Behind the Scenes with Walk the Plank. Blog 2 – Production and producing.

Behind the Scenes with Walk the Plank. Blog 2 – Production and producing.

By Walk the Plank


In the second of three blogs sharing Walk the Plank's Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) journey, their Production Coordinator Alicia Eccleston, and Salford Producer Ben Turner share their thoughts on how they have championed DEIB and helped implement change within their departments.

About Walk the Plank

Walk the Plank is one of the UK’s leading outdoor arts organisations with a reputation for creating innovative productions and performances which engage artists and communities in a wide range of outdoor settings. Walk the Plank’s track record of making work that engages citizens in public celebration is founded on ambitious creativity that connects with people. From Fire Gardens and site-responsive installations to parades and festivals, the company consistently attracts acclaim and showcases talent.

AMA's Breakthrough programme

Taking part in Arts Marketing Association’s Breakthrough programme has underpinned the work our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging working group spearheaded throughout 2023. We are currently weaving our learning throughout all aspects of Walk the Plank, helped by the fact that the Breakthrough team consisted of representatives from all departments of the organisation, including Production and Producers. Here are those representatives; Production Coordinator Alicia Eccleston, and Salford Producer Ben Turner's thoughts on how they have championed DEIB and helped implement change within their departments.

Production - Alicia Eccleston

Within the Production team at Walk the Plank, discussions around DEIB have evolved and are taking centre stage in our plans for 2024 and beyond. The Breakthrough programme taught us the power of implementing small, manageable changes over time rather than going full speed ahead and running out of steam.

The most effective small change we made was putting DEIB on our weekly production team meeting agenda. This was implemented quickly and without difficulty, yet it has led to a magnitude of big conversations and positive actions. DEIB has been at the heart of many Walk the Plank projects over the past 32 years, but in production we acknowledge that elements of it can be de-prioritised in the wake of tight budgets, looming deadlines, and sometimes decreased capacity and resources.

Now that DEIB holds space on all agendas, it’s easier for us to hold ourselves accountable to our mission and remind ourselves of its value.

Since the DEIB conversation has been louder and more embedded in our work culture, we have recognised that the production team feel more confident and comfortable discussing DEIB and its significance. Aside from my role as Production Coordinator, I have now become the new chair of the DEIB working group, and notably in a recent company conference, one of our Production Managers, facilitated a conversation around how we can achieve equity in the arts. Not only was this a lively discussion, but it also resulted in tangible solutions, new perspectives and a feeling of calm optimism.

It's also important to consider that fruitful conversations can only happen in a safe space, and to feel safe, the working environment must promote inclusion and belonging. During the Breakthrough programme we realised Walk the Plank’s superpower was the ‘belonging’ element of DEIB and we were encouraged by the Breakthrough coaches to focus on what we were already doing well and cultivate it. To do this, the production team ensures they add crew, artists and people they have worked with to the contact database, allowing the marketing team to send out regular updates with work socials, upcoming events and opportunities, so everyone who works with us feels included and valued as a member of the team.

We also encourage our freelancers and visitors to enjoy their lunch with our core team staff when they are at our HQ. This golden hour (lunchtime) results in a diverse range of people from all backgrounds at our kitchen table - the perfect base for interesting conversations and collaborations. If you’re lucky, you might get to participate in an infamous jacket potato lunch (with all the trimmings), try an array of Polish sweet treats (thanks to our finance manager!) or get involved in a legendary Walk the Plank fish and chip Friday.

As a small production team made up of five core staff members, we know that our extended team working in pre-production and on-site assist us in making our large-scale spectacles happen. Their involvement and commitment are paramount to our success. We are also aware of the next goal outlined by the DEIB working group: to be able to walk onto a Walk the Plank event site and see a demographic makeup that matches that of the UK / Greater Manchester by September 2025. We will continue to celebrate our freelancers, update them on employment opportunities and where possible assist them with training to grow and develop. Nevertheless, to expand our network, we also aim to be proactive in our shared ambition to make space for emerging work experience opportunities and open our doors to even more talent and diversity.

We believe it’s our duty as outdoor arts experts to share our knowledge and nurture those interested in working in the field. We are in the process of interrogating how placements and opportunities work within our company, from initial contact to working with the team. Although daunting without the resources for a current learning programme in place, for now we are looking at how we can achieve equity in the arts with the resources we do have.

Finally, one of our Emerging Creative placements, who was part of the DEIB working group, produced a practical Event Accessibility checklist which has been added to our standard resources kit. It reminded us that our knowledge surrounding DEIB is ever-evolving and we need to ensure our resources are up to date and reflect best practice today.

Producing - Ben Turner

As an Arts Council England NPO we have a small core team, so working cross departmentally to take a genuinely whole organisation approach is easier than it is for other cultural institutions.  We can be fluid, dynamic and joined up strategically but also work in a conversational and organic way. This meant that the Breakthrough programme and the seeds that have sprouted from it were impactful, not just in terms of what they have led to, but also how they might be implemented. (Perhaps small is beautiful after all.) We can build on this increased understanding and expand our thoughts while also refining how to embed them, so we’ve gone from working out what DEIB is (to us), to thinking how we can develop and improve DEIB at Walk the Plank. We understand there are many ways of doing this and that we don’t have all the answers – or sometimes even the questions! – but there are 3 things from a Producer perspective that we’re putting in place moving forward:

1. More opportunities to formalise our process and make it easier to articulate it in a transparent way

This includes considering DEIB at the initial budgeting point of project planning to help ensure that extended timeframes and lead in times are in place e.g. staff being available for a conversation as part of application process (if helpful or required) and considering how access and support are integral in these early stages of a project as they often are with evaluation or sustainability.

2. Facilitate placements on as many projects as possible to support the development of emerging professionals

Each term producers create a list of potential project opportunities which is shared with students from the University of Salford, and a small number of other FE partners. In Autumn, 2023 this led to students participating in several of our projects.

Increasing opportunities for placements is a different approach to the extensive work that took place with our previous artist training programme - which required funding - and has allowed us to continue to develop emerging creatives even when pots of money are no longer available.

We are committed to expanding this to include connections with wider communities than education and more diverse socio-economic vocational pathways than higher education.

3. Part of the conversation is having the conversation and looking outward

In the longer term we’re interested in looking at approaches to DEIB in the wider outdoor arts sector, but to start with we’ve taken a geographical snapshot and invited two local organisations DIY and START to come for a lunchtime meeting and share more about their work in this area. As both involve putting participants at the centre of their work, it was particularly interesting and informative in terms of good practice. Moving forward, we’re going to build on this open approach to shared learning and invite other Salford partners.

Moving Forward

This year, our Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging working group will continue to use the structure, knowledge and new-found confidence that the Breakthrough programme gave us. Moving forward together, stronger and more determined than ever – ready to continue to champion our values and build a more inclusive organisation.

Alicia Eccleston head and shoulders         Ben Turner Head and shoulders

Alicia Eccleston                 Ben Turner   

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Resource type: Articles | Published: 2024