10 minutes with… Colin Rochester
Colin has worked in and with the voluntary and community sector for over forty years. He has worked as a consultant, practitioner and as an academic. His most recent book, Rediscovering Voluntary Action: The Beat of a Different Drum was published in December 2013.
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
The first is “calm”, the second is “skeptical”, and the third is - I hope - “imaginative”. You have to be careful when you get a question like this - should you be modest or should you be arrogant? But no, I think that’s fairly real.
What is occupying your time at the moment?
There are two things. The first is that I am editing a book with David Billis on hybrid organisations and this is a massive task, taking much too long. It’s a big book- there are 29 chapters drawn from people all over the world and writing about a variety of hybrid organisations.
From this point of view “hybrid organisations” share the characteristics of more than one sector. One example would be third sector organisations which have become part of the market and have characteristics of the private sector or become part of the public sector under contract to government. This changes the nature of the organisation from what it originally was. There are nine different variations of this. It works on the assumption that each organisation has its roots in one sector but it may have important characteristics from one or two other sectors. There is some very interesting stuff in there, which is why I took it on. I thought I knew a little about it but there was an awful lot more to learn so it was a challenge and a new interest. The publisher is called Edward Elgar (not the composer). They are a major publisher and they publish a lot of these handbooks.
The second thing I’m working on is the development of infrastructure organisations. The Voluntary Action History Society is running a day conference on the history of infrastructure organisations and how they seem to be declining and dying, in many cases. We’re looking at what the “golden age” was like and why they are now, apparently, declining.
I don’t like the term “infrastructure organisations” but these are often called “second tier ” or “umbrella” organisations whose aim is to serve or work with other organisations rather than directly with a client group. The well-known ones are councils of voluntary service and volunteer centres, but there are a great many more specialist ones.
I’m working on this with my partner, Meta Zimmeck, but there are a lot of other people with ideas on this who are coming together for a day conference which will take place in June. We’ve got to do some work beforehand and when we get the results of the conference we will see where we go with that. It’s something I have been interested in over a few years – rather too many years, actually.
Why are infrastructure organisations on the decline?
They are on the decline for two reasons. One is they’re no longer in favour with government, especially central government but also local government. Local government is under pressure and can cut these people out and go straight to the direct service provision. The other reason is local government increasingly has its own set of mechanisms for dealing with local organisations, contracting in particular. If you’re doing the contracting, especially if it’s competitive tendering, there isn’t much use for some sort of intermediary or umbrella organisation to deal with it, in the view of the people who deal with it. That’s the simple answer- it’s probably more complicated than that.
When did you become a member of ARVAC and why?
I can’t remember exactly when it was, but it would be about 1984-85. There are three reasons why I became interested. The first reason is that it was at the point when I was shifting my career (if I can call the rag bag of things I did a “career”!) from working as a practitioner to being a researcher and an academic. At that time I was studying part time at Brunel University for a masters in voluntary sector organisation. When I completed it, I moved over into freelance work and research and eventually into academia. I was interested because things were changing.
I was interested secondly because there wasn’t anywhere else for people who were interested in research on the voluntary sector to go to back then. That was the pioneering aspect of it. There weren’t very many people involved in research. That’s how I got involved and I’ve stayed involved in one way or another ever since.
The third reason why I stayed involved – because I have also been involved in other research organisations- is that ARVAC has always combined an interest in practitioners and interest in researchers. It’s not pure researchers talking to other researchers - it’s researchers having to talk to the real world. I thought that was important and still think that’s important. That’s why I’m still along for the ride.
What have you come across recently that would be of interest to ARVAC members, researchers and practitioners?
I’ve come across a couple of things. One is Local Trust’s own publication - Julian Dobson’s piece (New seeds beneath the snow?). I read his material and thought that it was well worth a wider audience, and I’ll tell you why. The first part of the book is a very good resume of how important and useful local leadership can be in these areas where it’s needed. But that’s not new - that sort of thing has been coming out every five or ten years. It was very nicely done, but it wasn’t new. What is new about it is that he then said “But this is not enough. If we’re going to do something about what’s needed for life and living in those areas, we actually need some decent public services, and the combination will give us something that’s important”. Now I don’t think anyone has said that loudly or clear enough before now, so I think that’s an important thing to know about. That encouraged me.
