Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Social Cohesion

Quite a few of us are thinking about social cohesion at the moment.
This morning Mike sent through a link to this newsletter by the Fabian Society - have a read, it is really interesting.
Also, I sent a link to Mike and Katy about this project by the British Academy - we have been asked to write a blog post for the website.
I was also inspired by The Women's March in London this weekend - one of the things the organisers stressed was that the March was about all causes and not just one, and everyone was welcome, see here.
My mother and my daughter went on the March - here is a picture my mum sent me - she is 79.
How do you define social cohesion?

What is art to me

Art can be culturally specific and a common shared experience between different members of a group or community, where it is informed by cultural context. It is a form of communication, that conveys personal, spiritual, political, social or subliminal messages and ideas. It can be purely aesthetic to or a combination of communication forms and intentions.
It is a means of communicating thought, asking questions, feelings, pleasure, protest and other strong emotions. It can also serve to empower disempower, include or exclude, promote shared values and community cohesion. Art in all its forms can mean many things and can be created for ill or the greater good. This is no more evident than in the way art has been used for political propaganda, with State parties at times knowing of and misusing the power of art. An example being of Hitler, who enforced his Nazi artistic values in Nazi Germany. The Enabling Act 1933, provided him with the door to do this, from which he created the Reich Chamber of Culture headed up by Joseph Goebbels. 42,000 artists were given government approval to be artists under this organisation and they were required to adhere in their art to Nazi propaganda requirements.  The Gestapo making surprise visits to art studios to ensure that they were doing all that was required of them by way of creating art to the prescription of the Nazi state.
Art like play should be freely chosen, it should be liberating and in Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, we are highly committed to art in all its forms as a means of communication, creation, imagination, challenge and enjoyment.  We have undertaken numerous art projects, some spontaneous, others planned for in adherence to children’s and young people’s wishes and all have been extremely enriching.
Our most recent planned for art project entailed, exploring utopia and what utopia is and means for each individual and the collective whole. This was poignant, also for the fact that this commemorated the frame narrative of Thomas More’s Utopia, in what was its 500 year old anniversary.
The Pitsmoor Adventure Playground Utopia project was a connected communities’ initiative, supported by Sheffield University and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It proved to be a huge success and facilitated reflection and joint visioning and imagining of what utopia means to children and how they might further develop and extend upon, with the support of adult, including skilled artists and academic facilitators and adult play experts, their own shared utopia in the Pitsmoor Adventure Playground . At all times being helped to be grounded in the fact that each and every one of them are play experts in their own right and experts of their daily lives. It enabled the children, young people and their families to consider what society, community and belonging means and how community cohesion is formulated and sustained and they came to see that Pitsmoor Adventure Playground epitomises what positive community cohesion is in action every day, as everyone there comes from every conceivable diverse background, while all holding common identities of living in Sheffield and being part of the British diverse family. In this learning and being process art is an integral element of being and playing and is a valued component of all we do in Pitsmoor Adventure Playground.
Patrick Meleady

Patrick Meleady

I was thrilled and honoured to be asked to be a contributor to the Taking Yourself Seriously Project and jumped at the chance as I recognised it is a fantastic project that will derive benefit for our communities.
My experience and career trajectory to date has taken me on a range of journeys that have included my coming from Dublin to the UK to live in Moss Side in Manchester before an early move to Wythenshawe. I worked in the voluntary and community sector in both Manchester and Sheffield, working in very disadvantaged and stigmatised estates, following which I worked in children and family services, and took over leading Pitsmoor Adventure Playground in the early 1990’s, a time of great challenge on all fronts. Since then I have been a lead in statutory services, delivering multiagency approaches to addressing community safety, encompassing serious organised youth crime, guns and gangs, youth opportunities and positive activities. My roles over these areas have been in direct service provision, training and development, policy and strategy and advising members of parliament and local politicians, as well as local and national government, and other public authorities in a range of arenas.
I am a graduate play worker and did my MEd at Birmingham City University, as well as my PGCE and my NPQICL (Head teacher equivalent qualification).
My first working love,  in more recent years has lured me back to my community roots due to the threatened closure of the vital Pitsmoor Adventure Playground and other local community services, I have reverted back to my play work days leading once more Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, a place where I have spent one fifth of my life in, supporting children’s and young people’s right to have access to quality play and other life experiences and to  enable me to facilitating and secure community cohesion, through my working cooperatively and collaboratively with a superb team and a diverse range of top notch partners.
I am really looking forward to meeting everyone in the Taking Yourself Seriously Project and all we can learn and achieve together.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Multi-cultural fishbowl

