Say hello to our new community producer Natalie Songer. She joined The Workshop in October last year, not long after we had finally re-opened our doors post-lockdown.
She’s really enjoying being part of the team here, at this crucial stage of establishing ourselves as an organisation in a new place and a new context. Here’s what she’s been up to.
When I arrived to begin my role, I knew little about King’s Lynn. Over the past eight months, as I have met more people and instigated projects, I have continued to find it a fascinating and revealing place to work.
My job is to co-design projects with members of the community. This means building creative ideas from the ground up – rather than me sitting in my office, designing something and then marketing it to people to attend.
It is about getting to know the community first and working with them to decide what they want and then make it happen. It is not a quick process, but it is incredibly important for the future of arts participation.
To make this happen, I have spent a good chunk of my time walking around King’s Lynn and meeting people. Talking and finding out what they are passionate about.
Because this is such a new way of working, sometimes people find it difficult to take control. When they realise that I’m not just there to tell them what to do – which is so often what we’re used to – their imaginations fly in beautiful and surprising ways.
I’d like to share a little bit of this work with you.
Access to the arts is so often decided by whether you can afford it or not. However, I believe that everyone, whether they realise it or not, has creativity.
Whenever you make a meal, sing in the shower or doodle as you sit on hold to the energy company, you are expressing that creativity.
I’ve always been adamant that culture and art is not the reserve of a privileged few but something that everyone deserves access to. Bread and roses, as the old saying goes.
I have worked as an arts facilitator for 13 years now, in various contexts, but many of the most satisfying jobs I have held have been where I have been able to work with communities who do not typically engage with the arts.
For example, military communities or women’s refuges. I am also passionate about social change and community-powered grassroots action. So this job aligns perfectly with my experience and my personal interests.
The Year One projects put in place have created a really exciting first year of this three-year process, which amplifies unheard voices and encourages people to recognise their own huge creative potential.
Co-design takes time. It can be difficult not to rush the process because you’re excited to get to the “making” part. But the time spent researching, building relationships and “hanging out” pays back hugely in what you can achieve when you finally sit around a table together.
It is a luxury we are often not often afforded in many industries, particularly the arts, where the funding infrastructure means you are racing to finish projects in order to chase the next grant.
One of the first communities I approached was people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness in King’s Lynn, through a wonderful charity called The Purfleet Trust.
It was set up to provide help for single homeless people in King’s Lynn and West Norfolk who were not eligible for help from the council.
Its services include housing advice to help people find accommodation, support to help them maintain their tenancies, a rent deposit scheme and a day centre providing a daily hot meal and the opportunity to gain some essential life skills.
The brilliant staff at the trust have a strong belief in the holistic development of the person.
That it isn’t enough to simply help someone find a home, but to work with them on their social and employment skills to ensure they can keep that home and live a rich and fulfilling life from it.
I spent many weeks visiting the centre and talking to the amazing clients over cups of tea, getting to know their varied stories and helping them feel more comfortable with me.
Gradually, we drew together a group of people who are keen to do more and provide positive experiences for other service users.
Through this, we have instituted a mindful and positive space in a previously underused training room, where clients can come for some quiet reflection and to draw, crochet, colour or just come and sit for a chat.
We are shortly going to be looking for artists to run one-off day workshops with clients in various skills and specialisms, as well as providing training for co-designers who want to take on more of a leadership role in the programme.
We have also worked with illustrator Charli Vince, supported by the Jubilee Fund, to create a zine of alternative maps as drawn by the clients, which will be published soon and launched at our late Jubilee BBQ on 18 June.
The second project is our Community Ambassador Programme (CAP) and is the first of its kind to run in King’s Lynn.
It’s a collaboration with students from King’s Lynn Academy who work together to take action on an issue which is important to them.
A group of 21, 11-16-year-olds decided to address climate change and loss of biodiversity through the programme.
They are in the process of designing an eco-garden in a disused area of the school site which will be specifically designed to encourage wildlife and raise awareness of sustainability issues – complete with recycled tin-can bug hotels, plastic bottle hanging planters, wildflower meadows and bird feeders.
I am also working with people with sight loss, through Vision Norfolk. Our first co-design meeting will be in July. The clients I have spoken to are already bursting with ideas about what they would like to happen for visually impaired people in King’s Lynn.
The roots of inclusion work like this run deep through the mission of our sister organisation The Garage in Norwich, which supports thousands of people in their creative journeys every year. You can find out what Sarah Witcomb, my counter-part there, is doing by clicking the image below.
It was important to us that this ethos was continued and developed as The Workshop gets more established.
During the pandemic, it was clear that the arts needed to do more to reach people who have historically not engaged with us. But that the challenges we face as a society and the barriers to getting involved in creativity are complex and multi-layered.
This is a new way of working for our organisation, but it has already yielded exciting results. We’re learning which we will apply to our wider work as time goes on; as well as making our findings accessible to other artists and organisations, with a replicable model that we can share.
We are currently working to secure funding for this important county wide co-design work for the coming years.