Event highlights part two – Older people and cultural participation: where next?

Event highlights part two – Older people and cultural participation: where next?

By Tot Foster, Tim Senior and Stuart Gray, 26th September 2021 

In our last post we revisited the talks given at our July 7th project partner event. In this post, however, we’d like to consider how these talks resonated with our wider attendees. We stopped twice during the event to open up the discussion of the issues raised with our 60 attendees, through a number of breakout rooms.

Breakout Session One

The first of our breakout rooms sought to identify the extent to which the speaker experiences resonated thus far with the audiences and the key points of learning some of the emerging themes. Furthermore, we wanted to crystallise some messaging for those in positions of power about the value of cultural participation activities for older adults.

In our twelve breakout groups, the event attendees, CTC As We Age team, and the speakers took to Google Jamboard to document our thoughts, guided by the following questions.

Jamboard Example From Group 1

Q1: Reflecting on the stories presented and your experiences, what have you learned? 

Firstly, it is important to recognise the diversity of the older people that our project and our community anchors (see our partners) serve. It is easy to think of older adults as a homogeneous group and stereotype their skills, competencies, and challenges. Too commonly when we talk about older adults and their use of digital technologies, we paint by numbers with regards to what they can or cannot do. Yet, the reality is nuanced and in order to identify digital literacies and how to support their adoption of contemporary technology, we require an understanding of their social and cultural lives of individuals and their communities.

Thus, we need to adopt a capabilities-led approach when working with older adults in the community and care settings. Rather than having supporting organisations make assumptions about the digital cultural and art activities for older adults as a broad group, individuals must be granted the autonomy to express and define what areas are relevant to them. This requires us to find ways to better understand individual circumstances and tailor the training of digital skills around them and their unique needs.

One common theme across all of our talks was that of a need for greater inclusion in digital culture and arts activities. Older adults have a desire for greater representation of their issues and interests in the content of these activities. They observe how a lot of effort is put into equipping other groups, such as young people, with the skills, infrastructure, and opportunities to thrive in an increasingly digital society, and question why they are often excluded from these endeavours. Our attendees emphasised the need to recognise that people’s abilities are neither fixed in time nor dictated by age. Older adults can continue to learn and enjoy learning, even when faced with physical and cognitive barriers, and empowering them with digital skills may be able to contribute renewed purpose to their lives.

However, we need to ensure that those who are supporting older adults are themselves capable at facilitating training and access to digital culture and arts participation. In the case of community organisations, care providers and charities, this may involve reflection upon their own digital maturity and equipping people within their organisations to support the older adults they work with. The same is true for any external individuals with whom these organisations collaborate with in order to host digital cultural and arts experiences – i.e. artists, creatives, and technologists. In short, if the supporting organisations have limitations in their digital literacy, these barriers will most likely be inherited by the older adults they serve.

Compounding this are questions about who should deliver digital cultural and arts activities and how these activities should be delivered. Several of the talks broached concepts pertaining to co-design and engaging older people on their own terms. For instance, working with older artists and creatives to deliver training and other activities may inspire other older adults to participate by increasing relatedness. The value of intergenerational work was also raised, with opportunities to foster community through greater empathy and to bring families closer together.

In terms of the how, keeping accessibility at the forefront of activities is vital, particularly during COVID-19. Several of the speakers had emphasised that it is not enough to simply provide older people with the hardware and infrastructure to access digital services, and that focusing training on the access of digital communication skills was a fundamental gateway to other forms of digital arts and culture participation. Several of the speakers described their efforts to train older adults to use tools like Zoom in order to create safe and accessible creative spaces, and to provide opportunities for greater social connectivity. However, they were equally circumspect about the logistical difficulties of hosting arts and cultural activities on Zoom, as well as the challenge of creating the conditions for intimate and emotional engagement.

Q2: What would we want to tell funders, policy makers or others about what we have learned? 

From both the speaker talks and the audience discussions, the value of arts and cultural participation for health and wellbeing was clear. Undoubtedly, this has been accepted for some time, but we continue to observe lethargy in the amount of support received from funders and policy makers.

