Making Community Spirit

Behind the scenes on my current community project

Creating great projects is all about the preparation and behind the scenes work. As my Community Spirit project is coming to an end, I’m reflecting on all the work and unseen effort, creativity and chaos that goes on to make things like this look seamless. I started working on the funding application last summer when my house move got delayed again and I suddenly had 2 weeks with not much in the diary. But the idea of the project was even longer ago than that. While I was deep in the middle of volunteering for the foodbank in 2020 I went for a walk in the park (because I couldn’t go any further) and was thinking about just how vital and impactful volunteering was proving to be. And I wanted something to show for it. Something that others could see and that would really shine a light on the amazing work done by volunteers. It took 12 months more before I turned it into a funding application and then it took three attempts to get the funding, taking me through to the very end of 2021. It was hard to write the application and even harder to revise and change it and keep the energy and enthusiasm needed to get it finally funded.

Luckily, one of the changes I made to the project in the re-submitting stage was to bring in an associate artist. I realised that I need to collaborate, to work with others and have a team to work with. I invited Mandeep Dhadialla to work with me on this because of her experience in running community workshops. In fact originally I thought she would be doing all of the workshops although it really didn’t work out like that!

Our first joint job was to create the concept for the artwork. I love coming up with different ideas for making projects where different people can collaborate and work towards a finished piece. The original application says that we’d make a quilt but I knew from the start that I actually wanted to do something different. I love a community quilt project but there are a lot of them around and I always want to take the least obvious route in a creative project.

The other element in this project was that I was working with Mandeep not just by myself and I soon realised that the quilt idea wouldn’t work with Mandeep’s print on paper specialism. So I wanted to find a different way of working that would allow paper and textile to be used and I realised that it would also be great if the pieces made could be returned to the participants rather than produce one large piece which would then need a home.

One of the inspirations was Alinah Azadeh’s Medals for Everyday Courage, shared by Craftspace. I loved the idea of medals or tokens to celebrate the work volunteers had done. But I didn’t want to copy this idea for my own project, I needed my own concept. We bounced around a lot of ideas and eventually rosettes came out top. It worked perfectly – could be made in textile or paper, there’s space for words and images and they would make great mementoes of volunteering for makers to give as gifts or to keep for themselves.

We both worked on creative concepts that would be easy to make in workshops and at home with materials kits and put together all the stuff required and made prototypes.

I wrote instructions and printed booklets with photos to go with make-at-home kits while Mandeep prepared printed and hand drawn papers for the kits and workshops. And then we got started. Over 50 rosettes were made and contributed to the project over the summer and we then had to work out how to bring them together and display them in a way which allowed us to move it around easily and return the rosettes to their makers after the tour ended.

After a lot of research and experimenting, I decided to make a simple quilt for the pieces to attach to and went on the hunt for a suitable display stand which would work. I had a lovely time researching quilt displays but in the end opted for coat rack / open wardrobe style stand. The one I picked was designed to move easily and folds up for transport. It has a large box attached at the bottom which is not ideal in some ways but does mean I can store the packaging for the display all in the base and leave it at the venue.

So then I made the quilt to go on the stand, for the rosettes to attach to. That was a lot harder than I hoped, as I was running out of time and had to short cut to make a simpler version. I had intended to make a complex patterned patchwork but eventually realised that it would be impossible in the time I had left and also would be covered in rosettes so wouldn’t show anyway! So that rather lovely but wonky piece of patchwork is going to become my own artwork about volunteering – smaller scale and more visible as a standalone piece. Mandeep and I spent a day securing rosettes with extra stitching, backing, glue and other scaffolding to make sure they stood up to being moved and handled regularly.

One final inspection by my cat and it was ready to go on tour.

The showcase, along with the film and a booklet of my research is now on show in Loughborough at John Storer House. It’s there until 14th October and then has a couple of other venues in the county before it’s taken apart and the rosettes are returned to volunteers. You can also watch the film and download the booklet here. This is the last of a flurry of community projects I’ve been working on in 2021-22 but there will be more, in time. If you work for an organisation that would benefit from an artist-led project, please get in touch.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Community Spirit of Leicestershire launch

My project celebrating the Stories of pandemic volunteering in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland is going on tour

I’ve been working on this project most of the year and even longer in the planning and development. It’s finally almost out in the world! Back in 2020 when volunteering to help run a local foodbank, I realised just how important volunteering was to me and other volunteers. We felt useful and engaged and were making a real difference. I wanted to capture that energy and celebrate it and make sure that volunteers got a proper thank you for their incredible work.

