Chol in the Netherlands – Part 1

Carly and Jess, Co-Directors at Chol, recently went on a trip to the Netherlands as part of our Imaginary Communities (IC) Intergenerational project with Amphion Theater and Leyden Academy on Vitality and Aging.

Carly talks about what they got up to, what they learned, and what’s next in the Netherlands journey!

How it all began

My Chol journey began in 2015 as I arrived in a snowy Yorkshire and started working on a Bronte-inspired project at the Red House Museum exploring the ideas and wants of women authors as inspiration for young women from Dewsbury to co-create a piece of theatre – I was hooked. Being in a space, hearing, sensing and being told stories is what ignites my creativity. Spending time in a house where Bronte footsteps fell and exploring their stories through fact combined with imagination, I felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Taking Imaginary Communities to the Netherlands

Discovering stories and having the space to let imagination soar is key to Chol’s work, and Imaginary Communities (IC) is a powerful tool that enables us to do just that. It allows us to work with others to create worlds and characters that surprise us, make us laugh, intrigue and connect us in meaningful ways. This connection was missed in lockdown – Vicky and I delivered weekly online sessions to artists, teachers, practitioners, sharing the approach and creating our own island community to be playful even with our screens. PhD student Lieke was one of those members, joining us online from the Netherlands. She was determined to bring IC to the Netherlands and she succeeded. Two years later, Jess and I packed our suitcases, fabrics, and materials, Ruth’s extraordinary designs of maps, setting character cards translated in Dutch and off we went to share the IC world with Lieke and her team at Leyden Academy and Amphion Theater.

Leyden and Amphion Theater are two organisations whose values align with Chol’s. They are committed to putting care and creativity at the heart of the practice, have a willingness to be open and learn from one another, and most importantly, encourage humour and belly laughs. With a nervous enthusiasm, Jess and I delivered our workshop, creating an undiscovered Island with Artists, Researchers and Practitioners. What we discovered was a whole lot more than we had anticipated.

Listening, learning and building in a new space

There is something when immersed in a different language, of which you recognise a handful of words, that strengthens your listening skills. Listening, a powerful tool that is at the heart of our practice, in our busy world of many distractions and competing attention, to be quiet and listen is a skill that needs practising. Observing the Dutch Practitioners gave an insight into the many non-verbal languages we communicate with such as play, body language and facial expressions, which made me reflect on our work in our Imaginary Communities classrooms. The need for children to be heard, their voice and the behaviour they communicate to be acknowledged, felt and responded to.

Marij, a Practitioner involved in training and who is already using the IC approach with children in schools, shared that when we created our IC characters in the space, and Jess’ character felt sad and lonely, she said “you were a mirror in the room, I looked through your eyes”. This is the power of IC, we get to embark on journeys in new worlds with new characters who feel and share things in a place that is supportive and encouraged, a place where we all want to and must listen to one another, to quiet the hubbub that is clawing for our attention.

In the last Year 4 class I taught, we shared a reminder ahead of each IC class, what is a community? “A group of people that care for each other”. Right there, in the Netherlands, we were a group of people caring about one another in a new space, and a special world we were creatively building together.

When reflecting with Machteld from Amphion Theatre, she asked the question as to how we can be this open and vulnerable in our daily life as a way for us to build connections with one another? At Chol we strive to listen and be open in all our projects, seeking new spaces and opportunities for our participants, children and artists to connect through the sharing of stories.

What’s next?

We will be venturing back to the Netherlands in October for the celebration event and to meet the Imaginary Communities and characters they have created.

Lieke, PhD student at Leyden Academy tells us more about the Imaginary Communities Intergenerational Project, her research, and the collaboration with Chol, Amphion and Leyden. Read here.

Imaginary Communities

If you are interested in embedding the Imaginary Communities approach into your school or organisation, please find out more on our website or alternatively get in touch with us on

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