Applications are now closed for UNION 24

Please see the information below for those thinking about applying in the future

We do update the FAQs as people ask more questions—this version was last updated on 23rd November 2023. (There are also spoken versions of the FAQs if you prefer not to have to read through all the text)

More questions?
Many of these questions have come directly from people interested in being part of UNION. Please feel free to ask more.
Email: union@unionarts.org.uk

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.

The most important commitment we need from participants is time and energy. We would like you to attend all the five weekend training sessions which will take place during the year as well as a minimum of three one-to-one coaching sessions.

The weekends are pre-booked as follows:

  • 22nd – 24th March 2024
    Our base for the first weekend will be Chapel FM in Seacroft, Leeds
  • 17th – 19th May 2024
  • 13th – 15th September 2024
  • 15th – 17th November 2024
  • 17th – 19th January 2025

All weekends run from 5pm on the Friday to 4pm on the Sunday.

Each of the weekends will take place in different locations across the north of England, which we will decide together with the participants.

There will also be an additional, optional alumni weekend open to all present and past UNION Participants

The coaching sessions are more flexible and will take place either online or in a space near to where you live, maybe in a quiet cafe or similar place. 

We want to support those people who are already working as creative activists.

Some of the people making that happen would class themselves as artists who work with people in social and community settings. And then 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. We aim for a mix.

This programme is targeted at early- to mid-career artists and activists. People who have started working in the sector in some way and are at a point where they can reflect on what they have achieved to-date as well as considering how they go forward, indeed what going forward might be!

It is important to be willing and open to learn, and the programme is going to suit someone who is ready to consider their next steps and appreciates ideas, challenges and inspiration alongside others who have a range of backgrounds, experiences, and ambitions. From our experience of running the programme that seems to be the most important thing, not necessarily how many years of experience you do or don’t have.

Our practice to-date has been not to take anyone who is currently involved with another form of education eg an ongoing university course etc or who has just left education.

We do welcome 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.

Well the far northern bit is fairly well defined by the border with Scotland but we would agree that where the north becomes the Midlands is a tricky one—parts of Derbyshire are further north than Sheffield. And then where does Lincolnshire fit in?

We will leave you to decide whether identifying with the north makes sense for you where you live and work.

We will provide the following opportunities:

  • Five intensive weekend workshops during the year; all in different locations with differing themes and objectives.
  • You will co-create the programme, review your own achievements and consider the challenges and opportunities going forward
  • One-to-one coaching sessions to help define future pathways and identify possible opportunities, mentors, etc
  • The opportunity to learn from funded collaborations between participants …

And you will become part of a supportive and forward-looking community of artists and activists in the North of England.

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 East Leeds.

We are very much working with the sector in the region; networks like Participatory Arts Yorkshire, ArtsChain in the Northwest, and Artworks-U in the North East as well as the Artworks Alliance nationally. People and organisations who believe passionately in creativity and activism and recognise that development of pathways into this profession, as well as support for those delivering this work, has been severely lacking.


As Heads Together Productions we have worked on the estates of East Leeds for over 25 years, developing the first-ever community arts centre: Chapel FM. Some of the young people were really interested in doing this kind of work as a career and asked us what was the best route in. It felt ridiculous that we couldn’t really answer. We always imagined that someone else would set up the perfect pathway and support. But it didn’t happen and it got to the point when we realised that we were pretty well positioned to take it on ourselves, especially as we had such good links in to both the arts and the community development/activism sectors.

The first UNION programme ran in 2019 working with early-career artists and activists across the north of England. The Northern School didn’t develop as we had hoped in the intervening pandemic years but in 2022 we ran a city-based programme: UNION Leeds.

In 2023, UNION Leeds continued with a new cohort, working in partnership with Leeds 2023. We are also running the Northern School programme: UNION 23, this time for mid-career artists and activists.

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 and our developing set of core principles here).


There are many reasons you might need support and we are committed to responding to that.

Here are some of the things we have provided 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.

It won’t be posh hotels! More like university campus rooms, hostels, possibly home-stays etc.

For example for the first weekend in Leeds for UNION 23 took place at the Leeds Art Hostel run by East Street Arts. Again let us know if there are particular issues for you about where you will be staying.

With support from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation we are able to make the course free for participants.

We have worked out the value of the training is about £3000 for each participant but we are really pleased that, with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation,  we can offer the course for free—the training, coaching, most food, and accommodation for the weekends.

The only thing we ask is that you pay for the travel to get to UNION weekends (though we do have an access fund to help if you need it) and sometimes we may ask you to sort out your own breakfasts at the weekend.

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 how we best use creative approaches to achieve social change. We will use the opportunity of being in different locations to consider different approaches and ideas, and take on different themes. For us the co-design element of the programme is key, so we won’t know fully either the content or the journey before we start the programme.

We will stick to a similar structure for each weekend. The Friday evening being social connecting time, the Saturday being content-focussed relating to the place we are in and the people and organisations we can connect with; and the Sunday being more inward focused, looking at different elements of our own personal journeys.

For example some of the Saturday themes might be:

  • Working in communities. Some of the ideas behind community development, community arts and asset-based approaches
  • Understanding Social Action. How can we change anything?
  • Lived experience leadership, allies and solidarity
  • Working with people. How important is empathy?

And on a Sunday we might be looking at:

  • Being More Me. Where do I fit into the work? And how do I look after myself.
  • 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?

And this links in to the individual coaching sessions where one of the UNION coaching team will work with 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.

Applications are now open to join UNION 24!

To make an application to UNION 24 we would like you to answer the seven questions below.

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 questions we would like you to answer:

  1. What is your name, where are you based and what is the best way for us to contact you? (how do you prefer to receive or provide information?)
  2. 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)
  3. Where do you want to take your work in the future?
  4. Why do you think UNION 24 would be the right opportunity for you at this time?
  5. We will aim to recruit a group that reflects the make-up of the north of England. Could you tell us something about the range of your own lived-experiences, and how that might add to the diversity of the group?*
  6. Would you be able to attend all five training weekends during the year as well as a minimum of three individual coaching sessions? (pre-booked dates are in the section ‘When and where does it all happen?’ above). Is there any particular additional support that would help you participate in the planned programme of training and coaching?
  7. Have you got any questions, thoughts, ideas or concerns about UNION 24? 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; what is below the surface as well as above…

If you would like to communicate directly with someone about UNION 24 before you put your application in, Adrian Sinclair is the contact for all applications. Email adrian@unionarts.org.uk or phone/message/whatsapp etc 07973 172 433

We will first make a long-list of potential participants from the information you communicate in your application. We will then arrange online discussions with each candidate to talk further and see if it seems as though UNION is an appropriate next step for you. We will keep the conversation 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 24; how it might help determining their own pathways.

We hope we are giving you enough information to be clear about whether this will be a useful programme for you. But there is nothing like experiencing something before you commit. So our first weekend is a ‘taster’ and we will ask all participants to take some time after the first weekend to consider whether it does feel appropriate and that they are prepared to commit to the whole course.


We are committed to making sure that you benefit from your time with UNION. Beyond that you will become part of our UNION alumni. You can ask for further coaching sessions when you need them and you will be invited to further events and training, including the annual UNION alumni weekend. 

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