Looking back, we now know that offering dance activities in a familiar setting was the most effective way of building trust and engagement.
First and foremost, The Welcome Project has meant that we’ve developed strong relationships with and learned a huge amount about the people and organisations that call Tarner their home. This is a community that we’ll become a part of when we launch The Dance Space, so it’s been vital for us in terms of having a strong sense of what people locally want from the space.
We’ve also learned that encouraging people to have a go at dance takes time – particularly when those people might not have danced before or when they might have preconceived ideas of what dance is. We’ve learned that it’s about building relationships and trust and accepting that it can be a slow process of trial and error – we won’t always get it right but what’s important is listening, learning and adapting.
Whilst we feel confident that we’ve reached some of the groups we set out to reach through the project – including younger children and older people - it’s been harder to reach young people under 25 and service users of Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project. Some of the activities we offered initially to people in these groups didn’t appeal for various reasons and barriers: including perceptions of dance, lack of free time (parents with young families), or unfamiliarity with us as an organisation.
However, after in-depth conversations with the partner organisations we were working with to reach these people, we adapted the activities we were offering to a more flexible pop-up style of class. We took these pop-ups to our partners at Brighton Youth Centre and Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project at a time during the week when there were already lots of people around. This meant that we didn’t have to ask potential participants to move rooms or come to the centres at another time. The idea with this approach was to remove some of the barriers to taking part, make it more of a seamless transition from taking part in activities the people were already comfortable with, to having a go at ours.
What has been really great is the relationships and partnerships we’ve established together with each of the four main partners – partnerships which we expect will develop even further over time. Looking back, we now know that offering dance activities in a familiar setting is the most effective way of building trust and engagement. Each partner is now fully invested in The Welcome Project programme.
Evaluation overall was challenging. It was difficult to gather baseline data in order to be able to demonstrate change. We were building relationships with people, so experiences and attitudes were subtle, and sometimes participants felt unable to articulate how taking part in activity had affected them.
This issue partly reflects the difficulty of collecting feedback data in diverse and complex settings, as well as the heavy workloads of our staff as we managed the launch of our new home, whilst carrying out our programme too.
We’ve learned that it’s important to consider a bespoke, tailored evaluation approach for each individual partner and that seeking advice from specialists in each field from the very beginning is vital.
In a bid to address this challenge at Brooke Mead, for example, we started collaborating with an experienced evaluator, Louisa Petts towards the end of 2020. Louisa is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Dance Research at Coventry University, who has expertise in working with and evaluating the impact of movement on older adults living with dementia. Louisa worked with us over 10 weeks, attending weekly sessions and working with our lead artist Luan Taylor to introduce some gentle ways to demonstrate the impact of the activity on the people involved, in ways that are appropriate to them as individuals.
We have learned that a bespoke approach is fundamental and this learning is shaping how we approach evaluation for the future. Dr Angela Pickard from Canterbury Christchurch University will be working with us to plan and shape how we evaluate the next phase of The Welcome Project.
Another important piece of learning has been the need to offer financial support to partners from the outset, in recognition of their need to generate income. Not doing this hindered the initial progress of the project because partners rightly needed to direct their efforts towards meeting their own objectives, rather than ours. We have addressed this in our plans for the future of the project and - following COVID-19 and the impact it has had on community organisations - this is more important than ever. We also plan to support partners in other ways, with fundraising advice and help to promote their own activities.
If you would like to chat to one of the team about what we’ve learned so far from running The Welcome Project, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.