Mary Neal Logo Mary Neal - An Undertold Story...
Timeline     1860-1888   1888-1895   1895-1905   1905-1914   1914-1918   1918-1925   1925-1937   1937-1944   1944-1989   1989-2014


On this page
Lucy Neal

Lucy Neal is an artist producer, writer, broadcaster, celebrant and community activist.

She is currently director of the Mary Neal Project, bringing to light the undertold stories of Mary Neal and Somerstown sewing girls of The Espérance Club. Mary Neal CBE was Lucy’s great great aunt.

Lucy is an initiator of Transition Town Tooting, a creative collective response to peak oil and climate change at grass roots level looking at resilience building and practical activism.

Lucy works with a range of international arts organisations and also as a secular celebrant marking key moments in people’s lives. Co-founding director of the London International Festival of Theatre from 1981-2005, she received an OBE for her services to drama in 2005. She is co-author with Rose Fenton of The Turning World, published by the Gulbenkian Foundation (2006) and is a Research Associate at The University of Winchester.

As a regular year-round swimmer at the Tooting Bec Lido, she has recently staged events there including Dive-In Movies (2006), an open air season of swimming films, and the opening ceremonies for World and UK Cold Water Swimming Championships (2008 and 2009). She is married to cameraman Simon Maggs. They have four daughters and live in South London.

Lucy Neal


What did the day afford me?

It allowed me to experiment with bringing together 2 groups of people who in a general way could be described as coming from

  1. Folk Practice, singing, dancing, playing music and
  2. Contemporary Art Practice ie making performance and skilled particularly in participatory art practice and collaborative processes, often with emphasis on multidisciplinary work

A few people who came could be said to belong to both groups. Another group still belong to a field of educators and facilitators of participatory art practice.

The day therefore afforded me the chance to study what happens when these groups of people get together.

Their responses following the event have vindicated for me why this was a worthwhile experiment.

The experiment made me extremely nervous and in this respect the day gave me grounds for confidence that there is real interest in the 2 questions posed by the day:

  • How are English indigenous song and dance traditions inherited, and to whom do they now belong?
  • How do these traditions connect to a continuum of participatory arts practice today?

These were the right 2 questions, although we needed to come back to them at the end of the day, which we didn’t and should have. Answers – coming from a range of perspectives - create the discourse. Belonging – a space and a feeling, not the same as ownership.

I was apprehensive about connecting a study of archive with a study of traditional forms and contemporary practice. Would that work? It seems so. The material brought a weight into the room, an evidence that not all had gone well in the past when such things were explored, and yet equal evidence that great joy and transformation had also taken place.

It afforded me the chance to assess where the ‘conflictual’ nature of this study area resides: in attachment to things people care about deeply, in personal passion.
It afforded me the chance to see people I knew well in a different light coming across new material for the first time and also getting to know some people I didn’t know very well a bit better.

It gave me confidence that something similar could be organised again and taken further. Everyone at heart loves to sing and dance. They say it gives them confidence. In taking work to schools, a good thing to have affirmed.