In late March 2020 I watched with disbelief as my diary of project meetings, stock deliveries and workshops was wiped as the corona virus pandemic hit, leaving me wondering what next for my small business?

I’ve worked hard over the past five years to establish Gatekeeper Art with two main strands of business, as a selling artist and as a social historian delivering community heritage projects.

Following the initial clearing of my diary I salvaged some of the workshops in the projects I was working on then and adapted them to an online format and thus I was introduced to the wonderful world of “Zoom”. This is a new world for me and I have to admit to being both terrified and excited at the prospect of online delivery but willing to take on the challenge of a steep learning curve!

In May 2020 I was approached by a long term existing customer, the Disability Resource Centre in Paisley and asked to be part of a Scottish Government funded project for clients called “Life Apart”.  The Disability Resource Centre (DRC) is a day centre providing services for physically disabled and sensory impaired people living in Renfrewshire.  I was asked to deliver online heritage/culture related workshops for clients of the DRC as they endured the long term situation of “shielding” at home with all of the attendant effects on mental and physical wellbeing.  Of course I jumped at the opportunity and took the project brief and I spent some time planning the format and content to make workshops interesting, easy to engage with and a meeting place to discuss and exchange ideas whilst being fun, friendly and informal.  I came up with a title and an image for the workshops which I hoped would encapsulate all these aims so comfortable, informal and a place of welcome so I called them:

“…the lockdown lounge”

The model for each workshop would be a kind of “magazine” format delivered “live” each week via “Zoom” with joining instructions and added resources accessed securely via a closed Facebook group page.

Each week apart from a welcome chat and catch up with participants there would be a mix of items as follows:

  • Themed reminiscence with a group discussion ( e.g. Going on holiday, Going to the pictures)
  • A heritage related fact finding task to complete each week
  • Invited guest speakers
  • Regular feature called “Diary Corner”
  • Record and talk about our experiences and thoughts to create a virtual C-19 time capsule
  • Quizzes

With the “magazine” format my aim was to keep the clients engaged and energised with an expectation of discussing feelings/ emotions or meeting new people whilst feeling comfortable and happy almost as if they were in a virtual lounge with friends.

 

Over the weeks we covered many themes including how art can make us feel, the power of the spoken word particularly poetry to capture our thoughts and feelings, going to the cinema reminiscence and a discussion on life in the “new normal”.  We also welcomed several guest speakers including the then President of the Paisley Art Institute Jean Cameron, the Renfrewshire Tannahill Makar Brian Whittingham and as a special guest at the end of the project, Provost Lorraine Cameron.

The workshops were well attended with an average of x17 participants each week made up of clients, support workers and carers.  This engagement each week for me proved I was meeting the project brief and giving the participants something to look forward to each week and was helping them with the stress of long term shielding on mental health and wellbeing.  I asked for feedback at the end of the workshops, here are two comments among the many I received:

“Oh how I have so enjoyed the group, it’s so good keeping in touch and seeing friends I haven’t seen since the centre closed, you have all put a lot of work into the zoom and lockdown lounge, I have so, so looked forward to my Tuesday’s…”

“…the best thing was to be there with everyone…to be together…and see each other…”

This model of delivery was very successful and I was asked to deliver another timetable of workshops in the run up to Christmas as the COVID lockdown restrictions continued to impact on the lives of the clients of the Disability Resource Centre.

These workshops are highly enjoyable for me as well and this is a model I will continue to deliver. It is flexible to being revised depending on the project brief in these continued times of COVID lockdown.  I’d be delighted to hear from anyone interested in learning more of my experiences delivering heritage/ cultural workshops via Zoom or to get any feedback.  Please contact me at gatekeeperart@gmail.com or via the contact form on my website www.gatekeeperart.co.uk

 

Lil Brookes is an artist and social historian based in North Ayrshire. She is also an alumna of UWS.