Stop thinking of communities as hard to reach and start thinking whether you are hard to reach
The National Assembly’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communication Committee is challenging arts and heritage organisations to think differently about so-called ‘hard to reach communities’.
The Committee has been looking at how poverty and social exclusion can be tackled through culture and the arts.
Members were convinced by evidence that suggests it is the organisations themselves which are hard to reach. The Committee was told people in more deprived areas, or areas where there are high numbers of people from ethnic minority communities, see such organisations as distant and inaccessible.
Kathryn Williams, from Cardiff-based Rubicon Dance, told the Committee:
“In our experience, the communities that we work with wouldn't consider themselves hard to reach, they wouldn't consider themselves disadvantaged, but they do think of these institutions as really, really distant, and that has informed the way that we as an organisation work. We deliberately take our work to people … I think we need to think about 'hard to reach' differently, and if organisations are saying, 'These people are hard to reach', they're not trying hard enough. They need to look at different strategies.”
The Welsh Government funds a small programme called Fusion which pays for a co-ordinator in nine local authorities to encourage arts, culture and community groups to collaborate on different projects.
The overwhelming evidence was that including people and communities from the outset gave a sense of belonging and ownership which raised interest and participation levels. This then led to the many benefits of taking part in cultural activities – from learning new skills to increased confidence and improved mental health.
The Committee would like to see Fusion rolled out across Wales with more funding. It is also recommending any arts or cultural organisation that receives Welsh Government funding should show how it is addressing poverty as part of its strategy.
Bethan Sayed, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communication Committee said:
“Arts organisations exist because there are people in this world who think differently and creatively.
“But we think they need to think more creatively about reaching out and involving new audiences and communities.
“These people aren’t hard to reach; they just need to be involved. They need to feel that what these organisations are doing is relevant to them and, just as importantly, accessible.
“The examples we have seen, where communities are included from the outset, shows the benefits of increased attendance, increased confidence and improved mental health.”
The Committee makes eight recommendations in its report, including:
- The Welsh Government should commission a wholesale review of the Fusion programme which assesses the original objectives, funding and evaluation;
- The Arts Council of Wales should ensure that all members of Arts Portfolio Wales (its revenue-funded organisations) work with the different communities they serve to design their programme of activities; and,
- The Welsh Government, via the Arts Council for Wales, should require all arts and cultural bodies in receipt of public funding to set out their objectives for tackling poverty and social exclusion in their strategic plans. Those in receipt of funding should also set out how they intend to co-design creative activities and content with these target audiences.
The report will now be considered by the Welsh Government.