Our work during the lockdown: A year of change, challenge and learning

One year since the UK’s first national lockdown, our CEO, Nicky Goulder, reflects on how we adapted our work during the pandemic to support our participants when they needed us most.

A year ago today, on Tuesday 24 March 2020, Create’s office – in an eerily silent Moorgate – was locked by the landlord. As I walked home across London Bridge, not knowing when I would be allowed to return, my head reeled: we had entered lockdown; every Create project had been removed from the diary; and our participants were facing months of unrelenting loneliness and hardship.

None of us could have imagined then that, 12 months on, we would still be in lockdown, with all that means for liberty, isolation and wellbeing. It has been a year of change, a year of challenge and a year of learning. On a personal basis, I have come to find wonder in new ways: the joy of a bumble bee visiting the lavender plant on my tiny balcony; the inspiration of shows like Grayson’s Art Club that I would never previously have had time to watch; and the pleasure of sending a small gift, just because.

What the last year has taught me above all is that our work has never been more important.

At Create, the last year has probably been the most demanding and rewarding since I started the charity 18 years ago. This time last year I had no idea that I would work around the clock for the next fortnight, thinking, consulting, designing, piloting and safeguarding a new way of working. What I knew was that our participants had never needed us more and we had to find a way to reach them. What I kept telling myself was: “You run a creative charity; there HAS to be a way.” And we found one.

A new way of working

Create Live! – our online delivery via Zoom – went live on Tuesday 7 April, just two weeks later. I can still remember as if it were yesterday, the amazement and excitement I felt – mixed with a large dose of trepidation – when a group of young carers from Ealing and Hounslow appeared on my computer screen for a three-day drama project and I realised: “This is actually happening.”

Spending our days on Zoom (or equivalent) is now part of everyday life for so many of us. It’s almost impossible to remember a time when I didn’t “run” between back-to-back meetings and projects on Zoom. A year ago, I hadn’t even heard of Zoom. Now I can’t imagine life without it. Then, it seemed astonishing to be working with real people from my spare bedroom. Since then, we have run 885 workshops with participants from across England, Scotland and Wales, all but 19 via Create Live!. And the impact has been incredible.

Increasing access

We have reached participants in their homes who have never before been able to access our work. We have enabled participants to celebrate their homes through the lens of a camera or the nib of a pen. We have brought participants together from different geographical locations. We have run two Showcase events, celebrating the incredible talent of disabled children and young carers.

We have discovered that taking a creative approach to problem-solving can have wonderful, life-changing results.

We have trained a group of our artists to deliver in a new way, helping them to enhance their own practice. We have upskilled partner organisation staff, enabling them to reach their participants. We have worked with so many dedicated funders, who have shown incredible flexibility and unwavering commitment to our work. We have attracted new funding. And we have discovered that taking a creative approach to problem-solving can have wonderful, life-changing results.

We have also found new ways of keeping our amazing team connected and inspired, via creative workshops, wellbeing training, a weekly lunch club, a fortnightly film club and celebrations for key events such as Create’s anniversary and Christmas. And we redesigned our annual Gala Dinner to a virtual event thanks to the kindness of our Patron Dame Evelyn Glennie and young carer Abi, the delivery to our guests of mini hampers, and the generosity of our “table buyers”. We raised over £50,000, vital funds to enable our new creative:vision programme.

Being crowned Charity Times Charity of the Year on 3 September was the icing on the cake, at a time when such recognition could not have meant more.

The road ahead

Today I presented to our Board of Trustees our new five-year strategy, an ambitious roadmap via which we aim to double the reach and impact of our work by 2026. At times, it’s hard to know what we’ll be doing in two weeks or two months’ time, so it can seem a daunting task to be thinking five years ahead.

What the last year has taught me above all, however, is that our work has never been more important. I feel privileged to lead an organisation that is run by such a dedicated team; whose projects are delivered by such talented professional artists; whose work is funded by committed, flexible organisations and individuals; and whose participants get me out of bed every morning.

“I’d describe the workshop as one of the best experiences of my life.” – Create participant

Seeing the wonder on the faces of older participants who “meet” friends for the first time in a year having braved the new technology of Zoom to join us for a music project, the relaxation of adult carers who take time for themselves to come to our visual art project, and the joy of young carers who create a new dance piece with us that they then share with their families has helped me manage my own lockdown experience. What more could one need than be told by a young person: “I’d describe the workshop as one of the best experiences of my life.”

I hope that a year on I am not writing: “Two years ago today …” What I do know, though, is that Create Live! is here to stay; that the future of Create will be a blended approach in-venue and via Zoom; and that the importance, power and impact of creativity on people’s lives has never been clearer.

Nicky Goulder, Founding CEO

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