John is in a love triangle: painting, the Mediterranean and his wife, Ama. All were present at Bell House in April where local artist Jukes Johnson showed his painting, prints and ceramics.Read More
Having trained at Goldsmiths School of Art, Chris Nash became a dance photographer by accident. Initially he was just taking photographs of his sculptures and people at the college.Read More
Jolyon is a retired banker who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2018. He shared his personal experiences of early stage dementia at Bell House’s Dementia Day, along with his wife Jean.Read More
Tina Hunter gave brilliant advice at Bell House on how the school ‘system’ works for those with dyslexia, and the role dyslexia assessments plays in this system.Read More
Good news from Bell House’s Personal Stories writing workshop. A participant who came to our writing workshop in July told Maggie Smith:Read More
When I received the Bell House newsletter, Jamaican Folk Songs immediately jumped out at me. Being Trinidadian I was rather excited; it would remind me of home.Read More
Bell House has been donated books helping school children with the transition to secondary school.Read More
Having first been built in 1767, Bell House has a rich history, a long list of previous inhabitants - and its fair share of ghost storiesRead More
Thomas Wright, the first resident of Bell House, took a diligent role in civic affairs at a time when the City was developing rapidly and confidently. The Seven Years War had just ended, paving the way for Britain’s global expansion.Read More
Louise Wood takes an overview of Dyslexia - where have we come from and where are we going?
If you are new to the world of dyslexia as a parent, teacher or young person who has been recently diagnosed, it is worth remembering that dyslexia is relatively new to us all.
The Past Struggle for Recognition
A team at the University of Oxford, under the leadership of Dame Maggie Snowling, has recently begun a project to understand the history of dyslexia; the evolution of the science, the political struggle for acceptance and the everyday experience. Details are available on this link: https://dyslexiahistory.web.ox.ac.uk/home
A German physician first diagnosed ‘word blindness’ in 1877 and the term dyslexia was coined by German ophthalmologist Rudolph Berlin in the same year, but recognition came very much later. The British Dyslexia Association was formed in 1972, the same year that a key report on children with specific learning difficulties was sceptical about dyslexia’s existence. Government recognition surfaced in a parliamentary debate in 1987 but progress in education arrived with the Rose Report on dyslexia and literacy in 2009. Protection for those with dyslexia in the workforce came finally with the UK Equality Act of 2010.
Dyslexia Today, The Facts
For an overview of where we stand today, a summary by the Driver Youth Trust in the British Dyslexia Association Handbook provides some hard and sobering facts:
* 10% of children in this country are dyslexic, 4% severely so;
* One in eight children fail to master the basics of reading and one in five fail to master the basics of writing by the end of primary school;
* At secondary level, over a third of young people failed to achieve the expected level of a grade A to C in GCSE English in 2011;
* One in six people in the UK struggle with literacy, their reading level falling below that expected of an 11-year-old;
* Six million UK adults are functionally illiterate, meaning that they cannot read a medicine bottle, food label or fill out a job application form.
In addition to the personal heartache, the economic costs of this situation are considerable:
* Research by KPMG found that each illiterate person, by the age of 37, has cost the taxpayer an additional £45,000 in extra costs relating to education, unemployment support and the criminal justice system;
* The Every Child a Chance Trust estimated that poor literacy costs the UK up to £2.5 billion per year;
* Low levels of literacy make it harder to find employment. One study found 4 out of 10 unemployed people using Jobcentre Plus were dyslexic;
*Around half the prison population struggle with poor literacy and one in five people in prison are understood to have dyslexia.
Research amongst teachers shows that they are still not receiving the support they need to identify and help those with dyslexia and other specific learning needs:
* More than a third of teacher training providers (35%) spent less than a day training teachers how to support children who struggle with literacy;
* 60% of teachers surveyed by the Driver Youth Trust did not feel satisfied that their initial teacher training provided them with the skills they need to teach those who struggle to learn to read and write.
The future, five reasons for optimism
Will the future be any better? The British Dyslexia Association held its 11th International Conference in April 2018 and the feeling from this conference was that there are a number of reasons to be positive and hopeful.
The first is the sheer weight of international and multidisciplinary research now going into this field, particularly that capitalising on developments in neuroscience and genetics. Pure research is complemented by practical projects across all age ranges in education and increasingly in the workplace. Supporting the emotional well being of those with dyslexia is also an important current research theme.
