The projects’ PI Geoff Bright talks about a “poetics” emerging from the Ghost Labs. There were many incredible moments that were enabled by the care and solidarity within that process; you can see and hear glimpses of what came from our ‘Song Lines’ project through the films of Steve Pool and the video ballad of Ribbon Road and Carl Joyce.

On this page though, we highlight the work of participants that came from activities in the Ghost Labs faciliated by poet Andrew McMillan. These activities developed and changed over the three projects, but the speed, honesty and power with which these words emerged continually amazed the research team and speaks to the possibilities unlocked through the Ghost Lab process.

As part of the first 2015 project ‘Working with Social Haunting’ two Ghost Labs were organised at the National Union of Mineworkers headquarters in Barnsley that involved Unite Community members from across South Yorkshire.

In October, Andrew McMillan’s writing exercises explored the interaction between participants, feelings and place. This developed out of the ‘walk-over survey’ in which archaeologist Toby Pillatt had taken the group round the town centre, inviting the group to discuss the environment. Back at the NUM, the group was asked to think of an ‘emotion’ and then to think of a ‘place’. Within 20 minutes, participants had written and then read their pieces aloud. Here are 7 of those short works:

As part of the 2015 Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival, the Social Haunting team ran Ghost Labs in the Rochdale Pioneers Museum – the birth place of the modern co-operative movement in the UK. In the 1840s, in this building, food began to be sold that was of better quality and at fairer prices than in the past.

In the writing workshop in Rochdale, as in Barnsley, ‘emotion’ and ‘place’ were brought together.


Ghost Lab participant at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum, October 2015

I met Hope in the shop
She knew me straight off
She welcomed me and talked with my accent
She offered me a way forward and gave
me names of others, as friends
She ignored my poor clothes and promised better
She had the look of my neighbourhood

Our second project, ‘Opening the “unclosed space”’ aimed to bring together contrastingly diverse and changing communities, from the coalfields of North Staffordshire and of urban East London to explore the presence of contested pasts – and their utopian possibilities, in the present.

As part of the AHRC Connected Communities’ Utopia Fair 2016 at Somerset House in London, we introduced a new activity of Community Tarot cards ‘reading’ to our Ghost Lab with participants from the Voice of Youth club, in Hackney. The cards were developed by members of our team and featured single images and words.

One girl picked the cards marked with the words ‘SLEEP’, ‘SUMMER’ and a third featuring a drawing of a petrol station.

Here is comic artist Jim Medway’s depiction of the girl explaining her thought-process as she considered the Community Tarot cards. Tania, the group’s youth worker, then offered to read aloud what the girl had written.


This is what the girl wrote, spoken by Tania.

During the ‘Song Lines’ project, a poem was put together collectively by participants of the Ghost Lab at the Burslem Jubilee project in North Staffordshire. Users of the centre are refugees and asylum seekers. They had explained with great clarity – through words and in drawing on blank Community Tarot cards - what they had been through in their country of origin, during the journey to the UK and their feelings of loss, yearning and of hope.

In this final activity of the day, each person contributed one line to a group poem. It is here in English and Arabic.


I hope
I can go to see my family
To bring my family here
That the war ends and I can see my family
That people stop hearing and start listening
That people stop talking and listen more
I can go to see my family
For peace everywhere
Our ties stay strong in this community
To go back and see everyone
That my son is happy and settled
I can go to see my family
For a strong and long and happy life