2019, Rochdale, UK         

Civic Banquet

Ceramics, textiles, flowers, food, and performance

Commissioned by Rochdale Development Agency with the support of Touchstones Rochdale Art Gallery

On 26 September 2019, 240 people accepted an invitation to attend a free meal at Rochdale Town Hall. The guests were drawn from community organizations, charities, voluntary initiatives, and youth groups alongside staff from the council and the borough’s different cultural institutions. The invitation to join the meal was, more specifically, an offer to participate in a shared conversation about the future of the town hall on the eve of its redevelopment.

The Civic Banquet, as the meal was called, built on an earlier and smaller dining event in which forty-five people contributed to and attended a dinner at Touchstones, Rochdale’s museum and art gallery. The table design, settings, and menu were all informed by items in the museum collection and contributions from the local community. The food was made by a Nigerian women’s group, while guests listened to Lancashire dialect poetry and ate from ceramics glazed with the colours found in Rochdale’s civic buildings. Rooted to the local context, the dinner revealed and embraced the diversity of the town.
At the event in the town hall, the food was made by a local Indian catering company. As the collective dining experience unfolded, Heather Peak stood on a small platform in the centre of the room and punctuated the meal with a series of open questions about the guests’ experience of and feelings about Rochdale Town Hall. Laura Mansfield, curator of Civic Banquet, described the occasion. ‘Delivered with a gentle authority that echoed that of the game-show host or bingo caller, each of Heather’s questions aimed to ignite discussion, the sharing of stories of the Town Hall’s history, and visions of its potential future use. The live act of posing questions was a considered strategy to both activate conversation and create a playful atmosphere of shared endeavour; we were all in this together, part of a team, participating in the game of questions. Contrary to asking someone questions via a questionnaire, the form of a group conversation enabled those around the table to feed off of each other’s ideas and comments. Leaving behind the comfort zone of the familiar, habitual reactions made way for a more sprawling exchange of memories, thoughts, and positions, allowing for collective reflection and unexpected insights.’ The evening also saw a series of small performative interludes. Mirroring the civic banquets that occurred in the hall centuries ago, music, toasts, theatre, and poetry interjected the concentrated conversations taking place on each table.


‘At each table, a designated host helped guide the guests through the perhaps unexpected dinner, asking them to help collect their food, refill their water jugs, and clear away any empty dishes as and when required. Harnessing the idea that sharing a meal with others is a means to consolidate existing relationships, build connections between social groups, and encourage a non-hierarchical exchange of ideas, the event employed the simple everyday act of eating together for its potential as a conduit for individual agency and active discussion, a potential so often masked by its tacit familiarity.… The series of interjecting acts was devised with the direct intention to provoke discussion. Ask someone via a questionnaire their opinion on the future of the Town Hall and their response will be short and brief. Ask someone when they are sitting in the building in question as they eat a meal, while listening to accounts of the community, and watching a young woman clog dance, the collection of events begins to trigger a plethora of unexpected ideas about the building’s potentiality.’

Laura Mansfield, independent curator
Photographers’ credits       

All images_ Stephen King

Love Me or Leave Me Alone        


Love Me or Leave Me Alone, The Very Public Art of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison presents a journey through the past decade and a half of the artists’ practice, with an emphasis on their pavilions, escape vehicles, and public artworks.  The book can be ordered from the publishers Art/Books
Press contact        

If you can’t find the information you are looking for you can contact the studio of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison here: studio@peakmorison.org