• Libby

Transcript - Providing Youth with Access to Drama & the Arts with Alison, Elevator Arts (Episode 21)


Libby: You are listening to Constellations, the community podcast connecting charities, communities & causes in the two unitaries of Thurrock & Southend.

In today’s episode we chat to Alison, Director of Elevator Arts in Southend. She talks to us about how vital collaborative working is, how she launched a Community Interest Company during a global pandemic and much more.

Without further ado, here’s our chat!


Libby: So today we're joined by Alison, director of Elevator Arts. Thank you so much for coming on to talk to me today.

Alison: Thank you.

Libby: So for anyone that doesn't know what is Elevator Arts?

Alison: Elevator Arts is an arts and drama organisation delivering projects with young people in Southend. We work with young people who are most in need and with the least access to arts activities. Um, and we focus on developing mental health and well being and building life skills through creativity.

Libby: That sounds amazing. I've seen you so much on, like, instagram and stuff. So many different, exciting projects. What have you got going on at the moment?

Alison: We've been doing a project with South Essex homes, which is young people that are living in one of their family hostels and a temporary accommodation. So that's been like a weekly storytelling performance project trying to build some of their literacy, speaking and listening skills through that. Then we've had an ongoing project that we started. We did a pilot project for it in autumn, which is called Blast. And that is a youth drama group that we do in partnership with Welcome to the UK. It's for kids aged 8 to 12, but everyone's welcome but we also focus on young people that have English as an additional language. So we're into our second term now of that project, and we do that on a Monday night at 21. So that's, that's really nice that we've got something that's regular.

Libby: Yeah, fantastic. So how did it come to be?

Alison: Well, I've been working in theatre and creative learning for about 15 years or so, and in 2017 I moved to Southend from London. I didn't know anybody here at all. I was on maternity leave and then I took redundancy from the job I had working in the theatre at the time and then it came to going back to work, obviously after my maternity leave and I was casting about thinking about what am I going to do where where do I want to go now with my career. On speaking to lots of people, artists, organisations and seeing what the landscape was like as far as creative arts and youth arts was like in Southend, I really felt and could tell that there was a strong visual arts offer here, and there's lots of creatives working here. There are great youth theatres and performing arts schools, but they are all paid for and there's a real gap for free drama projects. So I thought, well, you know, I could do that myself. Let's set up an organisation and actually deliver those projects. So that's really how it came about.

Libby: That's amazing. So you set up in February 2020. How did that go?

Alison: Well, I mean, obviously it meant that we were very slow to get off the ground as far as delivering projects went. So I almost feel like we've only been going a year properly.

Libby: Were you able to deliver any online?

Alison: Well the first project we delivered properly was in November 2020 and that was actually with the Triple T’s, Turning Tides Young People’s Group. But then, unfortunately, we delivered a few sessions with them and then we went into another lockdown. So then we were able to adapt that project and do some remote work with them, and then the first proper project really again was then in March of 21.

In some ways that gap from February and then going into lockdown gave me more time to do a lot of planning. People were quite open to having those meetings on Zoom and you could do that. And also there was that knowledge that when we come out of this there's going to be a real need to be doing this kind of work. We knew that we would need to address mental health and just building people's confidence, getting back together and connecting again. So there was a real opportunity to develop things with organisations over time.

Libby: I was going to say you've done some amazing collaboration and partnership working. Do you think that some of that is because you had more time to plan?

Alison: Yeah, I mean, that was always the model I was working to. That’s how I wanted to start off the work of Elevator Arts by working in partnership with organisations already working with young people that have got those relationships already and they know where there's a particular need. But I think you're right, having that time to build the relationships and not feel like I've got to quickly get this funding in and get something off the ground. You could just have those conversations and do the planning.

Libby: When you're sort of in the depths of trying to deliver everything and get all of the funding and everything it is really hard to not just be like full steam ahead, which is something that we've definitely found for doing the podcast. So yeah, it feels like it would probably have been nice to sort of be forced to take a pause a little.

Alison: Yeah, I think it came at the right time. I think if I had already set up the company and been delivering things and then had to stop it and there were people to pay, that would have been a real nightmare. And I think if I hadn't already become incorporated and kind of gone a little way down the road, by lockdown, I might have gone there’s no point doing it now, and I would have left it. So it sort of worked out for me, timing wise. And I was doing some other work for other people, so I was able to do that remotely. But then I had my son at home, so I was juggling everybody else too.

Libby: So how does drama contribute to positive mental health and well being?

Alison: Well, I mean, really, it's all about getting people together. So working with other people, sharing your ideas, collaboration, finding out ways to positively express yourself and maybe working through and exploring experiences or emotions in a positive and sort of safe environment. What we do, we're not drama therapists, we're not doing that kind of work, and it's quite light touch in that way. When we're actually delivering, it is about giving young people those creative skills to create their own work. But through that there's always that positive change and supporting people's well being through any kind of arts activities, just taking part and doing those things will boost people.

Libby: What has been the biggest highlight for you since you started?

