Jane Gray

Pieces of the jigsaw

Blue Cabin’s Jane Gray shares the ups and downs of partnership working.

Hi. I’m Jane and I’m an Associate with Blue Cabin. I’m a freelance arts project manager, dark chocolate lover, writer and am a fan of a good period drama. When I’m not working with the fabulous people at Blue Cabin, I’m a Co-Director of Creative Learning North East and an Arts Award Trainer and Moderator.

I’m not a control freak. I’m not. Honestly! It’s just how my brain seems to work. If I’m not in on the action, having carefully thought things through, and worked things out in my own way, from an initial spark of an idea to the finished evaluation, I struggle. I think it comes from working for a small arts organisation where I was responsible for devising programmes, building partnerships, fundraising, project management…well, you get the picture. Don’t get me wrong, I love working in partnership with teams of brilliant people (and can’t imagine working in any other way!), but it’s hard sometimes.

Hard because relationships with partners take time to build. Hard because at Blue Cabin we’re all working freelance (we don’t sit together in an office, we’re not salaried, we all have other freelance/ part-time work/ caring responsibilities). Hard because sometimes the elements you’re responsible for are the support act, and not the main event. Being a piece of the jigsaw can just be hard sometimes.

But, when all the pieces of the jigsaw come together, it’s wonderful! The finished picture starts to form, it makes sense, with the right pieces in the right place. And that’s exactly what’s happening on the More Stuff Like This Please! programme in Stockton, with ARC Stockton and Stockton Borough Council. It’s a two-year programme of creative activities for care experienced children and young people and the adults in their lives, funded through Culture Bridge North East Partnership Investment Fund and Stockton Borough Council. As a partnership, we decided early-on that we would all take a lead on different elements; ARC Stockton as lead partner and leading the Activity and Communications strands, Blue Cabin on Arts Award, Training and Evaluation. This made sense for so many reasons, but I realised during the first year how hard I found it not being directly involved in programming activity, and working with artists, getting to know the children and young people. That’s what I’d done as part of Creative Care Home and Head Hands Heart Darlington with Blue Cabin, that’s my role at Creative Learning North East, and what I did for six years at Tees Valley Arts – I missed it hugely and found it harder to piece the jigsaw together.

Now, the partnership is more developed, and we’ve planned in programming meetings as well as partnership meetings. The core team of people who are doing direct delivery get together for the programming meetings, with facilitator extraordinaire Jenny Young getting us to share what’s coming up in all strands of the programme with lots of coloured paper, sharpies, sweets and tea. It’s a brilliant process for making connections, and physically seeing the timeline laid out has really helped me piece things together.

I’ve also supported the first Arts Award Discover in a Day as part of this progamme too, which was a fabulous and exhausting day of cardboard sculpture making with Michelle Tripp and 18 children, young people and their adults. The idea came from Karen Dear, Senior Youth Support Worker at Stockton Borough Council, who took part in the Arts Award Adviser Training we ran for foster carers, residential workers and SBC staff. ARC ran with it, and there are now more Discover in a Day sessions planned. It was great seeing the relationships that Holly and Chloe at ARC have developed with the children and young people, and it helped me to feel more connected to the core of the work.

Looking back, year 1 of Arts Award Training didn’t quite go as planned, which was pretty demoralising at the time. We’d planned on delivering the Discover and Explore Adviser Training with foster carers, residential workers and other Stockton Borough Council staff, hoping that they would then go on to deliver Arts Award with their children and young people. This was based on the successful model in Darlington as part of Head, Heart, Hands Darlington and Creative Care Home, and, as Stockton is a much larger borough, we thought there would be loads of interest, and that we wouldn’t be able to meet demand. The reality was a little different! 12 people booked training, 8 people attended, 6 people completed and so far only 1 person has kept in contact with us, and that 1 person is the wonderful Karen. We know there are probably loads of different reasons for the lack of engagement, including capacity. But still, it can be hard not to take these things personally! So, we needed a new plan for Year 2, and at our Internal Learning Event with all partners, and extended guests, in November 2018, we chatted and thought, and chatted some more. A few days ago, we had an Arts Award meeting, and things are looking good for the final months! Things aren’t concrete yet, but, we’re hoping to work with the Virtual School, and ARC have programmed more Discover in a Day sessions, alongside working up plans for a Bronze Summer programme.

I’m excited about the final year, and what might happen as a result of the programme. I’m finding that I’m delighted to be a piece of the jigsaw.