Transcript - Building Community Connectedness, with Carolyn, founder of We Are Creatives (Episode 4)
Updated: Mar 17
Libby: You are listening to Constellations, the podcast connecting charities, communities and causes in the Essex unitaries of Thurrock and Southend. In this episode we meet Carolyn, founder of We Are Creatives Thurrock. Carolyn shares her personal journey to founding We Are Creatives, as well as her aims to use art and culture to decrease discrimination, reduce prejudice and connect the people of Thurrock. We hope you enjoy!
Libby: Today we are joined by Carolyn, founder of We Are Creatives Thurrock, thank you so much for joining us today.
Carolyn: Oh it's great to be here. Thank you for asking me.
Libby: Can you describe what We Are Creatives Thurrock is to our listeners for the benefit of anyone who isn't already aware.
Carolyn: Yeah, of course - We Are Creatives Thurrock is a social enterprise and we are boosting engagements in the arts, we are boosting community connectedness and we are increasing well-being.
Libby: That sounds amazing. Um, how did it come to be?
Carolyn: I started with another social enterprise, which was about using art and selling art to challenge mental health stigma.
Carolyn: And I ended up on an online creative industry meeting in Thurrock, and I noticed a huge hole when it comes to people talking about wellpbeing in the arts and also the focus on boosting engagement in the arts. And when I looked at it and I looked around, it was quite obvious that Thurrock is bereft of arts and culture. We're not known for it. So I didn't really have a choice - I had to do something about it. And that's when We Are Creatives Thurrock was born.
We've got the online website which enables artists and groups and businesses to come together and collaborate. And when we’re collaborating, it means that we can offer more to Thurrock. We're talking about breaking down divisions, breaking down barriers, and when you think about art, art transcends language and it's always been a part of culture, so it doesn't matter what your ability is. It doesn't matter what your first language is. You can participate in artistic activities, whether that be painting or making things or dancing. You can really get a lot out of the arts.
Libby: Yeah, it's brilliant because so many times arts gets overlooked with funding and like the importance of it, doesn't it?
Carolyn: It does, yeah.
Libby: So yeah, just sounds amazing.
Sharen: Yeah. So is it all online, everything that you do?
Carolyn: No. So we started online and since then our in-person engagement’s been around 20,000 people. We did it through um events, and we did it through workshops. And we've also done it through going to events in Thurrock and you know, exhibiting, for instance a four metre whale, to put a spot light and highlight plastic pollution.
Libby: What kind of workshops have you run?
Carolyn: So we ran workshops for Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions
Carolyn: And we arranged those workshops so that people could come along. And I had made sure there was a huge variety of stuff available for people - circus skills, making pinatas, dancing and drama and all those kinds of crazy things, and it was the most fantastic summer. Um, it was just after Covid, they had been through the pandemic, they’d come out and to see the confidence that was built up during those sessions, week after week, to see their self esteem being boosted week upon week was fantastic. And if you need inspiration, that was a hell of a lot of inspiration for me.
Libby: Yeah it sounds magical.
Carolyn: So, yeah, it was great to be a part of that.
Sharen: So is it open to absolutely anyone?
Carolyn: The Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions, yeah, they were all about helping customers, but it's also about breaking down divisions. So it was held at, uh, Grays Beach River Side Park, so um, there are always lots and lots of kids playing around there and they were able to join in if they wanted to. And it was free for anyone that wanted to get involved on the day. So yeah, we wanted those divisions to be broken down. I think that groups interacting with each other is the best way to decrease discrimination, to decrease stigma and by having contact with certain parts of your community that you don't necessarily have contact with, you know, reduces those. And that's how you build community connectedness. That's how you reduce prejudice. It's through that contact - challenging pre existing concepts of what you believe to be true before you meet before you meet different groups or before you interact with certain cultures that you're not familiar with.
Libby: Tell us about the whale.
Carolyn: Okay so the whale was commissioned by Thurrock Lifestyle Spolutions - it was commissioned for the Beach of Dreams event. And initially we were looking at going to colleges, and schools and saying, look, we really want to highlight the issues of plastic waste. Highlight the fact that it’s code red for humanity. You know that those are the people, perhaps the last generation that can do something about it, and you know which is why it's poignant for them and why they are protesting about it. Having come back after the pandemic, and given all the restrictions that were put in place in educational settings, it was very difficult. So it couldn't be done in educational facilities, and we said okay, that’s fine we’ll do it. We'll do it ourselves. And we had loads of fun doing it. And so whilst I might be more known for photography, or painting, I have now built a sculpture. You know, it was a challenge and we had gone round households and businesses and asked them to give us their plastic waste.
Carolyn: And you know, we looked at that concept and what it might come out as… And it come out as a whale.
Libby: It's amazing. It’s - the photographs online. Where is it located now?
Carolyn: It is in a shop unit in Grays, that is not yet open.
Carolyn: But I've also been asked whether the whale could be turned into a submarine, that is driven by a hedgehog, for-
Libby: I wasn’t expecting that!
Carolyn: Yeah, for another event.
Libby: Oh cool!
Carolyn: So, you know, what is happening for the whale in the future is undecided
Libby: Okay, it’s an evolving whale
Carolyn: It’s an evolving whale
Sharen: So they saw it, and then they want…
Carolyn: Yeah! Thought you know, we could use that for something else.
Libby: <laughter> That’s nice I like it
Carolyn: So yeah, so we don't know where the whale will go or what it’s mission will be.
Sharen: What it’s destiny is
Libby: It’s on a journey!
