the secret to the most effective revision techniques. As Caroline Bateman explained to a room full of parents at Bell House Dulwich, the answer for everyone is different. We should embrace this, and use our individual learning styles to help the revision process. 

“Study smarter, not harder”. This really was the theme running throughout Caroline’s talk, as she steered a group of parents with dyslexic children towards a set of techniques that could help with revision. The group was made up of parents who had children of varying ages, which made for great discussion, and opportunities to learn from each other. 

Instead of reinventing the wheel, Caroline showed us easy ways to transform existing resources into effective and, dare I say it, fun ways to revise. For example, take a PowerPoint presentation used in the classroom. A pupil can turn this into a quiz, so they can test themselves on information they have just learnt. This is a relatively low-tech way to use resources which are already there, and make them more interactive. Caroline underlined the importance of self-testing; it’s the best way for children and teenagers to truly engage their brains, and assess what they have truly absorbed. And a great way to incentivise revision!

We also discussed a range of practical tips which are beautifully simple to implement. For example, fitting school folders with a small plastic wallet containing coloured pens, glue, hole-punch, and post-it notes. This saves time when revision rolls around, and kids know exactly where to find all their revision stationery. Seeing such an organised, well-equipped file made lots of us in the room at Bell House wish we had these tips when doing our own school exams!

At the end of the two hour session, all the parents left Bell House feeling reassured that revision is not impossible, and armed with a new portfolio of revision techniques to try with their children. Due to the fantastic response from this evening, Caroline Bateman will be repeating her talk at Bell House Dulwich on 20th March. Please visit for more information, or get tickets at:

How to make films on your smartphone - seminar at Bell House

"The whole globe could become citizen film-makers" declared Cassius Rayner, as he spoke at Bell House about the power of using smartphones to create short films.  He's been impressed by what's happening in America, and in the film industry generally, where smart phones are enabling surprisingly high quality film-making.  A driving force for this is lower costs, and Cassius describes this as “accessible and affordable film-making".  For example, a rig to mount a smartphone with a good quality microphone and tripod could cost under £100. The group of us tried out various gadgets, attachments, lenses, and pistol-grip devices. Everyone loved the gimbal which keeps the smartphone steady, even when you are moving around.

Testing the Smooth-Q Gimbal

Testing the Smooth-Q Gimbal

Practical demonstration of equipment

Practical demonstration of equipment

Our group was a very mixed bunch with film-makers, photographers, charity publicists, a video-based start-up and people who are making the Bell House films. We watched clips that Cassius had made, and he demonstrated the techniques he uses. We also learnt how to fix the focus of the smartphone, how to increase the exposure and how best to get close-up pictures. Audio is critical, and a range of microphones were demonstrated. The main filming app Cassius personally uses is FilmicPro, which he demonstrated to the group. There are several other great filmmaking apps available of which a few were shown. Finally, we considered three editing app options recommended by Cassius.

One big advantage of making a film on your iPhone or Android smartphone is that when you go out filming in the street people don't ask what you are doing. Taking photos on smartphones is so common that people barely notice, whereas if you were using traditional equipment you can attract unwanted attention, “Smartphone filmmaking offers so much freedom to explore”. This medium is so exciting, it prompted Steven Soderbergh to come out of retirement and make a totally smartphone-based film, "Unsane" – to be released in March 2018.  Even film-makers using traditional methods are now often using smartphones to do a low cost dry-run.  The quality of smartphone films and amount of cost saving kits available is making the success of smartphone filming inevitable.

"Corporates are not up to speed with this yet, so I've mainly been working with charities, but once they see the quality they don't worry at all," says Cassius Rayner, a pioneer in teaching how to make the most of the camera in your pocket.  Cassius was demonstrating the attractions of his smartphone film-making workshops which are being held on Saturday 24th Feb and Saturday 24th March - these can be booked online.  These workshops will run from 10.30 to 4pm on Saturdays at Bell House and really teach you how to make your smartphone work for you.  For details please email [email protected] 

Cassius Rayner, multi-award winning filmmaker

Cassius Rayner, multi-award winning filmmaker

Bee-keeping: an introduction

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The Queen Bee's behaviour may seem the ultimate in promiscuous, as she can mate with large numbers of drones.  Many of the drones in a hive don't even get the chance to mate but those that do have their genitalia torn off in the process and then die.  Having taken the drone's sperm off him the queen bee stores it in a special pouch and uses it later for when she lays eggs.  Life expectancies are different too - the queen lives for about 4 years, whereas drones live for a few months at best, and worker bees in the summer only last for about 6 weeks.  I learnt all this in the introduction to bee-keeping at Bell House Dulwich where Philip Nicholson was leading the course.

At the course I met a mix of people - an allotment holder hoping to get bees installed on their allotment,  a bee-keeper from India who is planning to set up an apiary in Forest Hill, and one young woman wanting to join the bee-keepers at Bell House as "apprentice bee-keeper number 3".  

Philip used exhibits and slides to explain the life of the bee, the bee-keeping year, diseases of the hive and how to deal with swarming.  Occasional swarms, by the way, are quite normal and are an inevitable aspect of bee-keeping as the bees try to set up new colonies.  In looking at pests and diseases, Philip told us how to counter the Varroa mite, wax moth, chalk brood, wasps and bigger animals such as mice and woodpeckers.


Apart from being a terrific hobby, bee-keeping is a contribution to the environmental through pollination of flowers and trees.  For most bee-keepers a major objective is to make honey: we were told how to take off "supers" laden with honey, remove the wax capping, centrifuge out the honey and put it into jars.  Proving how productive bee-keeping is, Philip gave attendees a jar of honey which he (and his bees) have made in Kent, but next year I hope he may be able to supply honey made at Bell House in Dulwich.

If you want to know more, please email [email protected]