Ondon is nothing if not resilient. For every emergency story over the course of the pandemic, on the other hand, there always seems to have been a glimmer of hope: communities banding together, neighbors reaching out to each other, charities working around the clock to help people in need .
Now four London arts organizations have been recognized for their incredible contribution over the past year. Funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in partnership with King’s College London, the Awards for Civic Arts Organizations recognize those who have overcome the crisis with creativity, hard work and absolute commitment to the needy.
Heart n soul
Heart n Soul, a charity that helps people with learning disabilities through the arts, consulted a steering group of its members to jointly create an online activity program. “We believe in the strength and talents of people with learning difficulties,” said Mark Williams, chief executive and artistic director.
“It’s about giving people the opportunity to discover, develop and share this as much as possible,” he continues. “And we’ll try that while having as much fun as possible.”
When the pandemic broke out, Heart n Soul listened to what their community needed. They’ve connected people digitally, but also created physical creative packages to make sure those who aren’t online still feel involved, explains Williams.
Part of the Heart n Soul creative package
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Participating assistant Ono Dafedjaiye hosted online events to reach out to her community. Highlights included a quiz night and an online baking session – Baking with Beyoncé – attended by 140 fellow bakers at Zoom.
Both are very proud to have been shortlisted. “It’s amazing because we were able to show what we can do – people’s innovation and creativity shine through. It’s about really understanding the value of what everyone brings, ”says Williams. Dafedjaiye fully agrees. “It means that people with a disability have been heard.”
Heart n soul
The big house
The Big House works with young people who are leaving care and offers advice, financial advice and support in addition to theater courses and workshops. “We use drama as a tool to get involved and inspire and to give young people who are leaving care the opportunity to express their thoughts, ideas, feelings and frustrations in the plays and films we create”, explains Maggie Norris, who founded The Big House in 2013. “And we pack that around advice, life skills, employability and support.”
Determined not to close when the pandemic hit, Norris designed a socially distant production, The Ballad of Corona V, which allowed audiences to watch the piece in six-bubbles.
“The ballad of Corona V was largely the idea and experience of the young people,” she explains. “Because we keep hearing this sentence that we are all together, and of course not. For the marginalized, it’s a completely different experience. “
The play was so successful that Norris is planning another run later this year. The Big House is also launching a new digital platform, The Big Mouth, inspired by a performance in front of 500 people on Zoom.
“I didn’t think that would have as much impact on Zoom as a live experience. But I was wrong – actually completely wrong, ”says Norris. “The response was phenomenal.”
Major changes promote positive mental health through music and offer mentoring, group activities and opportunities within an independent record label.
“We work with people with a variety of mental health problems,” says Development Manager Christina Lake. “Our approach has been developed with a particular focus on younger people, particularly BMA groups who are overrepresented on poor mental health and often have had quite bad experiences with general mental health support.”
In response to the demands of the pandemic, Key Changes developed Studio Connect, which allows specialized music mentors and artists with mental health problems to be remotely connected.
“You can also attend a weekly group meeting,” continues Lake. “It was really a great addition to our programs.
“We invite a music industry expert to give a kind of Ted talk, and then we have a Q&A. So the attendees get a really fantastic overview of the music industry, and then we have an open online microphone over that you can get feedback from experts on your music and your performance. This is something really positive that has emerged from the pandemic. “
Lake is of course thrilled to be shortlisted. “We are just totally enthusiastic and very honored. Getting recognition as a relatively small organization was just a huge boost for our team. “
The Museum of Homelessness acts as both a traditional museum and a direct line of support for the homeless. They were founded in 2016 as an organization that “combines research and campaigns,” explains co-founder Matt Turtle.
“We work directly with and for people affected by homelessness to bring about positive change. On the other hand, we also do a lot of things that you would expect from a museum. So we have a collection and an archive, and we rely on exhibitions and events. “
Co-founder Emma Turtle with winter needs
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However, this aspect of their work has faded into the background during the pandemic “because of the need to work so closely with people affected by the homelessness crisis”.
“As an organization, we made a quick decision to take new measures to respond with immediate action,” says Turtle. “First of all, we knew we had to run campaigns because the homeless were at great risk and there was no way people could isolate themselves. Second, we also knew that we would need direct practical assistance. That’s why we decided to do it in March last year, and we partnered with homeless organizations to set up a task force for the homeless. “
As part of this joint campaign, the Ministry of Health released a plan suggesting that the government block hotel rooms so that homeless people can safely self-isolate. This was then adopted as a national strategy, explains joint founder Emma Turtle, which resulted in 29,000 people being moved to safe shelters.
Matt and Emma Turtle
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“The museum will always be driven by the needs of the community,” she adds. They are now keen to secure a permanent place to work and hope that pre-selection is the first step on that journey.