2020 was supposed to be a year of celebration for Arts Award in Gloucestershire. A group of diverse organisations from festivals to museums and libraries met at The Everyman Theatre in December 2019 to join forces to create and promote a myriad of events to promote and engage young people in Arts Award.

We were going to pop up at festivals and schools and get young people doing their Discover award in real life! Then suddenly our plans were derailed – organisations on furlough, staff home schooling kids and crucially no live events. But through the chaos we saw an opportunity.

What if we could deliver Arts Award digitally and engage families creatively while they were at home? Wouldn’t that be a great resource for now but also long term, giving us the ability to reach young people who might not otherwise have access? We all agreed it was. Now we just had to make it happen…

We had no funding as such but we did have the support of Real Ideas and a shared commitment to “just give it a go”.  So we came together to collectively explore and test out new ways to deliver it.

With the backing of Trinity and Real Ideas, the bridge organisation in the South West, we were all keen to get things moving quickly, but also mindful of the noise on social media and what felt like an overload of resources and activities, so we bided our time.  It felt important that what we offered was not only meaningful to children and families, and the organisations and artists involved but was for and about Gloucestershire.

Launching the Discover at Home

After a couple of months of researching and testing the simplest way to deliver an on-line award remotely (with limited technical expertise in the network) including the most cost effective payment method, we were excited to launch Gloucestershire’s Discover at Home (GDaH) on-line version of Arts Award Discover in the summer 2020.

Together we curated a series of homegrown Creative Challenges designed by locally based artists and creative organisations in Gloucestershire. There is a rich variety – from circus skills, drama fun, making music digitally, to cross-generational portraiture. All the challenges are hosted on the Create Gloucestershire website, but link back to the individual artists or organisations.

What was the experience like for the children taking part?

We were pleased to hear that children were really engaged with the process in spite of it being online. One child used the musical Hamilton as a starting point.

She described: “My favourite bit was researching the facts and listening to his music whilst doing the activity.  I found choosing the facts hard as there were so many really cool facts about him”.

Her mum shared how she really enjoyed learning how to research independently, by choosing her own topic. The process helped her think about arts more widely than painting and drawing and how one person can be involved in many different art forms. She liked the freedom of choice in this activity, which motivated her to research and complete the task independently. She has since taken the work to show in class and sent pictures to her family.

Another child used the artwork of Andy Warhol to create his own design.  His parent commented that her son had gained confidence not just in his own art but also in his ability to research and his writing. Gaining feedback through sharing his artwork on social media, as they were unable to see family and friends, also really boosted his confidence. He found lots of facts and also spent time deciding which were the most appropriate, all important skills.

There are more examples of children and groups who have got involved here.

How organisations delivered the award

As well as individual families taking part, the organisations in our network found new ways to incorporate Arts Award into their offer for young people.

“Gloucestershire Libraries contributed four Creative Challenges, a creative coding challenge from our Innovation Lab, a modelling workshop, a creative writing opportunity and ‘Make-Aways’.  We created ‘Make-Aways’ that were simple craft activities such as libraries might usually offer during the summer holidays. All the materials and instructions were bagged and ready to take away.  Although a couple of hundred Make-Aways went home, no-one had used our Library challenges or physical Make-Aways to complete an Arts Award Discover which was frustrating. But with the support of the Libraries’ Development Team, we re-grouped and re-launched at October half term with a more structured approach along the lines of the Summer Reading Challenge.

We hoped that using a similar process – a new section of the challenge set on each of three visits and then a certificate – plus Libraries being open to the public for some weeks would help families complete the challenge. We were rewarded just before Christmas with our first Library based completer! “ added Anne Careless, Team Leader, Tewkesbury Library

Looking to the future

We will be offering Gloucestershire Discover at Home as an on-line resource for as long as it is needed, with new challenges added over time.

Our aim is to provide arts activities for children and young people to have a go at. But we also hope to maintain connections with their local theatre, museum, and library until it’s possible to visit them again.

We also want to see what else we can do – the next test phase is looking into how DaH can be used as part of a recovery curriculum in primary schools, and as an added boost for youth theatre and dance groups who usually meet face to face but are continuing to meet and create work remotely.

Continuing to meet via zoom, Matson Youth Theatre members are currently doing their Discover award:

“Being able to offer an Arts Award as part of their creative practice is a great way for our youth theatre members to continue to raise their aspirations and achieve tangible results.  The group love performing and to be recognised for their effort is brilliant.”  said Charlene Olaleye, Strike A Light

The pandemic has forced us to re-imagine ways of delivering Arts Award and we are still discovering, testing and responding to the need.  It has been challenging at times but we are really pleased that the pandemic forced us to find a new path rather than stopping us in our tracks.

You can find out more about Gloucestershire’s offer for Arts Award at Home or email louise@creategloucestershire.co.uk