Blog Post

#lockdownlearning – month one from Museums Northumberland bait


Rachel Adam, bait, reflects on the first month of working in the Covid-19 lockdown.

Colour to the Grey photo by Jason Thompson

On Monday 16 March 2020 we had an evening session booked with 12 people, referred to informally as ‘the decision making group.’  Since the beginning of the year this group has met monthly to develop the briefs for the next set of artist commissions, within the Museums Northumberland bait programme.  The sessions have been very sociable, with an artist-led activity arranged for children.  This has made it possible for the adults in the group to focus on the decision making process, working with our two Creative Producers.

The rapid decision to postpone the session and instead invite everyone to join a closed Facebook group initially felt like a short term response.  We were thinking week to week, unsure what was coming next.  In the same week, Bedlington Creatives postponed their three day arts festival, which had been in development for nine months.  Our Arts for Wellbeing Manager has been part of the steering group, which had brought together over 20 voluntary groups in Bedlington to develop the festival.

On Monday 23 March the country went into lockdown and like many other teams we were catapulted into a steep learning curve, made more complicated by the need to quickly acquire some new digital skills.   To keep in contact with ‘the decision making group’ we decided to post a new creative activity each week, along with questions and mini-polls that will hopefully support the group sense of identity, agency and responsibility.  We started asking artists to use their phones to produce short films that could be shared on Facebook, introducing each activity.  One immediate challenge was figuring out how to subtitle these films.  The tech champions at Arts Council England were really helpful, and with persistence over several weeks, we have it sorted.

Partners, like the Big Local project in Cresswell, Ellington, Linton and Lynemouth (CELL) had events planned for the Easter holidays and artist Bob Beagrie very quickly came up with an on-line version of a workshop he had planned to deliver around the theme of Heroes.  Over the next few weeks we’ll get a sense of how people engage with this content, what the right pace is on-line and whether there are challenges caused by digital exclusion.  Like other CPP programmes (and many other organisations) we’re also very aware that right now, a lot of people are in shock and for some, there are also crisis needs around getting enough food. 

In this context, how can our programme make a useful contribution?  In what ways can we adapt delivery while remaining true to the mission, aims and objectives in our business plan?  How do we best adapt when we don’t yet know what the timeframe is?  These are some of the unexpected questions that we’re now thinking about.  I checked back through our business plan the other day and smiled wryly at the risk register section.  When the plan was signed off last September, global pandemic was definitely not identified as a possible risk!

As ever, being part of the national network of CPP programmes is invaluable in navigating this new territory.  On Thursday 26 March I was part of a conversation with Amanda Smethurst (Peer Learning Manager) and Caroline Griffin (Communications Manager) talking about how the National Peer Learning and Communications programme could adapt and support all thirty CPP programmes right now.  By Thursday 2 April, Amanda had set up and delivered the first of a series of weekly zoom meetings.  Lasting an hour, we now have space to share what we are all learning/ trying to get our heads round.

Caroline identified four overarching themes and during April we’re exploring one a week.  We started with ‘What does it mean for community/ place-based working? We divided into two zoom breakout rooms (an exciting new process in itself), with one group discussing the on-line/off-line approaches we are all taking and the other group talking about the place based politics that have emerged in some CPP areas, in response to Covid-19.

Topics coming up are ‘How do we manage the practical stuff? For example, the impacts on partners and CPP lead bodies who may have furloughed significant numbers of staff; ways of supporting wellbeing and the practicalities around different ways of working.  ‘How do we do commissioning?’  For example, ways of sustaining community decision making and working with artists; approaches to curating and signposting to digital content.  ‘What might be some of the legacies?’ How might the role of CPPs change and what might be some of the new ways of doing things to take forward into the post pandemic world.