… It was different, they were like two different kids”
(Parent of 11 and 8 y.o)

As schools closed their doors to all but key worker children and online learning became the new ‘normal’ for 2020, Arts and Cultural organisations swung into action. They became concerned with the impact school closures could have on children’s experiences and the alarming evidence that the inequality gap was widening. Let’s Create, an Arts Council England funded project, saw arts and cultural organisations, food banks, local councils, schools and many other community groups come together to deliver nearly 45,000 packs of Art materials to vulnerable children across England. Parents and children who received these packs shared their thoughts on the impact this had on their lockdown.

South West Bridge Organisation, Real Ideas, was at the forefront of the operation in the South West. Through well-established partnerships, they facilitated collaboration between local organisations, GP surgeries, schools and artists to design and distribute Let’s Create packs that were not only exciting for the children, but also essential for their imagination and development in this new setting.

Children from age 7 to 17 expressed their delight at the packs; “I was dead chuffed when I got them as I thought I can do a lot of different things with them” (11 y.o) and “I’ve always liked art, and it was something to do” (17 y.o). The theme of ‘connectedness’ set out by Real Ideas ran through some families as the Let’s Create packs brought siblings together. A teenager with a four year old sibling said “It made me happy because it was a nice way to spend time with my sister.” One parent commented on the freedom the packs gave their children to work together and “be like kids.”

The pandemic has undoubtedly had an affect on children’s mental health. The Let’s Create packs gave many of the children an outlet for their emotions, particularly during difficult periods of home schooling. “[She] struggled with home-schooling at first, this pack helped her calm herself down, and chill out before doing work again” (Parent of 11 y.o). There’s “only so much you can expect for school so when they were getting frustrated the art packs helped them to focus themselves and get an outlet…” (Parent of 11 and 8 y.o). The packs enabled the children to use their imagination and focus on something calming “[She] loves animals, and made some pictures of animals – using coloured see-through paper. She made hedgehogs, kept her busy and good for her mind, and she has anxiety so helped her to keep perspective and focus on something else” (Parent of 11 y.o)

Whether they were making things from their own experience like plasticine rainbows and food or letting their abstract imagination take over, the impact on not just the children but the families as a whole was immense during such a difficult time. One parent commented on the positive affect the independent nature of the activities had on their household, allowing them to take “a step back to let their creative side out, so it didn’t feel like I was on top of them all the time in lockdown (Parent of 8 and 11 y.o). “I work so it was good for me … it was good that they could do something independent as there are a lot of non-independent activities right now!” (Parent of two children)

Generally, the families were delighted to have something to do. In a time when many were feeling isolated and frightened, the Let’s Create packs gave children and parents a distraction from the world and an outlet to be creative and connected with one another. For many families, the packs went beyond what was in the contents; the project itself highlighted for the families that, although school was closed, the community was still there to support them, with one parent commenting that “they were thrilled that someone was thinking of them” (Parent of two children).

The impact of the Let’s Create packs opened up further discussion of the need to ensure that the inequality gap does not continue to grow. As the pandemic continued and along came lockdown 2 and then 3, other initiatives began to form, including Crafts Council funded Let’s Craft packs. Real Ideas again stepped in to facilitate collaborations between food banks, arts and cultural organisations and businesses to design and deliver more packs to families in need, this time with a focus on crafting and nature. After restrictions were eased, families were able to connect with each other in new ways during Let’s Craft Sessions.

Curious School of the Wild, who hosted some of these sessions, said that the funding and partnership with Real Ideas helped them “purchase materials and work alongside freelancers to deliver some brilliant craft sessions to communities who would usually find such sessions hard to access.” With support from the Crafts Council, Real Ideas were able to facilitate collaborations between Curious School of the Wild and freelance artists, which led to the Let’s Craft sessions. Freelancers who took part said that “these were some of the first post-lockdown sessions that they had delivered and it had helped them re-establish their practice.”, whilst the children who took part developed their confidence and focus as well as creating some fantastic, high quality crafts.

Curious School of the Wild fed back to Real Ideas saying “thank you Crafts Council and Real Ideas! This has provided an amazing opportunity for the children using the materials you provided in creative, affirming sessions.” They went on to say that the Let’s Craft project has encouraged them to expand their offer to include an Alternative Provision Makers Day, which will in turn “provide paid employment for crafts folk, artists and performers.”

At Real Ideas we solves problems and create opportunities. Would you like to contribute towards a community project in the South West? Get in touch with us to see how we can connect you with arts and cultural organisations, schools and more at bridge@realideas.org.

Sources: Let’s Create Packs Impact Evaluation Report, Let’s Create Packs Regional Case Studies, Let’s Craft Feedback Form: Curious School of the Wild