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Conversation and innovation: re-thinking our ways of working in 2020

In 2020, Blue Cabin’s work with care-experienced children and young people was threatened by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Blue Cabin Executive Director, Jenny Young, explains how Emergency Funding from Arts Council England helped the team to reinvent their ways of working.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect Blue Cabin?

The truth is that at first, we didn’t know whether our company would survive. Like so many organisations, the impact of Covid-19 meant that sands shifted beneath us – almost overnight. Some funders changed their priorities (understandably) and several applications we had submitted were put on pause or were declined to make way for emergency applications.

Once reforecast, our 20/21 financial projections looked unrecognisable, with only a small number of secured grants still in place. And we were still without core funding.

The grants we had in place were a lifeline and meant that our freelance Associates and Associate Artists could continue delivering our projects in partnership with Local Authorities and crucially, we could still reach our beneficiaries: care-experienced children and young people and the adults in their lives.

How to reach them became the focus our attention and a space for conversation, innovation and thinking newly and differently.

What did the Emergency Funding from Arts Council England enable you to do?

It gave us the rare gift of time and a bit of breathing space. The funding crucially paid for our core costs for four months and meant that I could work alongside our fantastic team to think about how we could respond and shift and adapt what we do to inhabit and flourish in the virtual, digital, and online world.

Supporting our Associate Artists was also at the forefront of our minds when we applied for this funding. We see our relationship with them as a partnership and we value their expertise in leading Blue Cabin’s creative work with care-experienced children and young people. ACE funding meant that we could continue to employ the four freelance Associate Artists that were working with us (the BRILLIANT Michelle Wood, Elena Miller, Nicola Golightly and Pady O’Connor), ensuring that their skill set, and expertise were not lost. It has been a pure joy to work with them over the past 10 months.

Writing fundraising applications became a daily endeavour for the team. We were forced, due to the cliff edge we faced, to become better, clearer, and braver in our writing. We have been surprised and gobsmacked and elated in equal measure to secure over £400k from funders between May and December 2020. Funders like County Durham Community Foundation, Esmee Fairbairn, The Baring Foundation, The National Lottery, What Works Centre for Social Care, The Segelman Trust and The Department for Education (through our partner South Tyneside Council). Without the gift of £12854 grant from ACE, this would not have been possible.

All of this has meant that we have not just continued to advocate for arts and culture for care-experienced children and young people, but we have been able to significantly extend our reach – way beyond what we could have ever imagined.

How did Blue Cabin adapt its work during 2020?

We have never had our own office space. We met in coffee and tea places, lovely meeting rooms or we rang each other. Not having a venue or an office to find funding for has been a luxury for us.

We now see each other more than ever before. We introduced weekly meetings almost straight away back in April 2020, and whilst these virtual spaces can never replace our face-to-face conversations (or the hugs we used to give one another each time we met), they have been crucial. Many of these meetings have been filled with laughter, some with tears and all with kindness and love (I find myself tearing up as I type this).

We deliver our work with the same care, attention, thoughtfulness, and love that we always did. The way we deliver our work has changed – virtual mentoring, digital resource packs, creative packs on doorsteps, how-to videos uploaded to a YouTube channel. We have asked a great deal of our team – to inhabit a space of almost constant re-working and re-thinking. They have poured so much of themselves into this process and have been open to working things out as we go along as well balancing the knowns with the unknowns and soon-to-be-knowns. I think they are incredible.

Is there anything you’ll be continuing with even when COVID restrictions are lifted?

We feel lucky to be able to look ahead to the next 12 months with the knowledge that we have enough funding to survive, and even grow. This means that we can continue our vital work which improves the lives of children and young people with experience of the care system. And through the lessons we have learnt over the past 12 months we can now deliver our work both face to face and online.

We will continue supporting our Associate Artists. In the past three months our collective of artists has expanded to 11 and with this comes a responsibility to provide them with paid opportunities to reflect on their work, providing them with a space for clinical supervision, as well as time to develop their knowledge and experience working with our beneficiaries.

We will continue to build long term relationships with our Local Authorities with the hope that we can work with every local authority across the North East in the years to come.

Read Blue Cabin’s full report on the impact of Arts Council England’s Emergency Funding, here.