Kate asked us to write something about what we thought art is.  I call myself a visual artist so I should have a broader opinion of this but if we are talking about what makes sense to us then I need to go to a very small definition as the bigger ones just sound like truisms.  I made the piece above when I was heavily involved in Burngreave's' New deal for communities program probably in 2001.  I had been a dad at home for 7 years and this was the first piece of art I'd made for a 3 or 4 years.  It's not subtle - John Berger in the book a fortunate man says that the opportunity to be subtle is a privilege and I think he is probably right.  It does however somehow capture how we all felt, cooped up in an area defined by it's need and not it's strengths, vilified from outside and exploited by migrant regeneration workers who slaughtered naive hope like Bill Cody shooting buffalo on the prairie. 

Yet art can say something straight and occasionally if it good it can say it clearer than words. Yes it a bunch of dolls in traditional national dress in a fishbowl, weighted down for display or metaphorical suicide but as we peered into it's depths the realisation that all we are is a representation of our stereotype, the construction and opinion of people from outside who have no real understanding of what is going on inside.  Art is one of many ways to understand the world and communicate and build understanding with others.  It can also be shit, dangerous, lazy and inconsequential this is it's strength.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The artists legacy research

Before the residential it would be good if everyone could have a skim read of the chapter we wrote on the original research we did on what artists did when they got involved in Connected Communities projects. It says some interesting things but, in my view, not enough about diversity, social cohesion and ways forward for communities.
It sometimes makes artists sound a bit special whereas one of the things I like about this project is that artistic methods become everyone's concern and we place art in the everyday.
It would be good if people had a think about what they consider to be a useful 'take home' from the research though.
In a nutshell, this is what we said:

Through our analysis of the interviews, we identified three different but interconnected modes of approach that partners took to collaborating with artists:
New object: points at which collaboration, methodology or arts practice considerations point towards the creation or consideration of a new object of study. This often meant unsettling or disorientating standard academic practices. This could mean new emerging findings or lenses which came out of this collaboration.
Conceptual: artists being involved in the conceptualisation of the project or research – this could involve writing the bid and constructing the theoretical or methodological lens for the project.
Instrumental: ‘artists being used in a specific manner to deliver’ – we do not necessarily see this as a negative quality, but rather the concept of artists as useful, delivering a shared goal, was one we encountered frequently.
The processes of integration and collaboration between academics  and artists involved both a widening of outcomes as well as a diversity of outputs.

Sunday, 15 January 2017


One of the things I am doing as PI is trying to have conversations with people about definitions and key ideas in the project.
I had a really interesting conversation with Zanib about art, which I will report on later, and one with Katy on ideas of social cohesion and one with Mike about community cohesion and art practice.
I also talked to John Diamond about practice.
All these conversations were really helpful, I will try and report on them here, but the one with Andrew on failure was useful as I think it is one of the core ideas in our project so I am sharing it here:

We started with the idea of breaking down what we mean by community engagement and re-thinking social cohesion.
We also talked about re-claiming expertise.
Andrew is interested in doing work on mistakes and saying to the teachers who can they become experts, what do you think do you have a skill in.
He also wants to look at failure as a positive idea and unsettled conceptual frameworks.
SO the plan is we provide:

1.     A new language for failure
2.     A new language for cohesion
3.     A new model for community cohesion work for artists.

We should also ask difficult questions – everything we have tried to do has failed but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try harder.

We will be thinking more about failure in our residential but one thing that struck me was Andrew saying that you have to work with failure to be a poet, it is the only way you keep writing as you always fail to describe what you would want to describe.

I leave you with an image of snowy Top Withens and the Brontes. 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Angela Warren

I’ve been working in a research project administration/management position at the University of Sheffield for 19 years (I can’t believe it, it’s gone so quickly) and currently manage the Imagine Connected Communities project 4 days a week.  I am responsible for monitoring project expenditure, maintaining financial records, organising events and workshops and will monitor the progress of activities as well as oversee the administration for this project.  I can’t wait, I love my work and am very much looking forward to working with our community researchers, academic colleagues and external stakeholders on this really exciting work.