November 2020

Ignite Imaginations is a Community Arts organisation, based in Sheffield. The Ignite team has been telling us about their experiences adjusting to these unprecedented circumstances, what their COVID-19 response strategies are, and how they are playing out. Ignite's four-point Community Story covers:

  1. Life in Lock-down
  2. Adapting to New Approaches
  3. Considering our Comeback
  4. Navigating the New Normal

Life in Lockdown

It’s had a big impact, although Ignite Imaginations has managed to continue delivery since March 2020. After the initial lockdown announcements the team decided that we should try to continue to work with our communities and keep the creativity flowing! It has been hard working remotely, learning how to do participation online, becoming Zoom and online safeguarding experts in a week, and keeping momentum when kids, illness, global fear and variable internet connections all were suddenly very present.

Adapting to New Approaches

We’ve done lots of things differently: we have run live zoom workshops for families with 40 children, delivered 1,800 activity packs to homes, pre-recorded creative workshops for over 300 people to watch at their leisure and even been out in the community with face to face delivery. To do this, we have had to reassess our safeguarding and risk assessing for on and off line delivery, rethink how we capture evaluation and feedback and have offered training to our artists on film editing, safeguarding online and thinking outside of the normal realm when planning artistic activities in communities.

It`s been tough, it feels like we have done a few 360 degree turns and are still finding our feet. But we’ve been helped by new funding and support from both Arts Council England and National Heritage Lottery Fund, which have enabled us to both deliver more for our communities but also support and develop our artists, as well as our ability to work in these new ways.

The other thing that’s been particularly challenging is that I have come back into the CEO role after maternity leave, to this strange new world, and had to steer the organisation from my spare room!

We have learnt that people still want and need to be creative, that Zoom can actually help us reach new audiences, that evaluation is hard when you aren’t handing someone a piece of paper to complete, that each person has their own version of safe, and that Slack is the best way to chat when not actually chatting!

Ongoing and open discussion from the team and board and reaching out to partners has been our support through all of this. Although we still don’t feel grounded and are treading water daily with new considerations, we’re staying hopeful at all times.

Considering our Comeback

It feels like a long way off at the moment (tier 2 just introduced in Sheffield with tier 3 on the horizon); we have stayed open the whole period since March and we have been really busy. However my main concern in 2021 is that we have a large contract ending (planned end for Age Better projects across the UK), so along with that cliff edge, I also have a sense of competition I haven’t felt before to such a degree. Maybe it’s the paranoia setting in, working in my loft on my own 3 days a week, but there seems to be less funds and more people in need of them.

But we feel there’s more need for participatory work than ever and we’ve proved we’re able to be adaptable (organisations like our have always had to be!). We also know that times are going to be hard for our communities, too – so there’s even more need for free, high quality activity and use of arts for well-being, mental health, intergenerational connections and community celebrations.

Navigating the New Normal

It`s something I am considering a lot as we move into 2021; I want us to continue to be innovative and exciting, but that feels just that bit more difficult whilst we have so many restrictions on us. We are taking this time to do what we do, to its absolute best. Looking at quality and diversity for example and how we can seriously take these subjects on and put into action meaningful ways to access and address the topics. I want our new normal to be more embedded in communities, more in touch with what people need and more risk taking in our creative outputs.

We’ve also decided to move away from having a fixed office, with more use of shared and co-working spaces in future (once we can): this should also help to bring us closer to our communities and a more varied range of contacts. Our current Arts Council England funding also includes upskilling in online delivery and that’s an area we’re looking to continue to develop.

Interested in contributing a Community Story of your own? Download the template HERE.

If you have any questions or are ready to send over a story, please get in touch with