Sutton Grapevine

Stories about Sutton-in-the-Isle, Cambridgeshire, UK

The Physical and Virtual

Sutton Grapevine was not about access to technology but about using physical activities and online technologies to reveal the texture of life in the village. It was an experimental project using a variety of media to reveal the flavour of the life, place and identity in a rural village undergoing change. One of the aims of Sutton Grapevine was not to present solutions, but to explore and illuminate the issues; and in particular to demonstrate the role of cultural space and cultural activity in enabling that process to take place.

Sutton Grapevine is an example of what could be done by local people using readily available medias and transferrable techniques. In the process we’ve gathered stories through interviews and chance encounters, running workshops and events, conducting interviews, attending clubs and groups, visiting events, working with a youth group, organising a BBQ, exploring the local area by bike, foot and car, staging an exhibit in the Babylon Gallery Ely and through We heard talk of Winston Churchill’s uncle, Clement Freud’s first election to Parliament and rumours of Princess Margaret. There were tales of Sutton schoolteachers and flying blackboard rubbers, of lying at the end of the Mepal airfield runway watching the bombers take off and of elusive landlords; from ice skating on the Hundered foot Drain down at Sutton Gault to the day the Sutton Tandoori came to town: from being squashed by cows, rampant bulls and one legged milking stools to duck races, inland tides, kayaking on the river, homebaking and how four years of dedication and careful archaeology revealed an ancient burial urn.

We have met with many people and been grateful for the generous welcome we have been given.  The stories gathered are available on line and as an archived on an audio cd and the story of the project is available as an eBook to download print and make up. A number of these will be distributed throughout the village and Proboscis will continue to maintain Sutton Grapevine as a project site.


Where We Went

When we began the project our initial research was based on visits to Sutton to make contact with people and to get an impression of life in the village and we were greatly supported by the Feast Committee. We investigated the different communities that live in the village as well as the history and landscape of the area and people’s relationship to it. For two reasons it was important to us to begin the project by getting to know Sutton and its inhabitants. Firstly an essential aspect to working in a community is to establish trust, and secondly we were concerned that the project we undertook should fit into current activities. We began by making a number of visits to Sutton to meet and talk to people there and to get an impression of life in the village.  During our visits we spoke with many people who have a wide range of roles within the village. We found that Sutton has a strong identity for residents who make a clear distinction from other villages nearby. Residents we spoke to told us that the village had recently undergone an increase in its commuter population. A few times people mentioned the planned development of Sutton which would increase the population. We made connections with a range of people including the Triangle Club, a group of elderly residents, the Youth Club, the WI, the Feast Committee, the Parish Council, St Andrews Church, the Curry Clubs, local business people, farmers, commuters and other individuals, and over the year undertook many activities including:

Babylon Gallery Exhibit: We set up a map and postcards to collect visitors’ stories for Sutton Grapevine and promote the project. People were encouraged to write or draw their stories and pin them down on the map, or record them. Through this we connected with two villagers who then went on to record a series of wonderful stories for the project that can be hear on this site.

Sutton Seniors Youth Group: We worked with the group on a session using a large map of Sutton and to map – with the help of string, paper, storycubes and modeling clay  – what is in Sutton now and what people might like to see in Sutton in the future and recorded the groups stories of what they had created.  After this we all decided to work together on some low tech animation asking the question “What is Sutton like?”

Triangle Club: We met the Triangle Club for seniors on two afternoons, mapping  their memories of Sutton, and recording and listening to stories of people, spaces and events that marked their lives.

Tea Dance: We set up a table with a map outside the Tea Dance at the Glebe and used the map to start conversations and record a series of memories and stories as people left the Tea Dance.

BBQ at Painters Lane: A villager and her family kindly offered their home and garden to be used to host a BBQ for residents of Painters Lane who had a wealth of stories about Sutton to share, how they came to be in Sutton, how the Lane has changed, life in the village as a commuter, what there is (or isn’t) for young people.

One-stop shop: We set up a table with a large map outside the one stop shop on a couple of occasions to entice the steady flow of people on a Saturday morning to stop and to record stories.

Election Day: An evening  spent outside Sutton Polling Station gathering stories around a map during election day.

Curry Clubs: We were lucky enough join the Ladies Curry Club and visit the mens Curry Club to gather stories. As well as describing life in Sutton the recordings give an insight into the experiences that are Sutton Curry nights.

Allotments: We visited Sutton allotments and recorded stories from two holders. Many people grow their own food in Sutton and the issue of food and where to buy it often came up in conversation.

Feast Week 2009: We exhibited  Sutton Grapevine at the annual  Feast. There was be a display and audio in St Andrews Church and we joined various Feast Events. We also held a wee Tea and Cakes afternoon for some residents who had contributed.

School Fete: We set up a Sutton Grapevine station at the School Fete during the Feast, and invited children to cut out and make felt pictures of their stories of Sutton. We asked them to tell us what they had made and recorded their replies on Gabcast.

You can hear edited excerpts from all the above including from the many conversations we recorded with individuals on this site.