Secondly, the debate is now framed more around discussions of neuro-diversity. Parents and educators have long felt that children with dyslexia don’t always fit into a neat pigeonhole but, like all children, have different learning styles, weaknesses but also strengths. Comorbidity or the frequent co–occurrence of specific learning issues is widely acknowledged too. Recognition of this level of complexity helps drive more appropriate interventions and focuses us on starting with an understanding of each of us as an individual.
Use of the term neuro-diversity has also led to a focus on the positive strengths of those who often struggle with literacy. These centre on creativity, adaptability and resilience. A number of public role models and success stories have emerged around this theme. One speaker put it this way ‘Our creativity is our competitive edge’, ‘There’s a reason why this DNA exists’ and ‘I will put my money on a dyslexic every time’. Valuing neuro-diversity is helping the stigma to melt away.
Thirdly, these advances coincide with the boom in information technology, which allows the development of new tools to support those with special learning needs. This article was written using a dictation device; scanning pens proliferate, organisational and touch-typing software is widely available. Ideas can be shared widely and easily using film and other visual media.
Finally, information technology also leads to economic and employment opportunities, which have not existed before and which allow those with dyslexia to circumvent the traditional career structures based around exams, employment forms and ongoing written tests. The creative economy is the one least amenable to mechanisation. Entrepreneurial skills have an outlet rarely seen before.
The statistics are sobering and the prospects for those with dyslexia can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially when it is new to you. But the seeds are definitely there for a surge forward to ensure the future can be very much brighter than the past.
Here at Bell House we hope to play our part by supporting educators, parents and those with dyslexia and other specific learning needs.
Having repaired the beautiful Georgian wall that divides Bell House from College Road, Matt has returned to work on one of the last surviving ha-has in London. Built in 1767, it was designed to protect the garden from passing livestock (sheep and cattle were driven along College Road to market in London). The name ha-ha is thought to derive from the expression of surprise as people discovered what they thought was uninterrupted grass was actually a hidden wall. Unlike a fence it is invisible from Bell House, leaving views which would have stretched for miles in Georgian times.
Working outside in this hot weather brings its own issues. Matt must ensure that the traditional lime mortar he uses (its flexibility helps protect the brickwork from future damage) does not dry out too quickly. Lime mortar gains its strength, in part, from carbonation: the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Just because a mortar is dry does not mean that it has carbonated and if the pointing dries before enough carbonation has taken place, the mortar will crack and weaken. So Matt has been starting work very early, spraying the brickwork with water to slow down the process, and finishing before the heat of the day affects the mortar. Come past Bell House around 7am and he will already be at work. Luckily because he is a traditional craftsman, working only with his hands, there are no intrusive noises to disturb the neighbours. Once Matt has worked his way along the ha-ha he will work back again, replacing any missing bricks.
The retaining walls of the ha-ha, which stretch towards the road and support the pavement outside Bell House, are buckled and need complete replacement. Together with Nicholas Garner, Matt has devised a structure that will support the load placed on the walls but also be visually sympathetic to the location. A hidden metal and concrete structure will be faced with recycled Georgian bricks.
We hope that our commitment to repairing and maintaining Bell House in this sustainable and traditional manner will help preserve the house for the next 250 years of its history.
Louise Wood reflects upon books that approach dyslexia in a positive way and discusses the new theory of neuro-diversity.
Anyone who has puzzled over the different take on a problem or issue by a partner, child or colleague will tell you that we all think differently. But now we understand a great deal more from neuroscience about why this might be the case. The term neuro-diversity has been coined to describe this characteristic.
Four recent books take up the idea and expand upon how those with dyslexia think differently, in particular more creatively. In a world that is changing in favour of adaptability, creativity and resilience, those with dyslexia may have the competitive edge.
Margaret Rooke, an established writer and mother of a dyslexic daughter, decided that she wanted to identify the characteristics of those with dyslexia who go on to achieve happiness and success in their chosen field. She interviewed 23 people, including poet Benjamin Zephaniah, entrepreneurs Richard Branson and Theo Paphitis, architect Richard Rogers and performers Eddie Izzard, Marcus Brigstocke and Darcy Bussell. Their insights are individual and inspirational but can all be grouped under the title of her book, Creative, Successful, Dyslexic.
