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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

‘COME AS YOU ARE, BRING WHAT YOU HAVE, YOU’RE WELCOME HERE!’ – MY TALK AT THE ROCHDALE FESTIVAL OF IDEAS – BY STEVE COOKE


 


Image courtesy of Anne Taylor-Woodward


I was recently invited to speak at the closing event of the Rochdale Festival of Ideas ‘Speakers Corner Salon Talk’

 

Here is s an expanded version what I had to say.

 

I AM ROCHDALE BORN AND BRED AND PROUD OF OUR RICH HERITAGE, ESPECIALLY IN THE CREATIVE ARTS.

 

A HERITAGE THAT INCLUDES:

 

·      A 19th century poster for a performance at the Hippodrome Theatre both inspired and provided the lyrics for John Lennon’s Beatles song on Sargent Pepper, For The Benefit of Mr Kite.

·      The global superstar, Gracie Fields, born Grace Stansfield in humble circumstances, in our town, not very far from here.

·      The singing powerhouse that is Lisa Stansfield with a string of hits, performances around the world, singing with such as George Michael and Prince.

·      And of course, Corrie star Sue Devaney, who has toured in Mamma Mia, worked on Dinner Ladies with Victoria Wood and crashed many an ambulance on Casualty – not bad for a diminutive local lass!

 

THIS IS JUST A SMALL SAMPLE OF OUR RICH CULTURAL ARTS HERITAGE AT THE ELITE LEVEL.

 

WHAT I AM EVEN MORE PROUD OF IS THE CURRENT PLETHORA OF ACTIVE ORGANISATIONS WHERE LOCAL PEOPLE OF ALL AGES, ACROSS OUR DIVERSE COMMUNITIES, GET TOGETHER TO BE CREATIVE.

 

Such as M6 Theatre, Skylight Circus Arts, Curtain Theatre, Milnrow Artists, EBOR Studios and Gallery Frank, Cartwheel Arts, Rochdale Musical Theatre Company and Breaking Barriers plus lots of thriving writing groups.

 

 

PERSONALLY, I HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF HEADING UP ALL ACROSS THE ARTS AND VIBE ROCHDALE.




A group of writers who contribute to a twice weekly column in print in the Rochdale Observer and quarterly in Rochdale Style Magazine, online on InYourArea, digitally on allacrossthearts.com and across social media platforms.

 

A column with a single purpose – to promote the creative arts for individual and community wellbeing through celebrating creativity in our local community and encouraging involvement and engagement by recommending creative arts activities and events locally and wider afield, that can both inspire and provide enjoyment.



A local charity funded by GMNHS where young people explore, develop, enjoy and share their creativity working alongside elite artists. The young people are in full control, they are never measured or judged and choose how and with whom to share their creativity. Through creative arts they develop confidence, pride, feelings of self-worth and gain a voice helping to develop resilience to the mental health challenges they face.

 

Examples of the effect Vibe Rochdale can have on young people’s lives include:

 

·      Female Member, age 21, Bangladeshi Family referred by MIND. With a history of domestic abuse and general dis-functional relationships within the family. This had contributed to her having issues of trust in relationships and very low self-esteem. She dropped out of college and spent a year in psychiatric hospital. After becoming a member of VIBE, she chose to join the Guitar Building Project. She quickly became very enthused by the workshops saying, ‘I have never been allowed to use tools before, this is great’. She quickly built her guitar and worked hard at learning to play. Her new-found enthusiasm for music led her to also learning to play drums. She reports feeling well-supported and valued, contributing to her being more confident in herself and being more able to trust people. Her renewed confidence and motivation is evidenced by going back to college getting very good grades and now studying at university.

·      A male Member aged 13 from a very dis-functional family background who was having behavioural issues at school that led to internal and external exclusions. He engaged with his creativity to help build his resilience through such as building and learning to play a guitar and developing a stand-up routine. His behaviour at school improved and he developed a much more mature attitude to his relationships with other members. His mother liaised with VIBE using his attendance on the project as a ‘carrot’ in modifying his behaviour.

