Community spirit Culture and creativity

Community, Creativity & COVID-19

The creative industries have been amongst the worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Theatres are closed, galleries are on lock-down and music venues have gone quiet. The way forward for this sector is unclear, but hope can be found in droves at a community level, where communities are finding creative ways to minimise the worst effects of this crisis. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in the communities taking part in the Creative Civic Change (CCC) funding programme. CCC is a partnership between Local Trust, the National Lottery Community Fund, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. The programme was launched in May 2019 and supports 15 communities across England to use the power of arts to make a meaningful change in their areas. COVID-19 hit as many areas were reaching the peak of their activity, but they have all found ways to respond to the crisis, and to thrive in the “new normal”. 

Early in the pandemic, access to food was amongst the most pressing of community needs. Many CCC areas rushed to help, working with local food banks and providers to make sure there was enough to go around. Some areas, like Creative Newington, turned over their creative hubs & community centres to food banks. Newington also added a creative edge to their support by including weekly craft activities & resources to be delivered alongside the food parcels. 

The wonderful thing about the arts is that it makes you flexible and creative in a precarious situation. . . We had to talk about making sure that people simply had food during this crisis but, then we also have to feed their souls otherwise we’re going to face a major mental health crisis.” Heather Peak Morrison, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

Creative activities and resources have also been a vital resource for families facing the challenge of homeschooling. In Stoke-on-Trent, The Portland Inn Project has been producing weekly creative packs for local families, which have included clay pigeon carving, northern soul dance classes, and seeds for growing sunflowers, to name but a few. The packs have been delivered complete with the necessary tools and materials all while ensuring the safety of the volunteers and residents by maintaining social distancing and wearing masks where appropriate. Whilst most of the activities have focused on young people, they also acknowledged the stress and strain this is causing parents, and so they recently sent out a pampering hamper for local mums.  

Another pressing need early in the pandemic was the availability and access to emergency supplies including face masks and scrubs for the NHS. Don’t Get Any Ideas, the CCC group in Corby, quickly responded to this need by going into full production, making free reusable 3D printed masks for their community & local emergency services using sewing machines and a 3D printer purchased through CCC.

“I don’t want to be moving deckchairs on the Titanic. I want to build the rafts,” says Brian Dunn from the Don’t Get Any Ideas group.

Elsewhere, CCC communities have chosen to focus on the social impacts of the virus. In Plymouth, Nudge Community Builders created a ‘List of Love’ for local people wanting to stay connected. Noticing less engagement with one local estate, they are now setting out to learn the first name of every single person that lives there in a variety of creative ways. Across CCC, creative projects are providing moments of connection for all involved, especially those shielding or far away from loved ones. 

Creativity is proving key to a community’s ability to cope in ways both big and small. At the very least, it provides wonderful moments of relief and community spirit. In March, Whitley Bay were faced with the possibility of having to cancel their longstanding community carnival. Rather than miss this moment of unity, they produced a “Lockdown Carnival” with socially-distanced musicians parading through the streets, household decorating front gardens, and local artists selling their work through social media. 

Whitley Bay Lockdown Carnival @Alex Alevroyianni

The range of creative responses and projects implemented in CCC areas during COVID-19 has highlighted the belief that if you trust local people and give them the resources to succeed, they can survive and thrive even in the most difficult times. The flexibility in our grants means that community groups are able to pivot and respond quickly and effectively to whatever challenges they are facing. Dispersed leadership within each group meant that activity could continue, even as organisations closed their doors and professionals were put on furlough. At the heart of it all though, is creativity, which continues to be at the centre of our resourceful & dynamic communities.   

Join us to discuss all of this and more at an online event hosted with the Connection Coalition on the 2nd July: Harnessing creativity for meaningful connections.