There were concerns about the nature of projects being funded as being too focused on outcomes and generating tangible end-points at the expense of projects that prioritise empowerment through process. There is a perception that large university led research projects, with an emphasis on generating data or new products or services, takes priority over more intimate arts led projects in the eyes of funders. The main criticism of university approaches, was the lack of sustainability and the lack of resources to continue the work after the projects have finished. One particular grievance was with the funding of projects was the desire to ‘reinvent the wheel’ in the development of new products, which may briefly dazzle funders but in reality are total white elephants that fall short of adoption. The attendees also highlighted that funders also often displayed a lack of flexibility with regards to project timelines and underestimated the necessity and slow moving nature of building trust and relationships between project teams and the communities that they are attempting to embed themselves within.

Greater resources are required to support facilitation of digital arts and culture. Both our speakers and attendees identified artists working in the creative ageing as a key group to support, and more must be done to help them develop cultural competence and to equip them to work with older people with an array of accessibility requirements. There also needs to be recognition that this is difficult work for artists that can be both practically and emotionally intensive, particularly during the hardships of the pandemic, and they themselves need support for their own wellbeing. Greater guidance should be available for those undertaking work with older people in order to better establish their responsibilities and boundaries – often, those delivering arts and cultural activities can find them going far beyond their original brief. We need policy makers to better define support networks in order to protect both older people and those delivering activities.

Funders and policy makers also need to acknowledge the digital divide and the marginalisation of certain communities. The attendees raised the point that individuals are more likely to be involved in arts and cultural activities if they already, to a certain extent, socially connected within their communities. But are these really the individuals who would benefit the most from support? We know that a significant proportion of older people, particularly those in rural communities, those in levels of socio-economic deprivation, and those from minoritised ethnic and disabled backgrounds, are less likely to have access to digital services. Hence, the attendees queried how we can further our inclusivity to target the voices that are still not being heard, nor even know that digital arts and culture work exists. Some attendees recommended lobbying policy makers, particularly at different levels of government, to hasten upgrades to infrastructure and to expand their funding of creative and inclusive spaces in the community – a recognisable location where arts and cultural activities can take place.

Breakout Session Two

Our second breakout session was a little more introspective than the first. We had selected a range of speakers that we felt could provide a diverse array of opinions about the value of digital arts and culture for older adults. We wished to identify the issues that had made the greatest impact upon our attendees, but we wanted to identify whether there were any blindspot issues that had not been discussed during the event.

Jamboard Example From Group 2

Q3: Are there issues which haven’t been mentioned which should also be explored?

Although our speakers were able to cover great breadth during the event, there were certainly issues, stories, and voices that needed to be recognised in our ongoing work. Our attendees built upon the concept of the need to provide multi-sensory / blended approaches within digital arts and culture activities. They questioned how we could use technology to provide the accessibility benefits of digital communication tools, while also facilitating some of the sensory experiences that can be achieved through in-person work.

Virtual reality was mooted as one opportunity for such endeavours, that may be able to provide a more immersive and engaging experience for participants. Meanwhile, others felt that diversity in the fidelity of technologies involved, a mixture of low and high-tech, was more appropriate – by allowing people with different attitudes and abilities to be involved. Nevertheless, others remained skeptical, asking whether technology could ever present a worthy alternative to in-person arts and cultural activities.

The concept of self-efficacy (an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments) was another theme that the attendees wanted to further unpick. Although, there was agreement with regards to the potential of participatory processes to grant older adults opportunities to shape their involvement in digital arts and culture, some raised the point that without perceived competence in one’s own abilities, the people who might most benefit from support in these areas may be apprehensive about getting involving in these activities. Hence, some attendees mooted the stepwise approach of involving older adults in a range of interesting arts and cultural activities and placing an emphasis on building trusting relationships (with researchers and each other) and developing their confidence within these settings. Within these safe environments could be the best place to approach new topics – such as digital technologies.

Another salient point raised pertaining to self-efficacy considered older people beyond the end of the Connecting Through Culture as We Age project. Several of the attendees questioned how projects such as this one planned to ensure a project legacy that goes beyond project outputs and changes the course of people’s lives. Would the older people (and organisations) we work with during the course of the project retreat when the time comes for the researchers to step back from support activities? How could they continue to build upon any newly developed skills – digital technology is forever and rapidly evolving? In the case of Connecting Through Culture as We Age, how can we ensure that this project scales to impact more than just the lucky few co-researchers?

