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ArtSpeak are Working to Engage Older People in Cultural and Art Activities in Nottingham to Combat Social Isolation

13 July 19 interview: LeftLion

ArtSpeak is a funded outreach programme from Radford Care Group which opens to get people aged sixty plus to get involved in arts and culture in Nottingham. Through the development of community hubs and a diverse programme of events and workshops, they hope to decrease social isolation among the older generation in our city. We spoke to Sharon Scaniglia and Hannah Stoddart to find out more… 

What is ArtSpeak? How did it get started?
Sharon: ArtSpeak is a programme of arts for people aged sixty plus, to help them become more active, visible and integrated in society. We hope this will help prevent them from developing the complex illnesses that bring on dementia and depression, and to help them feel less lonely and socially isolated. A lot of sixty plus people aren’t very well, and one of the main issues for older people is the struggle with their confidence; their ability to join in with cultural activities is low, because they might never have been offered that opportunity before. They’re not like young people – they’re not out and about all the time. I wrote an application for Reaching Communities England through the Big Lottery Fund, and we were successful in securing £347,000 which we can spend over the next three years. 

What have you organised so far? 
Hannah: We’ve held some consultation sessions with some of the communities we knew we wanted to work with to establish a list of activities they’d like to be involved in. After doing one in the Meadows, we found that a lot of people were interested in writing. There’s a really great sense of community there, and the group we met all had lots of stories to tell, and writing was a skill they wanted to redevelop. We’ve contracted a creative writing tutor who will now be running a twelve week course starting at the end of September. There is an introductory session being held on Wednesday 4 September in Meadows Library.

We’re looking at art in various mediums – photography is another workshop we knew we wanted to run. So, we used the platform of Bilborough Arts Festival as a way to meet other people in that area. It was really interesting – we had people coming from Wollaton and Beeston and Radford. We’ll be running a 10 week course on Tuesday afternoon’s from 10 September  Another one is our Jazz Jamming sessions which we’re piloting at the Embankment pub in West Bridgford on Tuesday 24 September. We’ve partnered with Jazz Steps, an organisation in Nottingham which do a lot of great work around jazz performance and education to start a jazz music night that's open to all ages. Specifically we want somewhere older musicians can meet and play together with others. 

Sharon: We’d also like to commission a theatre piece by older people, or a theatre group were they can meet every month. There's an awful lot going on in the city already, but it tends to be for different ages. What we want to do is create networks and activities which the older people can then continue in their own time. We're trying to set these things up, but we hope the older people and younger ambassadors or volunteers carry it on. 

Hannah: It's really nice to see already some of the participants we've already met at Lakeside coming along to the sessions at the New Art Exchange. A couple of people hadn’t met before and now they’re becoming more familiar with each other, so we’re already seeing the benefits of that social aspect. 

How many communities around the city are you trying to reach? Are you targeting specific ones? 
Hannah: A bit of both really. We started off by picking some areas that we already had a connection to – Bulwell, Strelley, the Meadows and Clifton. But we’ve also began to look at the demographics of people living in different areas. There’s a lot of older people in Bilborough, so that’s why we’ve targeted there. It’s quite interesting – a lady in her nineties came along to a session in Bilborough from Wollaton, and said it was easier for her than going to Wollaton library because she could access it more easily on the bus. We are trying to reach communities which have good public transport links, but we don’t want to look like we’re only targeting certain people, it’s really open.

Sharon:The transport links in the city are quite good. We were recently at Lakeside and got talking to the team there about using the tram as a cultural connector – on one line you've got Lakeside, the Contemporary, the Royal Centre and the New Art Exchange. We’ve thought about utilising the tram and trying to get better deals for older people buying tickets hoping we get more people out and about. We're going to be looking at implementing a loyalty scheme for our project too, potentially offering a discount at some venues. So it's going to be quite an in depth programme but at the moment we’re just implementing the activities. 

How can people access your services? 
Hannah: Our website has got all the details and our social media, but we appreciate that not everyone is going to be on those. We're in touch with all of the community connectors in the area – they have directories that they give to people to help them find things that are going on in their local area.

Sharon: Also through talking to people like yourselves. It's just about finding people who want to hopefully be a part of it. Soon we'll be in the New Art Exchange programme with our gallery walkthroughs, and the Nottingham Contemporary when we get things established with them. We just want to make older people very visible. Broadway have Silver Screen, and a lot of older people enjoy going to that, getting a coffee and seeing a film in the afternoon. That's really what we'd like to do in more places, so people know they can go along on a Wednesday afternoon to a specific venue that is part of our programme and they'll be able to get involved in different things. 

Why did you both personally think this was an important thing to address in the city? 
Sharon: After a long life of working in the arts, I believe that they can change people's lives, and that they are very complementary to people's health and wellbeing. I think it’s important to help other people access arts, especially in poorer areas of the city that don't have that. It’s about finding people who have the same belief as us and can help broaden that network to people who don’t always have the opportunity to get involved. Just because you're older doesn't mean to say you can't get about. 

Hannah: Really the whole project is to give people more ways that they can engage. Ambassadors are something we really want to push too, because I know there's so many things that prevent people from pursuing the arts, but forming friendships or having support getting people through the doors to a venue they’ve never considered before would help. Hearing how much they actually value that experience is what actually makes it all worthwhile. During our first poetry workshop at City Arts, there was a 72-year-old lady who sent us a really lovely email afterwards saying it was the highlight of her year so far, and how much she appreciates the work we do. Reading that just made it feel so worthwhile – having that impact on someone straight away was lovely. 

Sharon: From our perspective, it’s a gift to have the opportunity to do this work and we don’t take that for granted. It’s not an easy job because you’re having to break new ground all the time, but we’ve found that just the smallest comments or acts of kindness mean so much. =

The Radford Care Group offices are being renovated. You mentioned there’s going to be a new purpose built centre...
Sharon: When the new centre is built we hope we can make it a bit of a destination for older people in the afternoons and evenings for arts activities. They've just pulled down the old building on Prospect Street which is just down from Radford. The new building is going to be a bespoke centre for older people for daycare and for friendship. It’s going to be a double story building, but at the moment we’ve only got enough money to build the first floor. We’re still fundraising at the moment – you can buy a brick for £5, or just donate to the fund. 

Are there any other ways that people can get involved with the programme? 
Sharon: We really want young people to come along and volunteer. They can share their skills and older people can share their experiences with younger people - I think that's really valuable. 

ArtSpeak website

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