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Overcoming Reliance on Gatekeepers: Addressing Racial Equity Through Meaningful Partnerships and Collaboration with Black and Minority Ethnic Communities at a Local Level

Overcoming Reliance on Gatekeepers

By Tot Foster, 1st December 2022

On 8th December I went to a one-day conference ‘Overcoming Reliance on Gatekeepers: Addressing Racial Equity Through Meaningful Partnerships and Collaboration with Black and Minority Ethnic Communities at a Local Level’. This was organised by Fidele Mutwarasibo, the Director of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership at the Open University. The event explored projects overcoming one particular barrier to participation in all sorts of social structures and organisations; the actions of ‘gatekeepers’ rather than ‘bridge-builders’. As Fidele and several other speakers emphasised; no-one is ‘hard to reach’ – the real problem is not making enough effort to access or include them – and gatekeeping makes that access more difficult. Yaina Samuels advocated for the power of one to one conversation: ‘You want to build up trust… then everything else will come’.  

One project really resonated with Connecting through Culture. This is a collaboration between the Open University and SASS – Swansea Asylum Seeker Support. Marie Gillespie and Tom Cheesman spoke about how they wanted to find a way of sharing creative responses to living as an asylum seeker or refugee in the pandemic; connecting people through their smartphones. ‘Cov19: Chronicles from the Margins’ has received many and varied artworks; photos, paintings, poems, videos. These are presented on a public facing website cum gallery. And what started as local to Swansea, including digital skills development, grew to be truly international. The project acknowledges and draws on the huge expertise held by asylum seekers and refugees – in international migration, international law, local support etc. In academic terms it’s the co-production of knowledge about the lived experiences of those with precarious migration status during the pandemic. On another level it is an outpouring and connection between those who share painful experiences, and for those of us who haven’t been close to those experiences, a compassionate but stark window onto what’s going on for individuals living in our communities; as Marie described it ‘a collective mobilisation of everyday experience’.  

It was interesting to hear the very varied ways in which the idea of gatekeepers was represented – from Fidele talking about community leaders, through local government anti-racism practices that in the past emphasises reports rather than implementation, or relied on consulting with large organisations rather than at the grassroots, through to the ethics procedures at the Open University that put barriers in the way of the SASS collaboration being able to be agile and responsive. But what all the speakers had in common was the importance of getting to lived experience, involving and listening to what people say about their daily encounters, practices and emotions, and then building that understanding into projects and services. Charlotte Amoss from Cardiff Council spoke of ‘collaborative solutions…locally owned’. At Connecting through Culture our co-research is based on a lifecourse approach; and empowering the participation of minoritised older people in tech innovation; a sphere which has tended to overlook their experiences. It does feel that, 18 months in, the project has been breaking down some barriers.  

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Co-Researcher Film Screening

Co-Researcher Film Screening

By Tot Foster, 1st December 2022

Over the last few months the co-researchers working with Connecting through Culture have been making films, and on 9th November we held a screening at the Watershed Cinema 3.  

Initially these videos were going to be a small activity that emerged from the Connecting through Culture poetry group; motivated by the desire to record some co-researchers thoughts on ageing, to make videos of poems and simply to have fun being creative together. But it grew and grew through the enthusiasm of co-researchers until, supported by the Thinking Futures festival, we had 14 videos ready for screening.There wasn’t a specific brief other than to put out something into the world that the individuals involved would like to say and be heard. Some co-researchers made their own films and sent them in as finished articles for the screening, some short animations were made at two workshops held this autumn, but most of the videos were made as a collaboration between co-researchers and myself; with the co-researchers initiating the ideas and having final editorial say too. In between we negotiated, played and chatted our way through production. There was even tea and cake.  

So, at ten o clock I arrived at Screen 3 at the Watershed cinema to check that the file I had sent in earlier in the week would play smoothly. The projectionist started the first film and I was alone in the auditorium. All the films had been shot on phones, generally fairly old with cracked screens – and the projected quality was….mindblowing! Who needs fancy hardware when old phones can do this! Slowly people started to arrive – I wasn’t sure how many would come, but in the end 45 people settled down to watch. Some of the co-researchers had brought family and friends – their fan clubs – and had dressed up for the occasion. There was such a great atmosphere and between each video everyone clapped and, on occasion, whooped. Afterwards many stayed behind for a drink in the Watershed café – catching up, meeting new people, asking questions about the films, offering congratulations. What a fabulous morning – I went home re-inspired by the positive vibes.  

