Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Community Cohesion in action

Just popped into the adventure playground today and it's full of activity.  I think it's really important to ask questions sometimes about why things work but also it's important to not let these questions get in the way of letting things actually work. Walking up the hill today and seeing the power of play and family to cut through  some of the things we might feel  divide us.  One of the things that feels important in this project is not to take things for granted or to make things seem better than they actually are.  Some of the arts organisations and artists have a tendency to do this as it's how we continue to get funding but in some ways it is counterproductive .  I can't claim much credit when it comes down to what the playground actually does.  Some bales of hay a blue plastic sheet and a hosepipe on a sunny day is as effective as any art project I can think of at getting a good vibe going and staff that get stuck in and have great time with the kids - this picture does not do justice to the place but it does look pretty cool

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Really good meeting today with Zanib, artist Nazia, Kate, Mariam and Katy. The pause and space allowed since Zanib and Mariam worked on gathering the last interviews of the British Pakistani women who left Clifton School in the 1970s has been worthwhile. Today we came to new understandings and space to connect the further development of this project with the wider TYS project which Kate as PI was able to enable. Katy's research so far was useful and especially the quote by Sullivan : 'To lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers', which expresses what I feel happened for each of us today. Through the process of this project whilst coming up with exciting ideas of how we can collaboratively engage all members of this project: including the poet Nayla, we have yet to meet, the older women and the young women yet to be confirmed, we each reflected upon our individual relationships with the project, the group and the living knowledge that we each bring. It also brought up a glimpse of a new way of universities being part of the community. It seems to me that these new understandings need time to percolate and that there is again space before confirming the arts methodologies as today was in fact the art. This said for me we reached what felt a more comfortable place and vision of how we can collaboratively create and artwork that both honours those involved and is enjoyable, whilst looking at one of the core themes in this specific project of the notion of success.
Taking Yourselves Seriously and the Association of Researchers in Community and Voluntary Sectors  (ARVAC)

This was a discussion between Jayne Humm from ARVAC and the research team from Taking Yourselves Seriously.

We started by discussing the Big Local. Jayne Humm (ARVAC) informed the group about the Big Local project: £240 million, covering 150 areas, to be spent by 2027. A series of partnerships will take place, involving local residents, to make local areas better places to live in. The Big Local project is funded by the National Lottery. The initiative involves £1 million worth of funding per area, provided directly to residents so as to allow them to pull together partnerships and find out what their community wants and for them to decide how to spend the money, and come up with a plan spanning 10 years: people from the community helping people in the community. It is taking time to work the whole thing out, though, due to some people having led flagship projects, some being slow to get going, and some needing to engage the community more before they commence. 

The question is: how do we capture some of what we are doing?

We discussed evaluation of community projects. The TYS Project comes alive when we talk about it, more than the written word or filming it, and the challenge will be in capturing that.  As part of the evaluation it will be important to: look at spaces for participation, partnerships and decision making; look at community spaces; unpack and analyse the project, and establish how it gets converted into something meaningful.  

Furthermore, it is important to evaluate the continuation of communities who have started fantastic projects but then are moved somewhere else when the experts have moved on. It is also important to tell the stories which wouldn’t have happened if money hadn’t been there and the power dynamics of people coming together to create and influence change.

The project will enable the catalytic vitality of interaction and experience change in people at a face-to-face level, enabling conversations which bring the project to life.

A research network of unpublished knowledge will be inspiring and, moreover, destabilise what research is: it is about moving into a different space and identifying what a different mode of research looks like.

Arts methodologies for social cohesion involve:
-        Complexity/multiple perspectives
-        Dispersed subjectivity – collective creative work, e.g. Zanib’s interviews
-        Relational work that moves between ideas and doing things
-        Non-linguistic forms of knowledge production – making, drawing, embodied articulation, feeling
-        Belonging and site specific work as key to practice
-        Re-framing perceptions, making meaning differently

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Post from Zanib

Just completed all the interviews of Clifton school girls, amazing to go back in time, very emotional but also humbling, very empowering to listen to stories of hope and resilience. These are stories social researchers often don't get to, the lived experience of women from ethnic minority community.
Me and Panni are looking at the interviews at the moment. A question that I am reflecting on, whether the women would have said as much to a researcher they did not know or did they reveal a bit more to me as they knew me. A bit of ethical dilemma.
The stories challenged some of the narratives of Muslim families and the patriarch culture as most of the women have said the biggest support they got was from male members of the family, father, husband or brother.