Following on from this, it was clear that maintaining and expanding upon any positive outcomes of the project would not be feasible without the enduring support of older people’s organisations and government. Presently most of the key work in digital arts and cultural participation is carried out by the charity sector, and we owe it to our partners to advocate for their further support. By leveraging our partnerships, we need to connect our work to the services of these organisations and attempt to influence policy making to support their work.

Q4: From the provocations, which do you think are the most important issues we need to explore further, and why? 

Some of the issues raised throughout this post remained worthy of further exploration, including empowering and supporting older adults, discovering new ways to blend digital and in-person participation, and the importance of establishing influential partnerships that can shape policy.

Yet, one of the most eagerly broached issues concerned the development of relationships between researchers and the communities, especially marginalised groups, that they wish to research. This feeds into one of the central tenets of the Connecting Through Culture as We Age project, co-production. The attendees were proponents of the idea that it is equally about the value that researchers can bring to these communities, as it is the value that the communities can bring to research. As noted by Fozia, during her account of experiences working with the Somali community in Bristol, universities do not have the best track record in this regard. Moreover, historically, universities have absconded from the communities after achieving their objectives. With regards to future collaborations, this is a difficult foundation upon which to build trusting, longevous relationships.

Hence, it is key for this project to embrace mutual exchange, but how can this be achieved? There were a range of suggestions, including: pacing research activities slowly, giving the parties time to get to know and understand each other and their cultures prior to any official data collection activities; ensuring that research activities are engaging for participants, as well as capturing data for researchers; recognising that engagement may be something that has to be encouraged at an individual level, with person-centred approaches being key to facilitating fulling participation; making endeavours to flatten any perceived power imbalances between the researchers and participants; encouraging co-ownership of the research and any project outputs, to be shared with participants; and making sure individuals receive fair and proper compensation for their time.

Another important issue that remained ripe for further discuss considered perspectives and language surrounding arts and cultural participation for older people. It was noted that implicitly ageist language was itself exclusionary and presumptuous of differences in the literacies of older people and other groups. Words like “age-friendly” and project / product missions aimed at countering “decline” or “deficits” is not only patronising, but implies that these groups are in someway less capable, as well as placing limitations on technology that is suitable for their use. Too often there are low expectations and a lack of ambition for older people’s use of technology, with many sidelined a simplistic digital consumers rather than those with the potential to create and produce. Instead, older people should be thought of as just that – people – of varying ages, classes, experiences, and backgrounds, and with the right to participate in digital arts and cultural experiences.

Next Steps: Applying these Conversations to Connecting Through Culture as We Age

In the third post of this series, senior research associate, Dr Tim Senior, describes his process of thematic analysis of the contributions from this event as well as other relevant interviews, workshops, and conversations that we’ve undertaken to date. Tim brings these themes together to present a ‘value canvas’ – a means of charting the mission, objectives, strategy, activities, and desired outputs for the Connecting Through Culture as We Age project.


Event highlights part one – Older people and cultural participation: where next?

Event highlights part one – Older people and cultural participation: where next?

By Tot Foster, Tim Senior and Stuart Gray, 20th September 2021 

On July 7th we ran our first project workshop where, using Zoom, we hosted twelve fantastic speakers from an eclectic range of backgrounds and organisations to offer insights from their work with older adults to deliver cultural activities during the pandemic.

During the event, we listened to our speakers describe their experiences in developing and applying creative and inclusive methods with older people; delivering cultural activities; and describing the landscape of digital inclusion and cultural participation.

In this post we revisit some of our speaker presentations. Stay tuned for the second part of this blog series where we outline some of the themes that emerged from those talks and our attendee discussions.

Speaker Presentation Session One

Speaker: Anne Gallacher, Luminate, Scotland

Title: Creative ageing and digital connection during the pandemic: what did we learn?

About: Anne Gallacher is Director of Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing organisation. Anne has worked in the UK arts sector for over 30 years including posts with West Midlands Arts, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Watford Palace Theatre, as well consultancy work and a number of non-exec roles.

