Micro-commissions case studies
Introduction Page 3 / Birmingham, West Midlands
Let’s Get Moving! Page 9 / Bristol, South West
Meet, Make, Mend Page 15 / Folkestone, South East
The People’s Report Page 19 / Morecambe, North West
Food, Talk, Create Page 23 / London
Watch, Share and Make Page 25
What we learnt
Introduction In early 2021, a year into the global Covid-19 pandemic, Creative Lives (formerly Voluntary Arts) in partnership with Age of Creativity offered an
“The necessary restrictions to our lives to limit the spread of Covid-19 over the last twelve months have led to a significant increase in loneliness and isolation.
open call for micro-commissions, for local creative groups to work in partnership with community groups to ‘Get Creative & Make a Difference’.
“Many people have found comfort, solace and inspiration through these difficult times by expressing
Funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) through Arts Council England, supported creative activity that would
themselves creatively, emphasising the vital role that creative activity plays in the lives of millions.
counter the isolating effects of the pandemic, offering opportunities for
“Creative Lives was proud to have been able to
social contact and connection that would combat loneliness.
commission a broad range of creative projects specifically to demonstrate the way creative activity
During the lock-down restrictions, it wasn’t possible to meet in person, but we asked that applicants Get Creative to find ways to connect and share with some of the groups that were at highest risk of isolation and loneliness due to social distancing restrictions.
can help you to connect with other people, even during a national lockdown, and to bring much needed creativity, support and social connections to some of those most affected by loneliness and isolation as a result of the pandemic.” Robin Simpson, Chief Executive, Creative Lives
Five projects across England were awarded £2,000 funding to deliver their creative activities with partners throughout April and into May 2021 (with similar schemes launched in Wales and Scotland).
Creative Lives 1
Let’s Get Moving!
Creating a welcoming environment for creative expression With the majority of the attendees aged 65 and over, it was important to ensure the online programme was as inclusive as possible. Autin Dance Theatre was able to overcome technical challenges by investing in someone that could support the digital aspect of the programme.
They phoned participants to check that they were OK with using Zoom. A partnership between Autin Dance Theatre CIC Theatre, Birmingham LGBTQ (Ageing with Pride programme), Extra Care Homes and Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, ‘Let’s Get Moving!’ aimed to people aged 50+ the opportunity to talk and dance together.
The project was delivered through twelve creative dance sessions provided online, during which participants shared their experiences of
They also suggested in session when participants needed to move their screen, and of course, explained how to take themselves off mute. They took things slowly, taking time to explain what they were going to be doing, turning the music up bit by bit once they were sure everyone was feeling confident with what was happening. All sessions were also made accessible with British Sign Language interpretation and included closed captions.
the Covid-19 pandemic whilst learning to move in ways that expressed their conversations.
It culminated in a co-created dance routine that encapsulated the participants’ experiences and stories from lockdown, with a view to meeting up for a ‘Post-Lockdown Dance’ celebration in the future.
Graphic illustration [Credit: Nicola Winstanley, ngland Development Officer (West Midlands), Creative Lives]
Once the participants felt comfortable with the tech, it was important
Johnny’s freeing and inclusive definition of a dancer made it easy for
that they got comfortable with dance.
participants to feel comfortable with moving in new expressive ways,
“They would say they’re ‘not as young as they used to be. Or they’ll see programmes like So You Think You Can Dance and think that I’m expecting them
without any pressure to push their bodies too far. In this atmosphere, some of the participants surprised themselves with what they could do. Here’s what some of them had to say:
to do a backflip in their kitchen.” Founder and Director of Autin Dance Theatre, Johnny Autin
“I didn’t expect to do so well But Johnny made it clear to participants that they should place no
but it’s going very well, so I’m very happy about this.”
such expectation on themselves.