I am reflecting on how the arts can capture the emotional embodiment of women's journey, the conflicts, the barriers, the successes.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The journey so far as part of the CTG

We agreed at the Critical Thinking Group that our role was  to get alongside the projects, maintain a reflective distance, ask questions, listen, observe, learn, as well as being part of the project team. I have been working with Zanib who at this stage has been carrying out interviews with British Asian Women who left Clifton school in the 1970s. The interviews have given rise to the sharing of powerful, rich and moving personal stories. For me as part of the Critical Thinking Group I have verbally and by email discussed this process with Zanib and noted the emotion that the stories have raised, which in itself deserves time and space. Having not been there at the time of the interviews I can only read them and ask questions, and note the care that needs to be taken ethically in how the knowledge produced from these stories is shared. Reflective distance has as yet happened by not being present for the interviews, though hopefully I will be there fore some of the arts workshops when they happen. The next step is for the knowledge in some way to be shared with the artists so that they can then progress initial ideas for arts methodologies that were discussed when Zanib and I met with one of the artists, which could perhaps be through emerging themes, but this will be discussed when we meet later this month.

Thinking space

This blog is a thinking space and is about reflecting as well as doing.
We did a presentation for ARVAAC yesterday about the project and it went really well - lots of community workers were there and academics.
In conversation with Patrick, Katy and Steve Yesterday and with ARVAC, our partner, we had some interesting thoughts. This prompted me to think about the following issues:


One thing that might be helpful is to think through these issues:

1. How is co-production working in your project?
2. How are arts methodologies being used in your project - conceptually, instrumentally or to create a new object?
3. What issues are arising around roles and responsibilities in the project?
4. What issues are arising around ethics in the project? and
5. Whose knowledges are surfacing in the project?

It would be really good if people had the time to post some thoughts about this


Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Adventure playground film

I thought this short film may be useful for people to see the Adventure playground and some of the great work thats going on

Thursday, 30 March 2017

In Canada

I am in Canada for 3 weeks it seems a long time and I miss my kids and all of you but it is good.
I am doing a talk about this project and I am trying to work out what is good about it. What I really like about the project is that the Critical Thinking Group really are helping us think.
Lots of projects do things but not so many have thinking time built in.
I am trying to convey how that is important in the talk. I am also trying to work out what is working on this project that didn't work before.
Here are some thoughts:
1. We are not too arty. In some projects I think we have been too arty, that is, art comes first. In this project it seems to be much better, it is about the sugar paper, the meeting, the focus on what we can do, practicing stuff and making it happen.
2. The balance is about right between different sorts of expertise. I don't want to get into an 'artists/not artists and university/ community' kind of dichotomy but here I realise we are all much more connected in different ways and our sense of shared purpose is good.
3. I am getting so much by having in built time to think. Like lots of people on this project, I started as a community worker and I am naturally a do-er, not a thinker, I even tend to rush around while I write as it is stressful sitting still. This project has built in thinking time in the form of the Critical Thinking group and also John and Katy.
That's it for now. Hurrah for us.
I couldn't find a picture of Canada though so I will just post a piece of art that I did for Steve which went in the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield for one day. I was very proud of it but Steve said it was like Ransom notes. It was about bid writing. My mum was impressed though.

My research Blog

I'm going to try and write a research blog for this project.  I'm not expecting people to read it but I thought I would make it public so it feels less like the tree that falls in the forest that nobody sees or hears fall.  so here is the link I am going to write once a week and it will be, as is my way, very much around the houses.

In terms of our project at the playground we are taking a bit of stock and waiting for a bit of sun.  I'm going to work with Patrick at the playground most Tuesdays and we are going to build sopme kind of a platform which will be real and metaphorical.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

What is the point of this project?

Just in case it was not clear what we are doing I thought I would put up a note of a conversation I had with Jayne Humm who is the Chair of ARVAC. see here: http://arvac.org.uk
She works for the Big Local project and what she said was very interesting.