Eventually I turned this into a funding application and created Community Spirit of Leicestershire with support from Arts Council England and Leicester city community funds.

From 5th September the resulting work, created by volunteers, will be shown in libraries and community centres as well as the foodbank where it all started for me. And you can also see the project film here.

There’s details of the tour venues here and a press release here.

I’ve worked with Mandeep Dhadialla as associate artist while I’ve been both lead artist and project producer (plus marketing, admin, funding, workshop-leader!). It’s been a real joy to see this come together and to be able to use a creative project to say THANK YOU to all volunteers for your amazing work.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Sanctuary Stories and Research Resonance

A couple of weeks ago Mandeep Dhadialla and I concluded our summer community project called Sanctuary Stories. I wrote a little about the project development here. The work made is now on show at Leicester Central Library until 31st August. Sanctuary Stories was part of the city-wide Journeys Festival run by ArtReach and we worked with participants from Roots Group who are all Leicester-based but from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds.

Mandeep created the project concept and ran most of the workshops while I worked on the behind-the-scenes project producer work. But delightfully, she also invited me to be part of the creative workshop side. The project focussed on print and book making exploring stories of nature, wellbeing and belonging. My part was to introduce slow stitch on the papers and books with the idea of a meditative stitch practice.

The previous week the group made collograph-style collages which Mandeep blind embossed onto heavy white paper to create beautiful textured, simple pieces. We stitched into these pieces and Mandeep later made them in to folded forms.

I created my samples around a theme I’m working on for myself on borders, boundaries, paths and journeys. The stitches represent a border, a path, containment and freedom. That’s where the research resonance of the title comes in – making the samples for this workshop created all kinds of connections with my own work. Talking to Mandeep about her work and the meanings behind this workshop programme also sparked ideas for both of us. She and I will be talking more about this in a podcast due out in mid-September. It was a real pleasure to work with this group and to collaborate with Mandeep on this project and the results are so lovely. I hope plenty of you will be able to see them in Leicester Library in the next week.


Creative Producer

Projects around making things happen and bringing together people, places and stories

I love working with people to explore places and stories. I create and deliver projects inspired by my three sources of joy: textiles, artists and heritage. I add in research, partnerships and funding to produce experiences around People, Places and Stories

The experiences I create might be for artists, for textile-lovers, around heritage and stories, by, with and for communities.

Find out more about my Creative Producer work here.

Sanctuary Stories Community Project

I’m working on a new community project this summer in collaboration with Mandeep Dhadialla / Laughing Cactus Print Studio. Mandeep is doing most of the workshops including leading this one using print making and book construction, and I’m adding in some textile elements and stitch in future sessions.

Sanctuary Stories is a project for ArtReach, working with their Roots group for people from sanctuary-seeking backgrounds. Their work will be shown in Leicester Library as part of Journeys Festival in August.

 The Roots group are local participants from around the world, who come together to learn new skills and engage in cultural activities throughout the year. The project, Sanctuary Stories, is all about inspiring conversations around stories of individuals from sanctuary seeking backgrounds, and their connection to community, home and environment. 

Mandeep Dhadialla

In this project I’m more behind the scenes while Mandeep does most of the workshop side. The project concept was developed by her with project planning and support from me and I’m really enjoying this way of working. I’ve got a couple of decades of experience in running arts projects, exhibitions and engagement activities so it’s great to be able to collaborate and share with someone else. Mandeep is also working with me on Community Spirit project. I’m keen to do more of this kind of project management where I get to be creative and not just admin, and work with great groups on meaningful projects. I also worked for ArtReach a very long time ago on a great museum project so it’s good to be involved with one of their projects again.

I’d love to work on more community projects around my on practice and the themes that inspire me with local and regional groups. Please get in touch if you think this might work for your organisation. You can find out more about the kind of things I love to do here.

