Home as a Way of Being: The Story of Sealskin Explored in the Project ‘Displacement Dwelling Home’ at Sydenham Garden, Lewisham

Sydenham Garden is a magical place…

… a shelter, a forest,

…a sunlit glade,

…a place where art and nature are embraced in activities to promote healing, creativity and community. It embodies the concept of home as a way of being, a place to be free and true and vital, as is contained in the story of Sealskin.

Sealskin is the magical tale of a seal-woman forced to assume a conventional land-bound existence until her physical decline compels her to relinquish the life she has built and return to her wild home beneath the sea. It is a tale of freeing oneself of social norms and attachments and finding a way back to a place of nurture and understanding.

At the beginning of the story, the seal-woman and her friends shed their skins to dance in the moonlight. When the seal-woman’s skin is stolen by a lonely fisherman who disturbs the dancing women, the seal-woman’s friends are able to leap back into the protection of their own sealskins and return to the safety of the sea but the seal-woman is left trapped on the rocks, exposed and terrified, compromised into agreeing to live with the fisherman until he returns her skin to her.

There is a seeming conflict in the significance of the sealskin this story, as initially it is shed to allow the seal-women to dance freely, but a different freedom comes with wearing their skins which allows them to escape into the depths of the ocean, a truer realm.

“The pelt in this story is not so much an article as the representation of a feeling state and a state of being – one that is cohesive, soulful… The return to the wildish state periodically is what replenishes.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes in ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’

The dilemma of the seal-woman is perhaps indicative of the conflicts of living a full and creative life: there is a time for shedding one’s skin, for revealing talents and beauty, but there is also the need to go where we are safe to make our art and connect with ourselves, to  draw, paint, write, dance, sing alone and in the company of others like ourselves who support and understand.

Without her skin, the seal-woman lives on land as a human, but as the years pass she begins to decline. When she finally gets back her skin, its containment frees her, enabling her to return to the depths of the ocean where she is truly herself, wild and free. The resumption of the skin thus enables her return home, to a home that is neither place nor building; home as a place of rightness.

When we swim down deep into our thoughts and feelings and imagination we find our own wildness, our truth and we are able to nourish ourselves.

“It takes will and force… but it can be done…one will awaken to the voice calling from home, calling one back to the core self where one’s immediate wisdom is whole and accessible.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes in ‘Women Who Run With Wolves’

We all need such a home, a place for aloneness and togetherness, for making our own art and sharing it with others.

Small gifts were brought in spontaneously – on this occasion, a ring of shells, uncannily appropriate to the under-water theme of the workshop!

Sometimes in our workshops there was total silence, a warm gentle deeply-focussed quiet out of which playful exploratory unique personal artworks grew. 

We used watercolour resist-techniques to make concertina books (also known as leporello books) inventing characters who are transformed underwater into wild and fantastical selves.

“Stories awaken a sense of movement and colour and design that helps the conscious mind to contact the essence of a scene or character.”

Nancy Mellon in ‘Storytelling and the Art of Imagination’

The period of making art prior to sitting in our story circle was vital to creating the feeling of freedom and generosity, the expansiveness to dream and invent from which good stories are made. Out of the circle of talk and laughter wonderful stories emerged, playful, sweet, true.  

Even after participants went home, they carried on working! Exquisite, heart-felt poems and short stories appeared in private hours, were written down and read out the following week – stories seemingly born out of the simplest of fairytale prompts.

“The imaginative world, though an unstable region, is a profoundly real one. In it is constant motion and transformation… gradually you can orient yourself and interpret what is happening there.”

Nancy Mellon in ‘Storytelling and the Art of Imagination’

Making art and making stories together, exploring the old tales with their simple words and strange images, their layers of meaning, messages, ideas and solace – it is a way to releasing the imagination and letting it lead us to creativity and connection; a way to being at home in the world.


A StoryHug Workshop at Barnardo’s – Making Dolls and a Story

StoryHug workshop
StoryHug paper doll workshop

We made paper dolls for a story, with an envelope house where they could live, secret and out of sight, living the quiet mysterious magical life of dolls.

StoryHug workshop
Baba Yaga and her Hut in the Woods from the story of Vasalisa The Beautiful- (source unknown)

Using story prompts: a girl, an old woman, a doll – the same prompts that might give us Vasalisa the Beautiful…

we made up the following fantastical tale, just me and the fantastic little storytellers in our story circle:

Once upon a time there was a doll who lived in a castle. She had been left in a cupboard long ago, in one of the many forgotten rooms of the castle and no one knew that she was there. All day long the doll talked. She talked and talked but nobody heard her – except for an old woman who came to sweep the floor of the room.