The other thing is actually a chapter in the book about hybrid organisations, which is written by David Billis. I have talked about three sectors: the voluntary, public and private sectors. What he has suggested is there is another area which is the private world, the world of family and friends, who also get involved in voluntary action. There is a very interesting territory of organisations which seem to be partly family and friends, and partly more organised and voluntary sector. These have been talked about for a long time but I don’t think anybody has tried to pin it down quite yet.
This is seen as the boundary of the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector has a boundary with the personal world and it’s not difficult to spot that anywhere. The ways in which people behave in formal organisations are very much like a group of friends, rather than an organisation. But on the other hand, they have to be organised to a certain extent, so how do you draw the line? How do you navigate the line between those two? I think that’s a very interesting area which hasn’t been looked at as much as it might have been.
What do you think are the challenges and opportunities facing research in the voluntary and community sector?
This is a harder question because I must avoid having a rant. I talked about joining ARVAC in 1985-ish when there was hardly anyone doing anything about the voluntary sector. Since then there was quite a period of expansion of work on the voluntary sector – universities became interested, there was a journal or two published. It all looked as though it was booming and there was something important going on there. I think that period of boom and expansion has ended. Getting people really interested in the area again is quite a struggle and that is reflected in the fact if you want to get any money to do any research, even small-scale piece of research, it’s very difficult. So the first challenge is that the bubble has burst.
The second problem is when we started in that period of growth there was a lot of really interesting ideas about theories of the voluntary sector – how it worked and how people behaved in those organisations.That was important. It seems to me that that period of building theories or interrogating theories has largely come to an end. If there is any money around for that research, no one wants to do that – they’re all involved in evaluating a programme. I’m not saying you shouldn’t evaluate programmes at all, but it’s a very limited part of what you want. And again, the way that you evaluate a programme can be narrow or wide. You can actually draw wide conclusions from it or can just say it was “good”, “bad” or “indifferent”. That’s the concern I have about it and I’m not aware of people who are working on anything interesting on that theoretical, conceptual level.
Why do you think that engagement in theory has declined?
There are a number of reasons for it. If you’re looking in terms of universities, I think that it’s the way that universities operate these days. You want quick gains, you want people to get things published. It’s all about volume. There are lots and lots of articles being published, which are all right, but people are under pressure to publish them and then move on. Whereas what you need for theory is people who are prepared to stick with it. When you’ve done one piece, move on and see where the next piece takes us rather than starting as if you’re starting from scratch. I think that’s one of the big problems. And that’s been exacerbated by the way in which central government has treated research on the voluntary sector (when they were doing it). The fact that they stopped doing it hasn’t been as big a setback as you might have thought, because I think what they have been encouraging has been largely the wrong kind of research. The whole area of voluntary action is incredibly complicated and complex and that needs teasing out, and there are very few people willing to engage with that.
This might be controversial but it seems to me that the people I know who are involved in ARVAC tend to be people like me who have got grey hair! I don’t think there’s that much engagement with the younger generation of people who are members. I’m not blaming them, because when we started it was new and interesting and you wanted to get to grips with it. Somehow it isn’t there at the moment. You publish that and get ARVAC to respond and say “But we’re doing it all the time!” I would be delighted!
Of all the pieces of research that you have been involved in, which one are you most proud of and why?
The first one has to be the work I did for the book I wrote on rediscovering voluntary action. Although in part it was reflecting what I had done for years, I also did some more thinking and some more desk research to build that up, so it’s quite a major piece of work. I think what I produced was the thing I am proud of.
