CoActive Arts who work with adults with learning difficulties in Wakefield, West Yorkshire offer creative movement, dance and drama sessions as well as life skills.
Here one of the group members Dan shares what happens in a session:
Creative things to do for adults with Learning difficulties
The sessions are: Creative dance/movement and Art
Dance and Singing
On a Wednesday morning, we split into two groups: Creative dance and Art. The creative dance group come up with ideas of what they want to dance about. At the moment, the creative dance group are working on movements for a musical they could do. Recently, the creative dance group created a piece that they performed at the Ridings, which was based on four things: Twist, Crumple, Stretch and rise and fall. The Art group do art based on what the dancers are doing, so for example Our project at the moment is based on musicals, so the art group are doing art based on that. What I love about the creative dance session is that for the last 2 projects, we’ve done something different to our usual performances, which is perhaps making us think more. We do this session from 10:30am until 12:30pm.
On a Wednesday afternoon, our session is Personal development and wellbeing . So at the moment, we’ve been asked to do some artwork by someone called Tony Wade based on the four standards at the NHS, because he told us that too many people with learning difficulties were dying at the NHS, so he’s working with groups across Yorkshire to create some artwork that define these four standards. Me and 2 other CoActive members made sculptures out of wire to show that people were involved with each other, which I thought was a really good thing to make, as I hadn’t done anything to do with wire for a while. Some of the other things that CoActive were planning to do on a Wednesday afternoon have had to be put to one side, for a while but they include: doing table top games, going for a walk somewhere, visiting farms and some other interesting stuff. What I love about this session is that we will be able to get out and about once this crisis is over, and do these fun type of activities. We also occasionally have Steering Group meetings, which is where the core group on a Wednesday discuss what type of decisions we should be making at CoActive. These sessions are from 1:30pm until 3pm on a Wednesday afternoon.
On a Thursday morning, our session is Drama. What we do in this session is we start off by doing a physical warmup, followed by a vocal warmup. Then we may play a few games to get our brains warmed up, and then we either do drama based on ideas from people or at the moment we’re doing scriptwriting that may or may not be used in our musical.
On a Thursday afternoon, our session is Twist and Shout. It’s a little party like atmosphere as before the day opps people come, people can choose a song to put on, or they can sing a particular song. And then the line dancing starts and we do a few linedances, led by Mel or someone else if they know the moves.
Cotton Eyed Joe,
Achy Breaky Heart/Don’t be Cruel (we alternate)
Then we have a 5 minute juice break where people can sing a song if they want to, and then after the juice break, we do one more line dance called Waka Waka
Then we do some bellydancing, and here’s what we bellydance to:
Spirit in the Sky
Hips Don’t Lie
Reggaeton Lento or Subeme La Radio
Then we finish with Happy which is another line dance, and then we have a cool down song which is: Let them be Little.
Then to end the session, usually Anne, Barry or me sing a song to two.
What I love about this session is that people enjoy it, and they have a smile on their face and it makes them feel good about themselves.
This session usually begins at 1:30pm and runs until 3pm.
At CoActive we have a goal for our work to be led by our members. The People’s Health Trust funds our work and as a partner in addressing health inequalities, putting our members in charge is a shared goal for our project. NOVA also funds a weekly afternoon session which compliments the morning session with skills development.
With such a lot of members, it is impossible to address everybody’s preferences. There will always be a fair amount of compromise. Doing this well is easier said than done. Within CoActive membership there is a prevalence of people who are happy to please and go along with things, and others who like to assert themselves, but are seen as difficult or unreasonable. Both characteristics can end up with people missing out on influencing the direction of travel. To be honest it is easy to dress up the quality of our work in this regard, so this blog post aims to take an honest look at our recent work.
Our core group of members meet on a Wednesday afternoon to, among other things, engage with the politics and decision-making within CoActive. During one meeting recently, in order to evaluate the degree of self-determination within our group we spent some time breaking down the decision-making process. We looked at 5 stages:
1. The question?
What should we do next in our sessions?
