Below are our answers to some of the questions we were asked when we were publicising the UNION Leeds programme…it should give you an idea of what UNION is all about.
(you will also find a spoken version of each of the FAQs if you prefer not to have to read through all the text)
Many of these questions have come directly from people interested in being part of UNION Leeds. Please feel free to ask more!
The use of creative approaches to achieve political or social change.
Activism is all about challenging and changing power relationships; creativity provides perspective and narrative on the world around us. Put the two together and it’s a powerful mix.
We want to support creativity and activism happening in the communities around Leeds. Some of the people making that happen would class themselves as artists who work with people in social and community settings. And there are people who start from the community/social activism side of things but recognise that using creative approaches is a key tool in achieving change. Some people might work for venues or other organisations, or might be freelance, or do this work unpaid.
UNION Leeds aims to get a mix of them all…
UNION Leeds is not targeted at any particular age group or level of experience. Of course it is important to be willing and open to learn, and the programme is going to suit someone who appreciates taking on ideas and getting some support about how best to progress. But that could be the case for someone reflecting on what they have (and haven’t) achieved in their 60s, someone changing direction in their 40s, or someone starting out in their 20s. We will just want to know how this fits for you.
We want to create a truly mixed group of wonderful people, a group that truly reflects the make-up of Leeds.
That means we welcome people from different parts of Leeds; people with differing lived experiences, and who see and understand things in different ways. People with different backgrounds, cultures, ages, class, (dis)abilities… We believe passionately that the more diverse a group, the more interesting the learning experience—there is so much to learn from within the group as well as from what is taught by others.
We are also only too aware that this area of work, as with many cultural and political forms, is dominated by a white middle-class elite and part of our activism is to change that.
We aim to provide the opportunity to:
- Gain knowledge and understanding about developing work, ideas (and possibly a career) as a Creative Activist working in community settings.
- Learn directly from people who work across all aspects of the sector.
- Get one-to-one support from trained professional coaches to identify your own personal pathway.
- Be part of a supportive and forward-looking community of artists and activists in Leeds.
- Find out about possible work placements, mentors, project opportunities…
A few years back some of the small-scale venues in Leeds started meeting together and called themselves the Donut group (that’s ring- rather than jam-donut because one of things they had in common was that they weren’t based in the city centre.)
The Donut Group is an informal network so its exact membership changes over time. For the UNION Leeds programme a consortium of Donut venues put together the funding application and are overseeing the programme:
- Chapel FM—an arts centre in a converted chapel in Seacroft run by community arts company, Heads Together Productions
- The Constitutional— a club for people in Farsley. Presenting the finest comedy, theatre, spoken-word, music, bingo, quizzes and craft ales
- HEART—A former primary school, HEART is an enterprise, arts and community centre that is owned and run by local people through the Headingley Development Trust
- The Holbeck—theatre company Slung Low have taken over the oldest social club in Britain to create a community hub, a cultural community college, and an open development space for artists and other arts companies.
- Hyde Park Book Club—Venue, café and community hub in the heart of Hyde Park
- Interplay— Theatre company based in Armley working across all definitions of exclusion to create a special theatre that places the audience at the centre of the experience.
- Leeds West Indian Centre—Community Centre and legendary events venue in Chapeltown with an emphasis on social justice, education, culture, cohesion and vision tinged with hope
- Left Bank—a multidisciplinary arts venue set in a Grade II* listed former church in Hyde Park promoting creativity, connection and well-being
- Open Source Arts—working creatively with people and organisations in our resource centre on Kirkstall Road, using practical action projects and creative dialogue processes to bring people together, get things un-stuck and move towards the sustainable futures we all want to create
- Pudsey Wellbeing— A social hub which provides creative and other activities for the community from its Health and Wellbeing Centre and local doctors’ surgery
- Sunnybank Mills Gallery—the creative hub of the Mill and the local community in Farsley is host to a rolling exhibition programme of art by local artists, supporting the performing arts and concerts within the mill spaces and providing a venue to hire for small events
- Union 105—part of East Street Arts and based on Chapeltown Road, its remit is to support artists based in the area through its seven studios and to deliver a series of commissions that invite artists to develop new work in response to and with the sites, contexts and people of Chapeltown.