You’ll be able to see the films soon on our website. Several address ageing and ageism; the disservice that being defined as old brings. Others are a celebration of personal creative pleasures or the natural world around us. And there are also films to make us think: about Bristol’s dark past of slavery, about missing the help and companionship of a guide dog, and about hopes for the future.  

You’ll be able to see the films soon on our website. Several address ageing and ageism; the disservice that being defined as old brings. Others are a celebration of personal creative pleasures or the natural world around us. And there are also films to make us think: about Bristol’s dark past of slavery, about missing the help and companionship of a guide dog, and about hopes for the future.  

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Intergenerational Connection Through Culture

Intergenerational Connection Through Culture

By Sid Tagg Foster, 26th October 2022

Intergenerational connection through culture is proving to be a key element of our work on the project. This blogpost was written by 16 year old Sid Tagg Foster) who attended both events alongside some of our team and co-researchers.  

A few weeks ago, I attended two events targeted at creating an inclusive space for disabled people to connect with and experience the arts in a more intimate and satisfying way.  

The first, a dance in the Bristol Beacon called ‘Prehension Blooms’, was prefaced with a ‘touch tour’; an introduction to the performance in the form of allowing the audience to handle the costumes, the set and even the dancers to accommodate those with visual impairments. This was a really enlightening experience for me in multiple ways; at first, I thought about how difficult it must be for the visually impaired to navigate daily life, but then I considered the simplicity of the adjustments made to the performance to enrich the experience for them and it made me realise how simple so many improvements to our society could be while enhancing the lives of the visually impaired to such a high degree. I felt confused at why I hadn’t seen more events like this advertised or attended them myself as, to me, it is so important for everyone in society to be able to have such enriching cultural experiences. I felt that I really gained something from this type of introduction as well, especially to the dancer’s costumes, and it added so much depth being able to imagine the textural sensations which the dancers themselves were experiencing. This introduction also allowed me to glean much more meaning from the dance as well and get a much better understanding of the artistic technique and dynamic nature of the stage, props and dancers all collaborating.  

The second was a ‘lie in’ at the Bristol Arnolfini in an exhibition exploring human’s relationship with the natural world and the false dichotomy of the urban and natural . I really enjoyed this event, and I thought it was an interesting and unique way of experiencing a gallery show: something usually so rigid and formalised. There was something mollifying about the freedom to lie down and relax in a place which, to me, should always be so tranquil but is made overwhelming by the rigidity and pressure of rules and social expectation. With this exhibition the experience was particularly effective as much of the art was on the gallery floor, encouraging, in this context, a much closer examination and analysis of the artworks. I especially enjoyed the clay figures and me and my sister spotting our favourites; something I never would’ve experienced without this opportunity. The event made me think about how lucky I am to be the kind of able-bodied person whom society caters for and the ease with which I can experience art and culture and how fortunate I am for that.  

Additionally, though, these experiences emphasised to me the falsehood of so much regressive argument against progress today and throughout history: if something benefits one group in society, it benefits us all. These experiences welcomed those who would’ve otherwise had difficulty and allowed the inspiration of these pieces to reach a much wider, more diverse audience, both increasing their cultural impact and improving even my own experience, despite being able-bodied and not visually impaired, and allowing new connections and ways of thinking to form which would have been impossible otherwise. Increasing the accessibility of the arts through multi-sensory experiences creates a welcoming environment and enriches the experience for everyone.  

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Celebrating the work of our project partner, WECIL

Celebrating the Work of Our Project Partner, WECIL

By Alice Willatt, 17th October 2022

In today’s blog post, Connecting Through Culture researcher, Alice Willatt, reflects upon her day running a project stall alongside principal investigator, Prof. Helen Manchester, and CTC co-researcher, Elanora Ferry, at WECIL’s 2022 Access All Areas event. We would like to say a big thank you to WECIL, one of the project’s project partners, for all of their support and advice so far.  

