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Connecting art, community, and healthy eating through HAF funding

By Greg McGee, Director of New Visuality

As a recipient of Holiday and Activity Programme funding (HAF) I was delighted to be asked by the FixOurFood programme to write this blog. Our interests align given their previous evaluation and recommendations regarding the continuation of the funding and I’m happy to share my recent experience delivering an Art Camp to 25 children based in York.

New Visuality’s Art Camp has for 15 years brought art and cultural opportunities to the young people of York. Our team is a dedicated fusion of Qualified Teachers and volunteers. We have witnessed the learning arcs of dozens of young participants leading to the successful attainment of nationally recognised qualifications such as Arts Awards. We led in exhibiting at Venturefest Yorkshire (‘the greatest gathering of innovators, entrepreneurs & investors in the North’), where our project ‘Text’ featured as a successful portfolio on how to include a community’s most vulnerable citizens in citywide conversations. BBC Creative Interactions Day invited us to participate at their event on innovative inclusivity at Manchester’s ‘MediaCity.’ ‘Text’ also won ‘Best Community Event’ in the inaugural ‘York Culture Awards’, presented by Game of Thrones’ Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon, ‘King of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros’, steelworker Dave Horsefall in The Full Monty – you know the one).

Despite the success, we were aware that the charity’s outreach projects were built around a top-down approach, and that irked a little. Project Managers would brief the teachers and volunteers, and sessions would run smoothly, but the learners, whether they were young people with disabilities or elderly residents who experienced solitude, would sometimes feel more like recipients than participants. It wasn’t until HAF funding became available that the opportunity to restructure New Visuality became a priority. Our participants would continue to be some of the most vulnerable people in the city, but this time they would be invited to be co-authors in culture as opposed to consumers.

In close consultation with our existing list of referrals, we collaborated with young people on a scheme of work which was built around activities that had young people as not only participants in creativity but as advocates for change in views on eating well and playing outside. We created empty comic strips which were soon to be populated with aspirational characters saying positive things in vivid speech bubbles to each other, with narratives built around connecting to the community. The young people were helped by a new cohort of teenage ambassadors who circulated around the room, offering guidance and research advice. We invited market stallholders from Shambles Market to provide information about the craft and provenance of local food. The characters in our comics included this information in their speech bubbles.

We found that the peer to peer, ambassadorial approach brought a whole new energy to the sessions, leading to brighter creative responses that made everyone involved happier. Especially successful was inviting teenage members of local football club York RI’s Under 13s to come and help out: showcasing football skills at lunchtime; sharing stories of recent games; informally chatting about keeping fit and the benefits of healthy eating; and praising younger participants for their drawings of happy, healthy people playing in local green spaces.

Our Easter HAF funded Art Camp engaged with 25 learners from families who receive Free School Meals. Many of them have put their names forward to join our list of volunteers and art advocates for future Art Camps and all artwork created will be projected in illuminations in city centre locations around York. The building block has been peer support and encouraging children to be agents of change, and it is this that has allowed New Visuality to plan for the future with confidence and vision.

Watch the video below or read the New Visuality Magazine which both showcase the weeks activities.