Energising communities through art and creativity

Vital Communities is a unique action research project, initially over three years and with the aim of conducting the study over a 15 year period. Through a vibrant, innovative and inclusive programme of high quality creative activities - dance, drama, film, literature, music and visual art, the project aims to demonstrate the impact of the arts upon individual and community development and to investigate whether the arts have a positive impact on the aspirations, achievement and attitudes of specific communities across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Vital Communities is providing high quality arts activities to 360 children in their first year of Primary School, extending out to their families and immediate communities in nine separate locations. The profect will then follow the children and their communities through the fifteen year period of the research. Participant groups have been selected to be representative of the breadth of social conditions of the sub-region including for instance, areas of rural isolation, small market towns, urban fringe and locations already identified for regeneration.

Themes of the research include the effects of the arts activities on the creative economy, healthy communities and vital neighbourhoods. This will involve monitoring:

  • impact of high quality arts provision on children, their carers and wider family groups
  • local community participation and engagement with arts and cultural activities
  • community perceptions of the long term impact and value of the project in each area
  • impact upon the local economy, community development and regeneration

Phase 1 of Vital Communities to 2007 is being funded by the seven local authorities of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough and Arts Council England East together with National Lottery funding.

The research for Vital Communities is being carried out by Business of Culture Ltd. - an experienced independent consultancy - in close collaboration with the Steering Group and Project Manager.

Gina has been involved with Vital Communities from its launch in 2005, initally in a taster phase during the Autumn term 2005 where she worked in four of the locations, producing batik style panels with all of the children. These have been assembled into quilts for the participating schools.

Winter 2006

She has completed three residencies during the 2005/2006 school year. The first was in St Thomas More School, Peterborough where all the year 1 children printed and tie dyed garments, culminating in a fashion show at the end of the residency.

Spring 2006

The quilt made by pupils of Ramsey Spinning Infants

The second was in Ramsey Spinning Infants School. Here, the children made observational drawings of fruit which they then translated onto fabric panels. These were painted with fabric paints before adding stitch and beads. The panels were then assembled into a hanging for the school.

Some of the children's observational drawings

Summer 2006

Gina's third residency was Trumpington, Cambridge. Working with fruit again, which links well with the current healthy eating campain, the children started with observational drawings of various fruits. They then constucted a variety of flags using various textile techniques. Some were batik style panels, others were printed with actual fruit and others were appliqued and decorated with stitch and beads. All the flags, as well as those painted by members of staff and other classes were stitched together to form lengths of bunting.

Bunting made by the children of Fawcwtt School, Trumpington

The bunting was displayed at Waitrose, Trumpington over the summer holidays and has now been returned to the school.

Autumn 2006

For the academic year 2006/2007 the Vital Communities artists are working in pairs within each community which marks an exciting new phase in the project. In the autumn Gina worked in St Neots with film maker, Tim Brook. Their first session was a family workshop during family learning week. The results of this can be seen by clicking on the link below.
Sock Puppets

Tim and Gina continued to work with both year 1 and 2 children and some of their parents over the Autumn term, making a film based on the traditional children's story Lazy Jack
Working with Gina the children made collaged backgrounds for the story and then each child made a silhouette style puppet to represent a character from the story. Tim then recorded the children telling the story at the same time bringing it up to date. Combining photographs taken in the community of St. Neots together with photographs of the children's puppets against the backgrounds Tim then put everything together with the sound track to produce a film which is an updated version of Lazy Jack
To view the film, click on the link below.
Lazy Jack

Summer 2007

This summer Gina has worked on a residency in Ely with Poet, Clare Crossman. We started with a family workshop where some groups worked with Gina making a large collaged tree and others wrote poetry with Clare. The poems were then written onto tissue paper leaves and stuck on the tree. This was displayed at our final celebration in the Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral.

The collage tree made during a family workshop at High Barns, Ely

The year 2 children from Spring Meadow Infant's school then visited the Stained Glass Museum in the Cathedral where they made observational drawings of the stained glass and wrote poetry inspired by the windows. Back in the classroom they developed their poetry and transfered their drawings onto perspex panels, producing their own "Stained Glass." Gina also made similar panels with the children from the nursery school and year 3 children at St Mary's Junior school

A small selection from nearly 200 panels that were on display

Our final celebration took place in the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral. The resulting panels were hung in strings in the niches of the chapel and then several of the children read their poems.

In addition, Gina and Clare worked at the Larkfield centre for adults with learning disabilities where clients produced this colourful "window" comprised of collage squares and poetry inspired by the garden at Larkfield. This was also displayed in the Cathedral.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Most of the perspex panels are now hanging in the entrance to Waitrose in Ely town centre where thay can be seen over the summer. Some are also on display at the Stained Glass Museum in the Cathedral.

Stained Glass Museum
Click for more information about the museum.

For further infomation about Vital Communities contact:
Susan Potter, Project Manager for Vital Communities
Tel: 01223 718013 e-mail: