“The hardest part of outreach… is outreach.”3 min read

Outreach is a conversation, which begins at the first point of contact and effectively continues indefinitely as the needs of organisations and their participants evolve.

// Lois Entwistle

// Lois Entwistle

Creative Learning Practitioner

Over the last three months, during back-to – back phone calls, meetings, project plans and inexhaustible email chains, a sentence emerged that remains wedged at the forefront of it all.

“The hardest part of outreach… is outreach.”

Outreach is a conversation, which begins at the first point of contact and effectively continues indefinitely as the needs of organisations and their participants evolve. While projects begin, pause review, evaluate and wrap up, this conversation carries on in offices, (remote or in person), over phonelines and ever more infrequent “working coffee trips” and, for those of us on the ground, in car parks, corridors and stairwells. Outreach is never finished.

The goal of outreach is, in this writer’s estimation, to build lasting relationships with communities. Beyond that, it’s about people. Most of the time, they appear as numbers in age brackets on monitoring sheets or anonymised in case studies, but that’s not where they live.

Oldham, which in 2022 had the second-highest Child Poverty rate in the North West, has always had a strong vein of creativity and a community dedicated to exploring and exhibiting it, but there is no escaping the gravity of the impact of a global pandemic and a cost of living crisis on the town and the people within it.

People here are busy. They have a lot to do, very few resources to do it with and a lot riding on them. So getting a project off the ground can take anywhere between a month to six months of establishing lines of communication, consultation and assessing the needs of those we work with.

Once we’ve established contact, talked through those needs and assigned a practitioner whose practice matches those needs, the real work starts. You’ll find us at any given time of day or night – usually night – on trams and in cars hauling materials and equipment between community venues, checking, double-checking and triple checking all our due diligence is done; that our work is risk assessed and our young people are properly safeguarded, and our artists are in situ and ready. Then the outreach baton is passed to them.

The administrator has one eye on the artist and one on the bigger picture. The participatory artist has both eyes on the detail, two extra on the bigger picture and no eyes on their own sense of “art”. Their job isn’t to make art then go home. It’s to make artists, who will use the creativity they possess and develop what they don’t yet possess to make new art. The well-worn trope of the artist who is “precious” with ideas doesn’t apply here. The participatory Artist gives ideas away so that someone else can make them into art. They are not the heroes in this story. They’re ghost writers for the stories of the people around them. They tweak a sentence; suggest a colour or a line of dialogue, but the platform belongs to the young people.

So, how will we know if we’ve done our job? Well, the answer to that lies in looking forward to YDF24. If, in March of next year, you walk into a space and see and hear and feel the presence of all of our young people; hear their voices; see their work invading every space they’re in and see nothing of the people with the paper and pens, we’ve done it. The results will be everywhere and we’ll, (correctly), be invisible.

Creative Learning Practitioner //
Lois Entwistle