Dreadnought South West

Telling the forgotten stories of women and girls.

Dreadnought South West (DSW) is a charitable organisation based in Exeter that connects individuals and communities through telling forgotten or overlooked stories about women. We spoke to Co-Directors Josie Sutcliffe and Natalie McGrath...

What do you do?

Dreadnought South West (DSW) started in 2012 when we created a new play about the Great 1913 Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage. We’ve continued to make work and generate platforms for the telling of great, often previously unheard, stories about women and girls.

DSW is based in Exeter where we host annual events such as Occupy the Airwaves, in collaboration with Phonic FM – Exeter’s Community Radio – and Exeter Phoenix Arts Centre. We also tour work to theatres, village halls, colleges and schools, and libraries and museums, across the South West region and beyond.

And what keeps you doing it?

Many of the stories we tell have been overlooked for a very long time, and their invisibility continues today. This motivates us to persevere in championing and celebrating the contributions that women have made to our cultural narrative and to creating social change.

What’s the story of Dreadnought South West?

Our first major project in 2013 celebrated the centenary of The Great 1913 Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage. We toured our play Oxygen along the route – from Land’s End to Hyde Park. There were 45 related arts and heritage waymarker projects that were specific to people and place. Through meaningful conversations with audiences, we created a real buzz around this previously little-known story.

Out of this project, DSW was born and now continues as a charitable incorporated organization (CIO). As Co-Directors we’re involved in both management and creative work: Josie as a Director and Dramaturg, and Natalie as a Writer, whilst also envisioning further projects.

Who do you work with?

We work with a whole range of people, including artists, marginalized women, community groups, members of the general public, individual women and girls, historians, archivists, singers, choirs, musicians, audiences for theatre performances and talks, and participants in writing and craft-making workshops.

Our collaborators include many local freelance artists, mostly women, whose skills and expertise include fine art, printing, animation, craft-making, banner work, embroidery, curation, digital art, archiving, songwriting, music composition, sound art and film through a socially engaged practice.

We have fantastic Trustees who get involved in our work, help to fundraise and support all our events.

Describe a recent project.

Our touring play The Cause was inspired by an imagined meeting between two great leaders of the women’s suffrage campaign – Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst. They believed in the same thing, but their methods differed greatly. It toured to more than 24 locations in 2018. It was part of Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Programme.

Ruth Mitchell, Remi Oriogun-Williams   and Michelle Ridings in  The Cause  2018 (Dreadnought South West) Photo: Jim Wileman

Ruth Mitchell, Remi Oriogun-Williams and Michelle Ridings in The Cause 2018 (Dreadnought South West) Photo: Jim Wileman

At the same time, our Rebellious Sounds Archive, a mobile listening booth – where you can hear stories of women’s activism – has travelled to 17 locations across the region from Penzance to Chippenham during 2018. This project is funded by Heritage Lottery Foundation.

What was your best moment of 2018?

Watching the actors of The Cause – Michelle Ridings, Ruth Mitchell, and Remi Oriogun-Williams –continue to deliver high-quality performances, no matter the size or nature of the venue.

The Cause has now been published, and another, Oxygen, will be published in 2019; we are hugely excited as this is a play ripe for schools, colleges and youth theatres to engage with.

Meeting audiences and individuals who engaged with the work has been a real pleasure and a privilege; everyone who has stayed after a show to talk with us, those who emailed, anyone who has returned to see the show again (and again in some cases) – thank you.

And looking forward?

Occupy The Airwaves (OTA) is a 16-hour radio broadcast involving women from across the city of Exeter, to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March. Next year will be the fourth year of this amazing project, which saw 65 women participating as producers, hosts, and technicians of the programmes in 2018. There will be an exhibition of art and banner-making by survivors of domestic violence in the Exeter Phoenix Walkway Gallery from mid-February to accompany this.

The Rebellious Sounds Archive will continue to tour, and will be at Exeter Central Library for the duration of March, which is Women’s History Month.

We are also creating a new platform called Women Making Noise; a pilot gathering of women makers, producers, artists, heritage specialists, archivists, promoters and participants about the experience of making work in the South West region – also scheduled for March 2019. This has come out of our strategic touring in 2018.

One thing that would make your life easier?

We are a small, charitable organisation with big ambitions! So far we’ve raised funds on a project-by-project basis. Core-funding to pay the Co-Directors for the visioning and administrative work they do would impact greatly on what and how we can deliver.

In what ways are you helping to put Exeter on the cultural map, nationally or internationally?

The Cause was part of Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring programme 2018, a real achievement for an Exeter-based, non-core-funded organisation making feminist work. Publishing the play will ensure an ongoing legacy with schools and other groups.

What if ….?

….we would love more opportunities to work with, learn from, and debate with others about the things we believe are important. Growing Exeter’s reputation as a cultural city is something we need to all do together.

How do we find out more?


Twitter: @DreadnoughtSW

Facebook: @DreadnoughtSouthWest

Email: info.dreadnoughtsw@gmail.com

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