“For me, a dancer isn’t somebody who can jump and do amazing tricks. I think a dancer is somebody that is letting it happen and then enjoying themselves. I’ve seen people dance with just their arms because they’re in a wheelchair or people dance with just their faces. “For me dancing is just a state of being, so even if you can’t jump on that right leg or on the left, you’re still dancing. The fact that you’re willing to give it a go makes you a dancer in my book.”
“This has opened my eyes. It’s something entirely new to me, well outside my comfort zone as an engineer. I never knew - there are no rules to life!”
Crucial to the well-being focus of the programme were the conversations that inspired the movements. During each session, attendees were invited to share their experiences of lockdown and shielding, to express their thoughts and opinions in a safe, positive and productive space.
“I always tried to put a positive spin on their experiences, even while we were living through the pandemic - so we’d talk about the sunshine, the flowers, small acts of kindness or conversations with neighbours. “And then we’d use some of those words to influence the moves that we did together. Otherwise, you risk people feeling more shattered if we focused solely on what it feels like to be shielding or to not have seen children and grandchildren for more than a year.” Founder and Director of Autin Dance Theatre, Johnny Autin
“I’m feeling totally exhilarated - thank you so very much.” “I really enjoyed the session and I’m looking forward to going out to do some gardening.” “I feel very calm and ready for Monday.” “I thought that was excellent and it’s really cheered me up!” “That was great fun and I’m feeling really quite energised to get on with something that I’ve been really apprehensive about.” “I get physically tired and then I get stressed because I get annoyed with myself, but doing something like
this lifts the spirits and things are starting to move.”
In the final session, participants performed the full co-created dance routine. This included eleven movement sequences that represented significant aspects of their conversations over the twelve sessions.
Comments from participants suggest that taking part in these sessions had helped them to feel uplifted, more confident and prepared for the day ahead, putting them in a positive frame of mind and limbering up the body for the physical tasks ahead. Comments included:
Screenshot of online dance sessions (Credit: Autin Dance Theatre)
All of the people who participated in the programme said that they thought the experience was excellent and that it had helped them to feel more connected through a really difficult time. Many said that having a weekly opportunity to express themselves physically and socially had made them feel more mindful and improved their sense of wellbeing.
For Autin Dance Theatre, the programme has been successful in its mission to tackle isolation and wellbeing in a group of older people.
“The most important thing for me is that the people involved told me that they felt less isolated, they have a greater sense of well-being and mindfulness and that they were more confident with movement.” Founder and Director of Autin Dance Theatre, Johnny Autin Following the programme, Autin Dance Theatre has gone on to organise further dance sessions for people aged over 55 throughout summer 2021 in the run-up to The Big Brum Boogie, giving participants in the ‘Let’s Get Moving’ programme an opportunity to continue dancing together and to eventually meet to dance together in person when it’s safe to do so. Graphic illustrations [Credit: Nicola Winstanley, ngland Development Officer (West Midlands), Creative Lives]
Meet, Make, Mend Bristol Textile Quarter, in partnership with peer support mental health
“I’m convinced that sewing can be good for your mental well-being. It lets people take a breath and slow down, keep their hands busy and block out negative thoughts when things get too much. “Particularly in the darkest times of lockdown, stitching can be so restorative, as you’re getting the chance to progress with something even when the rest of the world is so beyond your control.” Saffron Darby, Bristol Textile Quarter’s Studio Manager
charity, Changes Bristol delivered 16 ‘Meet, Make, Mend’ sewing kits for participants to use during a series of slow stitch Zoom workshops.
One of several micro-commissions funded by Creative Lives through our Get Creative strand, the project aimed to give participants living with mental health challenges the chance to connect, learn and share.
The team at Bristol Textile Quarter was able to access and invite individuals at risk of experiencing loneliness via Changes Bristol’s trusted network. To make it as easy for participants to join in as possible, everyone was provided with a starter kit (pictured) that included a large swathe of linen, needles, embroidery thread and a little booklet of inspiring ideas and images.
