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Creative Sparks – The Village Storytelling Centre

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The Village Storytelling Centre was founded in 2000 has a strong history of supporting disadvantaged groups of people to access and benefit from involvement in the arts, in particular storytelling.  One such group is young carers. These young people are seen as doubly disadvantaged from accessing arts (and other) activities as they not only have their caring responsibilities, but also often come from a fixed income family. This can make the cost of travelling to or accessing arts prohibitive.

Creative Sparks - National Lottery Awards

The Village Storytelling Centre has a track record of successfully supporting young carers. Previously they had run a year long project with Greater Pollok Young Carers Centre, which culminated in the creation of an anthology of their stories, poems and artwork. This book, What I do: Young carers’ voices was widely praised by professionals and distributed by Learning Teaching Scotland to every school in Scotland. 

Building on this successful work, The Village Storytelling Centre developed Creative Sparks, a cross-form art programme which could benefit a larger number of young carers in a range of different communities.

Funding

This project was funded by Creative Scotland through their Year of Creative Scotland, First in a Lifetime fund.

Who ran it?

The project was delivered by the Village Storytelling Centre, who employed a storyteller to run blocks of 10 sessions to members of existing young carers support groups through Carers’ Centres. The practitioners from the centres were also involved and present at each session to provide support to the young people where necessary. Freelance artists were engaged to deliver the sessions alongside the storyteller. 

Who were the key partners?

Ten Carers’ Centres in the West of Scotland, specifically Glasgow and local authorities in immediately surrounding areas. 

How did people hear about it? How were they referred?

As far as possible, in each area the storyteller offered a taster session to the young carers to allow them to see what was on offer and consider what additional artform they would like to work with. Meetings also took place with the workers at the Carers’ Centres, who recommended specific young people or specific age groups that they thought would benefit from taking part. After this process each young person decided whether or not to take part in the project. Often the whole age group would sign up. Each group involved between 8 to 16 young people. 

What type of arts intervention?

It was a cross-art form project, in which storytelling was the lead art form. Each group of young carers chose a different, complementary art form such as drama, film, music or visual arts. This type of collaboration was different dependent on the accompanying art form. For example, with visual art the young people might listen to a story during the first part of the session and then create art based on that story in the second part. With drama, it could be more interwoven with the young people acting out parts of the story or improvising what they thought might come next. Story was included as a combination of storytelling and story creation by the group. Each group created a group story which was published in a book and distributed to young carers’ networks across Scotland. 

Over the 10 weeks, each group collaborated with the artists and each other to produce a performance, exhibition or other event to showcase the work they had produced over the project. This was presented to an audience of invited guests including funders, local councillors and the young people’s friends and families. 

What are the outcomes?

Storytelling has been shown to be a powerful and accessible art form that can act as a gateway to art more widely. It can be used to improve confidence and communication, increase understanding, help people deal with challenging emotions and situations, give marginalised people a voice, and effect change through the power of relationships and emotional engagement.

The project contributed to several positive outcomes for the young carers involved and, indirectly, to their families and communities. These were:

  • Access to high quality arts. As described there are many barriers to young carers being able to access, enjoy and benefit from the arts. This project successfully reduced barriers to participation for this group and allowed them to be included in arts activities. 
  • Reduced social exclusion and isolation. The project encouraged relationships and networks to be built between the young people. Friendships were formed which gave the young people the opportunity to support each other. 
  • Improved confidence and self-esteem. The young people were able to participate in new activities and to create art that they could be proud of. Storytelling, in particular, was excellent in helping the young people to improve their ability to communicate and to become more confident in expressing themselves.  
  • Respite. The project gave the young carers time away from their daily caring responsibilities and an opportunity have fun with others their own age. 

How was the project evaluated and was it effective?

The creative practitioners ensured that they were providing access to high quality art forms for the young people to benefit from and enjoy. The project was further assessed around its impact on various aspects of the of the young people’s wellbeing and skills. 

The project was evaluated using creative evaluation methods at three points throughout, allowing the young people to assess and comment on their own progress and perceptions of the project. They were asked about things like confidence, communication, what they wanted to get from the sessions and whether their expectations were met and also about their experience of storytelling and other artforms alongside their role as a young carer. The evaluation sessions took the form of drama workshops.

Despite the fact that the time period was quite short, the evaluations showed that the young people thought that they had made progress over the time period. The storytellers also observed positive changes in the young people.

“Even without them answering the questions you could see [...] different friendship groups forming [...], you could see people who hadn’t wanted to talk at the start of the sessions volunteering to tell stories at the end.”

The project was recognised for its contribution to positive outcomes for the young carers as a finalist in the National Lottery Good Causes Awards. This project was the only Scottish finalist in the arts category. 

What were the challenges?

The main challenge of the project was attendance at the sessions. While this is an issue with any group of young people, when working with young carers practitioners must also remember that the most important thing in their life is their caring responsibilities and everything else has a lower priority. In this project it was important to bear this in mind and plan for the eventuality of someone not being able to attend at a particular time. It was also important to remove known barriers to participation such as transport and cost. As the project was taking place during a time when the young carers were already attending an established group, this also minimised the burden on their time and did not require further respite care. 

It can also be emotionally difficult for creative practitioners to hear about some of the issues that the young people are dealing with. It was important to have someone to talk to about this (in this case there were two creative practitioners that supported each other). 

What are your good practice and learning points?

Good partnerships: The relationship between creative practitioners and the young people’s workers are really important. The young people’s workers know the young people best and have a much greater understanding of the issues and challenges that they face. In this project, they helped engage the young people initially, were available to provide support to the young people if necessary (as there is always the possibility that any creative support can allow challenging emotions or personal issues to emerge) and to alert the creative practitioners if any young person had a particular issue on a given week that might affect their participation. For this project, the Carers’ Centres were very supportive, really wanted the project to succeed and saw it as a real opportunity for the young people they were supporting. 

Involvement: This project was tailored to each individual Carers’ Centre and meetings were held with staff members beforehand to ensure that everyone was involved in the planning.  It was also really important to communicate with the young people as early as possible. In the ten areas, the ones that were most successful were the ones where the young people had been involved in deciding which additional art form to work on as these groups had most ownership over the project and were therefore most engaged. 

Goal-oriented/time-limited: The model of working towards a specific end date and performance was helpful as it gave the young people something to aim for. The fact that only a limited number of sessions were offered also allowed the project to be run during the time set aside for an existing carers support group, as this ensured that other priorities of the group were not being put aside indefinitely. 

Flexibility: All the practitioners (creative and otherwise) needed to be flexible throughout the session so they could respond to the young people’s needs and preferences as they went along.  

What do you think needs to happen to ensure the arts are used more in social services?

“Getting people to understand that it’s not an either or. It’s not a hospital wing or an arts project. Both are important and both can work together. People need to understand the significant and positive effect that the arts can have on people’s lives”

Increased understanding between both sectors is key. Good quality evaluations of arts and social services projects will help convince people of their benefits, as will showcasing successful projects. 

Continuing Professional Development and training for artists and social service practitioners to enhance their understanding of what each other do. Training could also be provided to people working in social services so that they can provide elements of creative practice themselves in their day to day work. 

Ensuring funding is available for this kind of work very important. We need funding streams that link the arts and social services, and recognise the benefits of the combination.

Thanks

Many thanks to Emma Collins who gave her time to be interviewed for this case study. IRISS is very grateful for her input.