Behind the Scenes, 27 September 2017: Engaging communities with creativity

by Fiona Evans, Vital Sparks Producer

It was in September four years ago when Vital Sparks was launched to help communities run their own creative projects.

The scheme is a partnership between Plymouth Culture and Plymouth City Council and is funded by Arts Council England. The idea was to use art to grow confidence and vigour in neighbourhoods that were tired of being told what they wanted. Bringing folk together to get murals painted, community gardens planted and yarn bombs knitted. Creating opportunities for people to get together and be creative.

Photograph of a Vital Sparks funded creative session

The project has always had a bursary scheme at its centre and the average grant is about £2,600. The funding is complemented by the offering of support to new fledgling projects as and when they need it, so some of my time is spent visiting projects, or calling them to see how they’re getting on. Sometimes projects don’t need any help. At other times I have been kept busy writing funding bids, press releases, risk assessments……the list goes on. I’ve also found signposting new community groups to other more established Vital Sparks funded projects to be significant as they can share their learning. This has enabled us to create a network which I think is a great idea.

Photograph of the Barne Barton Rangers Vital Sparks supported project

You’d think that giving money away would be easy but it’s surprising how much work is attached to handing out grants. I’m lucky because being based in the same building as the Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives staff means I have the benefit of working with a Business Support Team who make sure all our grants get paid. Things can get a bit complicated when groups don’t have a bank account! There are instances in the past when I’ve driven my Vital Sparks bursary recipients to the local Credit Union to set one up or had to find other ways to ensure they receive their funding.  

Every day is different with Vital Sparks. At the moment, for example, I’m lending support to a variety of projects including a growing piece of work called Lesbian Voices. Through ‘Pride In Plymouth’ Jo Lewis has recently secured a grant of £46,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I first came across Jo when she was a writer on a previous project of ours called ‘In Other Words’. She is seeking out and recording lesbian voices and histories of Plymouth and will be starting to recruit volunteers in November. Vital Sparks has provided some match funding for this exciting project and I can’t wait to see what is created.

Photograph from an Art, Craft and Laughter Vital Sparks funded workshop

The Plymouth Art Weekender has just taken place and some of our projects ran events during it. On one of the days I popped in on Art, Craft and Laughter to see how they were getting on. Set up by Debbie and Charlie Seldon they use art and craft to help tackle mental health issues…..hence the laughter. They provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to experiment and learn. They were taking part in the Art Weekender for the first time. Their feedback will be very useful when we think about encouraging more people to take part next year. 

Photograph from a Fijian craft workshop supported by Vital Sparks

I also went to the School of Creative Arts where a free Fijian workshop funded by Vital Sparks was taking place as part of a bigger cultural festival called ‘Bula’ which culminates with Fiji Day in October. It was the first time this community have run a workshop for the wider public and it was great to see so many people there.

Whilst our current projects keep me more than busy, I am also focusing on a new and exciting phase of work for 2018. The biggest news in the world of Vital Sparks is the new Mayflower Community Fund that we will be managing next year. We are finalising the details at the moment and the scheme is set to launch in January. If you’re interested in doing something in your community to mark Mayflower 400 watch this space! 

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