Case Study: Leytonstone Loves Film

  • Chris Hayes

Leytonstone Loves Film (LLF) is a free community-powered programme celebrating film culture and Leytonstone’s vibrant cinema community. We worked closely with the Barbican’s inspiring Communities and Neighbourhoods team to design and lead a storytelling approach to document, tell the story of, and evaluate the impact and legacy of the 2021 festival and the evolution of the festival model.

This included early reflection workshops, in-festival observation and impact journalism, ethnography and in-festival data collection (feedback from venue managers, an open whats app group for creatives and festival participants to share key moments), and analysis of audience participation and social value. We created a micro-commission and paid work opportunity for a young journalism graduate to attend the festival, supporting her in the principles of solutions/impact journalism, and documenting two high profile events. We trained a team story collectors from the LLF network to hold conversations with LLF partners to hear about their events and personal accounts of change. These were synthesised into rich personal narratives by the brilliant Richard Barker of Radiant Circus.

We helped facilitate a vibrant LLF partner meeting in the Barbican cinema to discuss and appraise the stories before producing the final evaluation report with rich story and narrative analysis sitting alongside impact, participation, audience and social value data.  The work has helped the Barbican move forward with their plans to create an LLF network, hub and fund to support year around film activity in Leytonstone.

“Thank you again for all of your work on the LLF evaluation- it’s been a journey and so many people involved. All of the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, people have really enjoyed being part of it, as have I. It has been brilliant to collaborate with you on this.” ~ Lara Deffense, then Producer, Barbican Communities & Neighbourhoods Team.

“I’ve really loved working with you, and massively appreciate your calm, rigorous, thoughtful contributions to our work and progress.” ~ Rachel Smith, then Senior Producer, Barbican Communities & Neighbourhoods Team

For more information and about our work, approach and learning please get in touch.
Our tips for storytelling evaluations:
  • Build reflection and co-design sessions into your evaluation design to get an in-depth understanding of the context and to shape the research. Involve people early, even if the approach isn’t quite shaped out.
  • Allow ample time and resources for recruiting, supporting, and training citizen researchers and story collectors. Build relationships with citizen researchers and story collectors. Stories are most meaningful when they are closely tied to the individual or collective experiences of the story collector.
  • Give careful consideration to matching-up of citizen researchers and story collectors with storytellers and interviewees. Think about areas of shared interest as well as interesting contrasting perspectives that could come together.
  • The writer is a key role, and it’s helpful if that person can bridge research and storytelling with an eye for impact and learning as well as being able to craft a narrative write-up.
  • Bring people back together again to discuss the narratives to identify shared themes and learning.
  • It has been striking to us how the stories not only give a rich insight into people’s experiences of programmes and exhibitions but also paint a rich portraiture of people’s lives, contexts and the places and spaces that matter to them. Your research can be used formatively to shape future work and activities and build a picture of interests, aspirations and priorities in a local area.
Our tips for events and festival evaluations:
  • Bring team members and stakeholders together early on to shape the evaluation framework and research questions – don’t wait for everything to be in place or worked out.
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Articulate an overarching framework but be ready to deploy a mixture of methods and tools/approaches for data collection.
  • Audience surveying can be an effective and efficient way of gathering feedback and works well where there is steady footfall, or people are mingling around. If everyone leaves an event at a single point, work in pairs to collect surveys (using electronic or paper capture) and consider self-complete surveys on a few clipboards that can be handed around. Surveys are not always enjoyable for people to do, so think about ways to make them fun. Keep surveys short and concise.
  • Encourage artists and creatives to think about what actions they can take pre-event, during and after their events to capture feedback. Often the most effective response rates are achieved when the lead artist or organiser leads on their evaluation activity that draws on their talents and skillsets links to the creative mediums they use as part of their work and practice.
  • Often, the richest, most diverse, and most valuable feedback from visitors, audiences, and participants can be heard at your cafes, bars, ticket and box offices and during your events and activities. Create a system for capturing observational feedback and encourage artist and team member journaling.
  • Set up a Whats App channel for your festival event to provide a platform for people to share reflections, feedback, photographs and videos.
  • Use creative research methods and audio and video to engage people and stimulate discussions on their terms.
Ten ingredients for successful community and creative-powered festivals, fringes and events:
Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships – collabs, collabs, collabs.
Invest time, budget and energy in outreach and relationship building, and good old-fashioned community development work outside the event or festival (ideally ongoingly year-round). Start with your closest friends and allies, weave from the inside out and branch out from there. Free team members up to meet and chat with people on their terms and settings, have coffees and 1:1s, attend groups, events, network, provide support, make invitations and asks/requests, and help people make connections and join the dots to what is being or could be planned. Support and empower local leaders, producers and influencers to do the same and ensure they are properly remunerated for their time. Progress moves at the speed of trust. Allow space and time for relationship-building and organic network and audience growth. Your marketing strategy (where you will want to blend traditional methods with digital) builds on this relationship-based approach for maximum impact.

