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#25Building relationships with community engagement

“To feel wanted, to be part of a team again and to take me out of my comfort zone. I absolutely loved it. Thank you so much for giving an old bird like me a chance to be in a production like this.”
Female Guest Cast Member, aged 65+

This is just one of many quotes from local participants in Dante or Die theatre company’s production Take On Me.

The production flowed from a genuine partnership between Dante or Die and Ideas Test, a Creative People and Places funded project that aims to increase opportunities for people in Swale & Medway to take part in arts and creative activity in ways they choose.

It shows that community engagement is a continuum with relationship building at its core. That it’s a two way process — with mutual activity and involvement. This wasn’t just about awareness, or even participation, it created real engagement and community empowerment.

“I’ve always said ‘I can’t, I can’t!’ and I’ve found it very frustrating for years saying ‘I can’t, I can’t!’. And thought I’m fed up saying ‘I can’t’… I’m going to say ‘I can’. And so this came up. And yeah…it’s been a really important experience.”
Female Guest Cast Member, aged 35-44

The aim was to use non-traditional spaces to increase community engagement — in this case a busy sports centre. Ideas Test set out clear objectives from the start:

  • Become better informed about the needs of people in our area and make deeper relationships for ongoing links in this community.
  • Be accessible both in location and approach — six in 16 people have a life limiting disability in the area — locally delivered work is vital to change the sense of access to art.
  • Overcome local public transport challenges. With no station in the ward and bus routes severely limited, we wanted to test bringing a nationally celebrated company to the area. A participant commented that she was really surprised and happy that we were: “thinking about them”.
  • Work with Medway Council across departments. This could only be achieved by close collaboration and partnership. Arts and Sports teams supported us to bring the project to Hoo Sports Centre.

And the results were impressive:

  • 61 people took part in 44 events with eight artists.
  • There were four final performances for 164 audience members on a limited capacity show and 2,625 online engagements.
  • 97% of the audience reported that seeing this performance made them want to get more involved with the arts.
  • 96% would recommend the performance to a friend.
  • 26% of audiences came to try something new.

Medway Arts Officer Robyn noted that it was: “an incredible achievement for Medway, which is an area of low arts engagement and a tough nut to crack with anything new and different like this”.

It doesn’t stop there. Ideas Test are continuing to support the participant group — signposting upcoming activities and acting as sounding boards and advisors for their ideas for their own developing work.

Find out more about Dante or Die’s production of Take On Me, including details of the development process, benefits, budget and challenges.

This is just one of many community engagement resources on AMAculturehive including other case studies, guides, research and lots of inspiration.

Image courtesy of  Ideas Test. Photo Sophie Ignatieff, Dante or Die.

AMAculturehive’s Community Engagement spotlight automatically updates as new and relevant resources are added and shares both successes and challenges to support your work.

Also read JAM 73  (Autumn 2019) — Community Engagement — in the Members’ Area. You will need your member’s login to access.