Non-digital engagement in a COVID climate

Take A Part is a socially engaged arts organisation based in Plymouth that has a long track record of creating relevant work that calls out social injustices and supports community cohesion through the use of creative projects. The work of Take A Part is relevant and responsive. 

When the COVID lockdown hit, there was an immediate need to reassess our outputs to the audiences we work directly with — those in the hardest-hit communities. It was about supporting them to have opportunities to heal and to communicate with one another. We started by speaking to our immediate partners on the ground — local community groups, housing officers and teachers at schools, young people via youth workers and nursery and daycare workers. People who we know and trust who support others in vulnerable positions.

Community March calling for more and better opportunities for creativity in communities in Plymouth, 2012. Artists Sophie Hope and LOW PROFILE. Image: Dom Moore Photography for Take A Part.

Watch a video of the Take A Part Demonstration Weekend on Vimeo

There was a quick wariness of the push to present digital work from our partners. The communities we work with are those that have less and experience the most social injustice. Lack of employment, poor education opportunities, poorer health and disabilities all contribute to divides in terms of e-literacy and a lack of access to getting online. Our work needed to address households without devices or people on very limited data plans. 

We got to work looking at how best to support these communities right now, to be there for the people we know and support those partnership organisations we are closest to. We asked what people needed and wanted and generated some ideas from there. We also asked artists, who always see new ways of working as a welcome challenge, what they were doing to make connections happen away from the digital. We took part in Knowle West Media Centre’s Project Night too, checking in on another community similar to the ones we work with. From all of these questions and discussions, we created an Open Source NON-Digital Engagement Toolkit that we have been sharing and people nationally and internationally have been adding to.

Ideas for Non-Digital Engagement, 2020.
Page 1 of the NON-Digital Ways of Engaging Creatively in a COVID World Open Source Document

We have been doing a lot of things to try to reach out and make some supportive, open and connected changes. One thing we are doing right now is creating and disseminating creative making packs to local schools in Plymouth. We are currently targeting frontline workers and vulnerable families who are accessing the school system. 

For the packs, we are working on a commission around cartographies in two areas (Efford and Coxside) with artists Bridgette Ashton and Joanna Brinton. Families will be asked to make maps or suggest walking routes. Visit the Coxside Cartographies blog to learn more about the project. The finished artworks will be photographed and shared, as well as placed in the windows of the schools so that when people are out for their daily exercise they can take some advice on where to go and what to look for from others. Packs include items like coloured paper, match sticks, stickers, tissue paper, straws, buttons, pipe cleaners and other odd bits. They also include glue and tape and the things you may need to MAKE work. Not all households have scissors or the crafting basics to hand or even colouring pens. You need to start from zero and work from there. Don’t assume what people have around them. We have also sent in the packs a hello from us while we are gone, alongside some ideas of what they may like to make and how they can share them. 

Take A Part creative making packs

We are now looking at how we can create add-ons to the pack to top up supplies and help households carry on making. We are growing our partnerships with the local parks department and will include maps and activity pages about local greenspaces in the packs. We are also looking at how we can use this opportunity to create a more relevant and useful difference to lives. Can we include the opening hours of foodbanks? Can we think about helplines? Who else can we bring into the offer? And how can we work with the schools and the families to refine and improve our offer?

The packs will be distributed by local schools. We chose to work with schools as they are able to disseminate, facilitate and support vulnerable families that will be coming in for school meals. This ensures the packs go directly to the hardest hit in areas that are already high on the socio-economic deprivation register.  

We know these schools because we have been working with them in their communities on long term projects. We have been working with Efford for 12 years and Coxside for 2 years. We have supported both schools in the past to raise funds for creative projects, to give workshops and other opportunities to support creativity at a time when it is not funded well by the government. Artists in local areas and parents are also the ones who can put you in touch with schools because they are connected to them. Right now, with the schools open but working with families in anxious places, they welcome the support to have more opportunities to do things that are fun and connect people together. 

We are getting extra packs made that can be collected from pick up sites (local CoOp etc) by the wider community. If this works well, we can expand it. We are taking a quick approach and looking for partners to come alongside us to create a more regional and national offer in this regard. If you would like to support us, you can donate directly to get more packs out here.

Take A Part creative making packs ready for distribution
 Kim Dorian-Kemp, head of the school in Efford, receiving the packs (pictured right)

We are also working on a local newspaper for a few Plymouth communities — a zine that is not just about creative opportunities and activities, but also about where to go for the support you need (foodbank opening hours and voluntary support schemes). This zine will also include reflections from local community members themselves about life in lockdown. We want to use this as an opportunity to amplify social injustices and create opportunities for these injustices to be altered through this work. 

We have also been offering 1-1 sessions for creatives, community members and organisations who want to talk right now about creativity in this climate. These have been really popular and allowed us to give out some support and to gain new insights. People are really amazing. We are highlighting the work of these practitioners on our weekly e-news (sign up to our weekly e-news here). 

It has been an interesting time at Take A Part. We have changed a lot of our output overnight, but actually very little in terms of our approaches. That is because social practice is all about working together. We are in a fantastic position to work together with audiences in need as we already know and are connected to these communities. As a small and fleet of foot organisation, we can do that. 

We need a lot more capacity, partnership and funding to make these changes long-lasting and to be ready to respond to the next need. We would love to speak to you — organisations, funders, community activists about your current work. We can do something more when do it together. 

Please contact us at kim@takeapart.org.uk. It would be great to speak with you.

Kim Wide
CEO and Artistic Director
Take A Part CIC

@TakeAPart
www.takeapart.org.uk