Jayne began by saying that she didn’t want a toolkit as they were too simplistic and implied that we could provide ‘off the shelf’ solutions to complex issues in communities. 

Jayne was interested in was the theoretical approaches to art and how people relate to art – this is often quite hidden. An account of what is the practice within arts approaches to social cohesion and providing the detail and implications of that practice would be very useful.

Jayne outlined some of the issues for her. This included local community residents and local organisers who are trying to understand the process around social cohesion as part of their work, and might find it useful to think about arts methods in this context. Her context is of the Big Local in which communities were trying to solve problems for themselves.  What might work is if they had an accessible way of understanding what is possible in certain situations, eg sometimes dealing with conflict in groups and how to find different ways of thinking about that that unsettle or diversify the issues in different ways. We talked about play (this links to the Adventure Playground project) and artistic methods that might unsettle long term grievances, for example, something an artist did in Northern Ireland that enabled people to listen to sotries differently.

What might be useful is a way of valuing different approaches that draw on particular theoretical traditions and to have that explained, maybe in a series of short films presented on the ARVAC website - not as ‘how tos’ but as ‘ways through’ issues or complexities within communities.

We ended up with the idea of ‘spaces for learning’ as a positive word to describe what we are doing. The project will be working on that idea and developing resources that could feed into a space for learning that ARVAC would find useful.

To summarise:
ARVAC is interested in what can the arts offer community researchers? This is not to arrive at a simplistic answer about using art techniques, but suggesting what’s important to understand about how art works and how people engage with art as well as how arts methods can be used in community research.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Practising social cohesion

Thank you all for an amazing two days - it felt like one of those rare times when for once the university did not dominate and we all listened and I did feel for once things could go better if the world was just a bit more like our group.
I have been reading Sara Ahmed's Living a Feminist Life and she talks about 'practicing feminism'.
One of the things I realised in the two days is about 'practising social cohesion'.
You don't just do social cohesion - it is something practiced in the everyday.
I think about Patrick's conversations with Mubarak about how to solve some of the really serious issues in the City of Sheffield, and I learn this way about how to practice social cohesion, how to really listen, how to make sense of things.
There are a lot of things I don't know and this group is here to help surface hard things as well as really good things.
I liked it when we did the social cohesion exercise with Mike as it was a way of having quite difficult conversations but in a safe space.
This is our image:

It felt quite joyful too but within that image were also some hard things.
Thanks everyone, I really appreciate you all being in the project.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Small Change

This film of Nabil Hamdi the author of small change may be of interest in terms of the arts and social cohesion. Nabil talks of the arts mediating between the state community and need, he also brings a critical eye to what gets talked about as equity.

Small change is an interesting approach to development planning which helps us to see the connections and networks between people place strategy and provision. One of the ideas of small change is that people think far to long before they act and then act far to long before they stop and think.

An example that sticks in my mind - is how Nabil was working in post Tsunami Sr lanca and he said that people were waiting around in tents 18 months after the disaster as they new nthat the western aid services would house them in purpose build accommodation  the people in the tents had all the skills they needed to build traditional vernacular houses yet had become dependent on people from the outside making things better, they were losing self respect. 

Work parties were organised and people began to build their own houses, recycling the debris of their former lives.  As well as building better places to live the community began to pull together, recognising skills and traditions valuing each others skills history and crafts.  Nabil would say that the issue was not just housing the issue was deeply embedded within community and the need to recover and move forward and the solution to the issue was complex and enormous yet through building houses and taking a level of autonomy and independence the process of building a new normal could begin.  People were not put off getting started by the enormity of the task.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Introducing myself: Panni Loh


I’m very interested in working on this initiative, and was very pleased to be invited on to the critical thinking group, as I have always seen art as a vehicle for social change for everyone to enjoy. In my art practice I have carried out various Live Art projects where I have been concerned to connect people of diverse cultures and faiths with one another and the natural world. I’ve also worked as an arts co-ordinator on socially concerned participatory arts for the local authority as well as arts and environmental charities.

