Based at Z-Arts, Manchester Ambassador Yemi runs one of the largest Family Arts Networks in terms of the number of member organisations.
As a densely-populated city with a large entertainment and tourism economy, Manchester was hit particularly hard by the Covid pandemic. As with other Networks, Manchester member organisations had to cancel in-person activities and quickly create new forms of family engagement that could take place remotely. This led to the development of new relationships with non-arts organisations that serve deprived and underserved families, including the South Central Manchester Foodbank.
In August, Yemi produced a 12–page booklet featuring content from 5 network organisations and venues, including Manchester Libraries, People’s History Museum, Manchester Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, and lead organisation Z-arts. The booklets formed part of 90 family arts activity packs and were distributed to families through the Foodbank.
Not only did the family arts packs allow Manchester network organisations to engage families with arts activities during Covid, they also reached different kinds of families through the Foodbank partnership than they might have otherwise, including families from Arabic, Urdu, and European language backgrounds.
Given the success of the initiative, the Manchester Family Arts Network have since gone on to create three more booklets and produced over 830 packs for the South Central Manchester Food Bank, local Hulme area and across Greater Manchester since they began. It is hoped that this new form of engagement with more vulnerable families will lead to more face-to-face participation post-Covid.
Evaluation has been a challenge during the pandemic, when normal ways of gaining feedback and data have been derailed. However, Yemi came up with creative and fun ways of capturing feedback from families digitally. Using the educational quiz platform Kahoot!, Yemi surveyed adoptive families in Manchester about their interests, perceptions, engagement levels, and barriers around arts and culture. The survey found that responding families were most interested in gallery and museum visits, followed by live music events, and creative workshops with other families. Nearly all families agreed or strongly agreed that arts and culture was important to their family, especially as an opportunity to spend time together, experience something new, and socialise. Most respondents attended family arts events once a month, and the main barriers to engaging more frequently included financial considerations, transport and location, accessibility needs, and being too busy. These findings are helping inform the Manchester Network’s approach to engaging and communicating with adoptive and other types of families in the future.
Despite the challenges of Covid-19, Yemi and the Manchester Family Arts Network found new ways to reach the most vulnerable families in a time of acute need. At a time in which audience data was challenging to collect, Yemi also gained new insights into family audiences and established new relationships with community organisations that will endure beyond the pandemic.
Bristol Ambassador Lou Taylor – Reaching families in need with creative resource packs
Like sector colleagues across the UK, Lou and the Bristol Network have experienced challenges and opportunities that arose from the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic’s impact took effect, Lou spoke with her Network colleagues to find out more about their existing activity, gaining insights into how member organisations engaged audiences during Covid-19. These insights helped Lou to build a picture of the importance of family audiences to arts organisations.
During the pandemic, the Bristol Network have been exploring new formats for family arts engagement, such as live online workshops, socially-distanced in-person activities, and blended online/offline approaches.
One such offline approach was led by Children’s Scrapstore. Thousands of family resource packs were distributed to the least culturally-engaged families in Bristol through community organisations. These packs included printed versions of online resources to prevent exclusion due to digital poverty. Providing resource packs has not only engaged more underserved families, but has also strengthened relationships with organisations, and built the Network’s reputation and connections in Bristol and beyond.
Lou and her colleague Kirsty Wilson shared their learnings with the sector by taking part in an FAC webinar focussing on reaching families in need with creative packs and resources, and a blog sharing their top tips for creating and distributing packs.
The Covid-19 crisis encouraged organisations in Bristol to increase their collaboration with one another and share ideas and best practice, including within and across different sectors. Member organisations have also forged relationships with local community organisations. An increased interest in collaboration and new approaches to remote engagement have also meant that Lou has worked with organisations beyond Bristol, such as in Torbay and Gloucester.
Throughout the pandemic, Lou and her Bristol Network colleagues have responded to the unique circumstances of their area, adapting their work to support families, and the organisations that serve them, during these challenging times.
Cumbria Ambassador Holli Graham – Family arts packs shared via community food banks
As a particularly rural Family Arts Network, Cumbria has faced some unique challenges and opportunities during the Covid-19 pandemic. The region is highly dependent on income from domestic and international tourism during the summer, which was severely impacted in 2020.
Organisations are also very spread out geographically, which can make it more difficult for Network colleagues to meet in-person. During Covid-19 however, Holli noted that her Network colleagues, like many others, had become much more reliant on communicating digitally and via phone. So Holli started a Whatsapp group for Network communication, a handy way for colleagues to stay connected.
Many arts organisations in Cumbria have very few staff or are entirely volunteer-run. Although this can present its own challenges, it has also meant that some volunteer-run Network members have been less impacted by revenue losses from Covid than larger, staff-run organisations.
Like the Manchester and Bristol Family Arts Networks (highlighted above), Holli has used the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to reach out to new kinds of organisations, families, and parts of Cumbria that would have been more difficult to engage previously. Holli saw a growing appreciation amongst local people and organisations about the importance of the arts during lockdown.
The Cumbria network has also focused on building new relationships with non-arts organisations such as schools, libraries, and like in Manchester, a local foodbank to reach families. Holli and her network partnered with North Lakes Foodbank over the summer to produce and distribute family arts packs for families in the deprived area of North Lakes, which has traditionally been underserved and excluded from many Cumbria-wide initiatives. They have been able to reach 50 vulnerable and less-engaged families through this project.
The success of the art packs at the Foodbank has been used as a model to successfully launch a similar initiative with Key Stage 2 pupils, distributing school art packs and accompanying digital PDF resources to Cumbrian primary schools to engage local children and their families.
Holli looks forward to increased engagement with new types of families and organisations translating into greater engagement with local arts programmes after the pandemic.