What about providing soup for everyone at lunch-time?
Do we take on this invitation to perform at an event?
It is important to look at who sets the agenda. For us, usually the agenda and questions flow from what has gone before. Occasionally, random suggestions from members take root and become future direction, but usually future direction comes out of evaluation of what has happened and so forms a journey that we are part of together. Sometimes the agenda is set from opportunities that arise. For example Wakefield Council set up an event called, ‘The Museum of the Moon,’ and we were invited to make proposals to be involved. So Wakefield Council kind of set the agenda in this instance.
2. The ideas and options around the questions
This is a strength with our group. Generating expansive, multiple ideas and options around a question is the easy bit it seems for us. In fact generating so many different ideas makes the decisions harder. This is maybe a symptom of being a bunch of creatives, facilitated by artists. The role of our facilitating artists includes introducing new approaches, techniques and possibilities. We give our artists license to inject ideas and so they do influence the process here. We have been good at making time to dream together.
3. Weighing it up.
Even though most of our members have cognitive difficulties and/or communication difficulties, together we have considered really complex factors. This includes costs, and time constraints. We have looked at the benefits of taking on an ambitious performance piece, which sets us in a channel of hard work versus the benefits of less ambitious and being able to respond more to members needs and wishes week by week in a more fluid way. For us it goes in seasons. We have considered how tired we have felt and the fact that some of us are getting older. We bear in mind that some factors are more weighty than others. Creating it visually with pictures helps everyone. It takes the thinking out of our heads and makes it physical. If someone in the room struggles to understand and process the factors, the fact that they are there means that the others consider their needs as well.
4. The decision
The decision usually follows on easily when a lot has been put into the previous steps. Sometimes it is a season to go easy for example, and so necessary to help the group reflect on the big picture, that next time maybe a different matter. We seek consensus, finding out what is troubling to people about a decision and modifying things to try and suit. The capacity (time mainly) of facilitating artists to enable the needs and wishes of the group is a massive constraint, which inevitably puts a lot of power in their hands of the artists and unfortunately often puts them in the position of final decision maker based on this. Our response to this so far has been to employ a Development Worker to try and address unmet requests, and also to build capacity with members to take on more responsibility and do more for themselves.
5. Feeling part of it
More than ever we are seeing that holding responsibilities and having simple jobs within the group, helps us to feel part of it, because we genuinely are. During our evaluation of self-determination holding a place and doing a job led to members feeling that they had a strong voice within CoActive. I am still trying to understand this fully, but I think it may be that having control over small areas, even if it is keeping up with the vacuuming and being an important cog in the whole workings is empowering, even if influence over strategy and the overarching decisions has appeared minimal. A lot of people are happy to go with the flow, but want to be there for the discussion and be part of the story. Thank goodness that not everyone needs to assert themselves all the time. Following through and being part of the implementation soon gives rise to feedback. Even if that person cannot verbally express issues, people around will soon realise when that person isn’t fitting in well and remedies often follow quite naturally and this influences direction.
Our Art Exhibition in The Museum of The Moon gave us fantastic exposure, with very large attendance. On reflection, although all the artwork was very much from group members, the curation and set up of the space was all done by me for the group. Within the group we decide to work towards another Art Exhibition for the next Art Walk. Artists can develop the work better and be involved in the planning and curation of the exhibition. Rebecca gives us the contact details for Lucy from The Art House who is coordinating Wakefield Artwalk. She offers us a space at The Ridings for the November Art Walk. Later than what we first intended, but we decide to go for it. Lucy takes on board and supports the idea of the group being involved in the whole process of planning and curating the exhibition, by hosting a meeting at the Art House for the whole group (11 of us that day), to discuss and plan. During this meeting we have a piece of paper for each week leading up to the exhibition and write down the tasks that need to be done. We follow this up with another meeting the following week at the unit in The Ridings where our exhibition is to be. Group Members measure the space and take photos.
