As part of York’s Culture Strategy, Make It York, York CVS, and City of York Council have come together to award funding of more than £60,000 to nineteen social and cultural initiatives across the city – with the aim of easing loneliness, isolation, and mental ill-health across the city.
The grants, which were made available via the Better Care Fund and Ways to Wellbeing, were set up in recognition of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on people’s wellbeing – through shielding, self-isolation, and social distancing. This series of case studies profiles each of the 2021 recipients:
One of the projects supported by the grants was ‘Keeping Hold of Creativity – Maintaining Artistic Skills and Connections Post COVID’ by Next Door But One CIC.
Next Door But One CIC are an award-winning LGBTQ+ and disability-led theatre company whose focus is to promote creative skills and encourage community cohesion, particularly for those who may face barriers when accessing theatre.
Next Door But One CIC launched many new projects as part of their participatory arts programme over COVID, so it was crucial that as they transitioned out of COVID restrictions the support and wellbeing of participants continued. A new programme was then created to act as a bridge into wider, in-person community events.
The new programme delivered:
- YorQueatre – 7 Youth Theatre Workshops for 14-25 year olds who identify as LGBTQ+
- Young Carers – 5 Youth Theatre Workshops for young adult carers (18-25 years olds)
- Discover Playback Theatre – 7 Playback Theatre training workshops for adults with mental health problems
- Opening Doors – 8 professional development and mentoring sessions for performing arts workers at risk of leaving their career
In the YorQueatre workshops, all materials used were LGBTQ+ created or focused, whether that was the scripts used or the wider exploration of LGBTQ+ topics from contemporary culture (e.g. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill). There were two main reflections from the workshops. The first was the importance of exploring queer narratives – art and creativity often come from lived experiences and so, by removing heteronormative material, participants were able to connect creativity with their identity. The second was the importance of a regular, safe space – many of the participants were juggling significant milestones, such as exams, university, or moving away from home, and so to create a space where participants could decompress and engage without judgement was crucial.
The Young Carers workshops worked closely with York Carers Centre, helping both to connect further with participants and members. The workshops often took place within York Carers hangout time slots, meaning if something was expressed in a session, support workers were then able to pick up the conversation in a 1:1 and follow up with support.
The Discover Playback Theatre workshops developed participants’ confidence in performing. This could be seen through new participants becoming actively involved as the workshops progressed, as well as through existing participants taking a proactive approach in supporting the development of newer participants. There was also a validation of experience with many of the participants saying they felt their story had been seen and heard, making them feel less alone or disconnected.
The Opening Doors sessions included a series of Q&As with Casting Directors and Festival Producers, creative retreats and 1:1 mentoring sessions. Reactions from this were positive, with all 17 participants commenting on a ‘real need’ for a supportive provision which would equip them with the skills and knowledge to develop their own career.
During the space of this programme, 85 participants were engaged with 87% saying that the workshops had surpassed their expectations. Participants commented on how they had been inspired to try something new and had more confidence in their own skills and abilities.
Matt Harper-Hardcastle, Artistic Director at Next Door But One CIC, says: “Even though they were still needed, as lockdown restrictions ended so too did many of the temporary provisions that had been put in place for some of the most impacted members of our community. LGBTQ+ young people still needed spaces that had been made safe and inclusive for them, young carers still wanted the variety of methods that had been created for them to access the services they need, adults with mental ill health still wanted to sustain online learning that had been established during lockdown, and performing arts professionals still needed support to ‘bounce back’ from the impacts of the pandemic. This grant enabled us to do that and because of its success we are still able to maintain all of that delivery. As a company our mission is to connect people to their creativity and community through the theatre we make and the stories we tell. Without a doubt this grant has contributed significantly to that and our ability to build on it!”
The funding from the Cultural Wellbeing Grant allowed Next Door But One CIC to continue their work throughout Winter/Spring 2022 and increase their reach, sustain their impact and fortify their partnerships with other organisations and community groups. This puts them in a strong position to continue their work into Summer 2022 moving forwards.