At the same time, years ago in 1999 I did a piece of work funded by the Lloyds TSB Foundation on small voluntary agencies. We looked specifically at the voluntary agencies which had no more than four full time, paid members of staff. Sometimes people call them the “micro agencies”. It seemed to me they were a very special or specific kind of organisation. Partway through the research we talked to a group of people from these organisations and said “This is what you have told us. This is how it looks” and somebody said “Yes, that’s fine. Very good. You’ve listened to us, you’ve told us what we said- what are you going to do about it?” I went away and thought, well they’re right. It’s no good just saying we know how it is, we ought to think how it should be. So I ended up writing a handbook for those small agencies which we called “Juggling on a unicycle”, because somebody involved in running or leading a small organisation like that was juggling all sorts of pressures and they didn’t have a lot of resource. It’s a good title and I also think it’s a good piece of work. It never really caught on. I think a problem was actually getting it to the people who might want to read it, who are the people running those organisations who are not really well connected into other organisations. I don’t think it’s dated very much at all. People should get it out and read it. It’s designed to be very easy to read, because if you’re in that kind of organisation you don’t have the time to read anything at great length.
What’s the best advice you have been given in life?
This is impossible to answer. I think it’s broadly along the lines of “Do what you want to do that gives you some pleasure, rather than kill yourself out of some sense of duty or trying to make money”. Pursuing your own interest and pleasure is the best way forward, and that’s what I have tried to do - not always successfully, but I’ve tried. I’ve given it a good go.
Raymond Williams Foundation 2018 Residential event: 18-20 May 2018, The Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool
‘The long revolution today: education, culture and politics for all’
30 years after Raymond Williams’ death, the Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF) invites people for a weekend of discussion about how we can loosen the stranglehold the elite still largely retains on our educational, political and cultural life. Bringing together a wonderful line-up of speakers and the chance for collective participatory discussion, the aim is to generate ideas and proposals and help navigate ways ahead.
The mission of the Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF) is to support ‘an educated and participating democracy’. This weekend will build on a three-decade-long tradition of the RWF convening a mix of people-centred discussions and innovative and progressive forms of participatory action on the ground.
TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT ONLINE PLEASE GO TO THE RAYMOND WILLIAMS FOUNDATION WEBSITE http://www.raymondwilliamsfoundation.org.uk – Events section
Addressing the problem of the Crocodile in the Thames …. Using research to inform democracy and engagement
Addressing the problem of the Crocodile in the Thames …. Using research to inform democracy and engagement
Our ARVAC conference this year is focussed on research to inform democracy and engagement. ARVAC, is the Association for Research with Voluntary and Community Organisations. The conference presentations are set against the backdrop of ever-hardening austerity and a growing wave of popularism and will highlight the key issues that all those looking to help progressively renovate the public realm will need to address and negotiate in the months and years ahead. Participatory democracy, engaging public reflection in an ethical and timely way is essential to inform democracy. The rise of popularism, instant opinion and outrange in 140 characters has re-defined media engagement creating instant binary reactions stemming from opinion, sometimes prejudice and often mis-information.
The recent news reported in the Mirror, Daily Mail & The Sun of a crocodile supposedly swimming in the Thames (9th October 2017) is a an amusing example of a more malignant problem. Before you worry about the Newspaper Article, it turned out to be a pond ornament, but it reminds us of the need for evidence based research. Using participatory research, working with groups at the coal face of welfare reform empowers those with experience to build voice, it builds expert evidence to inform democracy through ethical engagement. The approach of the Poverty Truth Commissions is one example of this work, using the Nothing About Us without Us approach can enliven democracy, empower voice and promote democratic accountability. Our key note speaker, Nick Mahony is a Researcher, Public Engagement Advisor, Compass Associate and the Administrator (coordinator) of the Raymond Williams Foundation. His expertise is in public engagement and participatory democracy. Nick seeks to combine scholarship, consciousness-raising and practice-based activities where-ever this is possible. He is currently working with Compass and others to address the politics of the contemporary participatory democracy and public engagement, with the aim of supporting the progressive development of this landscape, to further the aims of social justice, equality and democracy.
The ARVAC conference will spend time considering a range of examples through lectures and break out workshops, the event on the 6th February at CAN Mezzanine, 7-14 Great Dover Street, London is free to attend and you can book your place here www.arvac.org.uk/events/
The Taking Yourself Seriously Project set out to explore the relationship between community arts and social cohesion with particular reference to sustainability of projects - beyond the immediate context. The Taking Yourself Seriously project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Programme. This programme seeks to encourage community co-produced living knowledge that directly works with, not on communities. The funding aimed to explore the role of artists in social cohesion projects in partnership with ARVAC, the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sectors.