Image of project output (Credit: Bristol Textile Quarter)
“In our first session, 17 of us got to know each other, discussed how much experience we had, went through the packs and we found out if people had anything they’d like to mend. For instance, one guy had a shirt that he loved and was eager to fix” it. “I also invited everyone to start their stitch journals - that’s where
“Crucially I wanted them to have the chance to connect with one another through creativity. There has been so little human connection over the last year, so to be able to stitch a group was a great way to come together.”
you do a small amount of stitching every day if you can, using it almost like a meditation. It’s about just letting your mind go and seeing where your needle and thread takes you. “Lockdown has affected all of us in different ways. If you’re
The response from participants when they received their sewing kits through the post was very positive:
living alone with no one to talk to and literally only four walls for company, you could end up making yourself completely invisible.
“Thank you for sending the sewing kit - it’s so beautiful
I worry then that if you’re living with mental health challenges,
it brought tears to my eyes! It has been done with so
lockdown could have made things 100 times worse.
much care, I’m already feeling a bit better and look forward to the first meeting.”
“I didn’t want to put pressure on people to finish anything in the workshop - this was about starting a journey, not about creating a
“I just wanted to send a quick thank you for allowing
finished product. The workshops were guided by the participants
me a space on this workshop. I am recovering from
so that they felt comfortable sharing their stories about the clothes
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and also have
they own and felt proud of what they created.”
a number of health issues that have limited my ability
Bristol Textile Quarter’s Studio Manager, Saffron Darby
to interact with others over lockdown. I’m so excited to take part and spend time with others virtually.”
Each of the four workshops introduced a different aspect of mending and
sewing, with Saffron leading the conversation but encouraging everyone to
The group brought jeans and shirts that needed mending to the session and
speak and share. A Changes Bristol volunteer and Creative Lives
focussed on repairing these with patches, using a video tutorial (uploaded
Development Officer, Sally Reay were at each session. Here’s how they were
to YouTube) and a variety of examples. There was an open discussion
about the items and the group’s progress with stitch journals, people’s own techniques and visible vs invisible mending. The group then chose to focus
on darning for the third session.
Everyone was welcomed and the group was introduced to each other. They completed a short poll about well-being, and Saffron found out what skills
people had and what they hoped to learn over the four sessions.
This included another video tutorial, with more examples and more open discussion, demonstrating how to darn a jumper hole and sharing progress
The group was introduced to the sewing kits, the basics of splitting embroidery
floss, threading needles, different types of stitches and examples of the Japanese art of Sashiko mending. The group discussed the well-being benefits of mindful slow stitching, the ‘Meet, Make. Mend’ concept and about spending time working on stitch journals (pictured) between each session.
Creative kit (Credit: Bristol Textile Quarter)
Creative kit (Credit: Bristol Textile Quarter)
Week Four The workshops concluded with a ‘show and tell’ format, sharing progress, discussing challenges and offering recommendations and encouragement. There was also an invitation for group members to join the regular slow stitch sessions run by Bristol Textile Quarter. The wellbeing poll and evaluation details were shared for completion.
“We were so delighted with the project that Bristol Textile
Creative kit (Credit: Bristol Textile Quarter)
Quarter brought to us for our members. “As a small grassroots charity it can be hard to offer creative experiences outside of our core service, but the demand is there so partnerships like this make a big difference and are really welcomed. “We heard many good things from our members who participated, and we wouldn’t hesitate to work with Sally from Creative Lives or Saffron at Bristol Textile Quarter again.” Changes Bristol Services Manager, Tara Robinson Models and patterns (Credit: Bristol Textile Quarter)
“It’s been great to hear from others and to appreciate “I loved the Slow Stitch concept, the skills we learned and the people involved. I would very much welcome another course like this to continue learning.”
multiple perspectives on day-to-day life. I feel less alone.” “It was a beautiful experience and opportunity! I hope that these types of groups can continue, especially art or creative based groups as it teaches skills, gives things to discuss and talk about and decreases loneliness, which is more prominent than ever in this pandemic.