Woodgate Wellbeing

Creating art projects with and for communities is a huge part of my creative business. For years I’ve worked on projects to support creativity and wellbeing for those with limited access to the arts for various reasons. Recently I’ve been creating projects myself rather than just working for other people and one of those is the Woodgate Wellbeing project I’ve developed for the users of the foodbank I helped establish in 2020. I’ve brought together a group of local artists and practitioners to create activities and events that are creative, accessible and relaxing and which also link to the local area of the city. To make the activities as accessible as possible, I’ve put together this magazine with loads of activities and an accompanying materials box to go with it. Workshop activities start later this month too. I’m so excited about this getting this project launched and hopefully supporting people to have a bit more creativity and wellbeing in their lives. 

The cover of Woodgate Wellbeing magazine is one of my Foodbank Stories embroideries. I created this project concept in early 2021 and applied for two different funds through the foodbank. The second was successful (Places Called Home fund from The National Lottery & IKEA). I have created the concept, commissioned the content and designed the magazine and kits. I’ve been supported in this project by Mandeep Dhadialla. She is also delivering one of the workshops for the project. Mandeep is also associate artist with my Community Spirit project.

I’d love to keep this project going and replicate it elsewhere. If you are interested in supporting creativity and wellbeing for underserved communities in a similar way, please get in touch.

Community Spirit Project Launch

Calling all covid-related volunteers!

Have you volunteered to help others during the pandemic in Leicester, Leicestershire or Rutland?

You’ve done amazing work over the last two years, supporting communities throughout the pandemic. 

I am collecting stories and making an artwork to celebrate the incredible work of local people during the pandemic. The stories will become part of an artwork, also made by volunteers, to be showcased in the autumn. There will also be events during volunteers week in June.

Please share your volunteering story and join in with the artwork (if you want) by visiting ruthsinger.com/community-spirit 

tinyurl.com/communityspiritleicestershire

Wellbeing project

It’s taken months and several funding applications to get off the ground, but I am pleased to say I have at last got my wellbeing project for foodbank users in Leicester up and running. I’ve been part of the foodbank / community hub volunteer team since early in lockdown last year, and I’ve had this dream of adding more than just food to what we can offer to support people. I wanted to use my community arts experience to create a programme of activities that support the wellbeing of people who are struggling with poverty, poor housing, insecurity, isolation and many other challenges brought on by or worsened by the pandemic. Volunteering during the pandemic really focussed me on trying to develop arts activities which really impact those who don’t have the privileges and access to the arts that I have.

I’ve now got a small pot of money for some consultation with foodbank users and to try a few different activities to see what people like & want. I’m also working with a local school who will help me create local history guides and walks and add their own touches to the wellbeing packs I plan to give out to those who sign up. Once the weather warms up, I will run some sessions in the foodbank too (it has no heating!) and involve local artists, writers and community practitioners to share their expertise too.

I only have 6 months of funding and I am already doing more than I am being paid for, but I have great ambitions to make this a long-term project and to support more people in the city, not just the foodbank users. I’m working with partners to find additional sources of funding and making use of my extensive funding application experience! It’s been such a great challenge to establish this new way of working and combining my volunteering / community work with paid project development work. I’m really excited to see where this goes and how it works with the community. If you would like to support the foodbank and the work we do, you can donate to our winter crowdfunder here. If you let me know I will ask for your donation to be put aside for the wellbeing work I’m doing.

Creative Communities

Working on your own as a creative maker or artist is hard enough in normal times and it’s even more challenging this year, both financially and personally. Isolation and struggling alone is very real. It can be hard to connect with friends and make new ones when you aren’t doing exhibitions, shows, teaching or other events where we normally get together.

WebinArt Establish programme has been created to help established artists and makers to connect, share, learn and grow. We are here to support you.

WebinArt is an online creative community of established artists and makers learning, sharing and supporting.  We come together through online forums, Zoom networking and peer mentoring groups to share experiences, knowledge and support each other. I am the co-ordinator for the Establish group, creating a community of peers to learn and grow. This is the best way to work with me on a mentoring basis if you are an established (3 years or so) creative business. And it’s only £8 per month!