Speaker: Kate Parkin, Equal Arts, Newcastle

Title: The importance of ‘holding’ open emotional spaces in digital work with older people

About: Kate is the Creative Age Programme Manager at Equal Arts, a creative ageing charity based in the North East of England. Kate is responsible for overseeing the organisation’s training and arts and health programmes including the production of creative projects in hospitals, community, care and cultural settings. She has significant experience in establishing inclusive, dementia-friendly practice with and for people living with dementia. Kate is currently a North East Champion for the national Culture Health and Wellbeing Alliance. She also volunteers as a Director of Wunderbar, a Newcastle based community interest company specialising in playfully disruptive performance and multi-disciplinary projects.

Speaker: Andy Barry, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Title: We’ll Be in Touch – a creative phone service for older people led by older people

About: Andy Barry is a theatre maker and director who currently leads Manchester’s Royal Exchange Elders Company. In 2021, he was in The Stage 100, a list celebrating individuals who helped the theatre industry survive the Covid-19 crisis. During the pandemic Andy originated and led a number of digital projects with older people.

Speaker: Jeanne Ellin

Title: Older Alice down the digital rabbit hole 

About: Jeanne is a Connecting Through Culture As We Age co-researcher. Here is how she describes herself and her life: “I am an Anglo Indian woman, exploring the challenges of her 70’s. No saga type retirement, just an artist in a small bungalow. With more enthusiasm than energy more ideas than money. So much still to learn and enjoy. Wonderful that writing is not something you retire from. Child migrant, left India just after 8tth birthday., I worked as nurse, counsellor and community artist. Most recently writer in residence in a hospice. Not sure I could ever not write. Short fiction is my least well practice medium…most comfortable with poetry and also nibbling away at my fantasy novel.”

Speaker: Bridget Deevy, Bealtaine, Ireland

Title: How going digital impacted Age & Opportunity’s Artist in Residence in a Care Setting initiative during the longest lockdown in Europe.

About: Bridget Deevy has worked as Arts Programme Assistant Manager with Age & Opportunity since 2018 managing flagship initiatives such as the Artist in Residence in a Care Setting initiative and the Bealtaine Festival. Bridget has over 10 years arts management experience working in areas such as venue programming, festival management and education.

Speaker Presentation Session Two

Speaker: Maddy Mills, Entelechy Arts, London

Title: Cultural (dis)connection – what does the experience of culture via digital mean for our offline communities?

About: Maddy’s work is grounded in the belief that feeling connected to a community – in whatever form that takes – helps people lead healthier and happier lives. Previously working at organisations including Southbank Centre, Kew Gardens and Bloomsbury Festival. She also founded the Family Volunteering Club.

Speaker: Emma Dyer, Alive Activities, Bristol

Title: How do we effectively co-design/produce technological interventions that allow older people to stay connected with each other and their community?

About: Emma started her career as a user centred service designer working with across a number of Design Council initiatives. Since working for Alive she has become an expert in co-production with older people.

Speaker: Fozia Ismail, Arawelo Eats & Dhaqan Collective, Bristol

Title: extract, produce, repeat. Where is the change for minoritized older communities?

About: Fozia Ismail, scholar, cook and founder of Arawelo Eats, a platform for exploring politics, identity and colonialism through East African food. She is a resident of Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed and co-founder of dhaqan collective, a Somali feminist art collective based in Bristol.

Speaker: Kate Duncan, City Arts, Nottingham

Title: Approaches to Evaluating our work in Creative Ageing

About: Kate Duncan is Programme Director – Wellbeing at City Arts in Nottingham. Kate manages a portfolio of health programmes in Nottingham. City Arts has worked with older people for over 10 years in partnership with health and care professionals, cultural and heritage organisations.

Speaker: Kristina Leonnet, Centre for Ageing Better

Title: Digital Inclusion Support

About: Kristina Leonnet is Senior Innovation and Change Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better. She works to bring about change by working closely with partners and people with lived experience to develop forward-thinking ideas which provide practical, scalable solutions.

Speaker: Farrell Renowden, Age of Creativity

Title: Age Sector reflections- community based responses to creativity and digital since lockdown

About: Farrell Renowden is Head of Cultural Partnerships at Age UK Oxfordshire, leads the Age of Creativity and is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Champion for age England Association

Speaker: Lucia Arias, FACT, Liverpool

Title: Reflections and questions emerging from You’re on mute, FACT Liverpool

About: Lucía Arias, FACT’s Learning Manager, has led a number of learning projects that worked with hard to reach young audiences and teaching practices. At FACT, the learning programme focuses on art commissions and how the collaborative work of artists and participants can engage general audiences in contemporary conversations.

