Creating online to empower, connect and upskill during the pandemic

Since I started Create 18 years ago at my dining room table, the last year has probably been the most demanding and rewarding. I dreamt then of a society in which every vulnerable child and adult would have access to the power of creativity in their lives. I was motivated by my longing for a fair, caring, inclusive, sustainable society in which every individual could fulfil their potential.

On Tuesday 24 March 2020, Create’s office – in an eerily silent Moorgate – was locked. Other members of the Create team had been working at home since the previous Thursday, battling the now-familiar trials of VPN, WiFi and Zoom. As I walked home across London Bridge, not knowing when I would next be able to unlock that door, my head reeled with the changes that had taken place: we were entering lockdown; every Create project had been postponed; and our participants were facing months of unrelenting isolation, loneliness and hardship.

I immediately set to work with the team thinking, researching, consulting, designing, piloting and safeguarding a new way of delivering our creative arts projects. What I knew was that our participants had never needed us more and we simply had to find a way to reach them.

Two weeks later, we launched Create Live! – our online delivery via Zoom – and have since delivered 938 creative arts workshops across the UK, our busiest year to date.

The impact has been incredible. Taking our passion for creativity and commitment to our participants online has allowed us to reach more than 1,300 people, including many who have never previously been able to access our projects. We have enabled participants to celebrate their home environments through photography; experiment in music workshops with saucepans and graters (my personal favourite); and write radio plays about escaping to far off planets. We have also brought together participants from different geographical locations, helping them to enjoy new perspectives and meet new people. When I visited one of our Christmas projects, I was slightly amazed to see gorgeous snowy photographs from elsewhere in the UK, reminding me that a White Christmas was available for some.

We have been encouraged throughout by such positive feedback from our participants, many of whom have told us how relaxing it has been to do something creative with other people during a stressful and isolating year; how wonderful it has been to meet new people or connect with old friends; and how much they have enjoyed developing new skills. Their ongoing feedback has enabled us to adapt and shape our delivery as the year has progressed.

We have of course had to consider participants with different needs. We ran a music project over the phone, for example, with older adults who had no access to video technology; then provided them with tablets that we trained them to use. As our funding partner commented:

“When we started Zooming, it was like watching a miracle unfold. It was truly magical.”

There have been so many magical moments for me this year, such as when a young carer told us: “I’d describe the workshop as one of the best experiences of my life.” Being crowned Charity Times Charity of the Year in September provided us with a huge boost at a time when such fantastic recognition of our work could not have been more welcome.

I am of course looking forward to running our workshops in-venue once again, but the future of Create will be a blended approach in-venue and via Zoom. Create Live! is here to stay.

Creativity and Wellbeing Week 2021 is a fantastic opportunity to shine the light on our work and I’m excited that Create is being featured in the Lunch and Learn on 19 May. It will be inspiring to talk to Jenni Regan, London Arts In Health Forum’s CEO, about how we see creativity impacting wellbeing; and to offer a chance to take part in a wellbeing-focused drawing workshop led by our professional artist, Amy Leung.

I don’t remember a time when “self-care” has been so widely talked about, so Care is a great theme for this year’s festival. As a charity we care for our participants by fulfilling our mission: using the creative arts to connect, empower, inspire and upskill them, raising aspirations, building self-esteem, reducing isolation and enhancing wellbeing. As older adult Kara told us:

“It’s very meaningful to have the freedom to express myself. This project has been like much-needed therapy.”

Nicky Goulder is Founding Chief Executive of Create, the UK’s leading charity empowering lives, reducing isolation and enhancing wellbeing through the creative arts. She is a Samaritans listening volunteer, mentor and trainer; and Trustee of Wales Millennium Centre. She spent 10 years as a Trustee/Vice Chair of Queen’s Nursing Institute. createarts.org.uk

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