Establish Membership gives you access to:

  • An online forum where members share and learn from each other, facilitated by Ruth Singer with monthly focus challenges and topics
  • 2 special events a year delving deep into topics that are important to our members
  • Monthly Zoom networking sessions led by artist and mentor Ruth Singer
  • Quarterly peer mentoring sessions with a small group of like-minded artists/makers where you can talk about the issue you want to delve into for your own business
  • An online school of recorded webinars and artist / organisation interviews 
  • Live webinars once a month
  • Networking with midlands-based arts organisations
  • Optional add-ons (pay as you go) 1:1 mentoring with specialists 

Does this sound like something you need? It’s only £8 per month which is heavily subsidised. If you want to apply, register your interest here. If you aren’t quite sure, find out more here or drop me a line and we can chat.

Very inspiring and motivating. Great to work with others in my group too!

So far it’s been completely transformative. I don’t think I would have got so far with my new business without it.

WebinArt 2020/21 is generously subsidised by our funding partners – Leicestershire County Council, Arts Council England, Derbyshire County Council, Hinckley + Bosworth Borough Council, North West Leicestershire District Council, Blaby District Council + Rutland County Council. 

Creating Community

I’m always being asked what inspires me, where I get my ideas from, how those ideas go from thoughts to textiles, how I create exhibitions, what my next project will be and so much more…  With this in mind, I have come up with a behind-the-scenes mini magazine where you will be able to find out just those things, and even see inside my studio every month. I’ve created  subscription community in Patreon where you can join up to get monthly updates about what is going on in my studio and in my working life and support my creative practice at the same time. I hope to create a space where I can share more about what I do with the people who are really interested. You can ask for particular themes or stories in my posts and in the magazine. The April issue will cover the development of Criminal Quilts and where that project has come from and where it is going. There’s a sample mini magazine section here to download {patreon news sample} and much more to look at on the Patreon page itself.

There are three different membership levels including a monthly art print posted directly to you as well as the mini digital magazine at just $10 a month and the Cotton supporter level at only $5 a month. This is open to anyone in the world so I hope it will inspire you too.

 

 

 

Narrative Threads community projects

Part of my Narrative Threads exhibition artist residency has been to work with local communities around Sleaford and the National Centre for Craft and Design. I built this into my Arts Council funding so I could experiment with new ways of working with different audiences, continue to build my community arts CV and try and engage the local community with my work and the messages around it.

A lot of the work created in these workshops and events will be displayed as part of Narrative Threads.

Earlier in the summer I worked with a Sleaford primary school on a project exploring amulets and objects with stories. In the first session we investigated words and symbols which have significance across cultures and in different time periods. The children made tags with special messages, images and symbols. For the second session they brought in special objects and collected natural materials to use to make their own amulets. We used printing, sewing and wrapping to make the amulets and each child wrote about their amulets and why it was special.

 

Sleaford Alzheimers Society

It has been particularly rewarding to work at the Sleaford Dementia Cafe run by the Alzheimers Society. In the first session we created Memory Collages, using fabric scraps and felt to build up pictures of special places or hobbies.

For the second session I took along a reminiscence box of old clothes and textiles to spark memories and stories similar to my textile memories project. These will be embroidered onto a cloth for display in the exhibition. I had hoped it would be engaging for the participants and their carers to reminisce about textile memories from their families. Many people talked about their childhood, their mother’s embroidery skills – or lack of them – and their own sewing for their children. It was a fascinating and absorbing day, and I hope to do more of this kind of work in the future.

I have also run workshops for families during school holidays, making painted and embroidered pincushions and other drop-in craft workshops.

Ruth Singer community project

 

Yesterday I ran a workshops for Arts NK’s community wellbeing event at Waddington, Lincs making memory tags- a decorated luggage label telling a story of a happy memory or something important in your life.

 

I am currently working with A Level textiles students who are creating work inspired by mine as part of the assessed portfolio. Their finished pieces will also be in the exhibition.

Once the exhibition is open I will continue to work with groups including a GCSE group and community sessions for a local sheltered housing scheme. I have also set up Crafts for Relaxation, a free monthly workshop for people who might not be able to afford or attend normal workshops, with the idea of participants meeting new people and getting some time to themselves. This programme has taken some time to get up and running and it has been a challenge to reach the right audience but it is a useful process for me in working out how to self-run community projects in the future.