Helen and I had a fantastic time running a stall at WECIL’s (The West of England Centre for Inclusive Living) 2022 ‘Access All Areas’ event. WECIL are a Bristol-based user led organisation dedicated to supporting independent living to create a more inclusive society. As a community partner on our project, they have provided valuable support in recruiting older adults as co-researchers and advised us on how to ensure our research and co-design practices are inclusive to those involved.  

During the event we were joined by Elanora, one of our project co-researchers. Elanora shared a fascinating selection of albums and journals created during her involvement in the project, which document her love of arts and cultural activities across the City of Bristol and beyond (see photos). It was great to meet others at the event and tell them more about our Connecting Through Culture project, including representatives from Bristol City Council. We also enjoyed hearing about WECIL’s exciting 5-year strategy and the launch of their Business Support Services (check out Disability.Inc.!).  

The highlight of the day for us was the fantastic selection of talks. Penny Germon (Bristol City Council, Neighbourhoods and Communities) spoke about the impacts of the Cost of Living Crisis on disable people, and the community-led response in the form of the ‘Can Do Bristol’ campaign (website and volunteer opportunities available here). We also heard from two generations of disability rights campaigners, Jane Campbell and Ellen Clifford. Ellen spoke about how today’s cost of living crisis follows over a decade of government austerity measures in which welfare reform and cuts to health and social care have had a profoundly disproportionate impact on the lives and rights of disabled people.  

The talks brought home the importance of collective action in fighting for disabled people’s rights and building a fairer and more just society where diversity is valued.  

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Older People, Culture, Community and Connection – Research Digest Film

Older People, Culture, Community and Connection – Research Digest Film

By Tot Foster, 11th October 2022

In this film, Tot Foster describes some of the key findings of the ‘Older People, Culture, Community and Connection’ research digest. The research digest brings together the findings of 70 internationally peer-reviewed studies published since 2011 that describe the relationship between cultural participation, older people’s wellbeing and feelings of social connection. Watch the film below.  

Our review was shaped in consultation with cultural practitioners and organisations through an event held in May 2022, which illuminated the sector’s interest in knowing more about the added value of cultural participation on social connectivity, its relationship to wellbeing, and the role of the digital in cultural participation. For more information visit our resources page.  

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Van Gogh in the Metaverse

Van Gogh in the Metaverse

By Ralph Hoyte, 6th October 2022

So, for starters: is it ‘Van Goff’, or is it ‘Van Go’? My sources, well, my brother-in-law, actually, says the Dutch say ‘Van Go’. I checked it on Forvo and the Dutch seem, mostly, to be saying something in between. It sounds like ‘Van Hoch’, with a very guttural ‘H’ at the beginning. The Swedish, on the other hand, are very sure it’s pronounced ‘Van Gog’. And as for the Japanese…  

Hmm, jury out, then, or let’s just call him ‘Vince’.  

Initial impressions were ‘Wow, so many people of such a wide age range (from kids to families to Gen3) are actually interested enough in some 19th century Dutch painter to make the effort to come along to an exhibition solely devoted to him? Wow!’; and that it was very professionally put together. ‘Hmm – very high production values – budget in the millions? And they’re expecting to not only recoup on that but also pull in a profit? These guys are def real profis with some solid professional and financial back up!’  

Then: why Van Gogh? Let me fly-on-the-wall myself on their initial pitch: “we want to stage a major cultural event based around a cultural icon with worldwide pulling power to showcase 21st century media technologies and toe-dip whether there’s a viable financial model to build on for even more mega events going forward. I mean, just look at the Abba thing down at the purpose-built Arena where they’re running actual avatars of Abba! Way-to-go!” “So who’re you going to run?” “One: it has to be someone with that instant recognition factor; two: his/her/their life has to have a relatable social context so people can buy in to their lived experience; three: there has to be DRAMA and EXCITEMENT!” “The ‘tortured artist trope’ always goes down well, too…” “So, what, I mean who we got?” “Vincent Van Gogh – he ticks all the boxes!” “Did you say Van Goff or Van Go?” “Whatever – you give us the dosh, we tell’m how to pronounce it.”  

