“We don’t understand culture unless we understand that culture is participated in – and is lived – and is not something that is taught and just built elsewhere and, from the top down, dripped into people’s lives.”Lee Hall, Playwright and screenwriter
Common Ground – Rewilding the Garden is a new report from Voluntary Arts based on an ambitious programme of work investigating how creative activity is supported in areas of socio-economic deprivation across the UK and Republic of Ireland. The report (download or view below) shows this activity to be thriving in many areas that are regularly overlooked by the cultural sector, but this grassroots activity is in need of significant support and recognition.
A programme of ‘Open Conversations’ undertaken from 2017-19 revealed a huge amount of existing creative activity in almost every part of the UK and Ireland. This activity is often unfunded, amateur, everyday creativity rather than professional arts but it is no less valuable. The ‘Open Conversations’ model is based on long-form, exploratory, conversations that take place where people meet to practice their creativity.
Voluntary Arts set out to talk to people who are successfully organising any kind of creative cultural activity in communities where there is little public investment in the local cultural infrastructure. They wanted to celebrate some of the amazing local cultural activity that is often under-appreciated, unrecognised or under-valued. They visited places where official surveys suggest there is nothing going on but there is actually a rich grassroots culture – where local people are achieving amazing things with the help of volunteers, donated materials and resources.
The aim was to surface and celebrate the full extent of voluntary and amateur creative activity within different communities of place and interest, which predominantly exists without the support of public funds. Ultimately, they wanted to explore whether the shared undertaking of creative activity has a part to play in contributing to the reconciliation of divisions within communities.
The resulting research report: Common Ground – Rewilding the Garden: Reconnecting with overlooked, self-cultivating culture in our communities identifies three overarching benefits that arise from taking part in creative cultural activity:
- social connectedness and community identity
- fun and enjoyment – “My time”
- positive impacts on participants’ health and wellbeing
Pippa Coutts, Policy and Development Manager, Carnegie UK Trust echoes the report findings: “one of the key benefits of participating in community arts work is this sense of social connectivity”
It also categorised three requisites for local creative cultural activity:
- creative citizens
David Bryan, Chair of Voluntary Arts reflects on the report saying: “we need these spaces for people to breathe, explore, tell their stories and have validation”
The report concludes with a Common Ground Pact, which asks local and national arts and cultural policy makers and influencers to make three simple pledges:
- To open up more public spaces for creative cultural activity
- To to build strong connections and relationships to support participation in creative cultural activity
- To demonstrate how taking part in creative cultural activity improves social connectedness
Following this report launch Voluntary Arts will be promoting these findings and encouraging organisations to sign up to the three pledges.