Union Chapel: Collective Power Award

| Mel Parks

We are delighted to be involved again this year with the Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance’s (CHWA) annual awards which focus on collective power (partnership and co-production), practitioner support and climate. The awards ceremony is taking place online on Friday 25 November (get your tickets here).

We are partnering with CHWA on their Collective Power Award. This award aims to recognise an inspiring project, consortium, collective or movement of people in which meaningful partnership and co-production has improved the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through culture and creativity.  CHWA were positively overwhelmed by the quality of applications. Each application told another story of the incredible work happening all over the country and the amazing collaborative and creative spirit of people responding to individual, local and global challenges. We loved the different interpretations of “collective power” and we were blown away by how people and organisations worked together to respond and adapt during the pandemic. 

In order to celebrate this work, we are running a blog series on each of the projects shortlisted for the Collective Power Award. This blog features Union Chapel’s community leaders project, in which they trained people with lived experiences in facilitation skills via a creative and participatory policy-making approach called Legislative Theatre.

We asked various project participants for their highlights. Here are project facilitator, Katy Rubin‘s:

What was your favourite thing about the project?

My favorite thing about the project (and the biggest surprise) was the way eight residents of North London, who didn’t know each other previously, became such a community of learning through the (entirely online) facilitation training. Over just three months, they were able to offer critical as well as encouraging feedback to each other along the way. It can often take many months or even years to build up that courage. As we moved closer to the legislative theatre session, the facilitators practiced in pairs, planned calls for extra support, calmed each other’s nerves, and generally worked together through a vulnerable learning process as if they had been collaborating for years. This was truly beautiful, perhaps a result of the intensity of the pandemic as well as the joyful nature of Legislative Theatre, and definitely a tribute to the group and the welcome that Union Chapel provides. 

Have you made and learnt from any mistakes along the way? We call these ‘best mistakes’!

We made plenty of mistakes! Working online made it difficult to first understand and then support different learning styles or timelines. In the transition to doing community-based art and activism projects virtually, we learned that everything takes more time and a different kind of care. 

Here are the highlights from Michael Chandler, CEO, Union Chapel Project:

What was your favourite thing about the project?

My favourite thing was providing the opportunity to empower and bring people from our community into Union Chapel to take control, to learn these amazing skills – but also I hope to inform and be a part of Union Chapel’s future, and really inform and co-create our plans around community and social justice – that was the plan!

Have you made and learnt from any mistakes along the way? 

The very nature of this project, being remote during lockdowns for the duration of the main parts, had an impact on our plans to bring the Community Leaders in, and for them to take ownership of the space. Our wider financial position and plans for the Sunday School then impacted on what more we could do next, onsite. But I’ve been inspired and humbled by the Community Leaders and what they’ve gone on to do, and I’m very much looking forward to building on the project, now the Sunday School is going ahead, but also involving them and using this process to inform our wider work. 

Change, Act! 

Two of the Community Leaders, Paul Formosa and Charlotte Hailey-Watts were inspired to form their own inclusive, community-focused Theatre Company, Change, Act! Their work is focused around working with Neurodivergent people, those experiencing long-term health issues, and Disabled people and they bring experiences working in both the arts and charitable sectors with these groups to their practice. They bring co-production to the heart of their work and aim to eventually provide training and employment opportunities within the company to the communities they work with. They have already delivered several one-off workshops within Islington and a more ongoing project with the Elfrida Society, which culminated in the creation of a training video by Neurodivergent adults for Islington medical professionals.

You can follow the journey of Change, Act! on Twitter @Change_ActCIC and on Instagram.

Paul Formosa’s highlights:

My favorite thing about the Community Leaders project was that I had the empowering opportunity to learn about theatre in a new light which was about working together and social change. 

I learnt about the power of theatre to influence decision making and social relations. I really am looking forward to developing further my learning in this area and through a theatre company I have formed with another community leader Charlotte, make a material difference to the world using what I have learnt.

And final highlights from community leader, Latoyah Gill:

Coming on board as a Creative Community Leader at the Union Chapel was a great experience! The legislative theatre training I received, led by the fantastic facilitator Katy Rubin, equipped me with beneficial skills enabling me to put my existing interests in using art as a tool for social change into practice.

My favourite part of the project was learning how to spark creativity into the minds and hearts of people who claimed not to have a creative bone in their body. I used many of the techniques taught, while working as a Policy and Campaigns Events Officer at the homelessness charity Crisis, and plan to continue in my role as a Events Manager at the Westway Trust, a charity which serves the local community of North Kensington and Chelsea.

What surprised me the most, was how policy makers not only engaged with the medium but also, how willing they were to consider the social barriers and alter policies they were able to. I look forward to more projects as a Creative Community Leader at the Union Chapel and affecting social change.

To sum up, facilitator Katy Rubin shares the lasting impact of the community leaders:

The impacts of the Community Leaders programme continue to be seen and felt. Group members have been advocating for Legislative Theatre in their workplaces, leading briefings and encouraging more creative policy change around issues like health and homelessness; two members have created a CIC, leading workshops with other community groups. And just this month, three former Community Leaders came together with two dozen other London-based activists, artists, researchers and community organisers, to take part in an in-person intensive Legislative Theatre training. Their presence, expertise, and connection to Union Chapel and North London were an inspiration to the other attendees. The Community Leaders initiative continues to make waves!

Click this link to find out more about the community creative leadership training.

Photo credits (top to bottom)
Community Leaders at Creating Change Festival 2021 by Piers Allardyce
Legislative Theatre performance on Zoom
Community leaders at Union Chapel
Paul and Charlotte at now Change, Act! workshop courtesy of Change, Act!

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