Carolyn: Yeah <laughter> uh yeah, I mean, and if you saw it on a zebra crossing it’s not what you usually see, a whale on a zebra crossing, or you saw a lot of people trying to fit it into a mini bus then um, yeah it was quite a spectacle. But
Libby: <laughter> I can imagine
Carolyn: Worth it though, worth it. I think when you think about the whale and you think about how art can engage people in different things, it enabled the children to look at it and say “What's that about?” “oh it’s made of plastic?” it gets people to look and think, oh, yeah, really must recycle - that is going nowhere. That whale, that has been made with plastic that was collected over a short period of time: can you imagine how as individuals, how much plastic use, we produce and what that is doing to the environment?
Carolyn: Why, why is We Are Creatives Thurrock important. It's important because people are important. It’s important because arts and culture brings so much and contribute massively not only to local economies but also to well-being and mental health. If you look at the government policy on social prescribing, it shows you the amount of research and what they're following through on is decreasing social isolation, giving another line, an opportunity for people to get involved in activities, in groups, because it is so beneficial, it is so beneficial to well-being. And it's important because of my own history when it comes to the arts and well-being as well. On an individual level, I lost my eyesight, I went totally blind because of diabetic retinopathy. And it was through photography, as my eyes were healing after a long, long time, after a number of operations under anaesthetic, after lots and lots of laser surgeries and a long, long healing process. It enabled me to think. Oh, my goodness, my eyesight! What I can do with my eyesight, and the privileges I have from my eyesight are so important. I need to document everything.
Carolyn: I need to document everything because I'm not sure when it will go again, and that can happen for me. Um, sure, how long it will last for. Right now, my eyesight isn't too bad, I can, you know, do stuff I can take photos, I can paint, and make four metre whales. But that camera, that ability to get into photography, what it enabled me to do is interact in the world in different ways. And I went from photography to learning the rules of composition, and getting interested in painting, and oil painting. And when I think about my experience of painting, I think about the fact that going through that experience of being in a dark, dark place, when I lost my eyesight, it actually helped me to focus on the process of doing arts. The process of being involved in painting. So not looking at what the final picture should look like
Libby: Yeah, what your gonna produce.
Carolyn: at the start. It's about the brush strokes, and the process and the enjoyment of doing that. That taught me - you know what? If you can concentrate on the process rather than the end outcome , then you can reach your full potential. You don't necessarily have to have a masterpiece at the end of it.
Libby: Yeah, you can concentrate on the enjoyment of doing.
Carolyn: Yeah, because you can achieve so much through that. So yes, it is important on an individual level too.
Carolyn: We're asking people to collaborate, to be listed online of course, but collaborate in terms of, um, getting together. Yeah, I can do that for you. You know what? You'd be really good for this. And actually, I've heard about this commission, and you'd be really good for it. And that's what we do.
Libby: Brilliant, yeah.
Carolyn: Um, if I come across commission work, and I think you know what they’d be really great for that - I’ll contact them. And we do shout about matters, we shout about the Thameside Theatre and what they stand for and what they do is terribly important to us and to many in the community as well.
Libby: Are there volunteering opportunities with We Are Creatives? Are there any roles that you have?
Carolyn: Yeah, so, I mean, right now there's a bite-sized opportunity for you to volunteer, you know - tell people about us, ask them to sign up, spread what we're spreading. So whether that's spreading a groups that are starting up or another group that are offering free activities, you know, let parents know about it or let a person that's interested in amateur dramatics know about it or, you know, let them know about it. In terms of longer term things, because of the things that we’re focusing on in the future. So, you know, we'll have another inclusion fusion event, and right now as well, I've been working with the government appointed ambassador to the arts, David Stanley, to bring the Music Man Project here, which famously started in Southend.
Libby: That's amazing. You’ve got a lot going on!
Carolyn: And, so we're trying to get that started in Thurrock. And that will give people with special educational needs and disabilities an opportunity to perform at the Royal Albert Hall, you know, in the London Paladium. So, yeah, we're looking at working with other agencies to get that started.
Sharen: That all sounds great. A lot coming up for you - busy times.
Sharen: So if anyone is listening and they would like to get involved. Or, you know, they've heard something they're really interested in. What's the best way to contact you, or to get involved?
Carolyn: Yep you can either go to our website, and there's a contact form there. Or you can go to our social medias, which is @WAC, so that’s @ W A C Thurrock, or you can email me too on email@example.com
Carolyn: I just want to say that arts and culture, they're not something that is a privilege. They are necessary. They’re necessary in terms of well-being and they’re necessary in terms of mental wealth. And I think the more people we can get to stand up and recognise that and even give a few things a go - whether that be joining groups or participating in any way that you like to participate, then great, do it. Makes yourself feel good, whether that’s singing in the car with a crowd of people, or doing something to progress your skills. It is so good for you.
Libby: Yeah. Finding something that makes you feel good. And, yeah, definitely.
Sharen: And I think there's a creative part inside of all of us isn’t there?
Carolyn: There is, we’re not robots, you know, there's more to life than getting up in the morning, going to work, eating and going to bed - every culture has needed some form of art.
Libby: Yeah, forever.
Carolyn: For, yeah, like, forever.
Libby: Well thank you so much for coming to talk to us.
Carolyn: Thank you.
Libby: It's been amazing. Like you're doing so much good work, well done!
Carolyn: Thank you
Sharen: Your passion it just
Libby: Yeah, it shines through.
Sharen: Lovely - thank you
Carolyn: Thank you.
Libby: Thank you for tuning in! Since recording this episode, Carolyn and We Are Creatives Thurrock have announced their latest exciting project - “The Grays Urban Art Trail”, which is aiming to launch in July. The project is SUPER exciting and all of us at Constellations HQ cannot wait to see it come to life! To find out more, check out the show notes for this episode for We Are Creatives website and social media links.
Please do leave us a review on your favourite podcast platform, and if you've got any questions for us, have suggestions for topics you'd like to hear about or any individuals or organisations you would like to hear us interview, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great day - bye!