Is the heart of a city a place that we can find on a map or is it a place that we are always looking for?

By February 24, 2019 July 5th, 2021 News

On 14th February 2019 we embarked on a day long Heart Walk, guided by the instructions of people we encountered who directed us to their personal heart the city.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for the heart of Lancaster..”

Our Valentines Day quest to find the heart of Lancaster began at Carnforth Railway Station, chosen as the starting point in recognition of it as a platform of real and fictional meetings, departures and romance. As we approached and stood under the famous Brief Encounter clock we noticed that the station was fairly deserted. Morning commuters began to arrive although any sense of engagement or romantic encounters seemed difficult to envisage. However we soon got talking to Lesley who was waiting for the train to Lancaster. Lesley identified the Castle as the heart of the city because she feels it’s at the heart of the history of Lancaster, and a place that connects to elsewhere. With maps sewn into our jackets, we marked the castle on our sleeves as destination #1 and boarded the train.

In the beautiful morning light we walked up to the intimidating front gates of the Castle, hoping to get inside to see if we could find any sense of a heart incarcerated inside its thick stone walls. We were redirected to a side entrance which takes you into a gift shop that also functions as the entrance to the working Crown Court, where defendants walk past fridge magnets in the shape of the castle on their way to trail. We told the duty guard that we were looking for the heart of Lancaster. He sent us to the Market Square, and so began a series of encounters that led us all over Lancaster till dusk.

The geographical heart may be in one place (according to Google maps it’s the Citizens Advice Bureau carpark!) but we were directed to many points of interest. A common theme was places of connection and connectivity – for example several participants nominated the railway station as a place of arrivals and departures, that makes them feel connected to other places. Feelings of belonging, and finding a sense of home, even if you are far away from home, also emerged through many of the encounters.

“Williamson Park has the best views in the city. 360 degree views. I can see the sky, and the stars. It makes me feel like I belong everywhere”

“I can’t chose one place as my heart of Lancaster, I love it all. I’ll cheat and have the Ashton Memorial because if I can see it all, I can have it all!”

“My son has grown up in the park, all his birthday’s have been spent there, every life occasion has been marked there. I know every single tree, every bush. Its the heart of the city for me.”

“As a little girl, I always thought it was where Sleeping Beauty lived. It’s a child’s magic place, Lancaster’s Taj Mahal!”.

It is notable that we were often directed to iconic landmarks, such as the Ashton Memorial. What made these locations interesting to us were the personal stories and fascinatingly varied reasons why individuals had connected with the place. This lead us to think further about the possibility of engaging people in a discovery of some of the more hidden “Heart Places” of the City, identifying connections between people-to-people and place-to-place. We’re now developing a project inspired by one of these heart places. A hidden garden in the heart of the city..

Etheridge & Persighetti’s Looking for the Heart of Lancaster is a Lancaster Arts project for This Place.

About Small Acts

Katie Etheridge and Simon Persighetti are artists and performance makers who create live participatory projects that explore the interrelationships between people and places. Since 2011 they have developed a unique collaborative practice operating at the intersection between architecture, community, place and performance. Engaging people all stages of the creative process, they develop multi-disciplinary methodologies designed to explore, expose and contain multiple perspectives and sometimes conflicting narratives of place.