I enjoyed the inventiveness, the way they varied the offer, from informative traditional interpretation boards through simple projections onto a bust to the Japonisme mobile-inspired Japanese lady ‘of the floating world’ (Ukiyoe), all leading up to the grand finale, the aircraft-hanger- scale 3600 projection space. I did feel a bit sorry for Vince, quoted as writing, “I envy the Japanese the extreme sharpness that everything seems to have (…) they make a figure with a few confident strokes”. ‘Yes, the Japanese philosophy – no, the Japanese practice is to master your art, then throw it all away and just DO, whereupon it does itself. No need to be tortured about it. But in the West we are taught to separate out, to doubt… such a pity, really, to be always pulled away.  

I really liked some of the other of his quotes as well, so, cut the exhibition organisers some slack, he is a genuinely interesting painter, artist and individual whose self-knowledge of his own fate squeezed greatness out of him. For example: “What would life be, if we had no courage to attempt anything?”, or, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together”, or, “I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it”, or, “Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.”  

Anyway – the aircraft, no, the space shuttle hanger: it’s BIG! It’s full of people surrendering to The Experience: teenagers, parents, kids, all ages lounging on deck chairs or benches. The walls, though high, do not extend high enough to hide the supporting structure of girders, probably, well, certainly on purpose: you are being welcomed into a staging post for the new era and that’s what they look like in the movies, so that’s what it looks like here. The construction, the immediate impression, the hushed, enraptured audience evoke – I think back to where I’ve just been: medieval Girona in Catalonia and its cathedral, the way that has been constructed over the centuries to evoke exactly those sorts of associations and feelings – yes, it’s a cathedral and we’re being invited to join in a religious experience! The music swells in corroboration: The Beyond has been brought to earth! Feel The Power! Join the Believers! Abandon Thyself to the Numinous! All Hail The Greatness of Art!  

The extra-human scale of the paintings brought to life did have the desired effect, but after a while I began to feel, well, oppressed? Bombarded with bombasticity? I left to do the VR tour. Join the metaverse! The dis – what’s the word I’m looking for? Discongruity? Disjunction? Dislocation? Something ‘dis‘ anyway between what my brain was telling me was happening (that I was travelling through a cartoon landscape on a gyroscooter) and what my body was telling me (no, you’re not, you’re standing still in a shed!) caused severe nausea which lasted for the next day or so.  

I disgorged myself into ‘the real world’. “I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process,” says Vincent Van Gogh. Ah yes, the other interesting thing is that the explanation for the way he used colour is that he really did see colours differently: he had a visual ‘impairment’. So his weakness was his strength and his strength his weakness.  

So, in the context of Connecting Through Culture: does the Van Gogh exhibition provide us with a model for one way of connecting people in general and Gen3 in particular through culture? I’d say ‘yes’: it merges culture and hi-end tech to provide a truly immersive and educational experience for all ages. It takes ‘the Art’ out of the gallery or museum and makes it accessible to a wide demographic. Looking at how they’ve done that gives some valuable pointers for how to set up cultural and artistic experiences which we can borrow from. After all, they’ve spent millions on it, so we don’t ned to do that, we can just cadge a few tips for our smaller scale efforts.  

Maybe not quite so bombastic.  

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A Pop-Up Museum – Giving Voice to Intangible Heritage

A Pop-Up Museum – Giving Voice to Intangible Heritage

By Tot Foster, 31st July 2022

In this blog post, Tot Foster takes us on a journey to visit Pete Insole, the Principal Historic Environment Officer for Bristol City Council. Together they explore historical artefacts and local people’s memories of St Nicholas’ Market, currently on show at a pop-up museum. Pete’s approach to heritage foregrounds rich storytelling and the voices that once echoed across the market stalls.  