In 2010 I completed my arts practiced based PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University on five contemporary British Chinese artists that was in part autoethnographical and examined several Live Art projects such as outdoor festivals and happenings. I’ve also worked as a researcher on various short-term projects at Sheffield Hallam University, and trained as a social worker having mainly worked with children and adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues.

I am excited to meet everyone next week and look forward to engaging in discussion and hearing more about the work already done.

Thinking about next week

I'm looking forward to next week and meeting everyone properly.  One thought that I have about the arts and social cohesion is the idea that the arts can be very critical of the state of things and raise and air difficult issues.  In some of the academic projects I have worked on with Kate this gets called 'agonism'  .  I often say that artists don't sign the Hippocratic oath and their work can do harm or be harmful. Sometimes  art can ask difficult questions or probably more constructively build spaces where difficult questions can be asked. For example Ai Weiwei posing as a dround Syrian child on a beach asks us some very difficult questions about the world, the image and what it is possible and not possible to do with art.

 At the moment though in Sheffield between saving trees and libraries and anti trump rallies it feels like the best way to unite specific communities is to have a clear thing to fight against. At our adventure playground it was always easier to get people involved if it was under threat of closure, much harder to recruit people into the long haul job of working to keep it open.  So the question in terms of social cohesion is how do we work with some of the difficult things that bind people together.  A collective enemy, someone to blame, to hate to be afraid of, a council, a political part, a proportion of the population who vote for something we don't want, a proportion of the population who don't vote.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Social Cohesion

Quite a few of us are thinking about social cohesion at the moment.
This morning Mike sent through a link to this newsletter by the Fabian Society - have a read, it is really interesting.
Also, I sent a link to Mike and Katy about this project by the British Academy - we have been asked to write a blog post for the website.
I was also inspired by The Women's March in London this weekend - one of the things the organisers stressed was that the March was about all causes and not just one, and everyone was welcome, see here.
My mother and my daughter went on the March - here is a picture my mum sent me - she is 79.
How do you define social cohesion?

What is art to me

Art can be culturally specific and a common shared experience between different members of a group or community, where it is informed by cultural context. It is a form of communication, that conveys personal, spiritual, political, social or subliminal messages and ideas. It can be purely aesthetic to or a combination of communication forms and intentions.
It is a means of communicating thought, asking questions, feelings, pleasure, protest and other strong emotions. It can also serve to empower disempower, include or exclude, promote shared values and community cohesion. Art in all its forms can mean many things and can be created for ill or the greater good. This is no more evident than in the way art has been used for political propaganda, with State parties at times knowing of and misusing the power of art. An example being of Hitler, who enforced his Nazi artistic values in Nazi Germany. The Enabling Act 1933, provided him with the door to do this, from which he created the Reich Chamber of Culture headed up by Joseph Goebbels. 42,000 artists were given government approval to be artists under this organisation and they were required to adhere in their art to Nazi propaganda requirements.  The Gestapo making surprise visits to art studios to ensure that they were doing all that was required of them by way of creating art to the prescription of the Nazi state.
Art like play should be freely chosen, it should be liberating and in Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, we are highly committed to art in all its forms as a means of communication, creation, imagination, challenge and enjoyment.  We have undertaken numerous art projects, some spontaneous, others planned for in adherence to children’s and young people’s wishes and all have been extremely enriching.
Our most recent planned for art project entailed, exploring utopia and what utopia is and means for each individual and the collective whole. This was poignant, also for the fact that this commemorated the frame narrative of Thomas More’s Utopia, in what was its 500 year old anniversary.
The Pitsmoor Adventure Playground Utopia project was a connected communities’ initiative, supported by Sheffield University and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It proved to be a huge success and facilitated reflection and joint visioning and imagining of what utopia means to children and how they might further develop and extend upon, with the support of adult, including skilled artists and academic facilitators and adult play experts, their own shared utopia in the Pitsmoor Adventure Playground . At all times being helped to be grounded in the fact that each and every one of them are play experts in their own right and experts of their daily lives. It enabled the children, young people and their families to consider what society, community and belonging means and how community cohesion is formulated and sustained and they came to see that Pitsmoor Adventure Playground epitomises what positive community cohesion is in action every day, as everyone there comes from every conceivable diverse background, while all holding common identities of living in Sheffield and being part of the British diverse family. In this learning and being process art is an integral element of being and playing and is a valued component of all we do in Pitsmoor Adventure Playground.
Patrick Meleady

