"Were tha born in a barn?"

"Were tha born in a barn?"

By Alison Phipps

I was born and grew up in South Yorkshire. A county of dialects and proverbs and poverty. The City I am from – Sheffield – declared itself – like Aotearoa New Zealand – to be a Nuclear Free Zone. We had our own folk traditions, popularised by the singer Kate Rusby in Christmas Carols, of singing at Christmas in the streets in local pubs, local radio stations, into care homes, and community centres – taking cheer and traditional Yorkshire carols into places of hospitality and care.

It was always cold when we sang. I remember layers of scarves protecting my voice and bobble hats and knitted jumpers and stamping my feet on frosty pavements, and collecting coins door to door, and being given mince pies. It was mostly work done by women, the peace making, the caring and community centres, the serving of ale behind the bars, the plating up of mince pies, and it was mum who made sure I wrapped up warm. And mum waiting with a hot water bottle and hot juice when I came back in.

The phrase ‘Were tha born in a barn?’ in Yorkshire dialect accompanied my childhood. I’d often leave doors open as I went in and out and around the house. The family were trying to save on fuel costs so when I did leave the door open freezing cold air would blast through the home. The same with the care homes and community centres and pubs as we all traipsed through intent on singing and forgetting etiquette of door closing to protect one another from the cold.

The question ‘Were tha born in a barn?’ was like a refrain, a constant, non-too-polite reminder, almost a greeting. It brought laughter and action whenever we heard it. Because, no, I wasn’t born in a barn. My next door neighbour delivered me into this world, my Auntie Madge, as I knew her. It was too icy for mum to get to hospital that cold November day or for the midwife to reach our home safely. But when I forgot what has since become an ingrained habit, and left the door open, I was opening us all up to elements that would render us more vulnerable, and also bring conflict in with them.

Peace-making in CUSP is focused on the work of women and on the work of transforming conflicts or potential sources of conflict. Our work with meso-level cultural institutions like theatre groups, reading groups, libraries, cafés, dance companies is work with communities, at grassroots, so close to the drafts – if we think about that metaphor of grassroots more literally. It’s work where the cold air of the temperate zones needs to be kept at bay for the sake of the well-being of all. The scene I describe with Carol Singing around Sheffield is one where much of the cultural labour – dressing up warm, feeding and watering, and visiting – is embedded into cultural routines. This, for me, though, is where the real work of peace maintenance, of conflict prevention takes place.

‘Were tha born in a barn?’ Is a reminder, in earthy humour, of the need to conserve, preserve the peace and warmth of places where life happens. It’s culturally contextual of course. In hot countries doors are happily left open to allow cooler air to circulate, there might not even be doors. Peace making and maintaining peace, is gendered and temperature dependent too. But what I love about the humour in the phrase, the intonation moving towards laughter in the questioning accusation is that humour is what is being used to take away the sting. The Pyscho-therapist Beverley Costa of Pasalo Project https://www.pasaloproject.org/about.html says “we aren’t going to change anything without humour” and I am struck as I read the impassioned, intent, advocating work against gender based violence and femicide, against discrimination and the gender pay gap how vital that element of humour is to gentleness despite it all, to being still within a structure that is strong but which can elicit a change of behaviour.

So International Women’s Day 2022 comes around I’m celebrating the earthy humour, the small acts of maintaining the peace and the way this work, world wide, is largely undertaken by women…. The scarves, the food, the opening and closing of doors.

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

CUSP - Palestine

CUSP - Palestine

Cultures of Sustainable and Inclusive Peace is linked to two of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development – or SDGS – SDG 5 – on women and girls and SDG 16.

SDG 16 is especially important in the context of our work on the theme of conflict transformation and protracted conflict.

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Find out more about Goal 16 here: https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal16

What is the role of cultural organisations?

The role of cultural institutions, as opposed to political and intergovernmental organisations, is vital in promoting ways of imagining peace and pathways to justice. Whilst political and legal institutions are vital for upholding laws and making laws, cultural institutions are where peace and inclusion can be imagined, promoted and built effectively.

Equally, cultural change indexes shift in conflicts and their transformation as well as creating new points of conflict. We focus especially in CUSP on how this manifests in the roles played by women and girls. We do this under the auspices of our funders and also the UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and Arts at the University of Glasgow.

