A series of projects across London, Peterborough and Southend, exploring what ‘good behaviour’ means for women in the 21st Century

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Who decides what good behaviour is? What are the rules around how things are, or should be done, and are these any use today?

Where do we learn our manners? What do we value? What do we reject?

Where do we draw the line between bad manners and bad behaviour?

Decorum comprised a series of projects by intergenerational arts charity Magic Me. The projects sought to explore what ‘good behaviour’ means for women in the 21st Century.

In 2018 3 projects looked at this topic, in London, Southend and Peterborough. Each group, made up of school age girls and older women from the community, made a film (or films) as part of their work.  In October 2018 we then invited the public to get involved through a month long digital campaign.

I was so surprised to discover that we didn’t all have the same understanding of good manners!

You can watch the films here, with reflections from lead artist, Sue Mayo about each project:

In Decorum (Tower Hamlets) we were interested in how we manage behaviours we are not sure about, so we thought about people eating together with different understandings of good manners, houses with a ‘shoes off rule’ who have a guest who doesn’t know the rule, people crying or singing in the street, with different reactions. The group had many different ideas of decorum, springing from different life experience and different cultural and faith frameworks, but there were also just different human reactions to situations. , and we wanted to show how much has to be navigated in living in London.

In Decorum: ‘Accept/Reject ‘ in Southend the group considered the idea of what was acceptable and unacceptable to them, and discovered some commonalities but some differences. We also spent time focusing on how it feels when you yourself mess up, and know you have offended someone or transgressed an unwritten rule. We discovered what strong feelings people can have about things that may seem unimportant to others, and made the important discovery that while values may be universal, how we enact them isn’t always the same. We also considered stereotypes about Essex women, and how to bust them.

In ‘Dear Dilemma’ in Peterborough we thought a lot about how behaviours may vary with different people and in different places. So what feels OK with friends may not be appropriate with family. We discovered that there are often dilemmas in working out the best way to behave that is fair to everyone. We also considered what is bad manners and what is really serious: individuals in the group shared some experiences which crossed the line from decorum into seriously bad behaviour, and we thought about how important it is to find ways of behaving respectfully to one another.

Here are some thoughts from participants:

“Where I live now you always make a cup of tea for someone who pops in, but when I married I went to live abroad, and discovered that there the custom was quite different. What was good manners there was to sit and chat for at least half an hour. When I returned home I had to learn to put the kettle on , quickly, or people were offended!”

I was sitting on the tube, someone leant forward and closed my knees together, because they thought women must sit with their legs pressed together. I was furious!

“When I visit my friends I have to remember about 10 different ways of greeting people, because everyone has different ways of doing it – I wish we could back to when it was all the same!”

“Being thanked, and hearing people say please makes my day. It’s a small thing, but it has a big impact”

” Someone near me on a park bench opened a letter and burst into tears. I just didn’t know what to do because there are so many unwritten rules!”

In the Digital Decorum project we asked individuals and groups to respond to this work and/or to the theme. We were interested to hear people’s thoughts but more importantly wanted to invite them to create their own work in response to the topic.

As an intergenerational charity, we believe bringing young and old together can create a new and interesting perspective and therefore encouraged anyone taking part in this to work in groups or with family members with a range of ages.

This simple form can be used to respond to the work made by our groups:

Response form (in Google Forms format)

If you would still like to send us information about your own project or images, video or soundfiles you can email them to this address (or send to this address via WeTransfer, Dropbox or similar file transfer sites). We have created a participation pack including ideas, insights and exercises to help people working with groups you can find it here.

Please do share your work on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – please use @MagicMeArts so we know it relates to this and where possible the hashtag #Decorum18
We are launching this part of our Decorum project as part of the Age of Creativity’s Festival of Creativity – you can find out more about that here.

Each week we proposed a different theme as a provocation and starting point for discussions.

Find out how to get involved and our Participation Pack (full of ideas and exercises to get the creativity flowing in your group) here


Who we are working with
Led by professional artists to stimulate conversation and creative responses to this theme, Magic Me has been working with women from across London, Peterborough and Southend (in partnership with arts organisation, Metal) in both one-off creative workshops and longer projects throughout the year. Working with younger and older women, and every age in between, they have explored what ‘good’ behaviour means to them, and if is it relevant to them in the 21st century.

Throughout autumn 2017, Magic Me ran free open workshops in a number of different venues, talking about the theme of Decorum. Over the term, we worked with over 100 women from organsiations and venues including Spotlight, East End WI, Poplar Union, Women for Refugee Women, University of East London and Salesforce.

Films and Performances
Following on from these workshops, artists Sue Mayo, Pooja Sitpura and Chuck Lowry worked with a group of young women from Mulberry School and older women from East London on a weekly basis, to develop creative ideas around the theme into films and live interactions.

The group showcased their work by taking over the Southbank Centre’s Cube, and the Mulberry School Theatre with a three screen film installation, with live interactive elements. They invited the public to join them in asking the questions: What affects how we behave with one another? What choices do we make on a daily basis?

The installation included advice tables where visitors could get answers for their decorum dilemmas from a team of older and younger women, as well as ‘chatterboxes’ that could be used to dispense random advice either for a dilemma or just for life!


Throughout April – July, we collaborated with arts organisation Metal to work with older and younger women in Peterborough and Southend to create their own films in response to the theme.

In Peterborough, artists Sue Mayo, Chuck Lowry, and Pooja Sitpura work ed with Peterborough based artist Princess Marshall, connecting young women from The Iqra Academy, with women from The Bretton Belles WI.

Southend-end based artist Elsa James joined Sue Mayo, Chuck Lowry and Paula Varjack to work with young people from Southend School for Girls and Westcliff High School for Girls, and older women from the Hindu Women’s Association and University of the Third Age .

About Metal

Metal was founded in 2002 and has been active in Liverpool since 2004, the South Essex region since 2007 and Peterborough since 2012.  Each of our spaces:  Edge Hill Station in Liverpool, Chalkwell Hall in Southend and Chauffeurs Cottage in Peterborough were renovated to create centres of activity for artists, creatives and community.  From these bases, Metal have worked with artists and local agencies to provide the catalyst that is helping to transform the potential for thriving creative and cultural industries in these three places over the last ten years.  Metal also works directly with artists from overseas and across the UK helping them to research and realise ambitious projects and ideas that take place in a wide variety of contexts within the region.  These ideas often respond in a specific way to place and are innovative in content.   We take a developmental approach to local creativity and talent – training, mentoring and supporting the growth of knowledge and capacity in the sector, encouraging cross-sector and cross-disciplinary conversations and sharing of knowledge.  Metal also creates its own projects – large in scale, high in impact and involving a wide number of participants and audience from all walks of life.  Each year Metal works with around 1200 artists from across the world, 18,000 active participants, over 60,000 live audiences and more than 100,000 online audiences.


With thanks to funders: Arts Council England, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. Developed through the Open Lab scheme at Barbican Guildhall.