At the end of the project, the project team gathered together in Sheffield to reflect on the findings and to consider what we learned. We were joined by a Trustee, from ARVAC. We came together as one group, enacting social cohesion in practice. You can see the visual record of the writing retreat on the ARVAC project pages. The purpose of the writing retreat was to explore what everyone had been working on and how it all fits together. It was an opportunity to listen to each other and to hopefully learn more together about the ways in which artistic methodologies can inform social cohesion.
Towards the end of the retreat we developed reflective ques that we felt would be helpful to others who might want to develop their arts based practice to encourage social cohesion. These reflective ques, in the collaborative and discursive manner in which the Taking Yourselves Seriously Project is themed were developed as a group and reflect the collective thoughts of the Taking Yourselves Seriously writing retreat team.
- A CREATIVE PALETTE … Use a palette of different types of art practices, that values all kinds of art’ community art, poetry, music
- LOCAL TALENT … working with artists who are based in the communities in which you are working adds an extra depth to the work. These artists know the area as this is where they live, living and working in the same space offers a commitment and accountability to communities.
- SHARING UNDERSTANDINGS … Artists should be involved in the project from the outset, they then understand the nuances of the project and can fully engage and collaborate
- PROCESS OR PRODUCT …. Be Clear … if Art is a Process or a Product. There is a moral obligation, that if communities give time, reflections and interviews that that is a gift which should be reciprocated in some-way
The Taking Yourself Seriously Project set out to explore the relationship between
community arts and social cohesion with particular reference to sustainability of projects
- beyond the immediate context.
The Taking Yourself Seriously project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research
Council’s Connected Communities Programme. This programme seeks to encourage
community co-produced living knowledge that directly works with, not on communities.
The funding aimed to explore the role of artists in social cohesion projects in partnership
with ARVAC, the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sectors. At
the end of the project, the project team gathered together in Sheffield to reflect on the
findings and to consider what we learned. We were joined by Sharon Hutchings, from
We came together as one group, enacting social cohesion in practice. The purpose of
the writing retreat was to explore what everyone had been working on and how it all
fits together. It was an opportunity to listen to each other and to hopefully learn more
together about the ways in which artistic methodologies can inform social cohesion.
You can download this here TYS Writing Retreat
This review considers the use of arts based approaches for social cohesion. It makes up part of a more extensive literature review that has been created to support the artistic projects that emerge from the Taking Yourself Seriously project. The Taking Yourself Seriously project is working in partnership with the Association for Research with the Voluntary and Community Sector (ARVAC) to share the knowledge developed through our work with other voluntary and community groups. This review is intended to be used as a resource for Community and Voluntary Sector members of ARVAC who are interested in developing similar projects. ARVAC key findings
The Taking Yourself Seriously Project (TYS) explores how arts methologies can facilitate social cohesion within communities. TYS is situated into three situation specific community spaces, one of which is a secondary school in an area where there have been issues of social cohesion.
Co-production, ethics and prioritising young people’s voices, alongside a relinquishing of ‘adults’ as the knowledge experts has been key to this exploration, and to the generation of different understandings of social cohesion within the school context.
The research team within the school is composed of three TYS project staff and 4 Year 8 pupils. The aim is to coproduce the research by enabling young people to explore what social cohesion means to them, and how they and other young people in the school understand and recognise cohesion in action.
The young people are using creative tools such as photography, filmmaking and audio recording as they undertake their research. In one particular session, the young people spent some time showing us around the school whilst photographing their favourite spaces/places. We asked them what they thought social cohesion was within the school; they said it was making friends, having safe and favourite places where they could be together and being able to be themselves.
Looking through the photos they’d taken, the young people explained why they had taken the pictures that they did, and talked through what the different spaces in the school meant to them.
For one young woman the library was an unsafe space. She told us that when she was in Year 7 she had overheard other young people saying not very nice things about her and now she doesn’t like going into the library. One of the young men explained that he didn’t like the library as it meant he had to read. He also said that the library was a safe place because it was quiet and calm.