Our morning session leading up to the exhibition we work on our Art Work, and in the afternoon we work on the planning and prep around putting on the exhibition. One afternoon session is particularly memorable, some are writing a letter to plan the exhibition day and communicate arrangements clearly and with individual’s carers. A couple of members take a tablet and hunt down some lanyards for sale, because we understand we will be present to host the exhibition. Artists are helped to write some information about their Art Work to display alongside the Art. We get to mount some of the Artwork on mountboard together, but then a lot of it is left to me to do. Not too bad though, and at least I get to discuss mounting preferences with all the artists.
The exhibition space has a slat wall system. I order a box of hooks that fit this system for easy installation. I buy good gaffer tape, fishing line, and thick thread, thinking, ‘Keep it simple,’ with the idea of sticking the thread/line to the back of the art work and hooking it on the slat wall hooks.
Everyone shows up for the Exhibition set up on the afternoon of the day. Good energy and excitement. A couple of members go on shopping run to buy refreshments and do a good job. The second can of spray mount which is a different make to the first but looks very similar turns out to smell very strong, which causes some problems and is useless at sticking. Sticking line to the back of the Artwork with tape, turns out to be a lot more challenging than I thought, and it turns out it needs to be done well to work. There are no tables, and it is hard for some working on the floor or with work propped up. This fills up the attention of all those assisting, and slows everything down. The actual business of negotiating whose artwork is going where is rushed, but everyone works well together, and are happy with their space. Absolute disaster when we find that some Artwork is missing! It turns out to be somewhere obvious, but this is frustrating and diverts our attention from where it should be. The group break for the planned evening meal out before returning to host the exhibition. The eating venue wasn’t agreed beforehand, and the group argue and split into two groups. Members returning from the break find 3 Students from Wakefield College volunteering to help, sent by Lucy. The extra help is a game changer. Some artwork had fallen to the floor. Repairs made by our volunteers and all artwork has hangings attached. 3 extra people to come alongside members and help position Art means we are ready to open.
CoActive members really step up and talk to people coming into the exhibition. One particular member struggles to talk to anyone, but engages with strangers about her artwork. The shift pattern planned in advance works a charm. Members spell each other off so as not to swamp the space and take the opportunity to visit other exhibitions and meet other artists. Guests appreciate the Artwork and get to share some moments with the artists and get to have a window on their world. Authentic deep human engagement. All CoActive Members seem very positive and energised by the experience.
CoActive Arts led a community ‘Secret Garden’ themed Easter Camp for young people in Havercroft, West Yorkshire as well as running a range of drama, music and dance workshops in the area. The project was funded by Culture Cures through Wakefield Council which enabled 31 children aged 8-12 years-old to take part in the 4 day Easter Camp.
The immersive theatre experience included music, drama, art, vlogging, dancing and much more on the itinerary, all set within a Secret Garden setting which had been created inside Havecroft and Ryhill Community Learning Centre. The camp was led by a team of six professional artists, five teenage volunteers from Ryhill Youth Group, a volunteer act from with learning disabilities from day opportunities, two volunteers from Havercroft Parent’s Forum and one employed member of staff from the parent’s forum. The camp culminated in a performance for 30 parents and carers inside the community centre.
To get a feel of the week and to hear what people thought about it take a look at our film:
As well as the Easter Camp, CoActive was funded by Culture Cures to lead six youth sessions in drama and dance with 20 young people attending each session. CoActive also ran two sessions of drama, dance and singing for adults with learning disabilities with 15 participants attending each session. CoActive also held a training day for Havercroft parent’s forum with drama games and storytelling for the five people in attendance.
Lead Artist Jody Gabriel reflects on lessons learned during our project, 'Learning Through the Past,' funded by The Heritage Fund. This is a bit wordy, but has a lot of detail that maybe helpful to other groups doing a similar thing.