Buoyed by the response to this book, Rooke went on to ask, what about ordinary young people? What strategies work for them? This resulted in a series of in-depth interviews with more than 100 children from 7 different countries for a book called Dyslexia is My Superpower (most of the time). The interviews show the importance of self-insight, building self-confidence and the many ways dyslexic children seek out what works for them. The fantastic illustrations by the children will be familiar to any parent of a dyslexic child and show that the written word is not the only way to make a powerful point.
But what of the world of work?
If you have seen Tiffany Sunday’s TEDx talk you will know what a persuasive public speaker she is and how passionately she feels that her own dyslexia has given her Dyslexia’s Competitive Edge, the title of her latest book. She argues that the future favours the entrepreneur and spells out exactly why dyslexics make excellent entrepreneurs. The words creativity and resilience come up again and also the importance of role models and mentors. Her thought-provoking rallying call is that computers will replicate neuro-typical thinking easily, but those who think less typically will be gold dust in the new technological economy.
For the British economy, built on engineering, ingenuity and creativity, tapping the widest range of talent in future is a cause we can all get behind.
Margaret Malpas MBE provides an overarching viewpoint, gained from a career in human resources and working with the British Dyslexia Association. In her book Self-Fulfillment with Dyslexia, A Blueprint for Success she has carefully researched the characteristics that enable adult dyslexics to achieve their full potential. These include finding the right niche, tapping your passion, drawing on coping strategies built up in early life and recognising atypical problem solving and creative skills. Significantly Malpas drills down to break the term creativity into its component parts - not just the moment of insight, but also the editing and follow through of ideas.
Encouragingly for those of us who support dyslexic friends and relatives Malpas and the fellow authors show how we as employers and family can make a big difference to the success of those with dyslexia by fostering self belief and providing emotional support. Together with self-awareness, these provide the emotional tool kit for success.
It’s important to note that no one is saying that being dyslexic makes life easy or that those with dyslexia have any inbuilt intellectual superiority or inferiority. But certainly the combined message of these four books, spotlighted at the recent British Dyslexia Association International Conference, is that those with dyslexia should draw more than a little comfort and a lot of excitement about the possibilities ahead.
The scripts are down, the costumes are gathered and show week is rapidly approaching; all the Dulwich Players need now is an idyllic setting in which to bring Philip Pullman’s interpretation of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales to life. Happily for us, we have just that in the gardens of Bell House.
While most of the rest of the cast had already seen the gardens, last Sunday was my first opportunity to climb Rapunzel’s tower, shelter under the good wife’s juniper tree and accompany the old king to his final resting place, surrounded by roses. Bringing all of these characters to life in the sunshine at Bell House, enveloped by the smells and colours of the borders, really does feel like we are drawing them out of their dusty old tomes and into the real world, albeit one sheltered from the hubbub of modern life.
It isn’t the first time that I have performed an outdoor production and many of the Dulwich Players are old hands at it, but this version of Grimms’ Fairy Tales is something new for all of us; not only will we each being embodying a whole host of characters (and the plethora of accents which comes with that), but we will be taking the audience with us on a very literal journey through the meadows and bowers of fairyland. Interacting with the garden is both refreshing and unsettling: no more ‘could you just move that chair to the left a bit?’, as ‘the chair’ is suddenly a metal globe, or a tree, or a bridge, none of which are going anywhere. Now it is up to us to meld with the space and be part of the Bell House's garden.
Performing these short plays in a garden makes perfect sense, and brings a whole new dimension to these ancient stories. Fairytales are all about how the human and the natural intermingle, be it hedgehog-boys, magical singing birds or life-giving leaves. You are warmly invited to explore it with us.
Performances are on in the gardens of Bell House - Thursday 21st June and Friday 22nd at 8pm, Saturday 23rd at 5pm and 8pm, and Sunday 24th at 2pm and 5pm.
As this is an outdoor performance, please come prepared for the weather. You are welcome to bring your own seating or hire it from us.
Tickets available from Bell House, at www.dulwichplayers.org or from Art Stationers
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.
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!”
Pip Rice and Ben Rice are showing their work at Bell House this weekend as part of the Dulwich Festival’s Artists’ Open House and they will be available both days to talk about their inspirations and processes. Rod Wynne-Powell has taken some photos to give you a flavour of their work and how the setting of Bell House complements the exhibits.
