East Durham Creates shares its experience of action learning, non-arts partnerships, experimentation and the lessons it has learnt along the way.
East Durham Creates (EDC) is a programme of arts and cultural activity across East Durham. The original aims of the project were to:
- develop an appetite for high quality arts activity
- create a legacy by building up the capacity of the public to run their own creative projects
- experiment with a range of approaches to identify the most successful ways of engaging people in high quality art
EDC is one of 21 Creative People and Places (CPP) programmes funded by Arts Council England, and in phase one, from 2014 to February 2017, has been delivered by a consortium comprised of Forma (an organisation of creative producers), East Durham Trust and led by Beamish (an open air museum in Country Durham), supported by the East Durham Area Action Partnership (EDAAP) and Durham County Council. As the area covered is large, with communities being geographically isolated, East Durham Trust’s role in the partnership - as a trusted organisation running projects to fight disadvantage across the area - was to broker relationships between EDC and the communities and to help to embed activities into the local community.
Drawing on interviews with staff from EDC and East Durham Trust, the project’s critical friend
and a member of the community panel, this case study focuses on how the non-arts partnership between EDC and East Durham Trust functioned, as well as the key outcomes of the programme including what worked well or less well and the main lessons that have been learned.
- As a non-arts partner, East Durham Trust has added value to EDC in that it has been able to utilise its substantial community ambassadors and networks – as well as its strong reputation – to engage people who do not regularly engage in the arts to take part in the activities offered by the project.
- EDC has also added value to East Durham Trust’s work by raising awareness of the organisation’s wider projects during the arts activities and events. From hearing about East Durham Trust through these activities, more people have been able to access their services.
- Although EDC began with an artistically outstanding and ambitious season of activities and events, attracting over 10,000 audience members, there was a perception amongst the public and some of the stakeholders that these activities had not engaged people as much as initially anticipated. By drawing more closely on the expertise of each of the partners, the subsequent activities focused more on engaging and empowering people whilst working with artists or leading their own activities. This led to increased confidence among community groups to lead and shape activities as well as participants having a better understanding about the arts and a greater knowledge of the infrastructure in the area.
- Action learning has been pivotal to the success of EDC, as the team has been able to quickly identify what works well and less well across the project. It has allowed the consortium to experiment with different approaches and test assumptions to understand the most effective ways of engaging people in their area, as well as acknowledge lessons learned and identifying good practice.
East Durham is an area of high deprivation, with 23.9% of the population living in the top 10% most deprived Lower Layer Super Output Areas in England. As a former mining community, it has struggled economically since the decline of the coal industry and the closure of the collieries, as well as the railway industry which was heavily impacted by the decline of the mining industry. The area is vast and is unique in that it is comprised of many small former mining villages with their own centres and venues which can be utilised for community activities. However, the public transport infrastructure is limited, meaning it can be difficult for people to travel across the area with ease. Those interviewed commented that the geography of East Durham is different to many of the other CPP areas, in that the communities are quite isolated, with relatively high proportions of people with long-term mental and physical health problems, low income and an ageing population. Given the relatively high levels of deprivation, there has been a long-standing history of investment coming into the area - often comprised of short-term grants or regeneration initiatives, instead of lasting infrastructure investments - and rather than making lasting, positive change, communities have felt that the funding has often failed to meet expectations and has only scratched the surface of issues in the area.
Prior to CPP, there was very little arts infrastructure in terms of venues and events. However, one of the consortium partners East Durham Trust – had a membership of 325 group, of which some had interest in the arts realm, such as painting, drawing and musical groups and choirs. The stakeholders interviewed felt these were disjointed and at times insular groups before CPP, and as a result had not engaged a large number of people in their activities. In addition, there had been a change to local authority arts and cultural provision, which meant that when the CPP funding was announced, there was a general misunderstanding by the public that it was in lieu of council funding. Stakeholders felt that the general attitude towards the arts before CPP was that while it has its benefits, it’s mainly something that’s ‘good for the kids’. The challenge for EDC, therefore, was to engage a wide range of people who may have thought the arts wasn’t for them.
EDC is managed through a consortium approach, led by Beamish in partnership with East Durham Trust and Forma, with support from Durham County Council and EDAAP. As a non-arts partner, East Durham Trust is a charity which addresses poverty in areas of high deprivation across East Durham. During the early bid development phase, East Durham Trust was keen to be a key part of the consortium bid, working alongside Durham County Council to identify Beamish as the lead and Forma - as experienced creative producers – as the third partner. Although East Durham Trust is not an arts organisation, they recognised that being involved in an arts programme like CPP would be a mechanism to engage hard-to-reach people in East Durham; getting them out and involved in the community, enabling East Durham Trust to access them and support them in other ways.
“We’re always on the lookout for initiatives and moves that would help to achieve our overall objectives and values.” East Durham Trust
Non-arts partnerships are therefore at the core of the EDC project, not only with East Durham Trust as a key delivery partner, but also with EDAAP, which has its own priority groups around maintaining the social fabric of society; health, mental health and wellbeing; and children and young people. EDAAP’s role throughout EDC was to assist with community engagement activities by linking councillors and community group networks, as well as securing funding.
Download the full case study to read on:
East Durham Creates: non-arts partnerships (PDF)
Image: Photo by Jack Drum Arts. Let's Create 'Blackhall Christmas Event'.