13 different people with learning difficulties participated in film-making sessions learning and developing a range of skills. 5 of these people concentrated on it for their whole time at the project. Over 46 half-day sessions we interviewed 30 different people, including 27 of these in edited films. We developed and practised skills including:
Setting up and using the video cameras, tripods, microphones, lights, light diffuser and reflector, positioning the subject and the cameras, framing the shot, communicating between camera operators to get the best shots when using more than one camera, being quiet on set, setting up the lighting using LED primary panel with diffuser and secondary lighting, getting the most out of natural light, studying different styles of documentary and chat show style interviewing, preparing questions, practicing using open questions, listening and responding appropriately, making people feel comfortable, working as a team and co-ordinating sound light camera and interviewing, editing film using iMovie application, editing by listening to extensive speech, holding this in your head while making decisions about what should be cut and what should stay, and piecing it together with other segments of film.
We faced many problems along the way and there has been much to learn. There was much value at the beginning of the project in setting up a film crew. There was a lot of joy and energy in feeling professional and adopting different roles. There was value in being able to improve the quality by setting up the equipment and making adjustments and improvements, except unfortunately this level of professionalism didn’t help get the best out of people being interviewed. Having a large film crew and kit meant at worst that interviewees felt intimidated by the set up and at best cases tended to make them tight and stilted. When we had a discussion around the big table about childhood TV and passed the cameras around without tripods the discussion was free and natural, but the camera work was so shaky that we had to edit using still images grabbed from the footage. It was difficult to find a balance.
Editing film is a difficult thing to do. You have to listen to complicated extensive speech, hold this in your head while making decisions about what should stay or be cut, then you have to operate the software to make this happen on the timeline. CoActive members applied themselves really well to this challenge. Working in small groups some mastered the keyboard shortcuts in imovie, while others were able to gain in confidence to make editing decisions. iMovie was good for us because there is a very simple uncluttered look, but lots of functionality via keyboard shortcuts, rather than intricate use of mouse or trackpad. It was very worthwhile for project members to be involved with editing. Feedback told us that individuals felt that they learned new skills with editing, and made them feel ownership over the work.
We were able to set up three editing stations working at the same time, with three MacBook pros all operating from external hard drives. In theory this should have meant that all the separate iMovie libraries on each hard drive should have been able to be interchangeable and each hard drive could back each other up. We encountered extremely frustrating technical problems, which caused disruption to our work and made many of our sessions unproductive. Three main things happened:
We intended to release films from the project as we went along, but this happened only once. Being involved in the editing many got to see their work being formed which gave feedback and enthusiasm, but it was a real shame that we couldn’t finish and publish more films during the course of the project. Getting that hit when you film, edit and get it out quickly would have added more to the project in terms of generating energy, enjoyment and learning. Things that stalled this progress included:
If we were to extend this project or do work like this again, we would like to look at using tablets and phones to do this work. This would represent a change in values. Less energy on high quality cinematics and more emphasis on being able to work quickly and more simply, and see and publish the results immediately. There would be far less editing capability, so instead of leaving cameras running and then gathering the golden moments, we would need to know in advance what we were trying to capture to a much tighter degree. Maybe the films would be much shorter if this was the case, with just important points being made. There would be much more up front time needed with the thing being story-boarded maybe and planned in advance. For sure, we have started developing a range of approaches for different situations and needs.
Problems with memory, confidence, and sequencing speech into something that someone else will find engaging is implicit to varying degrees to people with learning difficulties. We achieved greater success when for example involving Barry’s Mum with his interview. With having such a deep knowledge of her son, she was able to structure his story with him, bring photographs, remind him of things, and bring her point of view as well, which led to much deeper and interesting story.
It has been a very ambitious project to achieve the outputs we promised, while involving people with learning disabilities and autism in all of the work to get there. For example it was really important to look after the humanity and care of each person and to form us as a group, so we would share news every morning, so everyone could get off their chest the stresses and joys of the day, to in turn help to focus on the work. This always took a good chunk of time that wouldn’t have happened with just professionals focusing on the task.
