Sarah Witcomb is the Community Producer at performing arts venue, The Garage in Norwich. Ahead of a picnic in the park event tomorrow, she explains why it is her dream job
I create and develop creative co-design community projects, which have social action at the heart of them. This means I work with members of the community, to develop projects together, where there are challenges or a need for change. This could be in areas of poverty; where the community is struggling with challenging behaviour; underrepresented communities or where there are vulnerable people. Themes I have worked with so far have been period poverty, climate change, cost of living crisis, county line activity, anti-social behaviour and adult mental health. It’s really varied and allows me to work in creative ways to look at and tackle issues in our local community.
I’ve been working at The Garage for two years, and it’s my dream job. I get to work creatively to develop ideas from members of the community to enable people to build new skills based on their interests and help them make changes in the world around them. To work in co-design means that I work closely with members of the community to create new projects that they’ve designed, so we’re working with their ideas and to meet the community’s needs, rather than being ‘done to’ or offering fully fledged existing projects and activities. They can take ownership of the work we offer and things we create together.
I love being able to empower other to develop creative projects. For example, I run a Creative Wellbeing Group for adults which is focused on improving wellbeing through creative activities. We explore different art forms to improve our own and the community’s wellbeing, which means we have regular sessions, as well as running public workshops where members of the group are building their confidence and facilitation skills to deliver workshops and share creative activities to help improve wellbeing.
What I really enjoy about my job is that no working day is the same. I get to meet lots of people and create lots of interesting ideas, work in all sorts of different art forms and get to help bring people’s ideas to life. I get to see ideas transform into reality and become events, art and workshops for the public to engage with.
The Jenny Lind Project is a creative community co-design project which is focused on the Nr2 Jenny Lind area of Norwich. I’ve spent the past two years getting to know the people and families living in and around the Jenny Lind Park and Vauxhall Street area of Norwich.
The Jenny Lind area in Norwich is considered to be one of high deprivation and has a history of county lines activity, but it is also home to a resilient community who look after each other, who have creative ideas and generous spirits.
It started as café meet up and conversations with people on the street, in the charity shops and the laundrette and has developed into regular creative sessions to develop our ideas into activities and social action to make a change in the area – meeting at the local café to discuss potential projects. The café has recently been developed into a community hub for learning, creativity, support, food sharing and much more, by the NR2 Community Skills Share and partners with The Garage who use the space to run creative co-design sessions. The groups we met with decided they wanted to focus on positive activities for young people and families in the area, to combat gang culture and county lines activity.
It’s been important for us at The Garage to establish a long-term presence and take time to understand the area, meet people and listen. It has been fascinating to then see how one co-designed project can be the catalyst for change in our community, with other strands of inclusion work developing in the area.
I’ve been working with artists to run regular creative art workshops and activities that develop a sense of pride in the area. Year 6 children from nearby Bignold School have taken part in weekly theatre-making workshops which have engaged and built relationships in preparation for summer workshop at the café during the school holidays.
Following a call-out, local community artist Knapple is delivering weekly street art workshops from the café, which will lead to people getting involved in further public artworks. The approach is to ask what will really make a difference and collaborate on things that people want to change in the neighbourhood. We will build on this activity at the Picnic in the Park event on September 2, with a live community mural, and our Creative Wellbeing Group will be delivering free craft activities at the event too. I’m already looking forward to next year and looking at a possible community music project, with lots of local musical collaborations.
The Picnic in the Park event on September 2 will be a celebration of the Jenny Lind Community. Rolling on from the success of our Jubilee event last year we have developed the event to be a fun community wide extravaganza, with a free afternoon of performance and activities. We will see local bands performing throughout the afternoon, face paints as well as lots of different craft activities to take part in. We encourage the local community to join us for this celebration, bring a picnic, bring your dancing shoes or just bring a picnic blanket to enjoy the atmosphere.
There’s no need to book it’s all free, so just turn up on the day from 12pm and enjoy the celebrations. Expect lots more community led initiative from The Garage, especially if you live in the Jenny Lind area of Norwich.