Learning Under Lockdown: Building new partnerships

10 March 2021

Jane Bell shares how Artburst have adapted their practice & formed new partnerships to pilot a new British Sign Language project with young people

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Image: puppet making resources for No Pens Day. Credit: Artburst

Artburst is a social enterprise providing creative educational workshops that improve the lives of young people and their families.

Along with, and because of, its challenges, COVID has revealed lots of learning for Artburst as an organisation – particularly around partnerships, participation and the need for constant problem solving to ensure continued outcomes for children and families.

How the pandemic impacted our work

Our small organisation with four part-time staff traditionally partnered with museums, educational and community settings to deliver communication-focused, creative face-to-face workshops for children and families to increase confidence, skills and pride in achievements.

We quickly adapted our service to offer over 60 online activities, a very new venture for us, between March and October 2020.

We had to go on a journey of learning new skills and refreshing safeguarding processes. Some staff were furloughed, but we staggered this between team members to ensure some work could be done.

The biggest learning, we think, is around partnership work and the need to talk to our partners and funders more regularly as the COVID landscape, rules and situations for schools and families changes so rapidly, sometimes identifying unmet need.

Adapting for online sessions

The advantage of our work being more widely accessible online meant we were able to promote our seasonal festivals – originally planned as face-to-face workshops for a highly deprived place-based community in east London – to further community partners. This enabled us to reach more families during lockdown, offering them the opportunity to dip in and out of fun, creative activity. We estimate up to 500 families engaged with us between March and October 2020.

We’ve also managed to maintain successful engagement through our school partners. We’re really grateful for this as we understand how hard it has been for teachers to navigate their own school challenges as lockdowns and social distancing have continued.

We were able to offer live online sessions, such as supporting a school’s after school club as a closed zoom group. For our project with children with high-functioning autism, we also held one to one online tutorials for children to create their own shadow films from home.

We’re now scheduling some zoom meetings with schools to talk about what their changing needs are, and to see if there are particular resources that they need to support them through 2021. We’re looking forward to understanding what will work best for them.

We have resources available free online, such as No Pens Day, with further resources being released throughout the year. We’re hoping to hear from schools who want to test and help us evaluate them.

The challenges of reaching children with complex needs remotely

We had planned a set of activities for children with profound disabilities through our partnership with CAMHS at Hackney Ark. We met our partners on zoom to see how we could adapt our originally planned face-to-face work, thinking that we would be able to offer either socially distanced face-to-face workshops or online adapted work.

It became clear that our work with this group would need to be postponed for now, and our grant funded project through Hackney Grants would need further adaptation by changing the cohort to support young people with autism instead.

The learning was that the group of children with profound disabilities are often shielding very strictly due to their complex health issues, so even socially distanced activities would not work. Their other access needs mean that they will be unable to take part in online activities easily. Their parents and carers are also facing greater challenges to support them in online activity.

We are looking carefully to identify a funder to support work with this group in late 2021 to keep our promise for a bespoke programme of taster activities, leading to the children creating a collaborative sculptural or art installation piece in 2022.

Establishing new partnerships

With new funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, distributed by City Bridge Trust through the London Community Response Fund and The Communication Consortium Grants Programme (funded by The Rayners Special Educational Trust) we’ve been able to establish new projects and to create a brand new and very exciting partnership to pilot British Sign Language (BSL) in-vision for our Children’s Festival projects.

We had a potential BSL partner already lined up when we developed the project, however it transpired that their work had become very busy in lockdown, so we had to quickly create a new partnership. Thinking creatively we wondered, who provides BSL in-vision for the BBC?’ and came across a company called Sign Language Media. Partnership building can so often be ‘instinctive’ – if there’s swift communication to and fro, initial enthusiasm shown by potential partners and knowledge that they have a track record of professionalism, it becomes clear very quickly whether the partnership will be successful.

Even through challenges of hectically cancelling and re-arranging filming sessions in our already tight schedule because of lockdown rules, and COVID illness in our team which also caused delays, this partnership has been really successful.

We will now integrate costs in our budgets for new funding bids to continue the addition of BSL translation to increase the language accessibility choices for children accessing our resources.

If you are a teacher interested in using Artburst’s resources, sharing your needs or discussing future partner work, please contact jane@artburst.co.uk. Artburst can send a short evaluation to those who have used their resources or arrange a super-swift 5-minute video call tour of their resources to help you use them.

Where next?

More learning under lockdown blogs

Reset – our pandemic response programme

Artsmark Partner Case Study: Music Making Project