19th Oct 2018

Headway Arts is an impressive local charity using arts, culture and heritage to increase participation in local communities.  Based in a former Church in Blyth, Headway ArtSpace was certainly a hive of activity when we visited recently.  A popular Theatre Group were rehearsing for  ‘Hold Your Peace’ - a drama production devised and performed by learning disabled adults. Set in 1919 it tells a tale of the impact of the Great War on learning disabled people in the North East.

In another part of the Church local families were busy making flags for a display of 600 flags planned for a display on Blyth Beach in August. The installation is celebrating the voyage of Captain William Smith, who was the first captain to discover Antarctica.  Fascinating to watch, they were using Solography to create blueprints on the flags, which basically uses sun and shadow to make the images, encouraging people of all ages to experiment. Some even used found objects and driftwood from the beach or made their own stencils to create shadows, which become the pattern once developed in the sun.

The place was buzzing and what really impressed us was how people of all abilities and from different walks of life were coming together and having fun.  We were interested and encouraged to hear from Frances Castle, CEO, the entrepreneurial approach the staff were taking to securing funding and engage with the wider community.  One of their most successful ideas now includes opening the main church area up for local bands to use for gigs.  The bands and their followers love the acoustics and the quirky space, which is leading on to more engagement by new and different people who visit the building and are keen to learn more about the main Headway Arts project.

Headway Arts received a £15k grant from the Readman Family to help with the cost of a communications and participation worker who is already making a positive difference to the number of local organisations that Headway Arts is engaging with.  The Readman Family were inspired to make the grant having read the Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report.  The Report highlighted ‘increasing participation’ as one of three areas where philanthropy can make a significant difference in meeting the needs of local communities in some of our most deprived areas.   Engagement with arts, culture and heritage can transform individual lives and communities by offering people insight into their lives and a sense of belonging that fosters pride in communities. Whilst many people do benefit from visiting the many amenities in our area, participation is low particularly amongst those in poorer areas and over a quarter of people in the region say the arts are “not for them”.

Headway Arts was set up in 1995 in Blyth and uses drama and other art forms to help people explore ideas, encourage their participation, to build their self-confidence and self-awareness and to learn new skills.  It works with groups prone to social exclusion through disability, disadvantage and socio-economic or geographical isolation. It also supports an annual celebratory festival of learning disabled culture in Northumberland that attracts around 200 people with disabilities as performers and audience.

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