A Life Well Lived

1st Mar · Dawn Hawkins

In memory of Sheila Hargreaves who died aged 94 in the early hours of 29 January at her home in Banchory, surrounded by close family.


Sheila and John Hargreaves were founders of the Barn. They were deeply committed to education, the arts and equal rights, a commitment which was richly productive and central to the Barn’s creation and subsequent identity. All of us at the Barn devoted to the cause of the arts provoking, stimulating and delighting the diverse members of our community – and being at the centre of community life – gratefully remember and honour Sheila. Her pioneering vision, contributions and gentle yet tenacious character will not be forgotten.

Sheila was a wonderful dancer and an equally wonderful teacher of Laban dance. She married John and in the early 50's they lived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where she set up dance classes and John taught African history in the university.

Sheila joined the PE department in the School of Education in Aberdeen. An ardent believer in the value of the arts for children and adults, she taught Laban dance in schools and community venues and in the 1980s she and a small group of enthusiasts set up Grampian Dance Contact to promote the teaching of dance. This led to the Scottish Arts Council funding City Moves, a vibrant and popular, now independent, dance venue in Aberdeen. She and John were also active in the early days of the Aberdeen Arts Centre and St Katherine's which later became the Lemon Tree.

Moving to Banchory, Sheila and John joined the Episcopal Church and one Sunday in 1990 after church, the laird, Jamie Burnett, told them that his 50th birthday was in a couple of years and that he would like to celebrate 400 years of the Burnett family history with a play. Sheila suggested that he might contact Alastair Macdonald, a young theatre director in Aberdeen, which Jamie did and the idea of a community play began to form.

In 1992 nearly two hundred people were involved in the production of Tensions and Trusts. The play, successfully performed on the lawn in front of Crathes Castle, was a celebration of Banchory’s local culture and its people. It was the culmination of a huge amount of ground work in the community, led by Sheila and John, to raise funds against all the odds, and to generate enthusiasm for this historical project. It involved much research into the history of Banchory, the traditions, language, music, dance and stories of the local people.

The last rehearsals for the play took place in a draughty old barn on the Crathes estate called Woodend Barn and once the production ended, Sheila asked for volunteers to transform the Woodend Barn into an Arts Centre. The first meeting was in the Banchory Academy library. Sheila was the chair, and fifteen people attended. She was always efficient, kind and hugely grateful to everyone for their contributions. There were people in the community who were against the project, but she would make light of the opposition, knowing all along that she had huge support from others.


5 Sheila Hargreaves

The Woodend Barn Arts centre was officially opened in 1994. It was cold and dingy with a concrete floor – many remember that the morning after a ceilidh dancing with Clachan Yell, legs ached from the pain of dancing on concrete and that when Scottish Ballet came, they brought their own roll out floor. Fundraising events like the one given by Scotland the What, that had everyone rolling in the aisles, happened because Sheila had numerous contacts who wanted to make the Barn a success. After several years, she handed over the chair but was always in the background encouraging. The tradition of making a community play in one week of the summer holidays continued for over ten years.

Sheila always welcomed the Aberdeen International Youth Festival at the Barn and was particularly happy to see performances by young African dancers and musicians. She and John would make peanut stew for the performers.

In 2003 Sheila and John set up Third Stage for people over 50 after a chance statement by Sheila Davis "that elderly people are often sat down and entertained instead of being allowed to do the entertaining themselves." (*) Sheila called upon one of her hugely experienced contacts, Rosemary MacKenzie, and between them they had a wide network in the art world that they could call on to lead workshops in art, dance, music, poetry and sculpture.

Sheila Davis, chair for several years, says, " Many "older " people will forever be indebted to Sheila for kindling an interest in all aspects of art. She believed in the older generation continuing and even starting artistic pursuits. She was particularly interested in dance and movement with a very modern approach. Many of her "students" moved in a freer style than they could ever have imagined. She cared about other people and made a difference to many. She will be fondly remembered." As she will be by all connected to the Barn.


(*) From Cattle Court to Community Arts .... the early years of the Woodend Arts Association by John Hargreaves.