Drawing Connections

“The Arts Award Project with young people from resettlement scheme was truly inspirational.” 

(Community Cohesion Officer, Wrexham County Borough Council)

About the project

Project overview

A remotely delivered community cohesion focused project with Syrian refugee children from across North Wales in partnership with Ty Pawb, Wrexham County Borough Council Community Cohesion Team and the British Red Cross.  Fourteen Syrian children aged between 6 and 12 with English as an Additional language engaged in an artist-led Explore Level Arts Award project via Zoom focusing on journeys,  their sense of place and making connections.

Project dates

26-30 October 2020 (half term)

Region

North Wales – Denbighshire, Conwy and Wrexham

Partner Organisations

Engage Cymru

Ty Pawb, Wrexham

Wrexham County Borough Council Community Cohesion Team, Vulnerable Peoples Resettlement Service and English as an Additional Language Service

British Red Cross

Funders

Arts Council of Wales

Wrexham of Wales

Wales & West Housing Association

Arts & Business Cymru Culture Step

Full description

Engage Cymru, in partnership with Ty Pawb and Wrexham Community Cohesion team had initially planned a face-to-face Arts Award project for Syrian refugee children during the 2020 Summer holiday period within the gallery at Ty Pawb aimed at building community cohesion and supporting young people newly settled in North Wales to engage in the creative life of their local community.   Other aims of the project were to highlight creative and other learning pathways for the participants including visits to Wrexham Glyndwr University and other further education environments facilitated by students for whom English is an additional language.  All partners involved were committed to ensuring the project had wide reach in terms of signposting and further opportunities. Arts Award was embedded within the project planning to ensure the participants had a goal and focus.

Due to the Covid-19 local and national lockdowns the project was repeatedly postponed until a decision was finally made to pilot delivering Explore Level Arts Award on-line, via Zoom, with the support of an Arabic translator and Ty Pawb Learning and Participation team.  The project artist, Wendy Connelly, explored the potential of delivering the project via Zoom from her studio and spent time liaising with Trinity College (Arts Award) about how flexible the Award could be taking into account the language and cultural barriers, and the time commitment needed from the young people.

In advance of the project Engage Cymru supported Wrexham Council partners and Ty Pawb colleagues to undertake their Arts Award Advisor training in order they could support the project delivery and to ensure sustainability within the project overall.  Over the years Engage Cymru has organised in-house training allowing all partners to come together and use the training days to build connections and include project planning face to face.  Because of lockdown this was not possible so individuals were required to attend on-line Advisor training individually. 

In terms of preliminary work, there was much to do, and in some ways more due to the nature of on-line delivery.  The artist needed to come up with a number of activities which worked well on an online platform and consider the aesthetics of delivery throughout. In addition she needed to provide activities which were appropriate for a wide age range – the young people were aged between 6 and 12 years.   With Explore Level Arts Award traditionally requiring 25+ hours of guided learning, she planned 2 x 1 hour sessions per day over five days and encouraged the learners to try out techniques and undertake research between sessions.   The majority of her sessions focused on modelling practice and encouraging the young people to try out new techniques and ideas, and to focus on process, rather than creating beautiful artwork.   Each one hour session flew past quickly taking in account a number of  challenges including all instructions needing to be translated along the way and allowing time for questions and feedback bilingually.

Other preliminary planning included ensuring all participants had access to appropriate devices.  Fortunately at the start of lockdown in March, all Syrian refugee families were provided with laptops by the British Red Cross.  The British Red Cross were also crucial in terms of encouraging participants’ parents to sign permission slips on their behalf and share vital information.   Ty Pawb staff were instrumental in setting up a Dropbox for participants to upload their completed work to. This was crucial in terms of being able to upload work to digital portfolios for Arts Award moderation.   The artist gathered all art materials and prepared beautiful packs of materials and tools for each participant.   These were sent through the post.   In order for this to happen, Wrexham Council set up encrypted email facility so that personal addresses and details could be shared.

“The testing out of the ink we created stencils from the images we had drawn to then test out the possibilities and effects of the ink and how to use it, each child confidently participated and where proud to share with the group”

Artist, Wendy Connelly

Outcomes  

  • 14 Syrian refugee children took part in each of the 10 sessions
  • Syrian families from across North Wales, who did not know each other previously, have been connected and engaged in the project together
  • The joy of the children was obvious throughout the project, and we witnessed an increase in confidence as the project progressed, with the participants being more enthusiastic about holding their artwork up for sharing
  • 5 partners have achieved their Arts Award Advisor training (Discover/Explore/Bronze/Silver) and will continue to offer Arts Award in the future for more groups of young people with English as an Additional language
  • Ty Pawb will offer further opportunities for the young people when the gallery re-opens after lockdown with specific projects being planned with the group in mind
  • Arts Award moderation is yet to take place, but we anticipate two thirds of the young people achieving their qualification
  • The project translator now intends to sign her own son up for Criw Celf (a national programme in Wales aimed at young people to develop creative skills)
  • Arts Award have requested a blog/case study from Ty Pawb (the Arts Award Centre for this project) as part of their ’15 years of Arts Award’ celebrations

“I introduced each tool and material to the children demonstrating the application and the variety of results from the pencils, crayons and ink. I modelled each test and asked each child to show they findings on separate pages in their sketchbooks. This was exciting and generated a collective confidence with their activity.”

Artist, Wendy Connelly

Lessons Learnt

  • The need for all partners to be flexible
  • Organising a preliminary Zoom gathering where potential participants meet the artist and team was crucial in galvanising participation
  • Arts Award can be delivered effectively, remotely if sufficient planning is in place
  • Ideally working with a translator who has an interest in the arts
  • Liaising closely with support organisations such as British Red Cross who were key in supporting communication
  • Allowing enough time for posting art materials during lockdown – delays were inevitable
  • Ensuring partners understand some of the cultural implications – we were advised that some Syrian families would agree to take part because they considered it rude to deny opportunities; yet may not participate on the day.  Fortunately all of our fourteen young people did attend each session. We believe this was because Wendy the artist had been so engaging and encouraging
  • Having regular short fortnightly planning meetings with all partners was crucial
  • The artist introduced badges for 1 member of each family to wear at each session. Families decided among themselves who would be ‘art leader’ on that day, supporting their siblings during the session and after.
  • Introducing ‘gold stars’ that the children could place next to their favourite work in their sketchbooks and share on screen was very popular with all the families and added to their sense of achievement

I couldn’t envisage how delivering Arts Award via Zoom with young people with English as an additional and very new language could work, but it did!  All praise to our artist Wendy and the team at Ty Pawb who showed how determination and resilience pays off”

Angela Rogers, Engage Cymru Coordinator

Evaluation

  • The artist completed a reflective journal after each session which supported delivery of subsequent sessions
  • Although we had planned to gather feedback from the participants and their parents, this has not been forthcoming at the time of writing this case study.

“What a wonderful project that was! I have thoroughly enjoyed working with such enthusiastic artists and children!”

Translator, Nathalie