A Note of Thanks

We would like to pay our thanks to the fantastic group of 60 attendees who brought such enthusiasm and wonderful ideas to our first event. We would encourage anyone who attended to get in touch if they are interested in discussing more about the Connecting Through Culture as We Age project or their own relevant work. We’d also like to pay a special thanks to the fantastic speakers, Jeanne, Emma, Anne, Kate P, Andy, Farrell, Fozia, Kate D, Maddy, Lucia, Kristina, and Bridget – we really appreciate your insight and your time!


Bringing people together through creativity.

Bringing people together through creativity.

A conversation between Maddy Mills, Director of Entelechy Arts and Connecting through Culture researcher, Karen Gray. 10th June 2021

Q1. Tell me about Entelechy Arts.

At Entelechy Arts we work creatively with artists and different communities in and around Lewisham, London and beyond. We collaborate with various communities, including elder people at risk of, or experiencing isolation, people living in care homes and people living with disabilities.

It is these communities who take the lead in collaboration with our artists. They are the decision-makers. Also, our volunteers – some of whom are elder people themselves, are really passionate about making a contribution. The artists we work with are people who really understand the people and the work, some have been with us for 25 years.

Q2. And how have you and your members been affected by Covid?

All have been affected by Covid-19, and some members very disproportionately. Our work has always had a relational element to it. This really came to the fore during the pandemic.

We have had to work in completely different ways. Some of our members don’t have easy access to the internet or computers. If we’d just moved our work to Zoom we would have lost contact with a lot of them. In March 2020 we initially focused on making sure people had support networks around them. The team worked extraordinarily hard to keep in touch with people during lockdowns, through creative activity but also with things like birthday cards, letters, deliveries and doorstep visits.

One way we have been working with people is using Skype in what we call ‘Creative Cluster’ sessions on the telephone.

Q3. How have those calls worked?

They bring different groups of people together to be creative together on the telephone, with an artist. Three telephone choir groups formed out of an existing in-person choir. One of our artists started a ‘Making With’ group, where members use art materials we have posted out. There is a poetry group. All have sprung up in response to members’ requests.

We usually have between four and seven people on each call. Any more than that and things can get tricky. We’ve also been doing one-on-one creative calls with an artist, including for those who are living with dementia, where we know that people just don’t engage well with group phone calls.

Logistically it is complex. We send out information in advance by post, follow up with a phone call to check people can make it and we give them a reminder the day before. Somebody calls each person to let them into the session and is in the background helping people if a call drops out. That’s in addition to the artist and a volunteer. We brought a new member of staff on board specifically to deal with access. She rings around to make sure people are accessing and enjoying the sessions and puts any additional measures in place. For example, in one group someone might say they are struggling to hold a pencil, so she will send them a pencil grip. Having her in post has helped us pay close attention to people and give them important personalised care. She’s also been able to signpost people to other local support groups if needed, welcome newcomers through social prescribing and has been able to support with any wider healthcare concerns.

Most calls are joyful, but sometimes people have really just been sad. And that’s OK. Many members have known somebody who’s died from Covid. There have been moments of joint reflection and grief as well as joy and laughter.

I think a lot of people, including me, assumed that people would attend for escapism or just to add interest to their day. Actually, one woman told me that she has been constantly on the go around the house, and the call was her time to sit down with a cup of tea – for calm and focus. One chap told me he enjoys getting dressed up each week for the call – even though of course no-one can see him.

Q4. And your members have also been making a radio show, is that right?

Yes! Meet Me on the Radio is part of our Meet Me programme which we run in partnership with the Albany theatre in Deptford. It was another way of reaching people and chance for our members to lead. Two of them, Rosaline and Ron, are the hosts. Episodes are released on a Tuesday morning and are then available on demand. All the content is chosen through members’ interests. For example, there was an episode connected with Windrush Day.

People have told us it’s been a source of comfort. By March this year, I think we were up to around 20,000 listens, although it has been surprisingly challenging to track who is listening where. It was only meant to be short-term during the pandemic, but now we’re considering how we can keep it going.

