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Launching a fund during a pandemic – lessons learned

Launching a fund during a pandemic – lessons learned

 

The Creative Communities programme was due to launch just as the pandemic struck. Erica, head of the Creative Communities team takes a look at just what this meant for third sector organisations and Inspiring Scotland as a funder, and shares key learnings from the experience.

The Creative Communities Programme was conceived as part of the Scottish Government’s Culture strategy, which was launched in February 2020.   The aim of this new fund  was to improve wellbeing by bringing people together to engage in creative activity, particularly in areas where people faced barriers to engagement with culture.  A critical, and perhaps unusual element was that it was the communities themselves who would define and lead this work, meeting their needs and building on their strengths.

Adapting to rapidly changing circumstances and needs

The inaugural launch was scheduled for early April 2020, but when the pandemic hit all bets were off.  Our colleagues across Scotland’s Third Sector told us how much people needed joy and connectivity after the hardship of the first lockdown.  In recognition of this the Scottish Government increased its initial funding for the programme from £300,000 to £900,000, with contributions from both the Culture and Justice directorates – an example of the type of cooperation and collaboration we were looking to foster.  The fund was opened for applications three months into the pandemic – an opportunity to put in place activity that was community-led and person-centred and make a real difference at a time of great need.

The Third Sector’s initial response to the challenge of Covid-19 and lockdown had amply demonstrated its commitment, creativity and resilience, and we saw that in spades as our projects – launched in November 2020 – had to plan, re-plan and plan again to support their communities in line with the changing restrictions.  This often meant completely re-thinking how activity was delivered, and in some cases completely changing the activity itself.  Stronger Together Enterprise quickly moved its dance and drama classes for children and young people from Glasgow’s African community online and found itself oversubscribed as parents gratefully took advantage of the opportunity for their children to enjoy and express themselves.  Tullochan, which had planned a project where older Dumbarton residents would work with young people to upcycle furniture, kept the intergenerational aspect but instead supported participants to share stories of growing up in the Vale of Leven, with the younger participants illustrating them. We saw Inspiring Scotland’s role as enabling our portfolio organisations to build on their strengths and overcome challenges to deliver for their communities.

Understanding impact for people and communities across Scotland

For those of us privileged to be close to this programme, we could see that the Creative Communities approach was delivering something special. We made a film highlighting the communities and activities who took part, which we think really captures the spirit of the programme.  You can watch a short version (3 minutes) here or the full version (17 minutes) here.

Were we too close to be objective? Probably. So we asked Research Scotland to complete an independent evaluation of the first year of the Creative Communities Programme. They concluded that Creative Communities projects:

  • Provided the opportunity for people to engage in creative arts that they would not have otherwise, have fun and feel joy and pride;
  • Brought people together, building connections and reducing loneliness – which was particularly important during the pandemic; and
  • Helped participants develop a wide range of improved skills around creativity, digital engagement and skills for life, learning and work.

Lessons learnt – building on success 

These are impressive results.  But what is the secret sauce that helped deliver them?  It is still early days, we are still trying new things, learning and shaping.  But some themes have emerged that we think are worth sharing:

  1. Cultural activity has the power to engage and connect people and change lives for the better;
  2. Partnerships are a powerful way for arts and community organisations to make the most of their different strengths;
  3. Flexibility in approach supports organisations to meet their communities needs as they arise and results in more innovative activities and partnerships;
  4. Peer-to-peer learning and support is highly valued, low cost and more deliverable than ever thanks to the widespread adoption of digital platforms and tools.

We are proud of what Creative Communities has accomplished in such a short time. We continue to learn and we want to share our experience so more people in Scotland can benefit from the impact on wellbeing, and happiness that comes with engaging with creative activity. If you want to learn more, want to share your experiences or discuss opportunities for collaboration please get in touch: erica@inspiringscotland.org.uk 

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