Brierley Hillness was led and funded by the English Heritage Outreach team in partnership with Dudley Arts Council, Artspace Brierley Hill, Dudley Performing Arts, Brierley Hill Community Forum, the Adult and Community Learning Service at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and in collaboration with Audiences Central and the Public Art Unit at DMBC.
Strength in partnership working
It was perfect timing setting up the Brierley Hillness project at the same time that Dudley Arts Council and the Adult and Community Learning Service at Dudley MBC were planning the transformation of an empty shop into their second Artspace in the Borough – just off the High Street in Brierley Hill! Read more…
The two huge strengths with working with these partners were:
- To be able to use a local facility to hold events, arts workshops and activities, and take over a whole wall to paint a mural on
- To have access to their experience and database of local freelance artists and workshop facilitators
- A dedicated coordinator (Ed) to work with; based at the shop, who was able to facilitate many of the drop-in days, set up evening events and coordinate freelancers. He also gave hours voluntarily to ensure the project’s success – thank you!
- A strong support mechanism for the development of the publications and film. Thank you to Lindsay, Fred, Ruth and Ed – four very resourceful and objective members of the Executive Committee of Dudley Arts Council!
For Artspace, the partnership with English Heritage and the project enabled them to open the shop for another day during the week, offer a wider choice of activities and bring new people in to the space.
One of the purposes of Artspace is to also create temporary gallery space for local artists and photographers, as well as professional. Brierley Hillness was able to collaborate with the Public Art Unit at DMBC who were hosting an exhibition on the Round Oak Steel Works – this opened up the potential to do oral history sessions with former workers and run an event – which the Public Art Unit organised.
The Martin Parr photography exhibition, organised by Audiences Central also supported the Brierley Hillness project, as they themed a photography competition, which tied in with their exhibition, and called What is Brierley Hill to you? People were invited to send in photographs to a fliker site and prizes given to the winning shots. They also ran an evening event which included a projection of the winning images onto a building.
Both these collaborations added value to our project; they gave us the opportunity to explore different approaches to community engagement, brought in new audiences and even some match funding!
There is always room for improvement! The numbers to the Tuesday mural workshop drop-in were fairly low, with the expectation they would increase with word of mouth. When we put on extra evening and weekend workshops, more and a greater variety of people took part. We should have programmed different workshop times into the project.
The second thing we could have improved is our relationship with the Artspace programme itself. Instead of being seen as a separate project, running from Artspace, it would have been useful to have made it a part of the programme of workshops offered. We could have then, perhaps, maximised marketing potential and the support of the Outreach Workers at DMBC. We did realise this in the last month, and tied the two programmes together. It is difficult to know if this made any difference, however.
Working with Dudley Performing Arts (Dudley MBC)
Dudley Performing Arts have vast amounts of experience running high quality educational dance projects, with a focus on local history and heritage. They provide an outsource service for local schools, who buy into a themed programme of dance activities. The cost of the dance tutors is passed onto the schools, which meant that instead of commissioning an entire production, Brierley Hillness was built into their programme of work for that term.
This was an amazing partnership as due to this set up a huge production involving a youth theatre group and 110 children from local schools cost a meagre £1,500. This budget funded script development and writing, directing, production costs and the hire of the venue. We also asked DPA to help us widen the net of the consultation we were doing with local residents, so they prepared questionnaires and an activity pack which were sent home to parents to complete with their children.
This was an excellent tool to engage more profoundly with the children, but also indirectly with adults, through their children. One area for improvement would be to streamline the questions asked in this survey with ones being asked in other survey work being carried out during the Brierley Hillness project. A core set of questions for everyone taking part in any research or survey would have strengthened the statistical analysis. We could have improved this by the project partners agreeing the questions at the very beginning of the project.
DPA also have their own youth theatre group called Buzz Youth Theatre, who are a talented bunch of young actors, led by an even more talented writer called Rachel Sharpe. From an initial meeting Rachel took on board all the project aims and the concept of Brierley Hillness to weave the One Boy. One Town. One Big Idea! script; which was charming, humourous, focussed on the built environment , history and heritage of Brierley Hill, and also gave an empowering rallying call for the audience to get involved in decision-making about their town. Powerful stuff!
The Brierley Hill Community Forum
The BHCF were invited to be a partner in the project as they have an established link into all the organisations and community groups in Brierley Hill. One of the Directors from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau handled the first marketing mailout and provided a point of contact for community groups who wanted to take us up on the offer of a bespoke creative workshop with their group. Then the Chair of the group (Shona) came on board and became one of the most active people in the project team; an active member of the steering group and also interviewing in the streets and running children’s creative workshops!
There was no response at all for bespoke workshops from the leaflet mail outs we did to over fifty community groups. A second reminder and additional leaflet about the evening events programme also did not get any attention. The community groups we worked with responded very positively when we gave invitations by telephone or personal visits to the group leaders. In the end we ran workshops and collaborated with six groups and extended workshops into May to ensure we get a good representation of people taking part and accommodate their timescales. The groups we did work with produced some truly wonderful creative work.
In hindsight we should have invested more budget in doing ‘outreach’ and less money on print material and distribution. There is nothing like a personal invitation to participate as a letter cannot inspire and enthuse like an enthusiastic person!
We have provided a breakdown of the project budget. There are no figures for match funding available.
Consulting with other Council Officers and stakeholders
Before even developing the project I spoke to people involved in decision-making about the regeneration in Brierley Hill, or a professional stake in the future of the town. These included the Brierley Hill Town Centre Partnership and council officers in the Planning and Conservation Teams. We were keen that the consultation work we were producing would be welcomed and actively used as evidence to help influence decision-making process and as part of future consultation processes.
Nicki, Rachel and Pete from Dudley MBC have invested huge amounts of resource and passion into Brierley Hill and they have been extremely supportive of the project – so thank you!