Essentially project members enjoyed taking part, having their shared stories valued, learning new skills, and giving others a voice. Project members have grown in confidence and have a greater appreciation of other’s experiences. People were allowed to get their hands on all the equipment and have a go, and also were allowed to make mistakes, which is a prime method to learn and take ownership of the project. There is now an online catalogue of our work, linked to the actual films streamed online, which shows a range of unique and interesting personal accounts in an accessible form. It records the voices of a diverse range of people, who would of been over-looked in the past.
We were invited to train as Community Reporters by Creative Minds at an event held at the Mental Health Museum in Fieldhead Hospital in Wakefield.
Community Reporters is a movement to encourage people across the world to share stories from their own communities.
We at CoActive encourage our members to develop a range of skills through creative ways from dance and drama to life skills, art and film-making, so we were excited to use our digital skills and train as reporters.
The course was held inside the Mental Health Museum which is full of artefacts old and new - which was a fitting place to be learning reporter skills through digital technology.
Rachael and Dan from CoActive’s steering group and Sophie who facilitates workshops on blogging, vlogging, film-making and journalism, all attended the two-day training course.
Here Rachael shares her experience of the training workshop:
Me, Dan and Sophie went to a course for two days The course was called community reporter training. We talked about about mental health and how it affects us and how we deal with it. We also filmed ourselves about creativity and how it helps us and makes us feel.
“Soft and Fluffy”
We also discussed as a group how often creativity is seen as “soft and fluffy” in the medical world when it comes to treating people with mental health problems. But actually, everyone in the group finds creativity a necessary tool to help their mental health.
The training involved an overview of what community reporters do as well as lots of practical elements for people to share their own stories through video and audio means.
Rachael also booked CoActive to return to the Mental Health Museum for a future session.
It was great to see how capable Rachael and Dan are of using digital technology. They both took initiative too to share the skills they have learnt.
The course also gave Sophie time out from delivering to realise how huge an impact creativity plays in her life and helps her mental health as well as other people’s health.
And we at CoActive have realised that using smartphones and tablets are a good way forward to create simple but effective content without the hassle of lots of cameras and gears all the time. We will still use cameras for different occasions but when it comes to evaluating and creating content often smart devices are the simplest tools to use.
We hope to be able to use our skills to train other community reporters as well as to keep sharing our own stories.
People used to say a picture tells a thousand words… but actually video can speak volumes.
The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded CoActive Arts with funding to help our group of adults with learning difficulties research what life was like for people with learning difficulties 120 years ago and to research how things have changed.
We did this by making films about people lives now, interviewing people with learning difficulties. We also found out about people 120 years ago by visiting the Museum, the Archive and the Library and then using drama to bring it to life.
Start of our Heritage Lottery Fund project
The group started by doing film interviews, and deciding what to talk about.
It was really useful, because we got alot out of it & when we showed our short films out in the public. We thought it would help out others to understand & learn about us.
The making of our film project
Everyone enjoyed setting up the cameras and lights but we soon realised that having too big a set-up could be intimidating for the person being interviewed. So we tried to film in a more informal way and used our group table time to discuss important topics.
Once we discussed general themes, such as school days & support. we then focused on individuals stories. we dedicated alot of time to individuals stories, and the editing process.
Editing our Heritage Lottery Funded film
Then came the longest part of the filming process - the editing!
We started off editing in big groups so we could all take part but we quickly realised this wasn't conducive and it was hard for everyone to follow.
So we started editing in smaller groups so that we could get more done and people could have more control and learn to skills.
How we found the project
We didn't just help others learn about what we did. but also we learned about knowledge we didn't know ourselves.
We hope others watch our films & learn about our own history.
By Dan and Dabion, CoActive Arts members
Our Coactive film-makers went along to mark International Women's Day in Wakefield.
As part of our Thursday morning session, where we work on interviewing techniques and filming skills, we decided to put our work into practice.
So we went down to Wakefield One in the city centre and met organiser Sarah Cobham of Dreamtime Creative...