Fantastic for Families Award 2021 nomination
Connecting, caring and creativity
with Lakeland Arts MEND
Lakeland Arts have been shortlisted for the Audience Impact and Innovation Awards in this year’s Fantastic for Families Awards, for their MEND project, created during the pandemic.
Ella Luo from Lakeland Arts tells us how they developed the MEND project during lockdown, how the project aimed to connect with communities who had been adversely impacted by the pandemic, and how it enabled them with creative opportunities under a user-led approach.
As part of ArtFund’s Respond and Reimagine funding, the Participation and Learning team developed the MEND project. It stands for ‘Make, Enjoy, New, and Dialogue’, which were key words for the aims of our project. We wanted to approach community groups with the purpose of being ‘useful’. We had been furloughed during the first half of the pandemic and we wanted to reach out to different groups to find out what they needed, and what we as an arts organisation could provide. We collaborated with 6 groups across South Lakeland, running sessions which enabled us to create and share a dialogue together: Young Carers; adult shielders; Ulverston Food Waste group; the Mud Wood Club; Springfield Support, and The Lighthouse Community Mental Health Hub.
As a team of 3: Ella Luo; Amy Stretch-Parker, and Tash Scullion, under the leadership of Ian Read, we ran 112 sessions with 786 participants between October 2020 – July 2021. We ran a mixture of online and in-person workshops and made new connections with people who had been working all through the pandemic to support their communities. We made sure to facilitate workshops that met their needs. For example, Young Carers wanted an online art club that let them socialise while taking a break from school and responsibilities at home; The Lighthouse wanted social art sessions that could be accessed both at home and online, while trying new skills and techniques. During successive lockdowns, we were able to adapt to changing guidelines by offering hybrid ways of delivery and changing creative outcomes to still meet everyone’s core objectives.
Challenges along the way
Because we were all working from home, the team could only support each other remotely. So it was a challenge when it came to organising materials and resources for workshops! It was often one person doing delivery for their group, and the stress of changing guidelines meant we had to communicate big changes to the team and to our community groups in a short space of time. That led to some inevitable miscommunications with our groups, especially because for some of them it was their first time working with an arts organisation. Taking the time to simplify the language and culture of the arts to these groups is something we will improve on, as it adds clarity when we communicate our intentions to non-arts audiences.
Being shortlisted has been a massive boost for us and for our belief in the work we do. We know that awards aren’t the be all and end all, but we are so grateful to have been recognised, and to also raise the profile of the communities we have worked with during this tumultuous year.
The MEND project is close to our hearts for leading the Participation and Learning team in a new direction during this pandemic. We have learned, though it is easy to forget, that we have to look after our own wellbeing and ‘mend’ ourselves before supporting others – which means looking after each other!
We are in the process of developing a van that will be a mobile celebration of the project and its values, and it will enable us to reach out to more disparate communities in rural Cumbria.
We are also planning more projects and opportunities with our community groups, again under a user-led approach (e.g. supporting with funding bids, setting up their own art clubs, and developing in-person art sessions).
28 October 2021
Ella Luo is the Engagement Producer within the Participation and Learning team at Lakeland Arts.
Lakeland Arts is one of the largest arts organisations in Cumbria. It runs Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Lakeland Museum, Blackwell, and Windermere Jetty Museum.