·      A male Member aged 19 originally from Brazil who was referred to us by MIND. He harboured suicidal thoughts and experienced situations of conflict between family members. He embarked on strengthening his resilience to the challenges he faced through developing his creativity in area such learning to play acoustic guitar. He engaged with other members to help him overcome social isolation through building relationships and introducing other young people to VIBE

·      A young person aged 15 referred to us by Healthy Young Minds. A young person with anger management and gender identity issues. They settled in very well and were very open in explaining and discussing their issues with staff and other young people. Has written some lyrics to a song that expresses feelings around depression and anxiety, with support from our musician recorded the chorus and is worked on a melody. Has also produced some digital art with the support of our creative artist and has borrowed a camera to take images with the support of our photographer/digital artist.

·      A young man who has been with us for six years. He has complex learning difficulties and has attempted to develop his creativity through such as stand-up comedy and script writing. He has now become a volunteer/member and joined Vibecast [Vibe’s video production unit] on the production side, learning alongside our filmmaker. He has been given the responsibility for buying in refreshments and drinks and is an accomplished barista. The confidence this has given him has enabled him to secure his first paid employment in the pub trade.

·      A young woman aged 16 referred to us by Hopwood Hall College. She is hearing impaired and has difficulty forming relationships with her peers. We introduced her to our visual artist, and she quickly became very enthusiastic about producing posters and cards for staff and family. She now makes regular trips, accompanied by one of our team to buy art materials. She has grown in confidence and has bonded with other members, sharing music and discussing what they like.

·      A young man aged 17 came back to VIBE after a time away concentrating on his GCSEs. He initially became a member after having been referred to us by his brother. Both brothers are on the autism spectrum, and the elder one is now in full-time employment coming to VIBE when he can. This returnee is enthusiastically working with our musician learning to play along to his favourite songs on guitar, bass guitar and drums. He says that has not settled well at college and coming to VIBE is helping him to feel more positive and have something to both enjoy and look forward to.

·      A young man aged 11 who initially became a member when in year 6. We hadn’t seen him for some time when his mother contacted us to ask if he could come back as VIBE was the only thing he would come out of his bedroom for. We welcomed him with open arms, and he is now regularly attending to work with our filmmaker on producing animations as well as learning how to edit in support of another member.

·      A new band is born! Two of our members with on the autism spectrum aged 17 and 24 have formed a band with two members who have refugee status both aged 16. We have set up a new recording studio where under the guidance of our music man these members are collaborating on a new recording. This is huge step forward not only musically for the members involved but especially in social development and communication – two Spanish speakers working co-operatively with two members who have issues with social contact and communication.

·      A long-term female member now aged 25 has completed her commission to make a short film providing information about accessing health care for refugees and asylum seekers. This is part of a development package we have designed to help her to gain the confidence and skills to deliver a commission. Working alongside our film man she has become much more confident in her own abilities.

·      Three of Vibe’s long term young people have been developed into volunteers and have accepted becoming Trustees of the charity. They have mental health issues including autism, anxiety, and low mood. Through Vibe they have developed confidence in themselves and continue to develop their creativity through graphic art, animation, video, and music. They are embracing their new roles with enthusiasm, are eager to learn and are already making valuable contributions to the running and future development of Vibe Rochdale.

·      A young man with on the autism spectrum has made great strides in both his guitar playing and guitar building. The confidence this has given him has enabled him to support other young people and also become an in-house guitar technician. His social skills have improved dramatically, and he is now much more confident in verbal communication.

 

 

WOW! What a privilege to see the dramatic changes in young people who may have to carry labels such as neurodiverse and hard to reach.

 

Vibe Rochdale also provides opportunities for highly skilled creative artists to become Vibe Associate Artists, where they develop skills in enabling and supporting young people to explore and enjoy their creativity.

 

 

MY PERSONAL JOURNEY TO AATA AND VIBE ROCHDALE BEGAN WHEN I got some money for my 5th birthday and didn’t buy a toy gun or a Dinky car – I bought a record – a vinyl 78 – why, I don’t know but that was my first step into the world of the creative arts.

