Creative Dundee

Fabric Day 2 – Making Welcoming Spaces

Design by Sam Sheriff, on her reflections from Fabric Day 1.

Fabric is a peer-to-peer development programme, run by Creative Dundee, which supports individuals who are passionate about Dundee and wants to build on their creative leadership journey. After its most recent session, participant Eilish Victoria wrote a piece about her reflections on the day.

Normally this is how the story would go. It’s the morning before our second session of FABRIC, a group formed by Creative Dundee to explore how creative leadership can inspire positive change in our city. I would be at home, an outfit chosen the night before but still worrying about my shoes. Do these trainers look too scruffy and unprofessional…do they even match? How about these? Better? Maybe these are too pristine; don’t look ‘creative’ enough. Maybe because the first are my favourite they express me better…

Instead, I pad about in my bare feet until 20 minutes beforehand, choose my favourite socks from my drawer and just wear them. They don’t match my outfit and it doesn’t matter.

Normally, at the mercy of the bus timetables and disruptions, I would be in a rush. I’d have to skip the coffee I was going to pick up en route. It would have given me a nice morning boost….and also make me look more ‘grown-up’, like “an experienced freelancer used to constantly being on the go.”

Today I doddle through to the kitchen and choose my best mug from the cupboard. It’s yellow, it matches the one my boyfriend is sipping from while he works away in the other room and that makes me smile. I make my way to my desk open up my laptop and put my headphones in. No need to straighten out my clothes and take a deep breath before a confident step into the room; just a quick glance around to make sure I did put that laundry in the washing machine and it’s not still in a pile on the bed behind me.

Because for now, everything is not normal.

One by one 20 other faces appear on my screen, all waving, smiling and giving us a glimpse into each other’s homes and makeshift setups thanks to Covid-19. This talented bunch represents a huge range of creative talent right here in Dundee and by joining FABRIC are committed to sharing their experiences, ideas and explore the role of creative leadership in the city. Some I know, some I recognise and some I’m excited to meet.

For this session, we are also joined by David Close, Director, and Andy Robertson, Creative Arts Lead, at youth work organisation Hot Chocolate Trust which is based in the centre of Dundee and works with young people aged 12 to 21. Initially introducing us to their work and the organisation with a short film created with the young people they provide for, we immediately understand the essence and ambitions of Hot Chocolate and the positive impact they are having on the community.

We discuss the work put in behind the scenes at Hot Chocolate to come up with a structure and working method that allows for true collaboration but is also sustainable as an organisation. Committed to the dispersed leadership method, Hot Chocolate has assigned roles with a particular focus such as Andy’s role as Creative Arts Lead. However, the overall ambition to empower young people means that one of Andy’s main responsibilities is to be aware of everyone in the group, foster leadership, and share it.

Alongside a whole host of other activities and opportunities, Hot Chocolate opens three evenings a week for Open Sessions. These sessions are never planned which means the evenings can accommodate and evolve around who comes, what mood they’re in, and what they are interested in doing that night. Although led by a member of the Hot Chocolate Team, it’s up to the group to bring ideas.

One of my favourite descriptions of Hot Chocolate is “a place to be” and I recognised that the most valuable thing it provides is space; both physically and socially. This is essential for young people because they feel like they have a place to share their stories with others without judgment. From there they are inspired to have their own ideas, and finally, they are empowered to take this forward into action, for themselves, for their community and beyond.

We recognise that working collaboratively is an essential part of the creative practice but I think too often this can become a token gesture of a project. If an activity is planned and a selected group is invited along to take part and carry out a specified task, this isn’t collaboration. This doesn’t give communities the opportunity to tell you what they want you to know about them and their lives and without this can we say we are creating meaningful interactions and worthwhile experiences? Are we even listening? By involving the young people at all stages Hot Chocolate achieves this.

From this, we discussed the notion of a meaningful experience and legacy of projects. We considered how it was often determined by the sustainability and longevity of a project but agreed that this doesn’t always have to be the case.

A project can be brief, but if it has taught you something, inspired you and you continue to gain from it long after the project has finished, this is a valuable legacy.

Next up we were joined by Dundee Fighting For Fairness an initiative started two years ago as a result of the first Dundee Fairness commission, a year-long programme bringing people with lived experience of poverty and inequality in the city together with people with influence to make change in Dundee. Again one of the most important aspects described by founder Jacky Close is “the importance of bringing people into the same space together.

During the first stage of the commission, everyone shares their personal experiences and obstacles they face or have faced without knowledge about each other and the positions that they hold. Preparing food together and sharing meals and stories around a table is an essential part of this to ensure everyone feels equal and more basically nourished. Then after many months of listening, the group identifies key themes that have come out of their discussions and are divided into three groups to develop strategies for improvement.

It was clear this was a really rewarding experience for the participants after we spoke to Kevin and Andrew who are involved in the project. Kevin is part of the current commission who was invited to Edinburgh to meet with the Scottish Government to talk to them about the work they have been carrying out. Chairing the meeting Kevin told us how much he gained from the experience despite being out of his comfort zone and was pleased by the desire from the Scottish Government to consider new ways that people with lived experience of poverty and inequality can be heard and contribute. Andrew who was part of the 2017 – 2018 commission seemed encouraged and empowered by the changes he had made through his project with Hillcrest Housing association and personal goals had been achieved as a result. It is this previous cohort that has set up the overall group so as to continue the work they did on the commission. It seems their experiences with the commission have contributed to Andrew and Kevin feeling a more valued member of the community because of the way they were listened to and I hope that they continue to feel that they have the power to bring about change.

Due to Covid-19, Hot Chocolate Trust and Dundee Fighting For Fairness now have the challenge of considering how they can continue their work without the communal physical spaces and the social experience of coming together that are integral to their work and projects. Often social media although designed to connect us can sometimes be substituted for a more personal considered interaction and it will be interesting to see how social media and other digital tools can be used more effectively to help maintain community and support for organisations like these. Will this be the impetus to develop better digital spaces for storytelling? However, as Jacky at Dundee Fighting For Fairness also pointed out, digital platforms can be a huge barrier for the most vulnerable in the city and exclude those who don’t have the digital technology, skills or even wi-fi to be able to take part.

Finally, we confronted what many of us recognise as being the two opposing stories of Dundee. One where the city is thriving, creativity in the city is putting it on the map and more and more opportunities are being created. The other is a city wrestling with poverty and inequality where half of the population is left behind and not noticed by the other. We recognised that the people in Dundee feeling left behind were not necessarily people who didn’t see the value in our new Dundee but were people who didn’t feel valued by it.

Thanks to the accounts from Hot Chocolate Trust and Dundee Fighting For Fairness this session made me reflect on the importance of giving everyone spaces that are accessible to them, welcoming and a platform to tell their story in a meaningful way where they are listened to. By striving to create spaces; social, physical, and digital which tells everyone’s story I believe we can close the gap between the two narratives of our city, and by coming together and listening we can tell the story of change in Dundee together.

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