Communities & Creativity: We are not closed

Hi everyone, my name is Lynsey O’Sullivan and I’m the Director of Learning & Engagement at The Lowry, meaning that I am lucky enough to work with a brilliant team of staff & freelance artists to deliver creative projects and programmes with and for children, young people and local communities in Salford.

It feels a bit weird and sentimental writing this blog at home, having not been in The Lowry building since last March. After my 10 years there, made up of busy projects, performances, exhibitions & workshops inside its purple and orange belly, I am really missing it.

But it has to be said, that whilst this past 10 months has been- and continues to be- extremely difficult for so many of us, there have also been huge opportunities for learning.

Our programmes with vulnerable young people in the city and our wider engagement programmes have not stopped. We have moved offsite and operated out of grassroots community buildings in partnership with local services to ensure consistent contact and of course moved some activity online too. We have seen amazing artists, organisations, young people & communities adapt and respond to the ever changing landscape; to meet the ever widening needs of the communities we are a part of.  

Image: The Lowry’s Arts for Social Change programme, an online zoom session with Young Carers in Salford.

As the events of the past 10 months have unfolded, I’ve felt in a constant state of awe at some of the brilliant work being done by so many within our sector, and beyond. The unwavering commitment to children, young people & communities is evident from so many and is offered with such kindness, generosity and integrity.

But the mountain is still massive.  

The need amongst children, young people & communities continues to grow rapidly, as the impact of isolation from friends, school and services directly translates into increased CAMHS referrals, more incidents of self-harm amongst young people, rising domestic violence and those who were already struggling or in need of support pre-pandemic, being more disadvantaged than ever before.

Image: Art materials door drop to over 1000 children and young people in Salford, The Lowry.

So the opportunity for our sector to work together with others to learn, to adapt and most importantly to seek to understand the needs of children, young people and communities in our local, regional and national ‘recovery’ plans is a non-negotiable.

And it must be. It has to be.

But that word ‘recovery’ also suggests that for a while, it didn’t happen. That we need to build it back up, like we’ve stopped and need to re-start? And that’s just not true.

We never stopped.

Image: The Lowry Centre for Advanced Training in Dance, socially distanced workshop at Z Arts

Whilst theatre buildings have sadly been paralysed and unable to open their doors or galleries and museums spaces closed or artists work devastatingly cancelled overnight; the world of community arts, arts participation, cultural engagement, Co-created practice, Applied arts (whatever you like to call it) has never been closed. Far from it.

Image: Lockdown face to face sessions with artist Ashleigh Nugent for vulnerable young people in Salford, The Lowry.

The tenacity of community focussed practitioners, artists and engagement ‘bods’ in finding new and inventive ways to sustain, build and re-think ways to connect with young people and communities is ever present. And young people themselves have taught us so much, as they constantly adapt to change in this new world. For those of us who watched President Bidens inauguration this week, we saw first-hand the power of creativity in the hands of young people, as we sat, awe-struck by the mesmerising words of the youngest ever inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman.

And whilst, all over the country there is too much good stuff to mention here, I’ll have a go at mentioning some if it….

Wake the Beast- In our own words

In Our Own Words is a project that supported 50+ NHS & Social Care staff struggling with the effects of the COVID pandemic (first & second wave). Interviews with doctors, porters, nurses, therapists, clinical psychologists & domestic staff were collected by Wake The Beast and transcribed into verbatim performances and performed with guided facilitation and activities that provided psychological support for NHS & Social Care staff.  

Follow them on Facebook for updates on the next phase of the project or visit their website here: https://www.wakethebeast.co.uk/

Burnley Youth Theatre- Creative Families

Our mates in Burnleyadapted their brilliant participation programme online very quickly and smoothly, offering weekly workshops for children and families.

From Makaton storytelling to singing and music workshops, the range, quality and consistency of this offer inspired me to think about how we could better use online resources to create a regular offer for children and families.

