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Sacred willow trees, haunted waterways – Arts Grant-supported Furnace Fables sparks children’s imaginations in the heart of the National Forest

Through this year’s National Forest Arts Grant, we’ve been delighted to support Ian and Jo Douglas to deliver Furnace Fables spoken word and image making sessions at Moira Furnace. They worked with local primary school children, inviting them to imagine new tales inspired by the local landscape around Moira Furnace, at the heart of the National Forest. 

12 Aug 2022

The aims of the project were to encourage the children to engage imaginatively with the natural environment and the forest that is growing around them, and ultimately develop a professional performance shaped by the community. 

Moira Furnace is an impressive building, a scheduled ancient monument with a brief lively history as an iron-making blast furnace. It sits alongside the canal, once essential for the delivery and export of materials and now full of dragonflies and bird life, and is surrounded by woodland, lime kilns and the remains of other industrial buildings. The children created their own individual images of the stories that might have happened here. 

Master storyteller Ian Douglas crafted these into new and magical tales, illustrated by Jo Douglas’ delicate and evocative shadow puppetry. Furnace Fables was then initially performed at Moira primary school, where many of the children who had contributed could see their ideas transformed into an exciting new experience, and was then presented as a ‘work in progress’ for families and guests to give feedback on this first iteration of the work. 

A large group of people are gathered on one side of a campfire listening to Ian Douglas perform fables.
(C) Andrew Allcock

Comments and suggestions were incorporated into the stories and visuals, with the final material performed at Timber festival to an audience of around 500 people across the weekend. Underwater reeds danced, trees came to life as the tales of sacred willow trees, fairy curses and haunted waterways weaved their magic - an enthralling show of storytelling and shadow puppetry from the Magic Lantern, inspired by the imaginations of young children growing up in the Forest.  

Furnace Fables will continue to be told and retold to audiences up and down the country as part of the Magic Lantern shows.  

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