Alison: Yeah, the biggest highlight, I think, I mean, all the projects that we've been able to do, they've all had really great outcomes. I think the first full big project that didn't have anything covid or anything stopping it, we did a project in summer last year with Trust Links called Outside In. That was a weeklong project and we worked with another theatre company called Smoking Apples, and we had large scale puppets. Young people made their own puppets, they made masks, they made their T-Shirts, they made all the props, everything over that week. Then they created a promenade performance at the Trust Links Rochford site. And that was just one of those projects that was arts council funded. I think it was a project that I started talking to trust links about in the summer of 2020 when we were in lockdown, first talking about it then, so it had been a long time building. But when it came to delivering, it really did all come together and it was just a really lovely experience over the week and it did feel like it was one of those first times of being able to get people together doing that. And we were able to have an audience because it was outside.

Libby: Yes, it sounds really, the pictures look magical that I saw on social media. Yeah. So how do you go about making the connections for partnership working?

Alison: Really? Just first of all it was just about kind of finding out who's doing what. SAVS was really important, actually, and really supportive when I was setting up and giving me those contacts and telling me who to speak to really. Then it was just a case of really contacting people and saying, this is what we do, this is what we want to be able to deliver, and people have just been very responsive.

Libby: Yeah the Southend Community is just so open to collaboration.

Alison: Yeah, so everybody, everybody I've contacted has gone yeah let's have a meeting. You know, let's chat about these things. Not everything has turned into a project. But, you know, you know it's great to make those relationships and then, of course, once you've done that, then that leads onto something else.

Libby: So when you're delivering different project, do you need any extra people like volunteers?

Alison: At the moment all our projects are delivered by freelancers. We would like to develop the volunteers that we have, if we can over the next year or so, particularly young people mentoring and developing youth leadership as well. But at the moment, I really want to develop relationships with people that might be interested in coming on to our board.

So as a CIC we have a board and we’re looking for non-executive directors and it's just building relationships with people that have the skills where perhaps I have those gaps. So people that are in finance and business, those kinds of areas, but have a real passion for the sort of work that we're doing.

Libby: Okay, if anybody listening thinks that that sounds like them, what's the best thing for them to do to contact you?

Alison: You can go to our website to have a little bit more of a look at what we do, which is https://www.elevatorarts.co.uk and my email is alison@elevatorarts.co.uk. Of course people can see us on social media as well and get in touch.

Libby: So what do you have planned for the future at the moment?

Alison: Well, we've got a project that will be coming up which is with Little Heroes, ASD support. And that would be a puppetry project with them, so I'm really looking forward to that. We'll be continuing with Blast over the summer term and just got other things that we're kind of in discussions with. So hopefully we can develop some longer term projects, kind of build up a bit more regular work and legacy with organisations rather than just one off projects. Yeah, um, and really, just looking for funding again.

Libby: Yeah. I think everyone is doing the same thing. What kind of projects and tools do you use to increase public engagement in the arts?

Alison: Well, all our projects are about participation. So they are all about the process of getting young people to engage in arts activity with professional artists. Giving them those kinds of skills so they can create their own work and hopefully through that, they then will be more likely to engage in those kinds of activities after that they might be more interested in going to a theatre or going into galleries. Not just feeling like that it's not, it’s not something that isn't for them because it is much more accessible for them as they've actually been able to take part and create something themselves.

Libby: For sure. If it's not been part of your life, you are not going to automatically think that it’s something you want to get involved in.

Alison: And then also hopefully we can get families and friends of those young people to then see what they've created. And often it's work that they might not have seen before. You know, they might not have been to something that was site specific or puppetry, they’re quite interesting aspects of theatre that people might not be so aware of.

Libby: Sure, it's been really lovely to see all of the different, like you've done a variety of different things, which is really lovely. Have you been involved in the charity sector previously?

Alison: Only in the sense of having worked in subsidised theatre and arts in that way? I used to work for a theatre that worked with a trust that funded all the creative learning work. So that was really my first opportunity to work really directly with a charity and when I actually left the theatre, I was then working remotely for the charity as well. So they were running free youth theatre and other kinds of community projects. They’re based in South London, in Merton. Quite a lot of the kinds of things that they do, I have taken some of that model as I learnt quite a lot from that.

Libby: Fabulous. If our listeners would like to get in touch with you or follow along with what you've got going on where is it best for them to do that?

Alison: They can go to our website, which is https://www.elevatorarts.co.uk.

We're on social media, instagram, twitter, facebook, LinkedIn.

They can also email me directly, alison@elevatorarts.co.uk.

Libby: Thank you. Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming to talk to me today. It's been a pleasure to hear about all the wonderful things that you're doing.

Alison: Thank you, it was lovely.


Libby: Thank you for tuning in! As always, please visit our website at constellations-podcast.org for a full transcript of this episode, as well as show notes listing links & information about organisations & groups mentioned in the episode.

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Thanks again and remember to tune in next week for our next episode. Bye!

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