Sutton Grapevine was not about access to technology but about using physical activities and online technologies to reveal the texture of life in the village. Where we’ve used technologies they’ve been those that people already use or could easily adopt:; is a free WordPress Blog.  We use podbean a free podcasting service where we upload audio files to our account on podbean, and the most recent podcasts automatically appear on the this blog. Gabcast; is a low cost service that lets people record a story over the phone. The recordings were automatically uploaded to Gabcast and later  linked to this blog. The strength of Gabcast is that no internet connection is required and the cost was low. But it is difficult to tell stories into a telephone so it seems to work best as part of organised activities. AudioBoo allows iPhone users to make short digital recordings with photographs which can be posted online. It was used by the team to make short recordings around the village from time to time. Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables people to post and read short notices that appeare immediately on the website as well as being were delivered to subscribers.  Its immediacy makes it work well in ad hoc situations. As a result of twitter we gathered additional stories about the area.

Recordings were made on a variery of equipment spanning price ranges including £10 voice recorders; a Sony Minidisk Recorder and mic; an iPod, an iPhone and a Marantz digital audio recorder. Audio was later edited in Garageband. The Marantz is a professional recorder but looks a bit like an old fashioned tape recorder so people barley notice it which we  found to be invaluable as people are often a put off by a  microphone being pointed at them. The iPod Classic and iPhone are both easy to use but the battery life is short with the iPod and sound levels are not as high as with the Marantz. The minidisk and mic is good quality easy to use and economical choice though it is not digital. We also used some small digital audio recorders by Olympus which were very handy.

Gathering Stories

Proboscis were commissioned in 2008 by ADeC (Arts Development in East Cambridgeshire) to “create a space where local residents have the room to explore place and identity through creative activity that is based in both the physical world and on-line. That has an existence in the real world and virtual spaces.” In response to this we created Sutton Grapevine.

In Sutton Grapevine the exploration of place and identity focused on stories; personal stories, stories of place, fictional and factual stories, stories told through words, through images, through sound.

Over the last year we have been gathering stories through about life in Sutton through interviews and chance encounters, running workshops and events, conducting interviews, attending clubs and groups, visiting events, working with the youth group,  a BBQ, exploring the local area by bike, foot and car, staging an exhibit in the Babylon Gallery Ely and through this website.

We worked with both groups and individuals in different situations. With groups we joined existing community group sessions but we also set up specific activities with groups such as three sessions with the youth group or the barbeque. We also organised more ad hoc sessions to engage passers by such as being outside the shop, in the tithe sale and at the school fete. We met people in the day and into the evening. We also set up two exhibits as a catalyst for conversation, one early on at the Babylon Gallery and one during the Feast. We had conversations in the Glebe, the Church, the Community Room, and other community spaces, at the school fete, in the street, outside the shop, in the pub and with individuals in their homes, at work and outside.

In many cases we set up a table with a large map of the Sutton and asked people to write on post-it notes their memories and thoughts about the village, places they knew or events they remembered, we used this to begin conversations about life in Sutton.  The post its became a catalyst for more conversations as other people stopped to read them.  We also used triggers to start conversations such as postcards that we had made of the village and historical documents and images loaned by a villager. We have met with many groups and individuals and been grateful for the warm welcome we have been given. We have never ceased to be inspired by how hard people work for their community as volunteers. In many ways large and small we felt that the stories of Sutton seemed to be a microcosm of the stories of the UK.

On being squashed by cows

Weeks later I still keep thinking about some of the many unusual and wonderful stories we recorded, most of them now posted online. Of these I often suggest people listen to the tales Squashed by a Cow, Cant Trust a Bull and One Legged Stool, all stories about farming life in Sutton over the last 70 years. I have been sending these to people and am quite excited by the number of people that come back to me saying they have also been bashed by a cow; including Joyce from Whitehorse in the Canadian Yukon who remembers having been whipped in the face by a cows tail a few times and being squished between two cows’ huge round bellies in the milking line… she was a thin little thing when she worked on the dairy farm. And Sam in Glasgow who once got butted over a 7ft fence by a bullock.

Then I got curious about the one legged stool and found it to be more universal that I thought – here for instance is one from the San Jose Dairy Hill website.

Outside the One-Stop

Outside the One-Stop shop on a sunny Saturday

Outside the One-Stop shop on a sunny Saturday

Orlagh and I took up a pitch outside the One-Stop shop on Saturday morning to encourage people to listen to the stories about Sutton. We were letting them know that we would be around some of the Feast events playing the recordings we’ve made and also promoting this blog as a way of listening to the stories.

We were using an iPod attached to an iTrip device to play the recordings over a radio. A very nice moment happened when a gentleman came past who Orlagh had recorded a couple of weeks ago and she was able to play him his own recording. He was telling us all about his involvement in Sutton Cricket Club – apparently the team won their match last week!

Handing out postcards

Handing out postcards

The One-Stop is a busy place on a Saturday morning and I handed out many of our new postcards before we had to pack up to head off to the Tithe Sale. Hopefully some of them will drop by this website to listen to the stories and read what we’ve been up to!

Sutton children cut out their village


We set up a Sutton Grapevine station at the School Fete this Sunday, and invited children to cut out in fabric their stories of Sutton. It is just amazing the imagination children have.. We asked them to tell us what they had made and you can listen to their replies on Gabcast here. Just click on the titles to listen..

And please check our flickr page for more pictures from that day..