Why Clydesider invited locals to join songwriting classes and mindful photography walks

A day-long ‘creative cafe’ helped people in West Dunbartonshire contribute to this Scottish social enterprise beyond writing articles

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This case study was first published in Engagement Explained, a fortnightly newsletter that brings you in-depth and replicable engaged journalism case studies from news organisations across Europe. Sign up here to receive the next edition in your inbox.

In a nutshell

A day-long event for local residents to share their ideas and experiences across a range of creative mediums, from poetry to songwriting to crafting, and to learn new skills from each other.

Background

  • Clydesider is a community media and creative training social enterprise based in West Dunbartonshire, Scotland.
  • Founded in 2016, it has a team of three (one full-time and two part-time staff) who produce a free, quarterly magazine focusing on the positive stories and creative talents of local people in the county.
  • It has 15 regular volunteers and 100+ other volunteers who contribute their time and skills to the production and distribution of 10,000 copies of the magazine.
  • Clydesider is currently funded by local advertising and one-off grants and is researching community-funded membership models with the view to launch membership before the end of the year.
  • In February, Clydesider was chosen from more than 120 news organisations to receive Accelerator funding and support for their Community Newsroom hubs and citizen media training programme.
Local residents attending Clydesider's Creative Cafe event get hands on with pens and paper
Local residents attending Clydesider's Creative Cafe event get hands-on with pens and paper (credit: Robert Wilson)

How did they do it?

  • During the development of the magazine in 2016, the Clydesider team held meetings in community venues to meet local people interested in contributing to the magazine. Locals were encouraged to bring poetry or songs to perform because the team knew writing wasn’t many people’s strongest means of communication. Others faced additional challenges (e.g addiction, alcohol dependency, mental and physical health issues) that meant they were not confident or comfortable contributing written stories.
  • The team had the idea to create an event format where people could showcase their creative talents and share skills with one another. They applied for and received funding from the National Lottery Community Fund to host four Creative Cafe events across West Dunbartonshire each year for three years.
  • Caroline Finn, an art school graduate who had not long started volunteering with Clydesider, was recruited to run the Creative Cafes, and set about putting the theory into practice.
  • Each event has a different theme which is linked to the theme of the next magazine issue: the first one was about health and wellness and the next event is focused on potential.
  • The team secured a community space with a large main hall and smaller workshop rooms and promoted the event with leaflets and posters in the local area as well as on social media and in the magazine.
  • They invited local creative and therapeutic facilitators to put on two or three-hour sessions including a mindful photography walk, children’s puppet show workshops, laughter therapy, songwriting classes and wax painting session. All activities were free as West Dunbartonshire is a low-income community and it was essential that cost wasn’t a barrier to participation. Spaces were limited so workshops were registration-only.
  • There were also several drop-ins and taster sessions including hand massage lessons, how-to-sew taster and family art drop-in. Facilitators were paid by Clydesider for their time and materials.
A local resident gets a free hand massage during the Clydesider creative cafe (credit: Robert Wilson)
A local resident gets a free hand massage during the Clydesider creative cafe (credit: Robert Wilson)
  • As well as the creative workshops and activities, there was a Community Marketplace in the main hall where a mix of local charities, crafters and social enterprises shared information, advice and arts and crafts work with attendees. Attendees could also speak directly to local experts on everything from alcohol awareness to recycling advice to creative ideas.
  • Local businesses and companies that were selling goods in the Community Marketplace paid £20 to attend. The funds were put towards Food 4 Thought, a local church and volunteer-run charity providing emergency food aid to people in Dunbartonshire, to run a ‘pay what you want’ community kitchen on the day of the event.
  • The team placed Clydesider volunteers in each of the sessions to keep an eye on the conversations and capture some of the discussion ideas.
  • Over 100 people came during the five-hour event, a mix of people who knew the magazine and associates of the organisations who were there on the day, as well as people from the local community curious to find out more about Clydesider.
  • Event participants were asked to add their names to a list on the way in and fill in an evaluation form on the way out. The charities and community organisations were also sent a feedback form after the event to provide feedback on how the event went.
  • Caroline shot and edited a video of the day, featuring local guitarist Sam Begbie, who hosted the songwriting workshop.

What did they learn?

  • Clydesider found that most of the conversation during the sessions was about learning skills, rather than the topic of health and wellness. This was surprising to the team – they had expected people to talk about their health and mental wellbeing more directly. In the future, they intend to make one or two sessions about the topic rather than have it run as a theme throughout the whole day.
  • The evaluation forms were filled in by less than 30% of attendees and organisations. For future events, Clydesider will provide attendees with a welcome pack with the evaluation form and make a point of asking people to fill them in as they leave the event to ensure feedback is captured.
  • From the feedback forms that were completed, attendees said they left the event feeling “better” than when they had arrived, particularly those that took part in the laughter therapy and photography sessions. A woman who cares full-time for her son came to the photography walk very stressed but remarked that she felt much calmer by the end, while others said they felt “hopeful” and encouraged by writing music.
  • Others commented that they had been interested in finding out ‘how laughter can change your mood and uplift you,’ and several respondents said they had hoped to ‘meet new people’ and ‘find information about local groups’.
  • All those who responded said the event had met or exceeded their expectations and 92% of respondents said they would be likely to attend a future event with the main recommendation on how to improve future events being to publicise them better.
  • Having a mix of organisations at the Creative Cafe helped bring in a wide range of event attendees, rather than just Clydesider fans. The team will take this insight into the community conference event taking place in October.
  • Clydesider found some people joined the Creative Cafe because they had attended a local heritage event at the nearby library, so the team may try to tie in future events with other local events in order to maximise footfall.
  • Although getting new volunteers on board wasn’t the goal of the Creative Cafe, four people came forward to ask to volunteer their time with Clydesider. They have gone on to take part in meetings and write for Clydesider.

In their own words

Amanda Eleftheriades-Sherry, editor and founder, Clydesider

"Most of our volunteer contributors had little or no journalistic experience but with a little support and encouragement they could write interesting and engaging articles – they were also a great source of stories."

How would you improve it?

"I’d provide a clear set of editorial guidelines for volunteers at the start – a couple of volunteers have tried to submit articles which don't really tie in with our ethos or policy, so it would be useful to have a set of guidelines that are available on our website and sent out to every potential volunteer contributor."

Now try it for yourself

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