At the end of June I went to visit Pete. He was sitting in an untenanted shop in St Nicholas’ covered market – getting on with his day-to-day emails but welcoming in anyone who cared to spend some time looking at the artefacts and memories that are beginning to populate the walls and floor space. Pete has rummaged through the cellars below the corn exchange and brought up posters, signs and an old wooden trading counter as a start for a pop-up museum.  

I asked him about why he was there: “We are co-curating a museum here, a display, it’s about creating a space together….Some traders say there’s not a lot in here at the moment… but it’s more about trying to inspire people to talk about the place.” So Pete’s presence is vital; he encourages those who come in to bring photos, to write their memories of the market on cards which are pinned up, or to just chat for as long as they want and leave their memories for Pete to document and add to the display. For new and younger visitors Pete’s enthusiastic conversation causes them to look around with a fresh eye. Some of the market traders have been multiple times to see how things are evolving. “The people who work in the market have their own interest – they bring stuff; ‘you might be interested in this we found behind the filing cabinet’.” So even the artefacts on show are ‘pop-up’ – no-one has valued or displayed them before and everyone is welcome to handle them. Pete has been brought a ‘tatty plan’ that shows where and whom had each stand in the 70’s – not an aesthetically pleasing object but something that makes connections; between the personal stories, the businesses and this place.  

But what does the pop-up museum hope to achieve? The market managers gave him the space as it’s not good for business to have vacant shops and they hope for extra footfall. From the historical environment perspective Pete’s interest is in the intangible heritage of the place. As a researcher on Connecting through Culture as we Age one thing really stood out to me. The importance of older people to the success of what Pete refers to as the ‘market story shop’ – it is older people’s stories that are it’s lifeblood. And Pete’s intention isn’t simply to record for posterity, it is to cast new light on a historic building so that when change happens – and the market has seen many drastic changes to its fabric and use – they are made in consideration of the huge value of the human relationships that the market embodies. “We’re interested in that near past that doesn’t get the same level of value as a Grade 2* listed building – the human connections about a place. …We want to highlight how rich a place it is in terms of memories and stories”. Pete says that by understanding the connections with a place we learn how to not throw away the baby with the bathwater when it comes to urban development. Pete nods at the famous ‘nail’ outside, and the Rolling Stones concert in the 60’s held in the Corn Exchange, but he also mentions the recent run on rubber ducks at the toy shop, the discounts for nurses from the BRI and the Chataway Café where traders met up to chew the fat in the 80’s. “It’s about not destroying what’s there…it’s getting more appreciation for this place rather than taking it for granted”. ”We’ll end up producing a booklet about the market – not a long story about building but about the people who have created the place we see today.”  

You can find the pop-up museum in the covered market opposite Treasure Island Sweets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until the end of Summer 2022 – there’s no fixed end date, just when it gets too cold for Pete to work there.  

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The Beating Heart of Co-Design

The Beating Heart of Co-Design

By Tot Foster, 29th July 2022

In this blog post, Tot Foster provides us with an update on where we are in the project timeline, some key upcoming events, and provides us with some insights about we’ve learned about inclusion (and also questions we still need to answer).  

The project has just entered it’s next phase; developing ‘demonstrator’ projects . These will be products and services that aim to support connection through culture for older people, the crux of this project. The 18 co-researchers have begun working with 26 creative professionals from a range of digital and artistic backgrounds and together they have become 44 co-designers. This co-design phase starts with three workshops run by Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed in Bristol – to introduce co-researchers and creatives, to brainstorm, to loosen up those co-design muscles, to coalesce teams to take ideas forward into prototyping.  

This is a challenge for sure. The co-designers are a large and incredibly diverse group, themselves with varying experiences of co-design and with a wide range of accessibility needs including different languages, mobility, sight and hearing. But crucially this project depends on every person being included in order to hear and act on the voices which are rarely heard – designing products with and for those who are often not visible.  

So the challenge got me thinking more about what is really at the heart of co-design and what ‘inclusion’ really means. It goes beyond language and physical issues. Co-design is an emotional process that asks everyone to give of themselves. In a word successful co-design is down to relationships – those inter-personal interactions, understandings and generosity around the table (even if it’s a virtual table). It’s relationships that make it possible to participate, that ‘include’; everyone feeling that they have the space and are valued, and that open our eyes to what is really needed in terms of ‘accessibility’. It’s relationships that bridge gaps of experience and identity. It’s relationships that let someone throw an idea into the mix and not feel it belongs to them, allowing for the group to take that idea and transform it. And it’s others responses that help each person articulate ideas, evolve, and critique with no judgement.  