The canteen was a safe and unsafe place. It was safe because there were counters, and lots of teachers and dinner ladies about so it was watched. It was unsafe as lots of fights happen there and it can be very busy and loud.
The school is very good at recognising success. Around the school several walls are covered in framed photographs, letters and artifacts that celebrate pupil achievement, as well as former students who have achieved myriad goals. Two of our young researchers stated that they liked this space as they could look at the photos and think about the things they want to achieve.
All of the young people liked the music room. Our young female researcher plays piano, two of the young men also played instruments and one of them explained that he plays the drums as this helps him when he is frustrated and angry. Making a rhythm helps him to calm down and get into a different headspace. Another young researcher said that he likes it when everyone plays their instruments together and is part of a band making lots of noise. Each of them said that music was a way of communicating, of using a different language to work together.
We asked the children to choose their favourite photo and to use this as inspiration to create something on a large piece of paper that reflected what social cohesion in the school meant to them. Whilst we were making, one of the team asked them what they didn’t like about school and they shared some of the things they found difficult. They felt that some young people were treated differently than them, and that these young people can get away with things that they cant, like wearing trainers and being given more time to complete activities set in class. They felt that they were treated ‘less better’ than these young people.
Another young person then disclosed how his experience of a family trauma meant that he got frustrated and didn’t always want to behave in school, and when his friends had been unsupportive, he struggled to not misbehave due to his anger.
All of the young people made something different to contribute to the collage. They all returned to the significance of music, and how this brings everyone together; even if you speak different languages you can still communicate with others through the notes and rhythms, as you know what the next person is doing when they play their instruments. Their reflections on the importance of music lead them to add a plasticine circle to their collage. The young people each made a plasticine sausage that were joined together to make a circle. They said that the circle is because music brings people together. They wrote inside their circle “ Our music community that brings us together”.
In creating space for young people to be the ‘expert’ and self-define their understanding and experiences of social cohesion what became clear is that they negotiate a lived-experience of social cohesion daily. This negotiation involves wrestling with ‘othering’ and ‘being othered’, living with the nitty-gritty issues of real-life and the struggles of juggling these within school life; they are also acutely aware of the juxtaposition of different spaces being both safe and unsafe inside and outside of school.
By Zanib Rasool & Katy Goldstraw
As the work of the taking yourselves seriously project develops we continue to use arts methodologies for social cohesion. Five themes have emerged from our work within the three projects; knowledge, co-production, roles, voice and ethics. Our work with the women’s project in Rotherham has developed and as the artist reflects, she is immersing herself in the space and time that she is capturing on canvas. As she immerses herself in this space and time, in the sight, sound and smell of Pakistan, we have realised that need things. Lorraine Daston (2007:9) reflected
‘Imagine a world without things. It would be not so much an empty world as a blurry one. Nor would there be anything to describe, or to explain remark on, interpret, or complain about -just a kind of porridgy oneness. Without things we would stop talking.’
At that start of this project we perhaps did not did not envisage objects and things having such important significance. However, artefacts and objects are therefore important tools for research as Rowsell, (2011:332), argues ‘putting artefacts in the centre of the methodology, as an optic [is] to get an insider emic gaze of individuals, their communities, and lived histories’. She further emphasises on the power that artefacts hold in allowing researchers to access information that might not be possible through other methods, such as observations, document analysis and even interviews. As we felt for our mother’s journey we needed images of objects to help us to narrate their stories of migration.
“I remember playing under mango tree with clay pots and marbles
I use to help my mum and aunties in the corn field
I remember my grandma milking cows and making lassie in a gadget called Madani
Grandmother grinding flour in chakki
We had tandoor in our yard; women neighbours use to come to make roti
During kite flying season we children get together and make kites at school and then take them home and fly them from the top of our house roofs, it was our social activity
I remember the house roof leaking at night and putting buckets under the leaks.