“I have made different connections with people by sharing this new experience. I’ve enjoyed it and have felt myself thinking more creatively. Our conversations have felt more meaningful and our ties even stronger. I am also thrilled to learn a new skill that I can get relatively quick rewards from. It’s so satisfying to be able to not only repair, but also be creative with what I have learned.”
I’d love to be involved in future groups!” “I’ve learned new skills, been inspired to be kinder to the planet through finding ways to mend clothes in ways that I enjoy and are visually appealing. It’s given me more confidence, helped me feel connected to the community and given me the courage to apply to volunteer after almost one year unemployed - the list could go on and on!”
“It’s a great distraction from worrying about Covid and the future. Arts can be quite meditative and inspiring, too.” “It has improved my well-being and given me hope and new practical skills, as well as inspired and empowered me to do more. It has given me the confidence to give back to the community.” Screenshot of online mending sessions (Credit: Bristol Textile Quarter)
The People’s Report
Who was involved in the project - and why? Touchbase Care is a community group with an innovative, holistic and creative approach to supporting adults and young people with physical disabilities, learning difficulties, neuro-diversity and sensory impairment.
Many members of Touchbase had noticed a general decline in support services and had experienced the isolation of the pandemic. At the same time, Folkestone Town Council had employed ‘We Made That’, an architecture and urbanism practice, to research redevelopment of the
Created in Folkestone, Kent, ‘The People’s Report’ aimed to generate a document and protest song that asked the question ‘How can we rise from the pandemic a more inclusive and less lonely society?’
One of a number of micro-commissions funded by Creative Lives through our Get Creative strand, the Report was developed and delivered by composer and performer, Anna Braithwaite and supported by drama and music practitioner Sadie Hurley at Touchbase Care throughout April and May 2021.
town and high street, to address the visible economic impact of closed shops.
The project aimed to reduce isolation, not only for the members taking part together, but also by producing a blueprint addressing the longterm loneliness and isolation felt by adults with disabilities, who are unable to access their town’s high street. So the process included interviews with members of Touchbase Care, creative workshops (research, songwriting and recording) and involvement of the group in Folkestone Town Council’s ‘Place Plan’ webinar.
The final lyrics were a summing up of ideas and experiences of the
Sadie and Anna began by interviewing members of Touchbase Care
whole group using verbatim research. Recording happened online and
face-to-face or online, which they recorded and transcribed verbatim.
at Touchbase Care studios, with microphones and temporary singing
“I wanted to capture a moment in time and verbatim does this really well. How can we tell how far we have come if we don’t know where we started?
booths. Touchbase Care’s Covid safety measures were already well-established, including member’s bubbles, testing and sanitisation, so all this was carried out safely. Participation in the project varied widely - but everybody’s input was welcome and appreciated.
“People tend to say much more poetic and interesting things than I could ever come up with lyrics-wise when
“Some attended every session for six weeks, came up with
quoted directly. The patterns of speech are much easier
content and took part in the recording. Some only took
to understand when sung than lyrics or poetry,
part in an interview or shot film footage for a few hours.
and I like that directness.” Anna Braithwaite, Composer and performer
“One lady arrived after the project finished but read the credits, another came up with the name of the song
The creative workshops took place over five weeks at Touchbase Care studios and online. During this time, ideas were collected, conversations were had and a collaborative song emerged. Sessions were relaxed,
on Facebook after seeing the film but hadn’t been to any sessions. “One lady’s first interaction with the project was to help
safe and secure. A non-judgemental environment was created to
deliver the report to Councillor Laura Davison.
enable all members to discuss their views openly, with everyone
Somehow though, it all worked.”
welcome to participate to whatever level felt comfortable.
Anna Braithwaite, Composer and performer
Members of Touchbase Care will perform their song at Strange Cargo’s
Members were able to connect with each other throughout (face-to-
Cheriton Light festival, and an artist selected for the 2021 Folkestone Tri-
face and online), and a dialogue was started between Folkestone Town
ennial is interested in using this research for their artwork.
