October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Helia Phoenix allegedly has trouble sleeping. You’ll soon find out why.
Helia, in her own words, is a “100% English, Welsh, Iranian hybrid writerly type”. I know her best as one of the clever, creative minds behind the wonderful We Are Cardiff community blog, which was recently voted “Best Blog” at the Wales Blog Awards 2012. Whoop!
Helia was born in Cardiff, lived here until she was about five and then moved to a load of different places and countries and even lived on a boat for a while. Her university life started in London, but the big smoke didn’t agree with her, so she headed back to Cardiff and “from the second I stepped off the train I just fell in love with the city. After a very unfriendly time in a scary part of south London, Cardiff suited me much, much better”. Whilst she may have left the bright lights of London behind her, Helia brought a valuable lesson along with her. “Being in London made me realise you have to work hard to get what you want, and I never forgot that. The experience really made me realise you don’t get anything for nothing. You want to achieve things? You’ve got to do the hard work”. You may think she looks like ‘another one of those arty types’ from the outside, but this lady is seriously determined and has got a suitcase full of energy and ideas.
Helia’s early career was spent as a journalist and editor at the now defunct music magazine Kruger. She went on to contribute to numerous newspapers and magazines and is now a web editor for the Welsh Government, which is where she met long-time collaborator Adam Chard. “One night in early 2010 Adam and I were chatting about how nice it would be if there were more cool things happening in Cardiff. So, we bitched and moaned about it for a little while and then we just thought “well, we could just do stuff, let’s not wait for someone else to do it.”
That little conversation saw the creation of Hack/Flash, a collective that works on community art projects in Cardiff. Their aim is to get everyday people involved with fun and collaborative art projects. “Art is fun and it’s something that anyone can get involved with, anytime and anyplace. We’re not trying to encourage people to be “more arty”, it’s about getting the community together and engaged in something fun and different”. For a flavour of the kind of things they get up to check out their site and sign up to their mailing list. Get / Involved as they say.
So, having got off their backsides to start doing more “cool things in Cardiff”, Helia and Adam came up with the idea of We Are Cardiff – a voluntary project that collects stories of people who live in the city. “Whatever your story, however you ended up living here, whatever your job (or not), what you love (or hate) about the city, we want to hear it all”. The concept is simple, you write a short story about what Cardiff means to you, they come and shoot a groovy photo of you and bingo, it’s up online for all to see.
“There was never really any end product in mind when we set up We Are Cardiff. To give people in the city a voice to express themselves? To encourage people to have pride in the place that they live and engage with it more on that level? To combat the lazy one-sided journalism we see in the newspapers about Cardiff whenever it’s mentioned? All those things really. But I wasn’t prepared for the amount of amazing people and things we were going to find out about and meet. Like David Verso, for example, who’s just off the hook!” What was a product of a lazy afternoon conversation has now turned into over a hundred posts by people from all walks of life and all corners of the city.
The success of We Are Cardiff has spawned another, more challenging idea. “At the moment we’re working towards making We Are Cardiff into a documentary film which covers a year in the city. We want to showcase how wonderful, creative and supportive a place to live it can be. We’re trying to cover alternative culture – the sorts of things you might do off the beaten track if you lived here and never really went on St Mary Street or in any of the chain pubs/clubs”. To whet the appetite, a few short trailers have been released and the results look beautiful. But to make sure the film reaches its conclusion they need our help. “It’s got big ambitions but on a really small budget. We are currently crowdfunding, asking people who live in Cardiff to help us finish making the film by investing in it”. Click here to show them some love (any profits from the film will go to Llamau, a charity working to improve the lives of homeless young people and vulnerable women in south Wales). I have the feeling that this film could be BIG.
But if that wasn’t enough, Helia’s love of writing and music means she has a few other things on the go. “We are really excited to be curating our very own We Are Cardiff stage at Swn Festival this weekend. We’ve done our darndest to bring together some of Cardiff’s brightest and most fun sounds”. I’d urge you to rush down to Ten Feet Tall between 2pm-10pm this Saturday (20 October) to catch some of that. All details here.
“I’m also writing a novel but there’s not much to plug there at the moment. Just hoping to have a first draft finished sometime over the next couple of months, but other things keep getting in the way!” I bet sleep isn’t one of them.
Helia Phoenix does community art with these, runs this tumblr about her yarn obsession and more official/less random writer type stuff here. You can follow We Are Cardiff on Facebook or twitter and if you’re interested in being featured on the site they’d love to hear from you via email@example.com. You can also follow details of the film as it is made on the website