“Fairy party! Fairy party!” The old woman stopped her work and listened to the tiny voice.

‘I wonder where that sound is coming from – I think it’s coming from that cupboard over there,” the old woman said and opened the cupboard door.

She peered into the darkness, but her old eyes saw nothing. But as she stood listening to the voice go on talking, a little girl who lived in the palace went past and the old woman called her into the room.

“Can you hear that noise?” the old woman asked.

The little girl listened.

 “It’s coming from that cupboard,” she said and they opened the cupboard door again and looked inside.

Well, the little girl always ate her carrots so she had very good eyes.

“There’s a doll in there,” she said at once and reached deep into the shadows at the back of the cupboard, bringing out an old doll.

“At last!” said the doll. “There’s a fairy party in the garden tonight! You’ll be allowed in if you take me with you.”

 “Ooh let’s go!” the little girl cried.

“Yes, let’s!” The old woman grinned. She had always wanted to go to a fairy party, ever since she was a little girl.

So that night, when everybody else was fast asleep, the old woman and the little girl holding the precious doll crept down the great stone stairs of the palace and the old woman opened the door to the garden. Far away, down at the bottom of the garden were sparkling coloured lights: pink, green, blue, yellow. They walked over the grass towards the lights and suddenly there were fairies fluttering around everywhere, beautiful fairies in floaty dresses, who they smiled at the old woman, the little girl and the doll and offered them lots of tiny delicious cakes and teeny biscuits.

The fairies had a lovely ball

Then they  danced and sang and played games with the fairies until the sun rose and the little girl and the old woman went with the doll back to the castle, to bed and wonderful dreams.

After that the doll was never lonely. The little girl took very good care of her and every time the fairies had a party they told the doll and she told the girl and the old woman and all three would go down to the bottom of the garden again to join their fairy friends. Each time they had a wonderful time, singing, dancing and eating fairy cakes all night long until the sun rose up in the sky.

Ena & Tib Puppet Shows in Grow Mayow Community Garden this Summer!


Ena and Tib, the two little children who live in the woods in their little wooden house,  have been updated for our puppet plays this summer, made up as proper table top puppets with weighted bases so they do not fall over (as much)!

Here are some photos of how I put them together if you fancy making characters for your own productions:


The bodies were filled at the base with dried lentils and topped up with natural wool stuffing. The head is a ball of wool stuffing with stretch fabric held tightly together with a rubber band then sewn into place. The hair and eyes and mouth were stitched in wool.story hug ena and tibs

Making up stories becomes so much easier when you make your own characters, choosing colours, shapes of hat, decorations, clothes, all lead you further into the possibilities of the doll you are shaping – every scrap, every toy left lying around the house can lead to a new idea forming…

The newly stable Ena and Tib will be appearing at the lovely Grow Mayow Community Garden Project in two new stories I have been thinking of for some time! We will make props together for the puppet show, which you can then carry on playing with at home! Hope to see you there!





Fairy Babies


Last week we made fairy babies!

The babies were made from salt dough (see this post for recipe) and dried fully – in the oven for an hour then left for a couple of days on a radiator.

The children (with a little help from the adults!) drew in faces and coloured in clothes with felt-tips.


The cradles were made from egg-boxes covered in tissue paper and lots of glue-stick which dries very hard.

A coloured cotton wool ball was added for each baby to snuggle into!


It was very sweet to see the great care and tenderness with which the babies were handled and carried around the woods.


Later all the babies made an appearance on the puppet stage for a grand fairy party!


“…imagination in miniature is natural imagination which appears at all ages in the daydreams of born dreamers… the cleverer I am at miniaturizing the world, the better I possess it.”

Gaston Bachelard in ‘The Poetics of Space’

Ena and Tib and their House in the Woods – An Interactive Puppet Show

First we made Woodland Creatures… IMG_2676




…then we had a story: ‘In Dacres Wood there lived two tiny children: Ena and Tibs…


…They lived in a little wooden house under the trees. At first, the house had nothing inside:


“Waaa! Where will we sit to eat?” cried Ena.

“Where will we sleep? Waaaa!” cried Tib.

But Old Man Elf had left them a bag full of furniture.’