Decorating hand held fans with moti”’ Interviewee One
We wonder how the artist will capture those emotions of home on the canvases that she is creating? Using objects and artefects to recall the emotional aspects of memory helps us recall and re-imagine our memories, to reconnect with the multicolour tapestries of our multiple identities. The arts offer a way of seeing what might not always be visible, which we consider within the projects. Investigated within the projects is the idea that the quality of arts based research lies in the process of its creation. Arts based approaches can be understood as a process, or a product. Arts based approaches can be a social journey through which a new understanding emerges, or a the production of a work of art, or indeed as anywhere along the process to product binary.
Using arts methodologies for social cohesion is complex, integrated and emotional. Issues of power and trust are located in conversations around inequality, identity and diversity. Using arts methodologies for social cohesion is to ask questions and create connections from an alternative angle. Indeed, arts methodologies enliven our minds, bodies and emotions, recognising the multiplicity of our knowledge and identities. In conclusion, arts methodologies have the potential to empower the process of social cohesion through an alternative lens (Eisner, 1997). They offer an opportunity to build dialogue and reflect alternative knowledges.
We are using artistic methodologies to explore Muslim women’s layered experience of identity in Rotherham. We are exploring ways in which artistic methodologies can support community-led research with a focus on the life trajectories of women from Pakistani heritage backgrounds. Community co-investigator, Zanib Rasool, is using poetry and other artistic methodologies to connect family histories, creating a sense of being between generations. Through arts based practice we are capturing individuals’ unique stories across three generations. The project gives the deserved recognition to the contribution migrant communities have made to social, cultural and economic life.
Taking Yourself Seriously funded by Art and Humanities Research Council explores artistic approaches to social cohesion. The Clifton girl’s project utilised artistic methodologies to gain a more meaningful and deeper insight into Muslim women’s mufti- layered experience of identity and citizenship. The current narrative discourses of Muslim women are based on stereotypes that undermine all our achievements and successes and make invisible the positive contribution that every day we make to British civic life, social and economic life. Through life story approach eight women of Pakistani heritage share their stories of the challenges and barriers they have faced as daughters of immigrants; and also their story of inner strength and resilience, challenging some of the negative assumptions made about Muslim women in policy and media, and placing Muslim women at the centre of social research and arts pedagogy.,
Artists have a social responsibility to bring untold stories to life and reposition community narratives and change the power balance through artistic methodologies to connect family histories and creating a sense of belonging for younger generations. Through arts based practice we are capturing individual women’s unique stories across three generations.
During the month of August it was 70 years since the independents of Pakistan and India which came at a cost, and those human stories of sacrifice remain untold. The ‘Others’ history being made invisible with no particular history lessons about one of the bloodiest wars taught to their children in British schools. Like the stories of our father's working in the steel industry and their contributions goes largely unrecognised.
Cohesion can only happen when people of all backgrounds and faiths have their rightful place in history and artist have a role to play in this, in capturing events and moments in history of the marginalised through visual narratives, through poetry and writing, through performing arts and making visible those invisible lives Artist can validate the lives of their ancestors and their struggles and be a voice for their community
These women who left Clifton school in the 1970's their stories would have remained untold if it was not for this project. As women we are disadvantaged by our gender and the feminist writer, Ann Oaxley rightly argues ‘women and other minority groups, above, all need qualitative research because without this, it is difficult to distinguish between personal experience and collective oppression’. (2005, p. 189). Artist and poets can get to those personal experiences.
I have been meeting with Nazia Lafit, a local artist, every week in August
Nazia- This project has given me a greater understanding of our past histories. Art and poetry help with communication with people and how people feel. Art is a way of expressing feelings and recognise the sacrifices of the older generation.
Often when we talk about cohesion we start reminiscing and during one of those moments I remember growing up in a street that reflects what social cohesion should look like with people living side by side. I write about my street.
‘The Irish, the Polish, the Italian and the Commonwealth immigrants from Pakistan living in a row of run down terrace houses, side by side in a little industrial market town.
The boys played with their multi coloured marbles on the street corners, seeing no difference between them for they were all children of migrants united in a new place.
The sounds of home echoing through the distinct languages each brought with them which we no longer hear, the multilingual voices calling the children to come in at nightfall are now silenced.
The Irish stews, Madras curries, Pierog (Polish dumplings), and Tuscan soup, the aroma of home, the recipes forgotten, no one can cook now like Ammi (mother) did.
