Providing remote support to people with complex needs
INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY ARTS ENGAGEMENT THROUGH THE CREATIVE DOODLE BOOK
Matthew Reason from York St John University outlines his work on community arts during Covid-19
The disruptions and requirement for physical distancing caused by Covid-19 throughout the last year have forced the majority of community groups to drastically adapt, or even halt, their activities. The Creative Doodle Book is a UKRI AHRC Covid-19 funded project conducted by York St John University in collaboration with Mind the Gap Theatre Company.
A particular emphasis of our project is working with people with learning disabilities, who as individuals claiming disability benefits and relying on complex, local support networks, have been especially vulnerable to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. Through this work we demonstrate, or re-affirm, what we already know: which is that doing something together – even while apart – is vital to our sense of self, our ability to feel in control of our lives, and our wellbeing.
The focus of our project is modelling the delivery of inclusive creative practice, blending a well-designed physical resource with well-delivered online content to achieve this.
WHAT IS THE CREATIVE DOODLE BOOK?
During ‘normal’ times, the arts have a vital role in supporting resilience through providing opportunities for creative expression. The sense of ‘togetherness’ provided by such activities is also an underlying principle of community arts practice, which values being with other people as we make theatre, music and art together. Typically, this togetherness has been physical, involving the careful facilitation of arts practice with people doing the same activities in the same space.
The Creative Doodle Book seeks to provide community groups and their facilitators with additional resources, support and skills to deliver engaging and inclusive arts practice while physically apart.
Over the course of our project we will use the Creative Doodle Book as a tangible and engaging physical resource, alongside carefully facilitated online workshops. Where appropriate these will be complimented by video, in-person, phone and postal support, particularly when working with individuals who have difficulty getting online.
Each of the 20 community groups we work with will work with us over a four-week period, following a ‘train-the-facilitator’ approach through which we hope to invest and develop the skills, confidence and resources of practitioners to work in new and innovative ways.
THE CREATIVE DOODLE BOOK IN PRACTICE
Our project begun working with community groups in November 2020, delivering a cycle of Creative Doodle Book workshops with inclusive arts companies Confi-dance (Canterbury), Indepen-dance (Glasgow) and The Lawnmowers (Newcastle). Each of these organisations work with individuals with learning disabilities, providing them with networks of support, outlets for creative expression and for the development of personal agency.
One of the interesting initial reflections from the research has been on the unanticipated benefits from working at a social distance and online. These have included the opportunity (and necessity) as experienced practitioners to question and reinvigorate sometimes engrained working practices.
In addition, that the digital space is producing new kinds of interrelationships that can have significant benefits for providing remote support to populations who are marginalised or with complex needs. Jo Frater, for example, describes how working via Zoom produces a new kind of equity between participants and facilitators and Joshua Greene that it prompts greater autonomy and enhances techniques of turn taking.
The Creative Doodle Book naturally works with these elements, providing each participant with their own ‘private space’ within which they can be creative while at the same time working alongside (virtually speaking) other people engaged in the same process. As Frater puts it: ‘they’re able to have their art time and creativity in a really private way and then they get to share it in this really nice, communal way. And it really fits with the technological advancement of zoom.’
Another insight has been how the Creative Doodle Book provides what facilitators have described as a valuable ‘reflective space’. Claire Reda, for example, discussed how some of the people Indepen-dance worked with struggled to support their own wellbeing, with the Creative Doodle Book providing a way of processes thoughts about friends, family, community and identity in a way that was ‘not shying away from those things, but not making it a negative.’
Over the next six months we will work with another 16 community groups from around the country and also support the groups we have already worked with to continue and expand their use of the Creative Doodle Book. As the project continues we’ll develop further insights into the role of creativity to wellbeing and personal agency and support the vital work of community arts organisations during these difficult times.
Matthew Reason is Professor of Theatre and Director of the Institute for Social Justice at York St John University. For further information contact : firstname.lastname@example.org