Virtual Creative Engagement

Notes from Digital Conference 24th March – 3pm-4pm session

Three speakers from local organisations with experience of using creative engagement in their activities share their advice and tips on good practice and overcoming key challenges.

Debbie Beeks: Cardboard Citizens and Curious Monkey Theatre Company

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  • Facebook: @cardboardcitizens @Curiousmonkeytheatre
  • Cardboard Citizens makes theatre for social change. We empower people with lived experience of homelessness and strive to change society’s perceptions of homeless people
  • Curious Monkey is an award-winning theatre company based in North-East England. Our work shares stories of marginalised and underrepresented communities, raising awareness of the issues they face.
  • Embarked on a creative journey for someone who wasn’t particularly digitally skilled or confident to now being more confident and competent. • Debbie showed us practical engagement strategies such as non-technical games to play – e.g. Truth, Not Truth where we covered our camera and reacted accordingly. A scavenger hunt and digital version of Simon Says.
  • There are many games you can play to create stories and imagery
  • In the ‘real world’ we were creative, shared stories, shared food and were social. We aimed to recreate these online, without being technically clever. Emphasising the human interaction that Zoom permits, rather than seeing it as a barrier.
  • It was important to create a routine on zoom but keep connecting, we even shared digital meals to help maintain normality.

Ronnie Johnston: Digital Voice

  • Facebook @digitalvoiceforcommunities
  • One thing has been apparent through the pandemic is the surge in creativity.
  • Individuals and organisations have adapted with unprecedented creativity.
  • We have worked with Gateshead Council to create a video about people’s experiences
  • There have been amazing solutions to engaging communities such as street singing, dancing and films.
  • You can deliver to people’s doors and that is a lesson that can be learned for the future
  •  Organisations reassessed what they did and how they did it and provide services to their users. 
  • It has highlighted how there is a disproportionate amount of people who have digital poverty.
  •  It forced us to re-evaluate how we engage people and discovered new methods of communicating and delivering our services.
  • Now people who are excluded geographically, or physically isolated can be included. We must not lose them and can maintain the advantages of digital for them, rather than just reverting to the way things were before lockdown.
  •  Zoom is brilliant but it comes with its own issues. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Technical problems, poor connections. Adapt how you deliver to minimise these obstacles.
  •  Ronnie opened to the floor what where the groups feelings of zoom (The Good, The Bad and The Zoom:You’re on mute! ; When you have people not on camera are they engaging?; Can pushing people reluctant to be on camera make people disengage?; Can’t judge body language; People are a bit more patient; Technical side of things, constantly letting people back in is very disruptive – need more than one person; Nice to get to know people more – seeing people’s cats, dogs etc. More interesting, helps with engagement; Being a teacher online has skewed perception of progression – when you are not there in person more difficult, can’t show and share as well.; Delivering online training can be more stressful if you have multiple roles as trainer, tech host; Is it OK to wave at the end… yes it is!!!!!
  •  Digital is more accessible for many
  •  Being digital allows us to do things differently.
  •  Your Voice Counts Film:

Julie Nicholson: Digital Voice

  •  Facebook @digitalvoiceforcommunities
  • Digital Voice is a Community Interest Company based in Gateshead and we work across the North-East. We use creative digital media as a means to support people to increase their self-esteem self-confidence as well as digital skills.
  • While we have all found this year a challenge, Digital Voice has been able to develop virtual versions of some of our programmes that have been so successful we aim to continuing them as well as face-to-face work, when we get back to that.
  • We can’t wait to do that; to get back to working with groups in person and giving them all the support that we possibly can to achieve their aims but we also think there is now a place to continue with some virtual creative engagement:
  • Lifebooks: a way to help older people to tell their life story in a digital way using their photos, recording their anecdotes as audio and using text, as well as including peoples’ favourite music. This helps people get into digital in a meaningful way to them and is also a lovely way of getting people together in groups to talk about things that they remember.
  •  Geostories: Just before lockdown we planned a fantastic project in Chopwell, where we are based, which was to train up a group of people to go out and report on different events and issues that were important in their area. When lockdown happened we had to completely rethink. We set up a Facebook group, made a trailer and encouraged people to get in touch with us and tell us about their lockdown experiences. We supported people by making ‘how-to’ guidance videos, and mentoring them via Zoom and phone.
  • Lots of different people who wouldn’t have taken part in the face-to-face group got involved. Whole families making films together, supported on Zoom, about things happening in the area, highlighting work done by local lockdown heroes.
  •  We put a call out and a few people filmed their streets clapping the NHS for a lovely montage; we supported a little girl to interview her friend about a radio show she started up; it was really heart-warming and lots of people got involved.
  •  Photoclub: A group we’ve run for Newcastle City Council for a long time in the City Library. When lockdown happened I didn’t know what we were going to do as we go out and take photos together. But our resident photographer, Robin Cowings came up with a great first project which was to ask the families to document their lockdown and the results were really interesting and poignant. The project ran for a few months, we did meet on zoom chat about how to do the project feedback (as we would have if we’d been in a group) and they produced some fabulous images which really gave us an insight into their lockdown experience.
  •  We’ve since kept the group going and meet monthly on Zoom. Each month Robyn comes up with a new app or technique that we can play with to create some fabulous images. It’s great to keep the group together, we still have a laugh and chat and we really look forward to those monthly sessions - it feels like a bit of normality.
  •  Where people haven’t had the digital means to take part we’ve loaned them iPads and we are looking forward to getting back to meeting face-to-face in a step-wise, blended way.
  • Digital me: A project in which people create a digital animated version of themselves from their own portrait, and use it to tell their stories, in a safe and anonymised way. It was challenging at first to adopt this project to running completely virtually. It’s not ideal because people don’t have as much creative input as they would have face-to-face. Participants still draw themselves, and whilst they don’t create their own digital story in iMovie as they would in a face-to-face setting, they still take part in the process. The project improves self-confidence and self-esteem, and we guide the same discussions around the challenging issues in peoples’ lives, then help them write scripts to give voice to their messages. Links from Julie’s presentation: •…

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