Q5. How has the experience of delivering creativity at home differed from your normal in-person activity?

We were already thinking about how to reach people in their own homes before the pandemic. At home you can sit on your favorite chair, you can eat, you don’t have worries about transport. But many of our elder members don’t have easy access to computers and / or wifi and so have missed much of the creative content that went online. And there is just something fundamental about getting together in person in a group. Whether that is for a cup of tea or to make art or to watch a show, there is communal togetherness in each of those things which can’t be replicated through a digital experience.

Q6. Have you tried any purely digital activity?

There’s our programme called Ambient Jam. This is co-created with people who are living with profound and multiple learning disabilities. To my mind Ambient Jam zooms are the most wildly creative use of Zoom I have ever seen.

Imagine a virtual room of people, some of whom are non-verbal: in advance they may have been asked to collect a list of themed objects, maybe – something shiny, something orange, something you can see through. Facilitating artists create a ‘working score’ through which members are prompted to present the things they have brought through non-verbal physical improvisation including music and sound. As they do this the whole screen fills up with textures and colours. Add music and it’s almost filmic! They create these epic improvisatory sensory experiences together. It’s not a patch on being together in person, but the team have done an extraordinary job making the most of being together digitally.

Q7. And what is going to happen next?

We’re slowly returning to in-person activity. Some people understandably aren’t ready, so we are continuing to run a remote programme. It’s not sustainable long term without additional funding but we won’t leave anyone behind.

There’s this narrative coming out about how digital has increased access to culture during the pandemic. It has in many ways, but the digital divide is real. We need to keep working together as a sector to ensure the arts are available to everybody, including those who are digitally excluded. We have to make sure we tell that story as well.


Writing a ‘Values Poem’: a Workshop with Bristol University Collaborators

Writing a ‘Values Poem’: a Workshop with Bristol University Collaborators

By Sian Ephgrave, 30th July 2021

Workshop Process

Challenge, empathy, freedom, care. These are some of the core values of the Connecting Through Culture as We Age project, as expressed by collaborators from the University of Bristol.

The members of the Bristol Uni Connecting Through Culture team hold a wide range of interests and expertise. I was excited to be asked to facilitate an online workshop with the aim of bringing these interests together into a shared statement of values. The group did not know, at the beginning of the session, that the finished statement would take poetic form, so it was a bit of a ‘magical mystery tour’ for them! I was grateful for their trust and openness in embracing the process.

The workshop I was offering up was originally designed during my doctoral research as part of a creative methodology exploring teacher wellbeing. It uses a combination of: private reflection; identification of feelings; conceptual thinking; creative writing; and collaboration.

The different elements of the workshop are brought together via a communication philosophy and practice called Nonviolent (or Compassionate) Communication (NVC). NVC was developed by the late Marshal Rosenberg. He describes NVC as ‘a way of communicating that leads us to give from the heart’ by ‘reframing how we express ourselves and hear others’ (Rosenberg 2015:3). NVC uses a deconstructed communication process – I like to compare it to a deconstructed apple crumble – to arrive at what is ‘alive’ for someone in a given moment. This helps to get to the essence of what truly matters to that person, rather than focusing on: moral judgement; intellectual understanding; or, emotions. As with a deconstructed dessert, with NVC the different components of our usual communications are separated out to arrive at something (hopefully) a little more refined and beauty-full. (By the way I have nothing against traditional apple crumble, it’s just by way of illustration!) You can see a five minute introduction to the practice here.

I first began learning about NVC in my early twenties and I have found it immensely helpful in my personal and professional life. I mainly learned NVC from two fantastic teachers, Jayaraja Dh – who offers a series of six free videos on NVC here – and Dorota Godby who works locally and remotely with Highly Sensitive People, helping them to deal with overwhelm.

In the workshop, I asked the Bristol Uni team members to reflect on a recent experience that had affected them in some way. They used these reflections to arrive at a concept or – in NVC terms – a need that was relevant to that experience and also in some way relatable to the Connecting Through Culture project. From here, small groups were formed in Zoom breakout rooms and collaborative writing methods were used to create sections of a poetic ‘Values Manifesto’. (You can read the finished manifesto at the end of this blog post.) Collaborative writing can feel strange for people who are not used to it. It requires a certain level of vulnerability in exposing how we think and write. We are not normally taught to do this, but rather to present a finished piece (except in Maths where showing ‘workings out’ is more openly encouraged). As a teacher of English, I have worked with students of all ages from 11 to adult, and I have found collaborative writing to be a great way to share not only ideas but also ways of thinking things through.

