Well Connected

Developing skills and nurturing talent

bait’s Creative Connector programme offers local people the chance to develop skills and get work experience in the cultural sector. Open to anyone living in South East Northumberland aged 18+, bait work with partners across the region to match people up with a range of different projects. So far, ten local people have taken on Creative Connector roles.

Last year, Susan MacKellar from Stakeford applied to work with Bedlington Community Centre to help raise the centre’s profile and bring in new audiences, helping to build a sustainable future. Susan has been working with Treasurer Enid Dunbar and Secretary Eunice Lawson.

Tell us a bit about Bedlington Community Centre

Eunice: When we reopened in 2011 we thought nobody was going to come for the first six months. We were knocking on doors, putting out leaflets, putting posters in shop windows – we’re a small team of volunteers, so we really had our work cut out.

Enid: It was very quiet at first. We wondered where everybody was! Then we thought, we’ll put something on ourselves.

Eunice: I went to see The Happy Cats gig in a pub. I talked to the audience and asked who would buy a ticket if we booked them to play at Bedlington Community Centre. I took a list of email addresses and that was our first mailing list!

Enid: Then we started working with Highlights rural touring scheme. They go to Edinburgh Festival to scout for acts, then we work with them to choose performances we think our audiences would like.

Eunice: A turning point was when we started working with Mark Labrow from Northumberland Arts Development; we decided early on to book quality acts, for example Royal Northern Sinfonia and Folkestra from the Sage Gateshead. And we have regular classes - we’re part of 20,000 Voices, we have a brass and a junior brass band, and a Ukulele group.

How did you get involved with Creative Connectors?

Eunice: We first met with bait because we wanted to diversify – to offer more drama for example. Everyone wanted things to happen but we were starting to run out of steam.

Susan: I saw the job advertised in summer 2014 to help promote two performances - Haunting Julia (an Alan Ayckbourn play) and A November Day (a show about WW1 for children). I worked in insurance for 11 years, and although I’d never been to see a play before (just musicals), I’d done some marketing to advertise classes at the fitness studio where I worked and I’d fundraised for Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

How did you get on?

Susan: When I first started I concentrated on the Facebook page - I got the likes up to over 200 in under two weeks! What I really liked about Haunting Julia was seeing it from start to finish, finding out about it, thinking about where to promote it, who would come and see it, which groups might be interested.

Enid: We had a totally different audience come to the centre for the first time – it was the biggest audience we’d ever had for a theatre show!

Susan: The next performance was for a completely different audience – children aged 10+, so we went out to schools, took leaflets and talked to teachers to encourage them to bring groups to see the show and do an Arts Award workshop. About 160 local children came - the kids loved it!

Enid: Before that children or families weren’t really using the centre, maybe just coming once a year for the panto or the occasional children’s party in the function room.

What difference has it made?

Eunice: I was dabbling with leaflet production and Facebook, having Susan has made a fantastic difference. It’s lovely to have someone here who can dedicate her time to promotion and publicity so that we can concentrate on other things. Susan brings us extra capacity, different skills - dedicated time makes a big difference, it allows us to do what we need to. We’ve each got our own strengths and we bounce off each other - we didn’t know each other before but we’re a good team now.

Susan: I’ve learned loads! Being a Creative Connector is about developing – so you come in with some skills and then bait supports you. They’ve put me through training including social media, safeguarding, data protection, diversity - the kind of things I’ll need for the projects I’m working on. Enid and Eunice took part in bait time to collaborate (a networking event for volunteer leaders to learn marketing and fundraising skills) and the IT suite at the centre was used for a Creative Connector social media training session.

Eunice: Thanks to bait we’ve been able to offer drama as well as popular Time to Enjoy craft sessions with artist Elaine Porter, making things we can use at the centre like bunting, table accessories and table numbers.

Susan: My contract was extended from mid-November to Christmas so I could work with the craft group. The numbers doubled!

What’s next?

Enid: We looked at the finances, and decided to contract Susan on a self-employed basisfor half a day a week.

Susan: This time last year I’d never had thought I’d have been self-employed, working in the cultural sector! I like the flexibility - I’ve got two small children so being able to work from home some of the time is important. I’ve already worked with Ashington Children’s Centre and on three other projects - I’d like to think that I’d be able to use my new skills to do more freelance work in future.

Eunice: We’re working with bait and Wansbeck CVS on a funding application to Comic Relief (through the Community Foundation). The Time to Enjoy programme was so successful that we want to carry on offering activities and workshops in the centre.