A resident from Dornoch will appear in a unique photography exhibition after being recognised by The National Lottery for their dedication and devotion to keeping the arts alive and accessible for all during the pandemic.
Liz Treacher, 56, who is originally from Newton Abbott in Devon but has lived in Scotland since she was 14, is lead reader for the Open Book group in Brora and also works as a writer, English teacher and creative writing tutor.
And Claire Urquhart, 48, is the Co-founder of Open Book and lives in Edinburgh after growing up in Carnoustie and studying at Edinburgh University.
The digital exhibition in which Liz will feature marks the first time in history eight of the UK’s most iconic art galleries - including Summerhall in Edinburgh, London’s National Portrait Gallery and The MAC in Belfast and the British Film Institute (BFI) - have come together in this way.
The collection, titled ‘The National Lottery’s 2020 Portraits of the People’ celebrates the remarkable individuals, including Liz, who has worked tirelessly during the pandemic to bring creativity, enjoyment and enrichment to people in new ways.
Thirteen powerful and poignant portraits have been created by Chris Floyd, who normally photographs celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mo Farah and Victoria Beckham.
The exhibition was born out of insights from The National Lottery indicating a ‘domestic renaissance’ in people enjoying the arts at home with 61% of UK adults saying it helped their state of mind during the crisis, and almost half (46%) of Scottish people believing the positive impacts on their wellbeing would be long-lasting
“Open Book is a charity that runs shared reading and creative writing in community settings across Scotland,” Claire said.
“We use literature as a tool to connect people, to build communities and to amplify voices you don’t always hear.
“We work in eight sectors – prisons, multi-cultural, community groups (Liz’s is one of these), libraries, residential settings for the elderly, islands and public groups.”
Liz added: “If reading is a window, I think writing is a door. Everybody just gets so excited. The Brora group has only been going since October last year. We’ve seen an increase in engagement. We had a few months and then coronavirus hit, and so people had to switch over to Zoom. We’ve managed to keep almost everyone, which is really positive.
“It was a big worry at first for communities in general, but Zoom has been great. The only problem with Zoom is if people aren’t confident it can be tough to get them to use it, but we’ve overcome that and I think people really look forward to the sessions.”
Liz and Open Book’s work during lockdown has been remarkable, using National Lottery funding to adapt to digital formats and ensure their group continues to thrive.
Liz's Open Book group gets together every month to use texts as inspiration for their own writing and places explicit emphasis on community and welcoming individuals of all ability levels.
Liz seamlessly stitches ability levels together into a group that helps participants feel uplifted, connected and heard. During lockdown, Liz has been running her Open Book group on Zoom and despite being based in a geographically isolated part of the country, the continuity of the sessions has been a critical means of combating social isolation.
Liz has ensured others have an outlet for creativity and says she couldn’t be prouder of the progress of her Open Book group.
“In groups like Brora – and there are many – we are already remote, and so things like loneliness are floating around anyway, and then you get a pandemic,” said Liz.
“I think it’s felt almost lonelier – if that’s possible – we’re just miles from everywhere. I think the fact Open Book has managed to keep going is wonderful.
“We’re still attracting more or less the same numbers – there’s one or two who aren’t as comfortable using Zoom, but most people have just gone for it.”
Claire, the co-founder of Open Book added: “The pandemic has taught us a lot. We were very worried about leaving people behind through digital poverty, but the majority of our groups have got back online.
“We’ve decided that there’ll always be an Open Book Zoom group, even going forward. Even when we can all meet in person again, we’ll still keep a digital presence for those people who can’t get out of their house or find their way to one of our groups.”
National Lottery players raise £30 million a week for good causes around the country, funding thousands of projects that make a huge difference to people’s wellbeing.
“I’m very proud but I really feel it’s the group that’s got the award – if I haD people who didn’t want to participate, I’d find it hard,” Liz said.
“The group has really inspired me during lockdown and kept me going as a writer. I feel it’s very much something we should accept as a group.
“As far as it goes for me, I think it’s really improved my confidence in helping other people getting into writing. I love the formula that Open Book use, and I think it really works for me.
Claire added: “Being recognised and having our work validated by the National Lottery no-less is incredibly important in terms of spreading the word about what we do and the impact Open Book is having on the lives of our participants.
“There have been a few comments that have literally brought tears to my eyes. One that took my breathe away was: ‘the only time my brain gets lit up is when I’m with Open Book.’”
The digital exhibition in which Liz’s portrait features can be visited on the websites and social media of: The National Portrait Gallery, The National Museum of Wales,
The MAC in Belfast, IKON Gallery in Birmingham, Summerhall in Edinburgh, Ty Pawb, Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales, The Photographers’ Gallery in London and The British Film Institute. The portraits will also be on display at BFI Southbank in London.
Photographer Chris Floyd added: “The journey to capture these artists of all varieties was an incredibly humbling one. I wanted to do justice to the ongoing and selfless efforts of these creatives and creators who have taken their skills within the arts and built accessible resources for those who needed it most. It feels like a small thankyou in comparison to what they’ve done for their local communities and for the arts sector as whole.”
Iain Munro, CEO of Creative Scotland, said: “People in the UK have a great love of creativity, art and culture. We know these things can bring us together, enrich our lives, support our emotional wellbeing, and make us happier.
“Throughout lockdown we've seen that in villages, towns and cities, people have continued to participate and enjoy the arts whether that's at home, digitally, or through socially distanced activities within their communities.”
The works aim to create a ‘moment in history’, preserving the work of these unheralded champions for posterity and encapsulating the varied and innovative ways art can be expressed.
Image credit: National Lottery 2020’s Portraits of the People by Chris Floyd