Around the world Community Artists, activists, organisers, pioneers and entrepreneurs are working as change-makers in their communities, using Arts and Culture as vehicles to drive both physical and social transformations. Community change requires leaders who are passionate, creative, and dedicated to tackling the many challenges that lie ahead; people who carefully engage local partners, listen to the advice of community members and who can adapt their strategies based upon community feedback and needs.
In their Child Poverty Strategy, one of the 13 Aims of the Welsh Government’s ‘One of the 13 Broad Aims’ has been: “To reduce inequalities in participation in cultural, sporting and leisure activities between children and between parents of children …”
We understand that poverty, vulnerability, isolation, exclusion and marginalisation often prevent many people from taking part in creative activities, and that as a consequence, they are missing out in many ways, as arts activities have been proven to improve their general well-being as well as their prospects for a more positive future.
We aim to work as “cultural entrepreneurs” (‘Inspire’, Arts Council of Wales), stimulating Creative Communities as a result of our strategy as outlined in our ‘Flow’ Business Plan. By not being fixed to only one venue or centre as a base for our own organisation, we are able to utilise a range of community venues, centres, and spaces across Bridgend, South Wales and beyond, helping us to stimulate “creative community renewal” (‘Inspire’, Arts Council of Wales) by engaging with often ‘hard to reach’ people across many communities, working in positive partnerships for the future.
We are based in a Communities First Area in South Wales and we are committed to providing creative arts activities for free for local children, young people, adults, and older people. We devise and deliver Community Arts programmes across a range of art forms, focussing on communities that have been identified as having high levels of deprivation, as well as with ‘at risk’ and vulnerable individuals and groups (e.g. young NEETs, people with mental health issues, older people, people with dementia, unemployed people, survivors of domestic violence and sexual exploitation, refugees and asylum seekers, people with low self-esteem, etc).
We offer a safe environment and process, skilled facilitators, high quality equipment, flexibility and a variety of art forms. We help people make art that represents them and is relevant to their lives and current issues. When participants are ready, the sharings of the creative work they have produced acts as a further catalyst for change because it widens the impact of the message they want to share, and inspires future change. It can also give the participants increased motivation to continue in their own journey, taking new challenges in their lives, taking risks with support, and receiving positive affirmations in return from the people we share it with (family, friends, funders, stake-holders, communities) – and this in turn stimulates increased dialogue personal and social change.
Facilitated by Laura Bradshaw, Betws Community Choir has really developed in its independence over the last few years, creating their own sense of direction as well as supporting the celebrations and charities of different groups of people.
We set up Betws Community Choir several years ago, as a small creative project for our village as part of the Top of the Mountain Project. Top of the Mountain was a Community Arts for Development Project for Betws in the Garw Valley, part-funded through the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013 which was financed by the European Union and the Welsh Assembly Government, and was also supported by The Arts Council of Wales and Bridgend County Borough Council. Our Top of the Mountain project offered creative opportunities which successfully brought the community together through participation, and the community choir that we formed then has continued to thrive as one of our most successful and sustainable local Community Arts projects in our area.
The idea behind our Art Bus project came about because we felt that it was difficult for people in some rural communities in the Bridgend Borough to access our creative opportunities at our location in Betws. In addition, there is often a lack of suitable spaces or Community Centres for us to work from in some areas locally:
“We wanted to address the issue of rural isolation and take creative opportunities and activities to people across Bridgend County, so we came up with the idea of an ‘Art Bus’ to take our Community Arts projects on tour …” (Alex Bowen, Director, Valley and Vale Community Arts).
Facilitated by Tracy Pallant, Film Development Worker, participants in these communities had the opportunity to attend digital story telling, and arts and and media workshops, learning skills in arts and media production. The Art Bus also attends local events and organises ‘Flash Mob’ spontaneous creative events and activities and randomly turns up in communities to make things happen.
As part of our Art Bus Projects this year we worked with young people in North Cornelly, near Bridgend, to create a music video/rap which was written and performed by young people in the community. With funding support from Lloyds TSB we were able to develop the project which resulted in a celebratory screening and live performance of ‘Around My Corner’.
This project was funded by ‘Reach’ in Bridgend under the “let’s Innovate” fund.