Centre Working Group and Touchbase Care members. This has enabled members to feel more visible and listened to.
Flexible participation supported participants to be heard and included at any stage in the endeavour, beyond the confines of familiar spaces.
The People’s Report document and songs (Inside Out and Where the Shirt Shop Was) have been presented to Councillor Laura Davison and the Town Council, and the relationship between Touchbase Care and the Folkestone Town Centre Working Group continues.
“One participant absorbed the research part of the project and then went off and wrote a song on their own. “And I hope that way of writing (carrying out research then writing lyrics) may influence her future songwriting in a positive way.” Anna Braithwaite, Composer and performer Image of two members of Touch Base Care delivering The People’s Report to Councillor Laura Davison (Credit: Touchbase Care)
Food, Talk, Create
Project image (Credit: Good Things Collective)
The project gave the two organisations an opportunity to come together and offer the local community opportunities to connect around their essential activities, while support they might usually access was severely
Good Things Collective CIC (formerly The Exchange) is a Morecambe-based collective and hub. It uses creativity to improve community wellbeing and stimulate learning and enterprise locally, with a growing number of local, national and international partners.
One of a number of micro-commissions funded by Creative Lives through our Get Creative strand, ‘Food, Talk, Create’ saw Good Things work with Eggcup, a surplus food club offering low-cost groceries, for the first time.
The partners were keen to address practical needs - making use of unpopular ingredients, making Morecambe’s new outlet ‘Food People Community’ a more welcoming community space - alongside the creative connections that would be made.
“In the past, we were able to provide a space where you could come in, have a cup of tea and a chat, then leave with a bag of food. That helped to preserve people’s dignity and bring people together.” Jay Godden of Eggcup 19
Because of COVID, and the need to make things safer in the shop, that sense of connection and community had been lost.
“Members of the community are now taking their food away as before, but now they’re coming back to drop off something they’ve made. They’re sharing a recipe or clipping something to the displays. Eventually, people will bring us their
“But we realised that all of that could happen in
cross-stitches and then they’ll go up on the walls, too.”
a space for our members to create art, and that
Beki Melrose of the Good Things Collective
we could use that as a tool to encourage them to start having conversations about food.” Beki Melrose of the Good Things Collective
The project involved a series of open online workshops, the production of a community art display and mural, and a printed recipe book full of crowd-sourced favourites. It aimed to bring members from both groups together to create artwork and share discussions around food.
Weekly online workshops with accompanying activity packs that could be collected or downloaded, were led by different artists, inviting members to create food-inspired artwork for the window display.
Example of project output (Credit: Good Things Collective)
Outcomes To conclude the project, a mural was produced for the window and the Food, Talk, Create! community cookbook was printed and shared with 350 members of the community.
The resources and recipes continue to be available online and the enhanced Eggcup outlet, which members of the community took an active part in creating, will be a lasting legacy for people to enjoy.
“All of that has done so much to brighten up the space
Example of project output (Credit: Good Things Collective)
and connect people with one another. They’re admiring pieces of art, and getting to say ‘my daughter did that. Other times, they might be learning a new recipe. “The money from Creative Lives is giving us what we needed to bring people together and combat loneliness. For us, it’s not just about what we can do this month while the project is running - it’s about creating a long-term legacy, where we have a community space that people feel properly involved in.” Beki Melrose of the Good Things Collective Example of project output (Credit: Good Things Collective)
Watch, Share and Make At a time when Covid-19 prevented in-person workshops or friends and families coming together, Little Angel Theatre in London wanted to create an intergenerational project that would make a difference.
Funded by a Creative Lives micro-commission through our Get Creative strand, Little Angel Theatre collaborated with Age UK - Islington on a
Little Angel Theatre is a home for puppetry and since its doors first opened in 1961, the theatre has been dedicated to creating and sharing inspiring stories.
‘Watch, Share and Make’ took the form of four online making workshops with nine Age UK Islington clients, sharing outcomes in an online shadow puppetry show with young audiences and their families.