Pip Rice’s woventales evolve from the twigs, leaves, bark and metal she finds in South London. Often her strategy is simply taking a walk on a windy day, peering in skips, or listening out for chain saws. For this exhibition she has foraged the Bell House garden for brambles, willow, beech, rose and birch but also rummaged the wider neighbourhood for urban flotsam and jetsam such as rope, netting, copper wire or scrap metal. Once back in her workshop, the textures and qualities of the materials guide her and together with her traditional and experimental weaving techniques she then produces exquisite forms. Each piece, whether functional or sculptural, is always unique.
Ben Rice is a photographic artist. At Bell House he is exhibiting large and dramatic prints illustrating nature’s reclamation of dry stone walls and they are creating quite a stir at Bell House as people debate whether they are photographs or real living wall. Ben himself wonders whether they are landscape, still life, portrait, or even abstract. He is also showing stunning views of a single urban wild cherry tree from Peckham Rye, isolated from its environment and deeply striking in its solitude. When viewed close up his prints offer a startling clarity of detail far beyond the normal gaze. He is also showing a more modestly-sized series inspired by the nuances of Japanese culture as seen through the prism of elegantly placed bicycles. The bicycles are his jumping off point for exploring Japanese architecture, design and even character.
The exhibition is open at Bell House from 11am to 6pm, Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 May. Rod Wynne-Powell’s account of its opening can be found here
“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.
Ian McInnes gave two different and fascinating talks at Bell House recently. We even had somebody attend whose great-grandmother had been born in Bell House in 1836. The first talk was centred on Dulwich’s Georgian heritage: the buildings, and the families who lived in them. He revealed a tangle of family connections with people moving into different houses around the village and he showed us how small Dulwich was in Georgian times. He told us about Thomas Wright, who built Bell House as a country retreat for his family, away from the noise and smell of the City of London. It was Wright who charitably installed the bell to help summon local men to fight fires in the hamlet of Dulwich.
Ian’s second talk focused on Victorian Dulwich and again showed us that, just as now, Dulwich was a convivial and connected place. People knew each other, they worked and socialised together, and they brought their friends and family from other parts of the country to live in Dulwich. George Widdowson, for example, a jeweller who made swords, medals, and other regalia, lived at both Bell House and the White House (now replaced by St Austin’s, where James Allen’s Prep. School is based). He brought his sister and also a brother-in-law to live in Dulwich.
The pace of change in Victorian Dulwich was slower than in most of London and even into the twentieth century a small number of farms still supplied milk to local houses. But when the trains came the Victorian building boom made its mark here, especially in East Dulwich. Dulwich Village retained much of its open land, and still does, because the fields were converted into playing fields.
These two talks were the first of a series we are planning at Bell House, highlighting the local history of Dulwich. They will take place on Sunday afternoons. If you have any particular areas of local history you would like to see covered please let us know: [email protected] or visit the Dulwich Society website to learn more: https://www.dulwichsociety.com/
The Quilt Academy has settled nicely into Bell House. The free Thursday drop-in sessions are a hive of activity where experienced and welcoming tutors share their skills in hand and machine sewing with less experienced sewers, or even complete beginners.
The Quilters have now joined forces with Sharon O’Connor, our house historian, and are hatching a plan to reproduce two images from Bell House’s history in textile form. A 1746 map of Dulwich and an 1811 lease plan of Bell House will be reproduced using a combination of quilting, patchwork and embroidery. This will produce two beautiful works of art and also add to our understanding of the geographical and historical context of Bell House. For example: fields which used to belong to Bell House are now part of Dulwich Park. The quilters are about to put their creative heads together to decide the best way of tackling this technically challenging project.
We will keep you updated with the project as it unfolds (but not unravels!). In the meantime, if you would like to join the Quilt Academy, either to acquire a practical skill, socialise with others or to make something beautiful to cherish, please pop in on a Thursday for a cup of tea and a chat, or contact us: [email protected]. Carers, translators, therapists or family support are also most welcome attend the sessions.
‘Over the years, we have derived much joy - and inner peace - through making quilts, bags, clothes, pillows, table linens and more. We know others can do likewise with the right mentoring within a safe and welcoming space that Bell House is keen to provide.’ The Quilt Academy
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.
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: