Blog Post

Not by or for…. but with


Helen Willmott, Programme Director for Made with Many reflects on the change of the project's name, and what the 'with' means in Made with Many.

Grow Festival 2018  photo by Adam Balcomb

For the last 6 years, we’ve been running Made in Corby, the Creative People & Places programme for Corby, Northamptonshire. True to our name, we’ve concentrating on creating new arts experiences across our town from festivals to a brand new musical and almost everything in-between. 

Last year we were awarded additional investment from Arts Council England to expand the geographical reach of our programme to cover the nearby town of Wellingborough. Obviously we were thrilled, but slightly sad that this meant that our name had to change. After a lot of discussions, and a bit of expert help, we launched our new name, Made with Many, earlier this month.

The words ‘Made’ and ‘Many’ were quite easy to agree on, but we struggled with the appropriate word to join them. We looked at lots of different options, including ‘by’ and ‘for’, but then somebody suggested ‘with’. We felt that it embodied so much of how we work that all the other options seemed irrelevant. It’s a clear statement of intent, that’s not just relevant to us but to the whole of the Creative People and Places network, so I thought that we should share some of the reason why working ‘with’ is the right thing for us…

‘With’ is about being together, from having a natter over a brew to making key decisions. It’s about never working on our own. It’s standing side-by-side with our communities, sharing life as well as art. It’s being equals and respecting everything about each other. It’s recognising that everyone has something to bring to the table. That we’re all experts. 

Working ‘with’ allows us to say to a community group, “You know this place and the people here and we know culture and creativity and together we can create something really special”. It allows space for each individual to be the expert in their own experiences, to do away with preconceptions and prejudices and to create something that represents them and addresses their needs. 

‘With’ is not limited to the cultural experience or product, it’s about every stage of the process. It’s involving communities from the beginning of every project with the level of power and autonomy that they want to have, not what we decide to give them. It’s a blank sheet of paper instead of tokenistic, pre-designed engagement. 

In our new name, ‘with’ is followed by ‘many’. This isn’t an exclusive experience for an invited few. It’s an open invitation. We’re confident that the more that different ideas and opinions can be joined together, the better our programme will be.

Let me be honest, working ‘with’ isn’t easy. It means setting aside your ego. Sometimes it means commissioning art that you personally don’t like. There will be arguments. People will hold you to account and tell you when you fall short. And not everyone will understand what you’re doing. 

We’re in the midst of 2020, a year characterised by a global pandemic, protests in nearly every city and town and a time when we discovered the importance of individuality and local connections. It seems to me that the time for ‘by’ and ‘for’ has passed. That ‘with’ is the best way to respectfully and inclusively engage our communities. To not only listen and respond, but to create something new together.