Heart of England Community Funding

We were delighted to receive interim funding to employ a Community Curator to plan, programme and execute our creative engagement for Phase Two of our UP Project from July 2020 to December 2020.

We were able to recruit Helen Waite on a fixed term contract for 25 hours per week.

Through this funding Helen has consulted with community leaders, volunteers and charitable organisations to establish and develop a local network of specialists able to offer an overarching and holistic approach to wellbeing during the pandemic.

Helen has found opportunities to repurpose textiles in a clothing bank at the Town Hall serving all local schools with uniform and warm coats, has established a cohort of trained mentors to deliver UPSkill programme to vulnerable local girls and established Greenspace workshops in a Covid secure manner for early years, parental mental health and is developing a programme with experts at UoB partnering to offer the creative resources in the NHS offering across Birmingham Early Help Partnership.

Helen Waite is a resourceful Curator currently engaging in postgraduate study in Museum Studies who co-founded The UP Creative Community. An active mum to adventurous Maximilian, they dedicate two months every year to wild living in the Toyota Hiace they adapted into a campervan. Helen’s ingenuity in nature can be afforded to her Akela mother and farming family, her tenacity and creative imagination can be attributed to her need to provide sole care for Maximilian from a very young age whilst returning to university with no financial support. 

Maximilian’s youthful gaze and their additional sensory needs provide endless inspiration for Helen’s community engagement and outreach projects. The most recent of which have included historical research for Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition, developing an accessible learning guide for Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in their partnership with the Royal Collection, amongst other respected Arts Council and Heart of England funded projects. 

Helen opened the Community Hub alongside friends in February 2020, it quickly became a thriving community repurposing donated textiles, focussing on people and planet through our UP Skill and UP cycle programmes.

UP has grown exponentially throughout lockdowns offering creative support to local organisations and charity partners through the Birmingham City Council Early Help Partnership. Our sustainable model of Community Interest Company means we have created a community asset which no one owns but which provides an outlet for artists, a brilliant platform for learning and a way of beginning the change we want to see for our planet by doing things differently. We have recently formed active steering groups to support our growth, UP Educators, and RiseUP, these are handpicked contributors with expertise in education and mental health who acknowledge that we need to be more resourceful and willing to challenge conventional ways we are developing funded programmes with both. We are currently forming UP Greenspaces to further support our local environment and bring the organisations together to the betterment of our locality.

Beneficiaries, are as varied as our projects have been but all have the common thread of living in and around North Birmingham and needing a creative space in their individual cornoacoaster. That may have been volunteering through our UP Makers group of seamstresses who came together initially to sew over 500 facemasks for key workers, foodbanks and schools. The UP Makers group is an active whatsapp, facebook page and offers real comradery and support in our mutual love of sewing. UP Makers have gone on to create boredom busting kits for Cherished UK, Our Place and local care givers. They have created 150 anxiety animal sewing kits in the form of koalas, sloths and meerkats which are used in counselling sessions to distract the users hands and allow them to open up to their therapist. We have commissioned lighthouse shaped weighted bean bags for vulnerable children with additional sensory needs to allow them to continue with their scheduled theraplay on zoom by giving them each a set of their own through Beacon Family Services.

We have created a community bunting making initiative at Castle Bromwich Hall Gardens to create safe spaces for social distancing guidelines to be adhered to so outdoor performances could be scheduled, in the summer we were able to offer our own early years outdoor play sessions making magic from scrap and educating about textile waste. We assisted the performer with her costume initiating a community collaboration where Over 100 leaves were created. Over 50 people contributed. The youngest was 22months old. The eldest in her 80s. Many inbetween.A number approx. 10 people who had never sewn before embroidered a leaf.Skills share, a volunteer showed Maximilian how to hand crochet for the first time.Mum’s were able to bring their children and sew whilst they napped.Three generations of one family (Nanna, Ele & Willow) all sewed together to apply sewn leaves to the dressB’Opera have a personalised and upcycled community cloak which can be worn for performances of Alice and more. 

We purposefully did not join the mass resource pack offering that other organisations did, because we believe that existing resources can be repurposed and are even more special to the beneficiary because they put time and effort into making them. This was proven by the uptake of parents requiring respite and ordering our stitch kits. Made from upcycled embroidery hoops, scrap fabric and donated threads, we take time and care to get every piece recycled and our volunteers work tirelessly to create packaging that is appealing and someone else’s trash. We estimate that our UP Makers volunteer group has had undertaken 10,000 volunteering hours up to Dec 2020.

We have been able to support one local school in developing a create project during the lockdowns, providing scrap textiles and online tutorials children were able to make their own 1.5m bunting whilst separated and join it together ceremonially christening their new library space when they could safely reconnect. The school commented that this metaphor is one they continue to use to reassure their children.

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