Creative Dundee

Blog: A Year of Ampersand+

Illustration: Jagoda Sadowska

One year on, we reflect on launching our peer-support project Ampersand+ during a time of uncertainty, and the value of democratic knowledge sharing.

2020 ended up being a year where many of us were reminded of the importance of connecting with others, and of giving and asking for help. Whether through taking turns running errands with neighbours, learning to embrace screens for conversations and quizzes, or struggling with being “resilient” and “adaptable” in a time of isolation and unpredictability, the year put a spotlight on how valuable our relationships with one another are.

In response to a turbulent period of uncertainty, our team—like everyone else—had to make rapid adjustments to how we provide for and engage with those closest to us, as well as the wider city.

This included hosting weekly virtual Breakfasts with our Amps community, creating space to check in and have open and honest conversations; we prioritised the use of our digital platform for creative practitioners to write personal accounts of joys and challenges through guest blogs; and in collaboration with UNESCO City of Design Dundee and city partners, we relaunched We Dundee, where the city was invited to share lockdown experiences and look to the future. Lastly—although it was in the works before any of us knew what COVID-19 was—we launched another project that ended up providing connection and conversation during a time where support and contact proved particularly vital.

Ampersand+ is a peer-to-peer support project that uses a formal-yet-informal process to initiate and record knowledge sharing, mentoring and collaboration—capturing the spirit of generosity prevalent in Dundee. Designed to strengthen and make ecosystems of mutual support visible, it enables our Amps network in sharing experience, insights, knowledge, skills and ideas with one another, through time-based exchanges, where everyone’s time is valued equally.

Shaped through discussions, workshops and focus groups, the project officially launched on the cusp of a second lockdown in November 2020. Within the first month we had 30 responses from our network, with half of those in the form of offers of help to anyone looking for insights into things like running a small business, museum curation, video production, kilns and disability rights. Some people enquired asking for help with making zines, licensing designs and stone carving. Aligned with a shift in being unable to serendipitously meet and make fresh connections in physical spaces, others explicitly wanted to be paired with someone new to them, just to chat.

“It was a lovely and unexpected introduction to meet someone new, which rarely happens these days following on from covid changes… It’s great getting to talk with new people and hear about projects and work that I’ve never had an insight into before.”

Amps who have taken part in Ampersand+ range from new graduates to people working in large cultural organisations. We also linked with Hot Chocolate Trust to help them pair young people exploring the creative industries with makers and doers in the city for advice and insights (26 Amps eagerly volunteered to be involved in Meet Your Maker). The breadth of backgrounds and practices of those involved is wonderfully diverse, with craft makers, musicians, filmmakers, gardeners, photographers, games designers and theatre makers among those who have taken part.

“Had a lovely chat and shared what I could during the conversation, and followed up by doing some research and forwarding them a few resources which I hope helps. It was nice to see the learning generated from my past project be useful nearly 8 or so years on.”

Unsurprisingly, given circumstances as well as its accessible nature, most interactions so far have taken place via Zoom—meaning people can easily fit meetings into their schedules, as well as connect from rural areas, from work, and in groups when doing so physically wasn’t possible. To date, 80 people have engaged in Ampersand+ in some way, and 46 exchanges between Amps have been arranged. Over 50% of those involved have offered some form of help to anyone who might enquire about their area of expertise or experience: a testament to how willing people are to help one another and to the generosity found throughout our community.

Through Ampersand+, we can formally recognise and record some of the everyday exchanges that are so valuable yet often fly under the radar. It also creates a space where people are encouraged to reach out for guidance—something that can prove difficult when you don’t yet have a strong network or the confidence to seek assistance—as well as understand the demonstrable value of the help they can offer to others.

They were absolutely wonderful & gave really clear, useful information which left me feeling much more confident! … I consider it some of the best advice I’ve had regarding [my request] as it was so specific.

Our hope was that the project would provide an opportunity to recognise and expand existing informal sharing within communities and the local creative and cultural sector. Seeing the resulting impact of connecting and moving through uncertainty together has been hugely rewarding. It’s exciting to be able to see explicit evidence—and celebrate the potential—of knowledge sharing, and acknowledge that the time we give in order to help someone further their capabilities can positively impact not just one other person, but the wider city’s sharing ecology.

Looking for some advice, think someone could benefit from your insight, or want to connect with a community in Dundee? Find out about how to join Amps and take part in Ampersand+.

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