This sounds all too simplistic perhaps, and not useful. Yet, as we have worked with and got to know the older co-researchers over the last year, we have witnessed how deeply emotional connections influence their involvement and how necessary it is for some of them to feel their contribution is valued before they speak up and share their thoughts and ideas. So thinking about relationships can be useful when it comes to preparing for co-design. As a team we have needed to think through: how can we show others they are valued so that they can participate comfortably and openly? How can we prepare ourselves to take on other’s ideas and share our own in a democratic way?  

One answer is to get all the ‘little arrangements’ right – taxis, food, interpreters, answering calls quickly, etc. Another is to be open ourselves as a research team – sharing our findings and asking for feedback. But perhaps it’s also a personal matter – giving ourselves to those relationships, maybe becoming friends but certainly understanding supporters. Of course this then throws up so many questions about boundaries – but that’s for another day, another blog…  

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A Visit to the Van Gogh Immersive

A Visit to the Van Gogh Immersive

By Tot Foster, 28th July 2022; Feature Image Credit Erica Harrison

In this blogpost, Dr Tot Foster provides a brief account of a trip to the to Van Gogh Immersive exhibition at Bristol’s Propyard with a number of our co-researchers. This was an opportunity for the co-researchers to cement their relationships, make new connections, and to enjoy a shared arts and cultural experience. It was also a chance for them to experience the augmentation of arts using VR technology.  

A group of 13 co-researchers and researchers went to visit to the Van Gogh Immersive exhibition This is a commercial exhibit where Van Gogh’s life and works are reimagined as a series of rooms. The first room is akin to a more conventional exhibition with copies of some of his works, a timeline, plenty of information to read and a video. But the main room is a vast space with ever-moving projections on the four walls and the floor; boats moving across the water in darkness with yellow lights casting their brush-stroked reflections, sunflowers spinning and gliding from floor to ceiling, imposing dark arches with self-portraits looking out in imagined torment. At the end of the exhibition is an optional (and at additional cost) ‘VR experience’.  

This was the first time most of the co-researchers had experienced anything like this – and they were truly immersed – particularly in the VR. Having been previously underwhelmed by the earlier rooms, Carmeletta gave an excited and detailed account as the headset took her through the French countryside – recounting the fields of wheat and trees as she passed. Ruth and Fanny loved it all: Fanny wrote of the main room afterwards: ‘WOW! There was a moment when the walls were a gallery with all the pictures having themes moving through them, and when the seascape suddenly gushed down I audibly gasped!’. Ruth wrote: ‘I loved the Vivaldi when the images of him came on, changing rapidly. Loved the falling blossom, the rising birds, the steam, his portraits changing on the spot’. Erica sat in the main room for a long time, quietly exuding deep relaxation.  

It was fantastic that co-researchers were so positive about the experience and hopefully the visit was useful in informing thinking about the senses and user experience during the phase of the project that has just started – developing ‘demonstrator’ projects; digital products and services that aim to support connection through culture for older people.  

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“I no graduate, I emigrate” – a Story by Ralph Hoyte

“I no graduate, I emigrate” – a Story by Ralph Hoyte

By Ralph Hoyte, 14th July 2022

In this blog post, co-researcher Ralph Hoyte, takes us on a journey – his journey. Ralph introduces us to one of his favourite poems, ‘Listen Mr. Oxford Don’ by John Agard, who coined the line, “I no graduate, I immigrate”.  

Ralph’s own story is not, however, one if immigration to the UK, but of emigration to Jamaica. Ralph describes his early years in Manchester, before describing his experience of arriving in Jamaica as a young boy. We hear tales of his family heritage, misadventures in young love, the locals’ perception of him, and the ever lasting impression that his time in Jamaica left upon him.  

Find the audio player below.