Cultural Spring, Sunderland and South Tyneside, United Kingdom. Photograph: Ray Gibson

The Cultural Spring - Sunderland and South Tyneside

The Cultural Spring is one of the Creative People and Places projects funded by Arts Council England. Each of our projects responds to local people and the place in which they are working. Our 21 projects are connected by common aims – working with communities to shape a programme, make decisions about what is commissioned, co-create art. Sharing power – working with local people as partners. The Cultural Spring wants arts and culture to be an expected and accepted part of everyone’s life in Sunderland and South Tyneside. We provide opportunities for people to enjoy new experiences, discover new passions and learn new skills by developing projects with local people. By talking to residents about what they want to see happen and get involved in and including them as decision-makers, we have developed a varied programme that offers a range of access points that are relevant to the individual.

We offer a range of workshop programmes in music, crafts, theatre skills, creative writing, photography etc., and activities take place in a range of local venues, mainly non-traditional arts venues. ‘Go and See’ opportunities taking people to see cultural venues and events, through a low-cost offer. We want local people to have a voice about what arts and culture activity is happening on their doorsteps. We also offer large scale commissions one such example is RUSH. RUSH consisted of 11 weeks of dance, writing and film workshop delivery in local wards to derive material that formed the show. The piece follows three archetypes, a zero hours worker, a young mother, and a homeless character. Through the lens of their stories RUSH told the wider story of the issues people in areas of low engagement face. Local people were involved in the commissioning process. RUSH is an example of how the arts can resonate with people. Through urgent questions that artists and communities are increasingly feeling the work they create/see might deal with – questions that intervene directly with their own lives. Approximately 100 people engaged in workshops, with one third never having danced before, let alone perform in front of an audience. A group of women of mixed ages involved in RUSH were so motivated by the experience that they decided to set up their own group – the Rushettes and now the Sand Dance Hotsteppers to continue dancing. They meet weekly in a community venue, were supported by the Cultural Spring to develop into a constituted group and continue to get involved in projects both through The Cultural Spring and others involved in the arts.

We have co-produced the short film Groundwork: Co-Producing with Asylum Seeker Women  by Marcia Chandra for the Who Are We? Project. The Cultural Spring through our consortium partner, Sangini, has been working with FODI (Friends of the Drop In, for Asylum Seekers and Refugees) during the past year. The organisation is based in Sunderland and aims to improve the mental health and well-being of the asylum-seeking and refugee community of Sunderland. To lessen social isolation and promote their integration into the wider community, by supporting and extending the activities. We have supported a range of activities including art activities at the Wednesday drop-in and visual art sessions with the women’s group. We are at the early stages of this relationship. Our goal – as an organisation and as a sector – is to keep learning more about working with and supporting organisations which work alongside refugees and asylum seekers. As well as learning how to best support the needs of our artists and participants.