The programme is being coordinated by Leeds-based organisation—Heads Together Productions. Heads Together has been running for 35 years developing work under the banner Creativity with Purpose and currently, apart from developing UNION, its work is focused on developing Chapel FM Arts Centre in Seacroft, one of the Donut venues.
We passionately believe in local work, but at the same time any truly strong community faces outwards and we have a link with our own international partnership through the Fellowship of Questions project.
The venues in the Donut group have been very positive about how much they have learnt from each other and been encouraged by the communication between them. It’s mainly been the workers who run the venues who have been meeting together. UNION Leeds is about extending those connections and creating a real network of learning between the venues and communities in Leeds. After all, when we added it up, the Donut venues connect with about 160,000 Leeds residents every year (well maybe not so many last year but that was different!) And we realised that very few of us have done any focused training or development on how best to make a difference in our communities. And there may be opportunities with the Leeds 2023 Festival coming up.
So, we secured some initial funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to develop the programme. It’s time to give it a go.
We’ve run the UNION programme with artists and activists across the north of England but this is the first time we are doing a city-based initiative.
Some of our original thinking for the UNION format was based on an organisation called the Writing Squad, which has been developing young writers in the north for the last twenty years and we are indebted to them for spurring us on to develop this kind of training opportunity. And we have learnt so much from our first sets of participants (you can see the full evaluation here).
So the core principles of any UNION programme going forward are as follows:
- The programme is developed by the sector itself alongside trained facilitators. Participants will be involved directly with people and organisations that are experienced in the work they are developing their career in.
- We create learning outside of people’s everyday working lives and provide them with the support they need to make that happen
- Mixing up things creates learning: different places; different training inputs and styles; truly diverse groups
- Co-designing our programmes means that we won’t know what will happen (the syllabus) before the group has formed. And that means true ownership of the programme and the ability to respond to the needs and desires of the group
- We believe in putting individual coaching or one-to-one sessions alongside the group programme because that allows each person to define their own learning journey
There are many reasons you might need support and we are committed to responding to that.
Here are some of the things we have thought about already:
- We can provide financial support for access costs including travel or a space for a Personal Assistant.
- We will ensure that all the in-person sessions are in venues that are wheelchair accessible with accessible toilets. We will also check lighting and ventilation and other environmental factors in venues.
- Online we can provide closed captions if that is helpful, signing or other interpretation
- We can help with financial support for additional caring costs for children
- We will also work to recognise emotional needs and put in appropriate support mechanisms
These are just a few possibilities of ways that we can provide support to create the best learning environment. We will ask you what support would make it easier for you to participate fully and we will do our utmost to provide that support in a timely and effective way.
The most important commitment we need from participants is your time and energy. We would like you to attend as many of the seven training sessions which will take place during the year as well as three one-to-one coaching sessions. The weekend sessions will be either one or two days and the first three are pre-booked as follows:
- 16th October 2021
- 11th December 2021
- 29/30th January 2022
Each of the sessions will be hosted by one of the Donut venues.
Of course the big unknown with this is the situation with pandemics, lockdowns and other restrictions. Going online will mean shorter sessions and possibly other changes to the format and timetable.