The Sunday church bells mingled with the reading of the Quran from my house, the opera played loudly next door, Irish bagpipes in tune with Polish folk songs down the street, those sounds are getting quieter now’
The street, I grow up was like many other streets across this country in the 1970s, you did feel a sense of belonging in my street with some English families and Irish families who lived there for a long time and with new immigrant families like mine moving in. ‘A sense of belonging is a reoccurring theme in definitions of social cohesion. A sense of belonging can also be connected with identity and to identification with a geographical space. Sharing a sense of belonging or identity arguably promotes social cohesion (Holtug, 2016). However it is important to question how do we build collective and community identities without scapegoating those that are excluded from them?’ Over time in my multicultural neighbourhood like other similar neighbourhoods there was ‘white flight’ and we the minority ethnic community are made the scapegoats for living parallel lives which is unjust but then politician do not need to look at racism and high unemployment leading to migrants living in poorer areas clustered together. .
I remember as a child, in my street all the mums use to hang the washing out about same time in the morning, only for the whites to get covered with soot from the smoke from the factories on our doorstep. They also use to shout in the evenings simultaneously in different languages for the children to stop playing and come in for bed. No one had much money so friendship counted and we did not have mass media like we do today fanning the fires of intolerance and blaming immigrants for everything. In the past and even now immigrants are doing jobs that pay very little and finding the streets are not paved with gold but hostility.
Social cohesion happened more naturally then and was not forced by government policies and strategies. There was trust between neighbours whatever background they were from.
Zanib- ‘My mum use to leave me as a baby with her lodger Jean that rented a flat from my dad. Jean and her teenage daughters use to look after me while mum went and got her shopping done. There was trust then. Trust is a very big part of community cohesion and when trust breaks down, community break down and we start living parallel lives’
At our last session in August, Nazi and I talked about Pakistan about our parents’ lives there, our mothers would have been very young when they arrived here with no English, and it must have been very lonely.
We talked about objects and one of those was sewing machines, objects are good way of narrating women’s livers.
Nazia -Every women from Pakistan was talented, we had henna artist, we had women who sewed beautifully, did embroidery, knitting. Every house had a sewing machine, now hardly anyone has a sewing machine, we are losing creative skills
Nazia –Pakistan art is colourful; it is bold, symmetric patterns .and textiles. Everyday objects, cooking pots, buses and lorries. I am going to look at the work of South Asian artist. I love Islamic art. I am learning so much, I am experiencing my own culture, it’s fascinating. I am able to look back on women’s lives and their progression
Nazia and I talked about life in Pakistan and I remember when I was six I visited Pakistan for the first time in late 60s having been born in Newcastle I remember the hot summer and sleeping outside in the courtyard and counting the stars all night, it felt so peaceful.
My mother had a bed shipped from Pakistan which is now in my spare bedroom
My mother gave up sleeping under the stars on summer nights for cold, damp dismal house near the dockyards when she first arrived here in the early 1960.
Nazia This work has also made me think of my mum’s sacrifices, our mums came here to give us a better life. I think they were happier there, it was more relaxed, they had roots, and our mums lived for their kid
Objects seem to play an important role in the narrative of Pakistani women’s lives but modernity means we are losing objects and things that were once important, our cultural artefacts which provide us with past narratives of our family lives are being replaced with new objects along with our culture.
Feeling nostalgic I walked around my house and my mother’s one Sunday morning and realised in my mother’s house there were still things the linked to Pakistan and her pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia whilst I had a fridge with magnets of holidays taken in different parts of the world.
My 24 year old nephew likes eating from these clay pots sent by his maternal grandmother in Pakistan
Perhaps it is a way of keeping our ancestors close to him, something that reminds us of them and our parent’s country of origin, our roots. ‘Objects are animated with human histories, vision, and ingenuity’ (Brandt and Clinton, 2002, 345)
Artists are the people that can bring the past to life and provide us with visual images of our future. They weave a splendid web of hope that often links us with our past and takes us to our future
Nazia. We are good, when we do art, we face lots of barriers, I am more confident in my art then I was before. Before this project I did not know much about my own families’ history as artists’.