The bag went around our little circle and one by one, a chair, a table, a bunk bed were brought out and carefully put in place by the children: a bedroom upstairs, a kitchen-diner downstairs – such sureness in these little homemakers, such care as they made a cosy little home for Ena and Tibbs to eat a supper of sausages, eggs and baked beans

I had wondered if involving the audience in arranging props might not be a distraction, instead it seemed to pull them in closer into the reality of the tale. The magic of a dolls house, however simple! The real and the imagined blur so seamlessly.

Soon there was a party attended by the Woodland Creatures:




And the story went on, until a little Gnome baby had been reunited with his lost cradle and finally went to sleep while his Gnome Mama had a nice cup of hot chocolate and sat gazing at the milky white moon as the night grew quiet over Dacres Wood.



The Three Little Pigs – a simple tabletop puppet play

House of Straw

“Straw? But a straw house won’t be strong,” said Tiny pig.

“Strong takes too long!” cried Big Pig. “And I want to play!”

So she gathered up the straw and built herself a fine house of straw and ran out to play.

House of Sticks

Little Pig looked around and saw sticks fallen everywhere under the trees.

“I’ll build my house from sticks,” she said.

“Sticks? But a stick house won’t be strong,” said Tiny pig.

“Strong takes too long,” laughed Little Pig. “And I want to play!”

House of Bricks

Tiny Pig walked into town and came back with a pile of bricks. He started to build. Slowly, steadily, the house came up and one sunny day it was finished.


(We didn’t have a wolf but we did have a tiger who came to visit…)

The Three Little Pigs

“Ow!” yelled Tiger. “That pot is too hot, I’ve hurt my bottom!”

He ran back as fast as he could to his home in the deep dark woods, far, far, away and he never came back!



How to make: a Woodland Tabletop Puppet Show

tabletop puppet show

What you will need:

a long stick


hamper, square basket, small suitcase

scarves and shawls in different sizes and colours to include: green (fields, hills, mountains), brown (paths, ground, mountains), blue (rivers, sea)

dolls, soft animals, wooden figures

props: sticks, stones, acorns, pinecones, doll furniture, clothes and accessories as required by your story


1.Find a spot with space for rugs or ideally logs for seating.

a perfect spot

2.Prop or tie the stick across two trees and drape over a blanket to act as a back drop:


Hold the blanket in place with clothes pegs:


3.Create your tabletop using the baskets, hamper or suitcase:

create table top

4.Cover with shawls and scarves:

green shawl

5.Cover characters to be met later in the story so they can be revealed as the story progresses:


6.Arrange your set. Keep it minimal. Place any props in sequence under the scarves or behind the stage so you can reach for them easily.

7.Tell your story… and enjoy!







StoryHug Summer Woodland Workshop No.1

Woodlands are full of possibility…

Dacres Wood
Dacres Wood

In the morning we invented people to inhabit the woods:

IMG_1861 IMG_1863 IMG_1864

…like Baba Yaga in her hut on chicken legs:

Baba Yaga and her Hut in the Woods - (source unknown)
Baba Yaga and her Hut in the Woods – (source unknown)

We made puppets of our people and made a story together:

Once upon a time there was a girl who met a fairy who invited her to a fairy party, but the fairy flew too fast ahead and soon the girl was lost. She walked and walked until she came to a hut… Did she knock on the door? Of course, she did! And was there a fierce old woman inside who might be a witch? Yes, there was!

Several of the children were quite sure that the girl should avoid the hut.

“But she would stay lost in the woods,” I protested.

So, anxiously together we persevered – just as heroes and heroines do in stories, moving deeper into discomfort and danger, probing the unseen and unknowable – and seeing in our watchful fearful progress into the story how to have faith striving to meet challenges and overcoming obstacles to where a place of greater contentment and security awaits.

The storyteller’s daring in exploring the continents of unknown tales gives their child listeners the bravery to face the world. For storytelling takes courage to reach out to the new… uncertainty is always creative.

Horst Kornberger, ‘The Power of Stories’

In the afternoon we made people who changed bodies and changed places – like the Goose Girl and her maid (‘The Goose Girl’, Brothers Grimm) whose story I told later.

IMG_1870 IMG_1868

Legs, heads, bodies were swapped (as in Consequences) and strange new characters emerged



Where would such people live? Of course there were many possibilities…

Dacres Wood Nature Reserve
Dacres Wood Nature Reserve