Patrick Meleady

I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to be a contributor to the Taking Yourself Seriously Project and jumped at the chance as I recognised it is a fantastic project that will derive benefit for our communities.
My experience and career trajectory to date has taken me on a range of journeys that have included my coming from Dublin to the UK to live in Moss Side in Manchester before an early move to Wythenshawe. I worked in the voluntary and community sector in both Manchester and Sheffield, working in very disadvantaged and stigmatised estates, following which I worked in children and family services, and took over leading Pitsmoor Adventure Playground in the early 1990’s, a time of great challenge on all fronts. Since then I have been a lead in statutory services, delivering multiagency approaches to addressing community safety, encompassing serious organised youth crime, guns and gangs, youth opportunities and positive activities. My roles over these areas have been in direct service provision, training and development, policy and strategy and advising members of parliament and local politicians, as well as local and national government, and other public authorities in a range of arenas.
I am a graduate play worker and did my MEd at Birmingham City University, as well as my PGCE and my NPQICL (Head teacher equivalent qualification).
My first working love,  in more recent years has lured me back to my community roots due to the threatened closure of the vital Pitsmoor Adventure Playground and other local community services, I have reverted back to my play work days leading once more Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, a place where I have spent one fifth of my life in, supporting children’s and young people’s right to have access to quality play and other life experiences and to  enable me to facilitating and secure community cohesion, through my working cooperatively and collaboratively with a superb team and a diverse range of top notch partners.
I am really looking forward to meeting everyone in the Taking Yourself Seriously Project and all we can learn and achieve together.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Multi-cultural fishbowl

Kate asked us to write something about what we thought art is.  I call myself a visual artist so I should have a broader opinion of this but if we are talking about what makes sense to us then I need to go to a very small definition as the bigger ones just sound like truisms.  I made the piece above when I was heavily involved in Burngreave's' New deal for communities program probably in 2001.  I had been a dad at home for 7 years and this was the first piece of art I'd made for a 3 or 4 years.  It's not subtle - John Berger in the book a fortunate man says that the opportunity to be subtle is a privilege and I think he is probably right.  It does however somehow capture how we all felt, cooped up in an area defined by it's need and not it's strengths, vilified from outside and exploited by migrant regeneration workers who slaughtered naive hope like Bill Cody shooting buffalo on the prairie. 

Yet art can say something straight and occasionally if it good it can say it clearer than words. Yes it a bunch of dolls in traditional national dress in a fishbowl, weighted down for display or metaphorical suicide but as we peered into it's depths the realisation that all we are is a representation of our stereotype, the construction and opinion of people from outside who have no real understanding of what is going on inside.  Art is one of many ways to understand the world and communicate and build understanding with others.  It can also be shit, dangerous, lazy and inconsequential this is it's strength.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The artists legacy research

Before the residential it would be good if everyone could have a skim read of the chapter we wrote on the original research we did on what artists did when they got involved in Connected Communities projects. It says some interesting things but, in my view, not enough about diversity, social cohesion and ways forward for communities.
It sometimes makes artists sound a bit special whereas one of the things I like about this project is that artistic methods become everyone's concern and we place art in the everyday.
It would be good if people had a think about what they consider to be a useful 'take home' from the research though.
In a nutshell, this is what we said:

Through our analysis of the interviews, we identified three different but interconnected modes of approach that partners took to collaborating with artists:
New object: points at which collaboration, methodology or arts practice considerations point towards the creation or consideration of a new object of study. This often meant unsettling or disorientating standard academic practices. This could mean new emerging findings or lenses which came out of this collaboration.
Conceptual: artists being involved in the conceptualisation of the project or research – this could involve writing the bid and constructing the theoretical or methodological lens for the project.
Instrumental: ‘artists being used in a specific manner to deliver’ – we do not necessarily see this as a negative quality, but rather the concept of artists as useful, delivering a shared goal, was one we encountered frequently.
The processes of integration and collaboration between academics  and artists involved both a widening of outcomes as well as a diversity of outputs.