The Monthly talks to Anne Delaney from New Lodge Arts about adapting community arts practice to Lockdown and beyond

Can you remember what your initial concerns were when Lockdown began?

New Lodge Arts is an organisation working directly with people, especially children and young people, face to face. When Lockdown was announced, we were initially shocked. We had to cancel all of our workshops (approximately 20 per week); we were working towards our spring festival, which takes place at the end of March. That had to be cancelled.

We knew that we had to do what was best for our staff, our artists and the community. Taking that into account we had to assess what could we do. How could we deliver our arts programmes; what might be possible under the new conditions we were faced with.

What happened then?

The first thing we did was approach our artists and see what ideas they would have on remote delivery. Would they be up for working online; would they be prepared to create videos or short films?  Could we do video tutorials?

Initially, there was a little hesitance from some artists. From my own perspective, I’ve never been overly happy watching myself on camera so I appreciated that it might be difficult for people to undertake to do that. Our dance tutor Rochelle was prepared to do a dance class, a live hip hop class, every Monday and that started on the 1st of April and went on till June. That worked really well and showed what was possible. We had young people engaging with that who would have been at the classes every week anyway, and we had new people engaging with that class as well.

I could imagine that when we eventually go back to face to face delivery we might keep the online activities like a dance class. It gave people an opportunity to participate who might not otherwise come to a class because they could do it in the privacy of their own home. It may be that there are people who see it in a way that is not as daunting as attending an actual class. We received a lot of very good feedback from parents as well as young people for the dance class.

Hip Hop Dance Class

You were off to a good start then?

A very good start, yes. Then we delivered drama classes via Zoom.   We put those on for 9 to 12 year olds and that worked very well. We had a very good group, a consistent number of participants coming every week, which was a great response. We worked towards an end of term performance and we invited parents to come to watch that on Zoom and that worked really well.

That meant you kept your artists in work?

Artists became more comfortable facilitating online dance and drama workshops. We then had to then look at opportunities for our visual artists.

We came up with the idea of creating an activity book. We had a team of artists who created games, challenges, colouring in exercises and with the help of the staff we created a 44 page book called “The Boredom Buster”.

We had 5000 printed and the first morning it was available we had people take 3000 and it created a real buzz about the place. We had people coming down from the Mater Hospital to collect books for people on the wards and to get books for nurses and doctors’ children. The books ended up in the Children’s ward in the Royal.  Local youth workers were collecting boxes to distribute to their young people.  The team from the Family Support Hub distributed packs to their families.  It was a fantastic success.  We are planning to develop something similar for older people.

New Lodge Arts’ ‘Boredom Activity Pack’ poster

Would it be fair to say that New Lodge Arts tapped into the changing moods of the community during Lockdown?

I think that is true to an extent.

We started up a fitness activity which was initially set up to ensure positive mental health amongst our staff. We knew everyone was having various challenges with their lives, and the dynamics of the new situation were impacting people.

People were home schooling, they weren’t able to see their family and they were having to work from home and all of that required adjustments. We came up with the idea that people could do a weekly challenge of running, walking or cycling 5 kilometres a day. We ended up with around 100 people joining our Facebook group.

That motivated us and we found young people being part of that challenge as well. They found that it was something that would break the routine of Lockdown. People started posting pictures of what they were doing and that inspired people to do the same. We ended up with lots of photographs of where people were walking or running to.

We have just started our August 5k a day challenge which began with a walk up Divis Mountain. That was a really wonderful start to this project.

You organised a photography competition. Did that develop from the exercise project?

We were always trying to think of ideas for competitions that people could be part of on Facebook. We put together some art packs for children as Lockdown started. They were snapped up within a few minutes of being available. We asked people to put their creations up on Facebook and they could win a prize. We did a few of those type of activities during Lockdown.

The photography competition was the 4th competition where there were various categories and people could send in their photos. We found out that there were a lot of people in our area who were really interested in photography. We had around 150 entries to that competition.

We are now developing a course to teach people how to get the most out of your camera phone. We have a facilitator working on that. There will be Zoom tutorials and we might try and tie that in with the fitness project where people can use their new camera skills on their walks

You really seem to have been very imaginative with your projects. There was a baking project as well?

Yes. We started a bake off. We organised a 6 week baking programme where each week there would be a baking challenge.  We would organise all the ingredients and we worked alongside a Family Support Hub and local youth groups.  There has been big demand for our baking packs.  We have given out around 100 packs each week for our various baking challenges including Chocolate Fudge Cake, Pavlova and Caramel Squares.

Again we have had fantastic feedback for that activity. Families are enjoying making the desserts together.  The lovely thing about this particular project is that we have had young people baking cakes and then donating them to local Care Homes or the Food Bank.

We hope the young people participating have developed an interest in baking, and they will continue to bake once the project ends.

You had a reading programme?

We were very fortunate that one of our staff members led on a programme called “Stepping Stones” for young people with emotional, behavioural and social challenges. We knew that there was going to be difficulties to deliver that kind of work online. Again that required us to really think that through. We looked at how we might do something through social media and shared a series of stories to read to encourage parents to read to their children. 

How have your funders reacted to your work?

The funders have been very supportive. We received funding that arrived just before Lockdown and we have been allowed as much flexibility as we needed.

All the work we have done has not been very expensive. When we get back to our face to face programming we will be looking at ways of offering as much creative activity as we can as we move out of Lockdown.

I am very proud of our team. If you had asked me back in March would we have been able to deliver even half of what we managed to achieve I think I would have said that it would have been very difficult.

We have, through an imaginative and creative approach to Community Arts, and I think a really good connection to our community, been able to adapt well to the challenges.

New Lodge Arts – Arts Project – See video at the link below

Facebook video

Is there anything you might have done differently?

There are many areas, particularly for teenagers, where I wished we could have done a lot more, but nevertheless we have adapted well.

What are your plans going forward?

We would at this point normally be very busy with our summer programme and we are in the process of trying to develop alternatives to the activities we would normally be doing.

We are hoping to run outdoor art sessions, and picnics, theatrical walking tours and treasure hunts, things that which will fit in with the guidelines regarding Covid 19.

Again, we are working closely with our funders who are very supportive, so as difficult as these times are, we are finding ways to develop projects which will allow us to support and engage with our community.

artist forms link
New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.