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Creative Futures Institute, University of West Scotland, Paisley, 1 March 2013

I haven’t checked in for a while however the project has continued to move at a pace. On Friday I attended a conference exploring the findings of Remaking Society, an AHRC Connected Communities ‘Pilot Demonstrator’ project. Both inspirational and instructive by turns, through a series of presentations and workshops involving health policy makers, cultural programmers, artists and academics the day explored the connection between participation in cultural production, well-being and community-making. Taking the argument that community has been ‘demolished’ as a concept in part due to how it is mobilised to designate the insider/outside, Kerrie Schaefer, co-investigator of Remaking Society, instead considered community-in-flux, as dynamic and shifting, or being with others. Ethics in participatory practice were a key point of debate with the ever pertinent issue of power-relations between researcher/practitioner and participant communities. Here, the claims of participatory practice came under the critical lens: Are participants given real power? Or is the power illusory and fleeting? How can excellent quality work and participatory politics work together? Can product and process play an equal role? Above all, why do we expect certain communities to undergo a transformative process in their lives, yet our lives don’t need changing?

François Matarasso, in his key note speech, gave six best practice points which will inform our work going ahead:

1. The importance of stating clear aims and objectives between researcher and participants.

2. Must obtain consent from participants that their lives will be transformed.

3. Needs of communities are best identified by communities themselves.

4. In partnerships must share common goals (but not necessarily all goals).

5. Communities have to decide themselves if these common goals are met.

6. Art may not be the best way of reaching common goals.

In particular, exemplary work was shown by the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC), Belfast, on healing trauma through film. Their current landmark project is called Second Chance for Change: Including the Excluded which works with a group of Community and Forensic Mental Health (CFMH) service users at Holywell Hospital in Northern Ireland. Theatre Modo working in Fraserburgh, Odd Numbers project in Milton, North Glasgow, and Swingbridge Media, North Tyneside, were also highly impressive, deserving greater recognition and continued funding.