 

Fast forward to my career in education where as an assistant head teacher I was instrumental in achieving Performing Arts College status for the school I worked in -driven by my belief in the importance of all young people having access to the creative arts - in addition to be being essential to individual and community wellbeing I fervently believe that the creative arts, can help to dismantle stereotypes and prejudices, develop empathy, and help us to connect beyond boundaries and borders.

 

In 2005 I left teaching disillusioned by the restrictions of the national curriculum, the weighing and measuring of young people that left many disengaged through feelings of failure.

 

As current 29-year-old pop superstar Jacob Collier recently said ‘The biggest damage a teacher can do is strip you from confidence. I do a lot of my best work when I am not afraid of doing anything wrong. If there is a sense that there’s this judgement from outside, it can paralyse you for life. We have a huge amount of responsibility to keep curiosity awake.’

 

I then worked as the producer of an independent film and became involved in the Peace Treaty element of the 2012 London Olympics, training 300 young people to be peace ambassadors and tell the story of what peace meant to them using the whole spectrum of the creative arts.

 

The positive effects on those young people reignited my enthusiasm to promote the creative arts as essential to a healthy society and individual happiness.

 

I started to think that young people could benefit from the opportunity to tell their story in whatever way worked for them – sing it, draw it, animate it, paint it, storyboard it, write a poem or a short story.

 

How could they do this? By working alongside creative artists.

 

Thus, was born Stories We Could Tell. A project that enabled young people to find their voice.

 

The first cohort of about 30 young people from diverse backgrounds included asylum seekers, in care, neurodiverse, self-medicating and self-harming. They were a bunch who liked to perform so we put on a two hour show in front of 200 people at the Middleton Arena. A show in which they told their stories through a wide range of creative arts.

 

In the audience were several representatives of the NHS including mental health practitioners. This was instrumental in us getting a contract.

 

Stories We Could Tell proved to be a bit of a mouthful and the young people preferred much punchier Vibe.

 

Parallel to this I was given the opportunity to take over All Across Arts columns in the Rochdale Observer, Heywood Advertiser and Middleton Guardian which meant free tickets to press nights and access to our town’s vibrant cultural arts organisations and artists.

 

It also gave me a voice – the opportunity to tell the stories I can tell.

 

With a team of like-minded writers, we created an oasis of positivity. A space where people could be enthused by the creative arts.

 

My journey has led me to being in the privileged position of living my dream – inspired by a 5-year-old’s eccentric choice of a birthday gift.

 

My love of music, visual art, live theatre and creative writing – feeling part of community of creatives - has sustained me throughout my life – a source of light and warmth when life went dark and cold – a vehicle for celebration when things become good – a vital element in my wellbeing – I want everyone to have access to these life sustaining creative arts.

 

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

 

Securing funding in addition to that provided by GMNHS to establish a permanent home for Vibe Rochdale in the centre of Rochdale, operating 7 days per week.

 

Ensuring AATA continues to involve as many writers and develop as many platforms as possible to give a voice to creative artists and encourage our whole community to engage with, participate in and enjoy the creative arts.

 

 

MY BIG IDEA IS TO BUILD ON OUR CULTURAL ARTS HERITAGE BY ENABLING AND ENCOURAGING THE CREATIVE ARTS COMMUNITY TO BRING THE CREATIVE ARTS TO EVERYBODY – TO BE ABLE TO SAY:

 

‘COME AS YOU ARE, BRING WHAT YOU HAVE, YOU’RE WELCOME HERE!’

 

In order to achieve this, we need to enable and empower the local creative community by giving them places and spaces and supporting them to share and celebrate their creativity through such as a Festival of Local Creativity representing creativity across our diverse communities, bringing them together.

 

When speaking to artists and organisations it is often the case that they are ignorant of other artists and organisations, even within their own field, the general public are even more in the dark. We need a central resource that builds on AATA with an easily accessed digital platform and a presence in local spaces and spaces such as shopping malls and libraries.

 

Let’s get our heads together so that we can say with confidence,

 

‘COME AS YOU ARE, BRING WHAT YOU HAVE, YOU’RE WELCOME HERE!’

 

 

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