The coaching sessions are more flexible and will take place near to where you live, maybe in a quiet cafe or similar space. And online coaching is very straightforward to do
Then there will be opportunities for further learning, mentoring, work placements etc between the formal sessions. As with anything, the more you put in…
Of course this is the big unknown. It is difficult to plan anything at the moment! We don’t see UNION Leeds as a training programme that can be run totally online, as part of the learning comes from being in different places, communities and venues with other people. But if that is not possible we will have to adapt and the advantage we have is that we can retain a lot of flexibility in how we deliver the programme. If we can’t do full group face-to-face sessions then we will look at smaller groups, shorter sessions, blended online and offline sessions, even creating radio programmes…all kinds of things. We also recognise that we are at a stage when people feel differently about what is appropriate for them as individuals and we will work hard to understand that on an individual basis and accommodate different learning pathways.
With support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation we are able to make the course free for participants.
We reckon the value of the training is about £2000 for each participant but we are really pleased that the funding means that we can offer the course for free—the training, coaching, and food…
If you are working for an organisation we will want to know whether your organisation is supporting you to take this course and see it as appropriate professional development. If they do then we will want to have a conversation about how it works and whether they would be prepared to contribute something toward the costs.
The overarching themes for the programme are around hosting and co-design—how do we create space and create work between communities, artists, activists, venues… We will use the opportunity of being in different venues to consider different approaches and ideas. And we will leave space for the co-design element of the programme (see below). But some of the overarching themes that we may consider:
- Working with people. How important is empathy?
- Working in communities. Some of the ideas behind community development, community arts and asset-based approaches
- Understanding Social Action. How can we change anything?
- Being More Me. Where do you fit into the work?
- Planning and strategies. How do you decide what to do next?
- Practical skills and the competencies we need. And how do we best develop them?
Apart from learning about co-design the course itself will be co-designed.
That means leaving space for all participants to define what the programme contains. We have designed the initial structure and broad content that we feel will be appropriate, having spent much time talking with a wide range of people including potential participants. Once the group is formed, we are determined to allow the group to influence the direction, the content, the style of the programme. As such we haven’t come up with a detailed ‘syllabus’ to be achieved, but starting points which will allow possibilities for co-design throughout the year.
Apart from group sessions, we think it is important to have a personalised process for each participant; we will be providing coaching sessions for all participants.
This is a one-to-one process where you will work with one of the UNION team who has been trained in the process of helping you to define your future pathway. The coach will listen to your ideas, encourage, support and challenge you to identify what you really want and explore how you might achieve it. It’s an opportunity to really plan your objectives and how you might achieve them. All the UNION coaches have been trained to do the role, usually by the lovely people at RD1st.
There are seven questions that we want you to answer to make an application to UNION Leeds. You can choose how to answer the questions. You can just write the answers; or you might feel more confident making a simple recording or filming your answers; or you can get in touch with us and meet with one of the team (either face-to-face over a coffee or by zoom) to present your answers. One way isn’t better than another, we just want to make sure that you find the way that works best for you.
The deadline for receiving applications is September 17th.
The questions we would like you to answer:
- What is the best way for us to contact you and how do you prefer to receive or provide information?
- What are you doing at the moment? And could you give us an idea of your journey to this point? (work, career, volunteering, motivation, passion, etc)
- Why do you think UNION Leeds would be an exciting opportunity for you?
- Do you have any links with any of the Donut venues; or other community-based venues? What interests you about working creatively alongside communities?
- We will aim to recruit a group that reflects the make-up of the city of Leeds. Could you tell us something about the range of your own lived-experiences, and how that might add to the diversity of the group?*
- Is there any particular additional support that would help you participate in the planned programme of training workshops and coaching?
- Have you got any questions, thoughts, ideas or concerns about UNION Leeds? Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
* It might be worth considering what is called the Identity Iceberg when answering Question 5. It’s what is below the surface as well as above…
Adrian Sinclair is the contact for all applications. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07973 172 433
We aim to make the decision from the information you communicate in your application, but we may ask a candidate to meet face-to-face with someone in the team. Again we will keep it simple and informal. When we come to select the group, we will not be looking for particular experience or a set of skills. Rather we are looking for people who have an idea of how they might best make use of being part of UNION Leeds; how it might help determining their own pathways.