Yarl’s Wood Research

Short statement for the final piece:

Yarl’s Wood (2016) investigates the site of Yarl’s Wood Immigration Centre near Bedford, England. The film explores the ways in which landscape and power are intertwined and how Law and the regulation of mobility affect physical and imagined space.

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Site visit 17/04/16

I returned to Yarl’s Wood to continue filming, this time alone. I felt some apprehension making the journey on my own but the trip was successful and I had no problems filming around the detention centre buildings. If anyone in the centre did see me, they didn’t make any contact.

Notes from the visit:

  • could hear people on the other side of the fence, sounded like they were playing football. a banal scene.
  • spotted detritus from previous protests – placards and leaflets
  • facility fences repainted so that the slogans from the protest have been erased. painted with mismatched colours.
  • felt apprehensive when walking up to the site – isolated, imposing buildings, fences, cctv. Structures that inspire fear. Little pools of water in foot- and hoof prints
  • branches grown into fencing – nature creeping up on man made borders. wood swollen and grown around wire – slowly reclaiming the space – a gradual, unknowing protestation.


  • Intend the film to be about place, waiting, patience, belonging and about compassion – told though the lens of the English landscape.
  • A detailed and nuanced investigation of a site.
  • Use the landscape and the natural surroundings to talk about a hidden subject, and attempt to make visible that which is concealed…
  • What can we glean about the issue of migration and detention from observing the landscape?
  • what markers of power are visible in the landscape? E.g. Around the perimeter is a bridle path – many horse hoof prints merge with human’s on the muddy track – horse owning and riding is often a preserve of the rich. The walls serve to divide nations but are also dividers of class/wealth.
  • what is the character of Milton Earnest (nearest village to YW)
  • why here? deliberately isolating.
  • how does the structure of YW sit within the landscape?
  • how do we feel in this place?

History of the site:

  • previously part of the Royal Aeronautical Establishment Bedford – some interesting links about mobility, aeronautical research and the modern practice of forcing migrants onto charter flights
  • handed to Quintep Group in 2001
  • collection of wind tunnels used for testing the spinning characteristics of planes in free fall, using miniature models
  • the tower at the front of the site is Milton Earnest Water Tower

I have found some interesting footage from inside RAE Bedford in 1964, which I think I will use in part of the film.

Visit to Yarl’s Wood with the Movement 4 Justice Protest:

My first visit to Yarl’s Wood was with the Shut It Down protest organised by Movement 4 Justice and other activist groups. I booked a place on one of the coaches that transported hundreds of people from Euston to Yarl’s Wood. During the coach journey members of M4J and ex-detainees spoke to us about the protest and immigration detention.

The protest itself was really successful: there was about 2000 people in attendance and there was a police presence but no negative interactions. In terms of filming I think I got some good footage, but decided I would need to return alone with a tripod, to get some more static shots.

Notes from the day:

  • countryside, fields, lush, damp
  • smells like grass and cows, clean air, serene
  • cold toes, police in baby blue jackets
  • sturdy boots and long lenses


I have been thinking about my research interests and the problems I encountered when making work for the interim show regarding expressing my ideas in a visual way. I think perhaps this may stem from the fact that I have been thinking in fairly abstract terms, about power, language, landscape, plants, borders, control, mobility, etc etc – and I think it would be helpful for me to have something more concrete to respond to, such as an historical event, story or site that links to these themes. Having complete freedom can actually be sort of paralysing, so imposing some limitations may be useful.

One idea I have had is to make a piece in response to the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire. Yarl’s Wood is a residential centre with capacity for 900 people awaiting immigration clearance. It has been the subject of an undercover report for Channel 4, which exposed some of the cruel and inappropriate behaviour of the centre staff, and brought to light stories of mistreatment and ethically dubious practices within the institution.

Although Yarl’s Wood is not a prison, it bears some similarities including barbed wire fences, CCTV and cells for people to ‘cool down’ in if they have caused a disturbance. One of the main criticisms Yarl’s Wood has faced is the detention of pregnant women.

I find this site interesting in terms of my research because of the peculiar nature of the detention centre, where the residents have not been granted permission to stay in the country, yet are prohibited from leaving it. It represents an interstitial zone between states: citizen and alien, free and captive, legal and illegal…

My initial idea is to go to Yarl’s Wood and film around the perimeter of the site. I want to film the landscape around the centre, the plant life and natural elements. I would like to then display this in a multi-screen installation, perhaps using several tv monitors, in a mock CCTV control room set-up as inspired by the Channel 4 footage of the control room in the centre.

yarlswoodcontrolImage from the architects: http://www.oneltd.com/portfolio/other-markets/yarls-wood-immigration-removal-centre

yarls wood screen test from Annabel Duggleby on Vimeo.

Here is a quick test I did using the screen recording function in QuickTime, for possible footage options in the piece. I think satellite imagery would be appropriate because it conjures ideas about surveillance, control and mapping.

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