Find out more about the work of the UNESCO RILA Chair here: https://www.gla.ac.uk/research/az/unesco/

To do our research we focus on the meso-level. We are working with and funding partners at the level of the community and with NGOs working in towns, cities, villages to build institutional capacity. We are employing researchers in context to inquiry, participate and analyse the cultural and artistic processes and roles played by cultural institutions and their works – libraries, books, stories, poetry; dance halls, choreography, performance; drama, theatres, ritual; photography, exhibition space, artworks.

Because we are working in contexts of ongoing, protracted conflicts, it is also the case that our work can be subject to renewed conflict and war. This is the case with our partners in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Palestine joined UNESCO on 23rd November 2011: https://en.unesco.org/countries/palestine

Artwork made from pieces of spent artillery used in previous aggressions against Gaza; made by Art Students at Al Aqsa University, Gaza, Palestine.

Our Partners in Palestine

Our partners in Palestine were subject to bombardment, the targeting of civilian populations, medical workers and journalists as part of the greatly intensified hostilities of 2021. This is in addition to the attacks on al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem and the evictions for the purpose of illegal settlements in Sheikh Jarrar: https://www.un.org/press/en/2016/sc12657.doc.htm These “Settlements Have No Legal Validity, Constitute Flagrant Violation of International Law, Security Council Reaffirms.”

As part of our work to continue, even in the most extreme conditions of fear and warfare, to imagine peace, as determined by UNESCO in it’s Preamble, we offer this series of witness accounts from our partners in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and in The Gaza Strip.

“Since wars are made in the minds of people then it is in the minds of people that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

Read more about UNESCOs Constitution here: http://www.unesco.org/new/unesco/about-us/who-we-are/history/constitution/

A Word of Warning

The accounts make for very difficult reading, and are fearful and outraged in tonality – as is the case for expressions and cries of pain, and of what has been seen.

We know from the scholarship on trauma healing and the building of a sustainable peace, founded on justice, that the atrocities and violations of international law rely on witness statements, on the work of academics who can furnish details and report from what they see and experience (Atkinson, 2002; Bloom, 2006, 2010, n.d.; J. P. Lederach, 1995, 2003, 2005; J. P. L. Lederach, Angela Jill, 2010; J. P. N. Lederach, Reina; Culbertson, Hal, 2007; Weingarten, 2003)

We affirm our solidarity and support from CUSP with our partners in Palestine and continue to call for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip and an end to the military operations that are detrimental to peoples mental and physical wellbeing. We urge for the building of institutions of peace, inclusive of women and girls, to promote individuals’ wellbeing and the development of the Palestinian society (as per UNRWA mandate).

We refer readers to the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights: Palestine’s statements and work in this area: https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/sp/countriesmandates/ps/pages/srpalestine.aspx

We call for an end to the present hostilities and for the Responsibility to Protect: https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/about-responsibility-to-protect.shtml


Atkinson, J. (2002). Trauma Trails: Recreating Songlines – the transgenerational effects of trauma in indigenous Australia. Melbourne: Spinifex Press.

Bloom, S. L. (2006). Organizational Stress as a Barrier to Trauma-Sensitive Change and Systems Transformation. Retrieved from

Bloom, S. L. (2010). Bridging the Black Hole of Trauma: The Evolutionary Significance of the Arts. Psychotherapy and Politics International, 8(3), 196-212. doi:10.1002/ppi.223

Bloom, S. L. (n.d.). Trauma-Informed Systems Transformation: Recovery as a Public Health Concern. In W. M. Steele, C. (Ed.), trauma-Informed Prectice for Children and Adolescents. New York: Routledge.

Lederach, J. P. (1995). Preparing for Peace: Conflict Across Cultures. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Lederach, J. P. (2003). Conflict Transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books.

Lederach, J. P. (2005). The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Peace Building. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lederach, J. P. L., Angela Jill. (2010). When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the soundscape of healing and reconciliation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lederach, J. P. N., Reina; Culbertson, Hal. (2007). Reflective Peacebuilding. A Planning, Monitoring, and Learning Toolkit. In: University of Notredame.

Weingarten, K. (2003). Common Shock: Witnessing Violence Every Day–How We Are Harmed, How We Can Heal. England: Penguin

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).