20 years of sparking creativity

Twenty years ago today, on Monday 7 July 2003, Create was “born” at my dining room table.

In so many ways, the world is vastly different now from the one in which Create emerged and there are certainly challenges and opportunities that I couldn’t have imagined back then.

But my vision on starting the charity – of a world in which everyone has access to the educational, social and life-enriching benefits of the creative arts – has remained unchanged. So too has the charity’s mission: of using the creative arts to connect, empower, inspire and upskill society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, raising aspirations, building self-esteem, reducing isolation and enhancing wellbeing (though we may articulate this slightly differently today than we did 20 years ago!).

Create’s first ever project, Shake an Egg, took place on the charity’s 10th day of existence, 16 July 2003. Two open-air music workshops in central London brought together vulnerable young people with members of the business community; and infants from a nursery school with children from a primary school. Led by four of our professional musicians, the project was interactive and fun, giving the participants access to collaborative music making using body percussion and egg shakers. One of the children told us: “It was enjoyable and fun making up rhythms in two groups and adding something in ourselves”; while a teacher commented: “The children had a great deal of fun shaking the eggs and making rhythms; and the teachers learned about creative musical activities.

Looking back, I can see so many of the central tenets of Create’s projects today in that very first one: giving vulnerable participants access to inspirational professional artists; encouraging and incorporating participants’ ideas into the creative process; bringing different groups of participants together; skill-building; collaboration; enhancing confidence; upskilling partner organisation staff; and – of course – having fun.

In the independent organisational evaluation that we commissioned from Partnership First last year, a review of 19 years of Create including a survey and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, 92% of respondents said Create fully met or exceeded its aim to connect, empower and inspire participants; while 100% of funders rated Create’s impact as excellent or good. This may explain why British Land, which funded that first Shake an Egg project back in 2003 is still one of our key funding partners 20 years later.

There have been so many highlights over the years that it’s hard to know which to share in a retrospective piece such as this.

Storybook illustration by one of the fathers in prison who took part in our Inside Stories project
Storybook illustration by one of the fathers in prison who took part in our Inside Stories project

Having a passion for the power of storytelling to connect people, and wonderful memories from my own childhood of the magical, topical stories that my own Dad used to tell us on long car journeys, a project that is particularly close to my heart is Inside Stories. At the core of this project is connecting fathers in prison with their children, a key component in reducing the likelihood of reoffending. Under the guidance of our professional artists, fathers work in pairs to write, record and illustrate original stories for their children, which they then set to music as a group.

I challenge anyone to attend the special family visit in prison, when the dads share their stories and music with their children, and not be deeply touched by the vulnerability of the men, and the tenderness of their stories. As one mother told us: “Kyra misses her father greatly. He always used to tell her stories at bedtime, and words cannot describe how much having this story written by her father and being able to hear his voice has helped.” That the work created on this – and our other prison projects – has been recognised with 104 Koestler Awards since 2012 is the icing on the cake.

30 young carers from across London take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show
Young carers from across London take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show

Another very special moment, back in November 2018, was giving a group of 30 young carers from across London the opportunity to take part in the Lord Mayor’s Show and have their voices heard.  Before the show, they worked with our professional artist to create mobile sculptures and banners inspired by the theme ‘Shaping Tomorrow’s City Today’. Their fantastical creations, which imagined eco-friendly buildings and celebrated sustainability, technology and creativity, formed a walking float. One young carer reflected: “I liked meeting different young carers from across London. My favourite moment was seeing the Lord Mayor and hearing my parents cheer for me. Being in the Show made me feel proud of myself, happy and appreciated.”

Two central tenets have been there at the heart of our work at Create from the beginning.

The first of these is Relationships: with our inspirational participants and partner organisations; with the incredible professional artists who deliver our projects supported by our team of Project Managers; with the wide range of dedicated funders without whom none of our work would be possible; and with our talented Create People: Patrons, Trustees, staff and volunteers.

The second tenet is Creativity. Because People Need to Create. Creativity impacts wellbeing, emotional and mental health. It builds skills, brings joy and reduces isolation. It allows us to think differently, to express ourselves, and to be heard. It enables us to learn about ourselves and others in new ways. It inspires, empowers and raises aspirations and, according to industry leaders including the World Economic Forum, it is a core skill for business.

Twenty years ago, people needed to create. Today, more than ever, people need to create. During COVID lockdown, people turned to creative hobbies to help them cope with stress, isolation, anxiety and – for many – time on their hands. Creative-thinking also enabled organisations and individuals the world-over to stay connected and find new ways to work. Here at Create, we launched Create Live! within two weeks, pivoting to a Zoom delivery mechanism that enabled us to take 921 creative workshops to our participants in their homes that reduced isolation, built skills and enhanced wellbeing.

I am proud of the passion, commitment, drive and energy that our incredible staff team has shown over two decades. I am inspired by our pool of inspirational professional artists who have delivered 13,319 workshops across the UK that have enriched and enhanced the lives of 43,678 disadvantaged and vulnerable people. I am delighted that year after year, 99% of our partner organisations have rated their Create programme “successful overall”. And I am humbled that our work has been recognised with 120 awards since 2012, including Charity of the Year (2020) and Digital Transformation of the Year (2021).

Above all, I am thankful to the incredible children and adults that we work with, who inspire and motivate me every day.


Watch our 20th anniversary retrospective film, looking back over 20 years of sparking creativity.

artspace Southwark music project

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