Supporting vulnerable families
with creative packs
Cumbria Family Arts Ambassador Holli Graham shares how creative packs were used during the pandemic to reach vulnerable families.
The Cumbria Family Arts Network (CFAN) is a regional arts collective, supported by the Family Arts Campaign. We are a diverse collection of arts, cultural and community organisations, united in our aims to deliver, promote and improve cultural experiences for the families of Cumbria – particularly in the west of the county.
Historically, opportunities for cultural access and participation have not been particularly high in West Cumbria, and it is also home to some of the most deprived areas in Britain- factors which make CFAN’s family engagement work especially important. We believe that all families should have access to high-quality cultural opportunities across Cumbria. As a Network, we aim to explore alternative ways of engaging with more diverse and harder to reach families, some of whom rarely engage in the arts.
My post of CFAN Network Ambassador is part of a new three-year regional Ambassador programme, funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
The impact of Covid-19 on families
From the month of March this year, our lives, and the way we work, changed completely as a result of Covid19 and the national lockdown.
We witnessed the closures of our local arts organisations and community centres, schools and libraries. Working remotely, we were able to turn our original strategy to a new action plan, focusing on dialogue and collaboration with non-arts organisations such as our local food banks, local authority, schools and other key community groups.
We were acutely aware of the challenges facing families in Cumbria, such as: arranging full-time child-care and home schooling; restricted or no internet access making access to digital resources difficult; increased unemployment levels and risk to family income. Many families who were normally in receipt of free school meals for their children faced financial challenges, turning to food vouchers from the Covid Summer Food Fund Government scheme and food banks to support their families. Supporting our communities and reaching these families therefore seemed more important than ever.
Supporting families with creative packs
After a series of talks with the North Lakes Foodbanks in Cumbria, it became immediately evident how vital their services had become throughout the pandemic, supporting some of the most vulnerable families in the region.
We were aware of other regional and national initiatives distributing creative craft packs to families over the lockdown period. These initiatives sought to encourage creativity during this unusual time, using craft activities to help children make sense of their thoughts, build confidence, relieve stress and express feelings that are often difficult to put into words. Through securing an additional funding grant from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, via the Family Arts Campaign, we were able to order and distribute 50 ‘Creative Family Packs’ to local vulnerable families, distributed in partnership with North Lakes Foodbanks.
Created by Children’s Scrapstore, Bristol, the packs were carefully tested to ensure that the materials and instructions were appropriate and that the pack would contain everything needed to complete the activities. The inclusion of printed instructions meant that the activities were accessible to families who may not have internet access.
“…using craft activities to help children make sense of their thoughts, build confidence, relieve stress and express feelings that are often difficult to put into words…”
The packs also included general information about the Family Arts Campaign and Fantastic for Families, CFAN and its members, as well as links to their websites. This aimed to familiarise families with their local cultural organisations and encourage future engagement. For families with internet access, this also connected them to online arts resources and events, which have been a critical way of reaching and engaging families throughout the pandemic.
We have received an extremely positive response to these creative packs from families within our local communities. These packs aimed to extend help and support to our local communities whilst also supporting our local CFAN members by increasing awareness of their venues, programming and audience diversity.
We continue to work towards our aim of engaging new families, even within the context of this turbulent time. Our hope is that we will remind families of the importance of the arts and of supporting local arts and cultural organisations in the future. For, as we know, arts engagement and creative expression, plays a crucial role for us all throughout our lives.
18 November 2020