Creative research, evaluation and storytelling for the Barbican’s community programmes in the City and East London

  • Chris Hayes

The Barbican’s inspiring Communities and Neighbourhoods Team nurtures relationships with the arts venue’s local communities to improve everyone’s access to the arts.

Creative Neighbourhoods is the team’s work with the Barbican’s neighbours, ensuring the arts venue plays an active role in helping the diverse ecologies of culture and creativity around us to thrive. The team’s work in the City of London includes The Imagine Fund, a community grant-making & support in which decisions about funding are made by the community themselves, and enabling the Community Impact Collective, a collective of leaders working with communities in the City of London, dedicated to strengthening and advocating for values-led community work in the local area. (PIcture credit: The Barbican, some of the 2022 Community Impact Collective Cohort Members are pictured).

The team’s Communities In Residence programme sees the team working with local creative organisations and supporting them to host workshops and activities for their members and communities in the Barbican’s spaces and facilities and learning together how to make the spaces more welcoming for everyone. Current collaborators and communities in residence include: Headway East London, We Are Parable, Accumulate, Phosphoros Theatre, Flourishing Lives, and Babes in Development.
We have been working closely with the team to help evaluate and tell the story of their work with local communities during, though and after the pandemic, including the distribution of creative resources and activity packs to local residents and families (Play and Imagine Packs) and the development of the Imagine Fund, to seed creative projects and causes led by local residents.

Research activities have included:
  • Overseeing participatory, community-led storytelling approaches involving the recruitment and training of local story collectors
  • Community reflection sessions and surveys
  • Depth interviews and conversations with staff members
  • Facilitating internal and external ‘story discussion days’
  • Story and narrative analysis, leading to storytelling reports and new theories of change.

The work has used the the storytelling evaluation methodology from Arts at the Old Fire Station, building on the Most Significant Change technique.

We also supported a parallel evaluation of the Leytonstone Loves Film Festival (see case study here) using a creative and community-led storytelling approach involving LLF filmmakers, exhibitors and creatives (see case study here). Leytonstone Loves Film celebrates the magic of the movies and the love of stories that help us feel more connected.

We have provided ongoing support to the team, helping to build capacity in participatory storytelling, and co-ordinating their evaluations of the Community Impact Collective and the latest iterations of the Imagine Fund, this time focusing on listening to the experiences and perspectives of the grant’s panel members. The work has helped the team develop the next iterations of the CIC and Imagine Fund, build capacity in the team, and grow a network of trained artists, creatives and community members with skills in storytelling.

More recently, we have been pleased to work with Headway East London to deliver skills training in interviewing and story collecting, to enable a story-led evaluation of differently various, Headway and the Barbican’s brilliant, multifaceted exhibition and public programme in the Curve, which shared perspectives and open conversations about brain injury and invited visitors to challenge views on who gets to make and present artwork in institutions like the Barbican. The nine-day takeover included stories about brain injury through video, audio and print material, alongside unique artwork.

You can find out more about the Barbican’s Communities and Neighbourhoods team here:

“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
(PIcture credit: The Barbican, some of the 2022 Community Impact Collective Cohort Members are pictured).