Ground everything in joy, enjoyment, values and connection.
Focus on joy, enjoyment, and the funding, money, and ticket sales will follow. At the end of the BBC documentary Botham: The Legend of ’81, Sir Ian Botham reflects on his career and England’s magical win over Australia in the 1981 Ashes against 500-1 odds. He says: “If was I out there in the middle enjoying myself, then hopefully the guys who’ve paid the money to come and sit in the stands to watch it are enjoying it as well, and it wasn’t really any more complicated than that.” Find out what people/artists/creatives/communities enjoy, are passionate about and what matters to them, and create opportunities for them to do and showcase that in the places and spaces that matter to them. Don’t assume what those things are, and be prepared for a period of research and conversation to find that out, or small R&D grants and projects to help them find that out and test out themselves. Dig deep to explore what niches and interests matter to who.

Craft unique moments and experiences that bring people together from different ages, genders and sexualities, ethnicities, faiths, and communities.
Nurture and facilitate authentic, niche, hand-crafted moments and experiences for specific audiences, communities and affinity groups. Think about your programme as a network of hand-crafted lanterns coming together to shine brightly rather than a single shiny spectacular chandelier. Prioritise the niche and hand-crafted over spectacle and mass participation, though the sweet point is in between and achieving a balance (and artists and creatives value being part of something bigger). Develop an engaging program of events that offers something for everyone. Host pre- or post-event activities such as workshops, panel discussions and Q&A sessions to further engage new audiences. Prioritise weaving together small unique experiences, each with their own entry points and personalised, hand-crafted invitations to audiences and interest groups. Creative ideas can be expressed and experienced in multiple mediums, places and settings

Build and foster a strong creative network of partners, colleagues, and creatives and create platforms for exchanging skills, experiences, and learning.
Create social and learning time outside of events to build relationships and further the exchange of knowledge. Create spaces and platforms for people to explore their creativity, experiment, be bold and stretch themselves.

Take a pride and place-based approach. Create experiences with a sense of belonging, connectedness to home and locality.
Build relationships with local community venues, parks and open spaces, shops, libraries, pubs, and community and faith settings for a place-based approach. Support local venues and businesses to foster a legacy. Cultivate pride in the community by taking ownership of shared spaces. Align activity with community and street events, markets, and road closures.

Offer entry points for every artist/creative.
Celebrate and showcase emerging creatives’ work, helping them establish themselves and creating spaces for partnership and collaboration. Create opportunities for more experienced artists and creatives to support early-stagers in creating a rich learning and career development support network. Create opportunities for artists and creatives to develop new skills in a wide range of specialisms, from production to marketing and research/evaluation. Focus on networking, collaboration, research, storytelling, and other soft skills to boost employability. Think and plan beyond the festival – look for ways to keep the creative momentum going throughout the community.

Support, enable and empower, but find ways to take the pressure off people to produce an output, help them to relax and enjoy their work. Create R&D opportunities for artists/creatives to test out ideas in the run-up to your event/festival without the pressure to produce something.

Give equal energy to both the inner and the outer purpose of the event or festival.
Ensure the social and fringe elements receive the same energy as the headline activities. Build a sense of community by creating opportunities for socialising and include informal interactive elements between events and activities, such as talks, Q&As and networking, to foster deeper connections and create meaningful experiences. Culture is a powerful entry point to conversation and dialogue in the community. Harness your events and activities to open up conversations and create openings for conversation, dialogue and empathy in the community about social justice issues and causes important to local audiences.

Create opportunities for people to discover and stumble across art and culture in unexpected places not necessarily immediately linked to your event or festival.

Develop a comprehensive marketing strategy to promote your festival or fringe event. Incorporate a blend of traditional marketing tactics such as word-of-mouth, advertising, PR and partnerships, as well as digital marketing tactics, including social media, email campaigns and influencer marketing. Partner with other local festivals, events and activities to cross-promote and reach new audiences. Upskill partners, artists and creatives in marketing skills and support them to make personalised invitations to their communities and networks.