Read about them here: https://burnleyyouththeatre.org/

The Curve Leicester – Curve Classroom

This brilliant programme was launched online to support home learning and life-long learning, led by a range of brilliant artists in all art forms and subjects.

All the videos are free to watch here, have a gander, my kids love it: https://www.curveonline.co.uk/curve-classroom/

Big Up AT HOME: Theatre-Rites & 20 Stories High

Award winning theatre companies Theatre-Rites and 20 Stories High adapted their co-production Big Up for children aged 4+ to inspire creativity at home.

I remember watching this show at Z Arts with my 5 year old and the look on his face, that ‘what is this magic!?’ look, has never left me. He still talks about it 2 years on, and the activities, videos and clips of the show during the year have been full of energy and just what we needed.

You can check out the videos of the show and activities here: https://theatre-rites.co.uk/show.php?id=51&title=Big_Up_At_Home

Gorse Hill Studios- Culture Club

This brilliant grassroots youth centre in Trafford developed a Culture Club, which brought arts and food together for young people ages 5-18 years old who may not otherwise have had access to socialisation with peers, art resources or ingredients for hot healthy meals during the 6 week break. During the four weeks, each days online activities we explored and learnt all about other cultures from around the world through dance, drama, art, music, cooking, games and quizzes.

Every Monday we supplied and delivered fresh ingredients for healthy meals to all 16 families with young people, some of which usually receive free school meals, to enable them to join in our online cooking sessions for all 4 days each week. We were inspired by a different culture each week for our cooking sessions, so young people could get a taste for meals from around the world and develop an appreciation for different foods whilst challenging themselves by learning culinary skills at home following instructions via Zoo

Read about them here: https://www.gorsehillstudios.co.uk/

Paraorchestra- Inclusive principles for COVID safe practice

Re-inventing the orchestra for the 21st Century. Paraorchestra is the world’s only large-scale integrated virtuoso ensemble of professional disabled and non-disabled musicians.

Throughout the pandemic they have shared loads of great content and continued their brilliant work, alongside producing this ‘7 Inclusive principles for arts & culture orgs working safely through covid-19’ resource. Its mega practical & useful to help build confidence in continuing this work during Covid, you can read it here:

Touchstones Museum & Gallery, Rochdale- Adapting Dippy on Tour

Dippy on Tour in Rochdale had a massive impact, not only on the borough of Rochdale, but the whole of the North West. Almost 120,000 visitors came to visit Dippy at Touchstones Rochdale. Despite having to close for several months, on re-opening the creative team were able to completely repurpose the main exhibition into an actor-lead costumed interpretation; to overcome the COVID challenges around tactile & interactive interpretation for children.

Family friendly and fun this creative response was devised & launched in just a few short weeks with actors playing the role of scientists sent back from the future. It was a lively and fun way to safely bring people back into Touchstones and educate young children about the main themes of the exhibition. So brilliant!

Read about the exhibition here: https://link4life.org/arts-heritage/exhibitions/628-dippy-exhibition

Art With Heart- pretty much all of it!

I know Darren Henley has already been all over this, but they’re too good not to mention.  

During the pandemic, this small company with a massive heart have developed a range of brilliant projects including Dial, Box tickers, Artist Brew Days and more.

Their integrity and commitment to meeting need across Greater Manchester alongside their energetic approach, inspires me constantly and makes be very proud to be their neighbour.

Read about their brilliant work here: https://artwithheart.org.uk/

There are so many other brilliant artists, community groups & art orgs doing brilliant work and I hope to read, see, hear about them and to learn from them in the coming weeks and months.

But I’ll sign off with this work from Amy, who is a 20 year old woman who lives in temporary accommodation in Salford, and has since she was 16. She’s been developing her painting skills with us during lockdown and recently created this wonderful work titled ‘Lost in the Mist’.

And whilst we all continue to be a little bit ‘Lost in the Mist’ I’m sending good vibes and positivity to everyone reading this (if anyone actually is!?).

Because with these brilliant young people, artists & organisations in the world, I’m pretty sure we’re going to get through.