Our Raven in the Woods training the trainers course in Bryngarw Park near Bridgend was such a success, full of magic and myth, sharing our ideas and experiences with a wide range of people from across South Wales, Bristol and beyond.
This course was aimed at people that were keen to find out more about the possibilities of outdoor learning, and using creativity in natural outdoor environments. We had a good turn out and great feedback from everyone that came and we enjoyed our two days with this mixed and enthusiastic group.
This event also saw the launch of our new publication ‘The Raven in the Woods, A Guide to Working Outside with Creativity and Storytelling’ (Tracy Evans and Lynette Margerison, Valley and Vale Community Arts), which is now available direct from our offices for £5 (plus £1.50 p&p). If you’d like to purchase a copy, call us on 01656729246.
“Can one desire too much of a good thing? … ” (As You Like It, Shakespeare)
We worked with the Arts Council of Wales this year to encourage young people to actively take part in bringing professional Theatre productions to their local communities in the villages of Betws and Blaengarw near Bridgend, South Wales.
This project was a great success and people of all ages enjoyed magical performances from Taking Flight Theatre Company, with ‘As You Like It’ at Betws Primary School, and The Silly Boys Theatre company from Cornwall who brought their plays ‘2 Punks and a Tandem’ and ‘Beta Testing’ to Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall.
As a result of this programme’s success, we have now established a youth drama group at Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall, who are creating their own drama work, facilitated by our Applied Drama Development Worker Alys Byrne.
We continued to run a number of projects in the Bridgend area over the year with young people and families as part of the Families First Welsh Government programme.
Drama and Visual Arts Project Workers worked in partnership with local schools and agencies including the FAZ (Family Action Zone) team, who identified children and families who would most benefit from these sessions; the children’s parents and carers often attended the sessions with the children, and helped us to develop the direction of the work.
We also worked with Bridgend Women’s Aid on the ‘ I am…’ project which developed to a place where we were able to explore the specific needs of the young mums in response to their relationships and difficulties coping emotionally. Every participant said that this work was having a very positive effect on their day to day lives.
Film Workers Tracy Pallant, Amy Peckham and Jane Hubbard worked with young people and older residents in Fir Tree Drive in Treharris to create films to celebrate the stories of the community and their tenacity in raising funds for their new eco friendly Community Centre. This project culminated in a special screening of the films that were produced and a launch of a large-scale ‘Day in the Life’ community mural that was created as part of the project by visual artist and animator Jane Hubbard working with local children and young people.
This project was supported by Children in Need and the Community Economic Development Programme, which is supported by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government
During the Summer holidays, we held our yearly Summer Arts Scheme for children and young people living in the Garw Valley. This year it was held in Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall and Sardis Media Centre in Betws. Over 30 enthusiastic children and young people, between the ages of 4 and 14, participated each day and had a chance to take part in a large variety of arts activities including drama, singing and music sessions, clay modelling, painting, mosaics, instrument making, paper mache, jewellery making, cup percussion, film making, nature walks, parachute games, team building activities and nature weaving. As well as creating beautiful art pieces to take home, everyone got a chance to learn new skills from a variety of arts professionals, we went out in the sunshine and explored our local environment and we made lots of new friends whilst having lots of fun! “It’s been great to help my son get a feel of some independence. He’s also had a great time with friends – so it has helped him develop more social skills and his creative side.” (Mother to Joe, age 6).
This year we also helped to facilitate a Community Fun Day in Betws village in August, to raise money for the fabulous Betws Community Choir, with free entry and lots of things to do for the local community, with creative and fun activities including games, singing, face painting, tombola, stalls, film screenings, drama, a local dog show, music, refreshments, BBQ, raffle, table top sales and much more. This day was a huge success and raised hundreds of pounds for the continuation of the choir in the village.
In December 2014 our Festive Community Celebration at Blaengarw Workmen’s Hall was a real delight, celebrating our return to this beautiful local venue where we used to be based following its renovation after the pits closed in the Garw Valley in the 1980’s. ChainFam Dance Co led the way with their high octane dance routine followed by DanceFit, a local group of younger dancers. Betws Community Choir and Canton Choir sang and drummed up the energy. Our partners Destino Dance from Ethiopia encouraged the local children to join in and dance with them on stage, and the evening ended with group singing and all celebrating a community joined together in creative collaboration.