Before I leave you to enjoy the finished piece from the workshop, I’d like to offer a short note on the idea of poetic manifestos. When we hear the term manifesto we are likely to think of political writings such as Karl Marx’s Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (Communist Party Manifesto). However, manifestos are written for ‘myriad reasons … some are personal, some are political and others are written with aspirations to high cultural ideals’ (Lack 2017:xiii). The word manifesto has its roots in the Latin manifestare, which means to ‘make public’ or ‘make obvious’. Challenge, empathy, freedom, care. All of these ideas are universally recognisable in some form or another. But they are difficult to define, to pin-down. Such is the nature of an abstract concept like ‘values’; it can be difficult to define our own values, let alone the shared values of a group. Creative expression, such as poetry, can be more useful in getting to the essence of subtle, abstract concepts than trying to break the thing down into ever smaller, measurable minutiae. (This is one of the most important findings from my own research on wellbeing – another concept that is universally recognised but ‘lived out’ with infinite variance.) The aim of a poetic manifesto then, can be said to make subtle and elusive ideas more obvious in their essence. I hope as you read the one below you will gain a sense of the shared values of the Bristol Uni Connecting Through Culture team, and their aspirations for the project.

Connecting Through Culture as We Age Bristol University Team’s ‘Values Manifesto’

There is a need for challenge.
It’s competitive, as a word.
Standing in front of us
like an obstacle.
Landing in front of us,
a gauntlet thrown by life,
but fun, doable, an invited battle,
sometimes self-imposed.

Doesn’t have to be big, but
I’ve won the Olympics
and no one, except me, knows.

Adrenalin fueled courage,
a surfer’s wave, a climber’s mountain,
coming over that peak,
reaching that hold,
confronting injustice.
Getting through the day.

Standing on the podium, trophy aloft.
There is a need for challenge.

There is a need for empathy.
See the other side,
building bridges with a brew.
Do not let it boil!

This is how I feel:
Hold the mirror to your ear,
I’ll try to see you.

Walking in your shoes,
though not my style at all,
Our strides synchronise.
There is a need for empathy.

There is a need for freedom.
Standing on the brow of the deck – wind in the hair
a green light.
We’re going places,
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.

Standing on a hill – open horizons,
independent thinking,
thoughts and bodies flying in opposite directions,
then back together like murmurations.

Who gets to choose?

To surf, feel at one with the waves,
light, buffeted by the sea breeze
feel the weight of four walls crushing possibilities,
heavy bodies and minds.

Searching for home sweet home
with cousins and family or friends
live alone in the bee-loud glade.
There is a need for freedom.

There is a need for care.
Caring for, caring about, caring with,
Where caring for and caring about meet,
putting something beyond your own needs and desires,
engaging with something outside of yourself
– that’s more than giving.

Giving and receiving
give and take
sacrifice on both sides.

Resonance – resonate with, resound, reverberate or echo,
but can be pulled apart and put under pressure.

A balance, the different weight of responsibility.

Listening powerfully,
not paternalistic (or maternalistic).

A practice,
part of what
makes us animal
makes us human,
more than human.

A deficit and an abundance of care is always clear,
carefree but not careless,
a complex intertwining of your inner worlds.

and care go hand in hand
but there’s something cynical about it –
care in the community.
A caring infrastructure and distribution of resources.

There is a need for care.


Lack, J. (2017): Why are we ‘artists’? 100 World Art Manifestos, Milton Keynes: Penguin Classics

Rosenberg, M. (2015): Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, California: PuddleDancer Press.

About the Blogger

Sian Ephgrave is a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol’s School of Education and a part-time lecturer on the English Literature and Community Engagement BA. Her PhD is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It focuses on the wellbeing of English teachers with an overstory of inclusion through democratic fellowship. It is a co-creative project conducted with members of the National Writing Project UKand other English teachers. Sian combines research, teaching and writing with bringing up her young daughter. She is interested in Early Years practices and an advocate of play-based learning.