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Spirit of Manchester Story Week 2020 - Day One

Creative ways of reducing isolation

Community Arts North West (CAN) supports unemployed artists to take their next steps.

The Covid-19 crisis has been devastating for the arts, particularly for freelance artists. It has been especially hard for artists from under-represented groups. Since CAN’s launch in 1978, they’ve supported marginalised artists to develop successful careers through mentoring, artist-in-residencies and training. This year, CAN launched training (funded by the European Social Fund) under the banner of CAN Do Creatives, and the scheme enters its second phase this week.

CAN Do Creatives is aimed at artists and creatives from culturally-diverse backgrounds, often under-represented in Greater Manchester’s creative economy.

The project supports artists to build their professional skills, knowledge and network and to grow their profile. CAN Do Creatives will enable artists to successfully compete for employment opportunities and commissions available to Greater Manchester’s creative and cultural industries. The training includes support from expert marketing and social media professionals who are working with artists to grow their confidence and skills to reach their target audiences, including the development of a stronger digital profile.

They’ve already seen, in Phase One, artists developing their own supportive network, reducing the isolation that’s been such a difficult consequence of Covid-19. There are currently 21 artists enrolled on the next phase of programme and CAN are very excited to see how their work develops over the next few months.

Find out more at www.can.uk.com and follow them on Twitter @comartsnw


"Forming a better connection with the place I live"

"It gives us a great sense of community and optimism that we can do something instead of being subject to inexorable global heating that we can’t do anything about"

Whalley Range Climate Action Group is a group of people who aim to mitigate the effect of their local community on climate change and decrease the effect that global warming has on Whalley Range.

They host community meetings once a month, where they come together to discuss how they can utilise their skills to work on different issues to do with climate change in the local area. In their latest meeting, they discussed a new ‘Build Back Better’ initiative, a movement which aims to take the post-Covid-19 situation and have a green and ethical recovery. In particular, they are focusing on using community wealth building to circulate local resources and skills. People have come together from lots of different organisations to focus on how Whalley Range can build back better for the climate through energy generation, employing people from the arts sector and building on the skills of local people to increase their employability.

They used to meet in person and have a ‘bring and share lunch’ but unfortunately this is impossible at the moment following local regulations. One of the important things for community building was these lunches, meeting together to build relationships but transferring the meetings to Zoom has still proven effective. For some of the older members who are shielding, these meetings are great for them to keep in touch and feel less isolated.

Avril, a member of the group, says "These meetings helps people to think about social justice in Whalley Range which is important for social cohesion and building a community that can work together effectively. By focusing on these things, it provides a distraction from everything else going on in the world right now and an optimism for the future. Everyone who attends the meetings said they have a particular impact on their lives, but for me, it is about being involved in climate action on a local level that makes me feel empowered to take action and discuss these issues with my local community, forming a better connection with the place I live".


"We know we are making a big difference"

Restorative Justice is a process of bringing a victim of crime into direct communication with the person who caused the harm, in order to have a place to discuss issues. Greater Manchester Restorative Justice Service (GMRJS) gets referrals from Greater Manchester Police about cases that they believe are suitable. This work takes a little pressure off the police and can help people avoid court if they participate positively, and saves time for other cases.

This work was previously delivered face to face. During Covid-19, it’s been awkward and difficult but GMRJS had to come up with something because people still needed the opportunity to receive restorative justice. It was a challenge at first but restorative justice has been delivered via video conferencing and also by telephone. The person causing harm and the victim can be brought together on a call but it can work better speaking separately and conveying indirect communication between the two as it is harder to read body language over the phone. Also, it's hard to see if the empathy and understanding are being developed.

One GMRJS volunteer said, "It’s worked well with individuals on the phone – people are comfortable in their own space. They find it easier to relax and build rapport in their own homes. Talking about their current situation can help people relieve themselves of those issues, perhaps some people have found it better not looking directly at someone".

Restorative justice makes both parties feel more aware and responsible. People who have caused harm can look beyond themselves and see the impact of their action. They have the opportunity to see the other individual as a real person. Both parties can see that we are all affected and that the impact of Covid-19 is happening to everyone.

One victim said that they were very relieved not to go to court because they had worked with restorative justice. The perpetrator was very relieved not to have to pay a large fine because their family financial situation was difficult due to Covid-19. Even though they were the person who has caused harm, this has affected their own family too. They said “I now realise the seriousness of my action, and a lot more people have been involved than I first thought, and now I see the psychological and long term impacts of what I did".

The GMRJS volunteer said, "We know we are making a big difference. The option is now there to carry on a mix of face to face, video and phone. Face to face is generally perferable but if its too difficult, we can now bring people who live further apart together more easily".


Holding on to hope

Josie runs an hour-long online coffee morning every Monday for women refugees, asylum seekers and others trying to find sanctuary. The activity is organised by Manchester City of Sanctuary which is part of City of Sanctuary UK, a network of organisations aiming to provide a welcoming place of safety to people fleeing violence and persecution.

When Josie first got involved with these coffee mornings earlier this year, they happened monthly and in person. Then came Covid-19 and since March, the activity has taken place weekly and online. Around four to ten women drop in for each session where they are able to chat with each other and sometimes play games. Josie says, "The coffee morning regulars are keen to see each other, particularly because for some it’s one of the few ways they can routinely meet friends and people with similar backgrounds".

Each meetup is a positive, welcoming experience for those involved. A rare opportunity to connect and socialise with others, to escape loneliness and the pressures of being locked-down and in Josie’s words “to hold on to hope”.

Manchester City of Sanctuary offers other online activities for women such as Tuesday evening yoga and music sessions, and is looking to provide creative writing and dancing classes!