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Coronavirus Culture and creativity

Crests, community spirit and co-creation

How residents of Blackwell Parish ignited community spirit through creativity

Creative Civic Change (CCC) is a new approach to funding, using arts and creativity to make positive local change. Continuing our series exploring creative community responses to COVID-19, we spoke to members of the Greater Creative project in Blackwell Parish, Derbyshire, whose lockdown ‘Create A Crest’ project has re-ignited community spirit.

Never underestimate what a small group of people can do.

As the first lockdown hit in March 2020, the Greater Creative project was about to embark on an extensive summer activity programme.

Despite the disappointment of losing months of planning work, the working party and the project facilitators Platform Thirty1 invested huge amounts of time and energy to adapt to changing conditions. 

Greater Creative’s working party brings together residents from four different villages and a wide range of ages. This brings an important diversity of perspective, which is really valued by the group.

Although working party members missed meeting up in person and sharing food (cheesy chips were mentioned), switching to more frequent meetings via Zoom and setting up a team WhatsApp helped the group to feel connected. 

Co-creation is the fundamental ethos of the group, creating a space where ideas spark and kindle into life. Part of the group’s CCC journey is unpicking the ‘magic’ of co-creation, with Amanda McLaren, who acts as a ‘critical friend’ to the project.

A critical friend offers a listening ear and constructive advice and challenge, that supports the development of learning and practice of the CCC projects. 

Amanda reflected that:

The working party is a welcoming space where people feel valued, working collaboratively and with a shared purpose. It has a culture which fosters personal development, risk-taking and trust. The group is kind to each other and supportive. This has to be recognised for the achievement that it is, people have come together from across four different villages, each with their own identities and priorities.”

“The nuances of co-creation feel hard to pin down, but when it happens well everyone feels like a valued and equal part of the experience, and that our ideas and opinions are worth sharing. Other people’s ideas and opinions are worth listening to and our lived experiences and knowledge give us all expertise make us all valued collaborators.”

“Greater Creative’s approach to co-creation is characterised by a shared purpose, a diverse working group, transparency and telling the truth, listening and doing, being kind and ambition and aspiration,” Amanda says.

“It’s not just about a destination but about going on a journey of exploration together.”

Jodie Cresswell-Waring from Platform Thirty1, the project facilitator, told us how the Create A Crest project was born:

Lockdown struck, being nimble on our feet we responded. Artists repurposed their now cancelled face-to-face sessions into a plethora of fun activities that could happen on kitchen tables using ‘junk’ and household items, or phone camera for photography tasks on their daily hour walks.”

“A range of digital art activities were soon live and we were pleased with them. We felt distant from the activity, as commissioned artists simply uploaded content for families to access. Dialogue, usually full of energy and reflections, dwindled.

“Artists were frustrated by the lack of feedback. Voices in our community and further afield began using a new language – ‘Zoom-fatigue’ , ‘screen-tired’ and noticing the flood of free digital resources nationally and locally.

“In our next Zoom meeting we discussed the need for physical activity. We discussed using organic materials, and clay directly raw from the earth- nodding to our midland heritage artisan past. Working with a local potter was also an ambition. We then thrashed around ideas of what we could do.”

Being collaborative – as a house, a village and a parish – was important. Someone spoke about an activity idea where families could design their household coat of arms, and this quickly formed the concept of our project – Create A Crest.

“Families were tasked to make a household crest on a leather hard piece of clay. Working party members scattered across the parish (in every village/hamlet) used their driveways as tile collection and tile completion deposits,” Jodie says.

“For those shielding, tiles were delivered in sanitised bags by members of the working party – one of whom had just passed her driving test and got some new bright yellow wheels!”

The local potter, Dave Wadsworth, came weekly to collect the tiles and his passion for the project was just as rich, sharing pictures of the process of the firing and growing a relationship with the working party.”

“We initially planned to make 200 packs with tiles available for residents to make their family crests. As word spread, so did demand, and 440 packs were ultimately collected or delivered,” Jodie says.

“In a community of 2,300 households, 306 residents and families brought their completed family crests back to be fired and to be part of the village public memorial pieces. We installed the pieces before Christmas 2020, one board in each village.”

The interactions between the working party during this project were very special. The WhatsApp group was on fire, with daily updates from each village and members discussing the buzz of the project in the community and sharing new tiles coming in, taking time to gush over the precious hand-made art creations that represented a household.”

What really stuck in my mind was a message we got as part of our evaluation from someone saying the project made them feel less isolated. That felt massive to me, at the time. That’s been the standout thing from this project that’s stuck in my head. That giving someone a bit of headspace made them feel less isolated.”

Voices from the working party

Our conversations with the working party also helped to further unpick some of the ‘magic’ of co-creation.  

The working party highlighted the importance of the role of holding the space. Whether you describe the role as leadership, hosting or facilitating, the project team have helped to create a space where ideas bloom into life.

As Ian, one of the working party members, told us:

We come up with some crazy ideas and they run with them and make them real.”

Katharine, another working party member, highlighted the importance of the relationships between the working party:

A really key ingredient for success that we’ve had is that we all just trust each other to be honest, be creative, and be real about what we want to do and then just get on it and just go for it.”

The working party highlighted that rounded co-creation invites creativity at all levels – the project team, the working party, the artist, and most importantly, the participants. This was one learning from a less successful lockdown project, which made less space for individual creativity. 

This learning has informed other Greater Creative activities, such as the Winter Windows project: an artist-designed ‘inspiration window’ in each village, with creative packs for houses to design their own winter window.

Caroline, Blackwell Parish Resident

Why does co-creation matter?

Put simply, Greater Creative’s experience so far has been that the more rounded the co-creation, the more impactful the work. As Caroline, a resident in Blackwell Parish, told us:

“It just brings you together as a community and takes your mind off the horrendous things that are happening right now. 

“Especially at Christmas time when we did the windows, while walking around you can see people’s done a little bit of everything, I thought: well, isn’t that lovely that everyone’s coming together?”

I think since we’ve got this Greater Creative in the village along with the other groups that we’ve got going in the village, it’s a greater sense of community. You feel like we’re not forgotten. Things are happening. Whereas before all of this, you just felt we’re like a little village, and we was just forgotten, but it just feels like we’re all working together now and things are getting done.”

About the authors

This blog is part of our series on Creative Civic Change responses to COVID-19. It was written by CCC evaluators Anousheh Haghdadi (Beatfreeks) with Sarah Boiling and Amanda Smethurst, as part of the second CCC learning report, Growing Through the Storm 

Compiled and edited by Khadijah Carberry (CCC Intern, 2021).

Photo and film credits: Dean Leivers.