In the current political climate differences are viewed as a threat to social order. We have to be brave and cross boundaries and artist are best placed to lead the way
‘I can only speak through my art work; my ideas are generated by my passion for artistry’ (Nazia Latif conversation with Mariam Shah, Oral historian on this project, August 2016).
Oakley, A. (2005) Reader: Gender, Women, Social Science. Bristol. The Policy Press
Brandt, L. and Clinton, K. (2002) Limit of the local: Expanding perspectives on literacy as a social practice. Journal of Literacy Research. 34 (3) 337-356
How do we work to collaborate and respect the multiplicity of our knowledges? How do we hold diverse voices in one space? What is the value of using art as an alternative lens to view society?
Our Taking Yourself Seriously project has been thinking about these things. We have met again as a project team sharing the emerging developments that the three projects; the women’s poetry project, the adventure playground and the school have identified. Collaborative projects are tricky, involve difficult conversations and boundaried co-production as our blog posts have discussed before. Community and global politics have influenced the project’s development too. We have taken the call to take ourselves seriously to heart and have taken the need to have honest, conflicted and difficult conversations to the conferences that we have attended.
We have been presenting ideas to a number of stakeholders including ARVAC. Key themes of knowledge, co-production, roles, voice and ethics that have emerged as part of the Taking Yourselves Seriously project were presented to ARVAC at their annual conference. We then led a workshop asking reflections on three questions; what does art mean to you? what does social cohesion mean to you? what approaches to social cohesion have and haven’t worked? Key reflections emerged that included successful methods for using arts methodologies in film and photography, the diversity of approaches to social cohesion and the sharing of examples of top-down government policies that had failed due to lack of community engagement. The session ended with an enthusiasm for using arts methodologies to create ‘an alternative lens’ (Eisener, 1997), as a means of developing communication that has the potential to integrate all levels of community and locality.
We have also been working with local community workers with an interest in arts methodologies. We again shared the emerging themes from our research through workshops. The first workshop was based on Maori concepts of sacred and everyday knowledge (Te Wahanga, 2011). We asked participants to consider the variety of knowledges that they held and to place them into a basket of knowledge. This workshop drew on the multiplicity of knowledges that we recognise within the Taking Yourselves Seriously project. The second workshop developed a personal map using poetry, questioning if cohesion can be built creatively and exploring personal relationships to place. The third workshop used creative arts to ask participants about their experience of using arts methodologies for social cohesion. We offered participants the opportunity to reconsider their perceptions of knowledge using creative techniques.
We were at the Co-creating Cites and Communities Conference in Bristol, hosted by the Connected Communities project, through which our Arts and Humanities Research Funded project runs.
Here, we shared a real dilemma that the project was experiencing. This was:
The area around Pitsmoor Adventure Playground had been experiencing some violent incidents involving gang violence, and the children and young people were finding it difficult. The playground is a safe space for them to play. Should its remit be widened to include becoming a community hub so that people could come there and be supported more generally?
TYS project workers briefly debated the issue and then asked for the advice and ideas to be work shopped. This approach, one of debate, dialogue and vulnerability was difficult. Not everyone felt that they could comment or offer an opinion this situation.
Taking yourselves seriously, for us, has become an opportunity to be honest about challenges, to have conflicted conversations and to share vulnerabilities.
Our emerging findings are as follows:
- Arts methodologies for social cohesion are complex, integrated and emotional.
- Issues of power and trust are located in conversations around inequality, identity and diversity.
- Using arts methodologies for social cohesion is to ask questions and create connections from an alternative angle.
- Arts methodologies enliven our minds, bodies and emotions by recognising the multiplicity of our knowledge and identities.
- Arts methodologies empower the process of social cohesion through an alternative lens (Eisener, 1997); they offer an opportunity to build dialogue and reflect alternative knowledges.
Using arts methodologies to consider social cohesion comes with complex ethical questions that require discussion and interpretation. Co-production is not equal, and power inequalities exist within artistic methodologies as well as within wider society. Here, we have sought to discuss and highlight these themes and offer an honest consideration of the value and challenges of using artistic methodologies for social cohesion.