In his photo blog, our Freelance Producer Kevin Grist explains the lunchtime experiments that went on during our Sensory Lunch.


On Saturday 20 May, Ideas Test did an experiment in the heart of Chatham.


‘Sensory Lunch,’ a multi-sensory event for families in Luton, offered tasty curry and menu of storytelling projects as a way to start conversations about local issues and the role of creativity.


A group of five megaphones on poles that make up Jane Pitt's artwork Everyone Says Hi. The artwork is in a social club garden on green grass a sunny day.
Jane Pitt’s artwork “Everyone Says Hi!”


Over 30 people came to the Invicta Social Club to be greeted by a sound installation in multiple languages. Everyone says Hi! by Jane Pitt, an intriguing loudspeaker work, included the voices of children recorded at the local Luton Primary School.



Highway of Dreams, a prototype sound walk by Fin Kennedy of Applied Stories, used the ECHOES app to invite people to explore geolocated ‘dream stories’ around the building via their mobile phone.


Commissioned by Ideas Test, Fin has been collecting people’s often surreal stories along the A2 road via a phone line with plans to develop it into a larger project.




Other works came from academia; University of Kent’s Dr Kate McLean invited people to ‘sniff’ her innovative work on city smell maps asking: “What does Luton smell like.”


Dr Eleanor Jupp presented initial field interviews along Luton Road in a 360 experience, teasing out concerns around road air quality.



A photo of a keyboard and an iPad on a musical interface as part of Electric Medway's contribution to our Sensory Lunch event
Music from bees? Thanks to Electric Medway, the room was ‘buzzing’ with sound!


Other community arts organisations were also present; Janet Moore of Electric Medway offered a playful iPad activity to manipulate nature sounds by turning a bee into a lawnmower.


Sam Fentiman-Hall of Wordsmithery showed ‘Weed Walking,’ a spoken word film produced in the Luton area during
lockdown. The event was also billed as part of Wordsmithery’s Medway River Lit Festival in the ‘Bookends’ programme.


A plate with three small desserts on it. Made by Cafenetics, a restaurant in Chatham's Intra.
Three desserts made by Cafenetics containing carrot, coconut and semolina!

And finally, did I mentioned the curry? Chatham’s Cafenetics delivered an outstanding lunch with a ‘guess the
ingredients’ activity for some unusual but authentic Pakistani desserts.


A magnolia wall with paper on it asking Sensory Lunch guests questions about what they would like to see in their community. Around it are answers they have written on post-it notes.
Some of the feedback we received from our Sensory Lunch event.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and similar: “more events like this, bringing people together.” Some saw a role for creativity to help express social issues and improve their street.


It’s seems obvious really, but those who came on Saturday clearly valued an opportunity to eat together and to have a moment of collective ‘play’. Even the adults. Ideas Test have seen a similar outcome with their Community Meals project using songwriting.


I know from years of working in this sector that meaningful engagement is never won easily. But when it is, we should strive to understand why. Why? On that day, in that place, with those activities, does it just work?


Sensory Lunch had many of the right ingredients. It was curated with a zine-style activity guide encouraging people – especially children – to hop about and encounter all on offer. It contained elements that were hyperlocal, interactive, conversational, non-hierarchical, inclusive and welcoming. It was on a Saturday! So perhaps, somewhere amongst all these things, we hit the sweet spot.


This event was part of Ideas Test’s Invigorate!, a wider piece of programming to reimagine residential areas through creativity. It was also my first offering as a Freelance Producer for the programme, which will continue over the next year.


A huge thanks to all of the artists and organisations involved, the rest of the Ideas Test team and our funder Arts Council England. Arches Local were particularly instrumental in helping to promote the event on the ground.


As I said at the beginning, the format for Sensory Lunch was a big experiment. And I think it paid off.


Kevin Grist
Freelance Producer, Ideas Test