“I’m always looking for activities that can be entertaining and stimulating at the same time. So when our CEO mentioned the opportunity of collaborating with Little Angel Theatre, I thought wow, great!” Carmen Alcovedes, Activities Coordinator at Age UK Islington
shadow puppet theatre show. The aim of which was to reduce social isolation and increase well-being by being creatively together, while apart.
Age UK Islington supports adults of all ages above 16, including unpaid carers and those facing complex situations. It provides advice and connects people with expert agencies and social groups. Screenshot of documentation film by Emily Kay Stoker (Credit: Little Angel Theatre)
The workshops were relaxed and informative, teaching the group how
Feedback from the group was positive, with a sense of pride from both
to create a shadow puppet theatre in their own homes, using readily
the group members and their audience:
available materials including a cereal box and baking paper, as well as simple assembling techniques which created a sense of wonder
“I loved it, it was just lovely, thank you for the privilege.” Age UK Client
when illuminated. Several of the workshops were recorded for a documentation film produced by Little Angel Theatre to capture the beauty of the sessions.
“Well done, Nanny!” Grandchild
“I’m delighted and proud that I did it. It’s something I
Clients were encouraged to come up with their own stories and
hadn’t got around to before - never had the time or the
characters, and bonds were formed between group members through
money, and the fact that it was free was fantastic.”
getting creative, making, sharing and supporting each other. For many,
Age UK Client
it was the first time they had tried to create a shadow puppet theatre - it was often challenging creating the set remotely, and this brought
The documentary film gave a chance to reflect on the project, as well
its own rewards. “Shadow puppetry was the right medium because it’s
as create a platform to share the amazing work, stories and experiences
magic,” says workshop leader Caroline Ada.
of those involved - and inspire others to take part in similar projects.
You can watch the documentation film on the Little Angel Theatre’s YouTube channel (running time: 3.32 mins). The film was made by Emily Kay Stoker for Little Angel Theatre, commissioned by Creative Lives.
Screenshot of documentation film by Emily Kay Stoker (Credit: Little Angel Theatre)
What we learnt
The level of interest and awarded projects all demonstrate the scale of local impact that can be achieved with relatively small sums of money, galvanising the existing commitment of local groups to generate reach and plurality of engagement - and produce high quality creative outcomes, alongside the direct value of the experience for those involved.
Creative Lives also distributes locally funded micro-grant schemes where these can be supported, so the micro-commissions were an opportunity to compare this approach with larger commissions and countrywide coverage. Micro-grants of fifty to a few hundred pounds can be invaluable to support groups testing one-off or new activity or looking The micro-commission brief reflected the immediate need to respond to
to boost or sustain engagement after change or disruption, especially
increased isolation and loneliness as a result of the pandemic.
as they continue to negotiate pandemic restrictions, while these larger micro-commissions resulted in more new partnerships, legacy activity
For Creative Lives, these commissions were an opportunity to demonstrate
and shared learning and were a valuable addition to the smaller grants.
communities, finds unique ways to interweave with existing infrastructure
All of the projects saw the micro-commissions as a step towards ongoing
to provide something new, offer an expressive outlet for those involved,
relationships with partners, participants or the wider sector or community
and often address a wider issue of local concern.
and towards wider goals. We look forward to seeing how these develop.
Acknowledgements Autin Dance Theatre CIC Birmingham LGBTQ Extra Care Homes Birmingham Voluntary Service Council Bristol Textile Quarter Changes Bristol Touchbase Care Good Things Collective Eggcup Little Angel Theatre Age UK - Islington 27
Publication author: Creative Lives (formerly Voluntary Arts) Creative Lives Charity Limited is registered in Scotland as Company No. 139147 and Charity No. SC 020345. Registered office: Custom Lane, 1 Customs Wharf, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6AL. Creative Lives acknowledges funding from Arts Council England, the Arts Council of Ireland, Creative Scotland and the Arts Council of Wales