re-directing the arts centre

Like every other cultural organisation in the country we are trying to make sense of ‘what next’? Because we are companies full of creative, motivated individuals the urge to find solutions, try and predict and respond is overwhelming. Farnham Maltings has a mission expressed as ‘contributing to the quality of life of all the people of Farnham’. Given this mission, an animated staff team and a set of positive relationships with our local authorities, it has, dare i say it, almost been fun to identify problems and find solutions. I am sure there are others doing brilliant things with the resources they have. Here are some of the things we are doing, which I am describing here as ideas, possibilities, alliances, that might serve others. In all of this there is an opportunity to make things forever better than they were.

We are working with the town council and have established a weekly meeting at the Maltings of organisations involved in responding including facebook groups, the Farnham Herald, Care Farnham, the emergency planning team from the Borough Council,  Nextdoor and Whatsapp groups, residents associations, food bank and most of the churches to coordinate actions across the town. The meetings are designed to do three things. Coordinate actions, identify need and share resources.

One thing that has surprised me is the huge, latent generosity within the community. One facebook group has had 2,500 people sign up as volunteers within its first week offering all sorts of skills and resources, from lifts to hospital, help with shopping, IT, even a local trades people offering services to the vulnerable for free. The thing that has become quickly apparent it the challange is to match this energy with need and we are not yet sure even now how we best use this. But we are in it for the long game and I am sure ideas will emerge.

Having the local newspaper, the Farnham Herald, on board is really useful. they are giving over the front page and have committed to run a campaign with a column every week to support our efforts

Problems and solutions we have already begun to work on:

Information and connecting people. We are giving over our box office team to be the first point of contact for anyone who has particular needs. They will direct people to the most local provider. We believe we are best to encourage people to work through neighbourhoods rather than a town wide service on the basis that these relationships might outlive the current crisis. Already we have heard of two people who have lived opposite each other for 20 years and had never had the excuse to speak until now.

Coordinating leaflet drops for ‘acts of kindness’. There are two or three versions of the neighbourhood card being circulated however they are not reaching every part of the community so we are working through the volunteer workforce to ensure every house receives them. One person has developed an app this week to track where the leaflets have been dropped off.

Meals on Wheels is run using volunteers most of whom are over 40 so can’t continue as they are required to self isolate. The volunteers also need to be DBS checked. Speaking to the local taxi firms, who suddenly have no business, we discovered that they all have to be DBS checked and are more than willing to come to an arrangement where they are being paid a flat fee for each delivery. The town council has brokered this and is talking to local small trusts to cover these costs sustaining a service for many of our most vulnerable people and keeping local taxi companies in business.

The local library has closed which was the one free publicly accessible point in the town for many socially disadvantaged and vulnerable people to the internet. We have put a call out for ‘spare’ ipads and laptops which we will lend to people with a dongle allowing broadband access. We are asking all the phone companies if they will sponsor this – we shall see. But if not a couple of local community organisations have offered to underwrite the cost.

Shopping and prescriptions for vulnerable people. This is taking a little time to work through as we figure out how to organise payments securely. But we are talking to the supermarket managers and hope to have a way, perhaps through our box office, of paying a supermarket bill and then the customer reimbursing us on the telephone.

NHS  has asked to use these buildings to collect more blood donations and to potentially use parts of the building in case they are needed for triage.

Volunteer coordinator. We are asking the person who coordinates volunteers for the Maltings to identify a common, robust system of good practice across the various groups and identify particular sub groups – IE people who have been DBS checked.

Remaining socially connected. We are encouraging doorstep conversations – at a distance – whilst trying to work out how to safeguard people. The major challenge is how we encourage people to remain socially connected whilst physically apart. It is obvious that anxiety and peoples’ mental health is as big a challenge as their physical health. Maybe that is where creativity and imagination will play its part. One thought is to put our workshop programme on line as a set of tutorials. we are also commissioning artists to make work for these times and developing collaborative craft projects from home.

Most of this came out of two one hour meetings. People can be extraordinary when offered the chance and I remain convinced that things will be better after this storm.

gavin stride, farnham maltings.


One Response to “re-directing the arts centre”

  1. Jane Lees - March 23rd, 2020 at 5:02 pm

    This is reallty inspiring, Gavin.

    One idea – if we are allowed out into the countryside what about a bike share or loan scheme? They might have to be steam cleaned or disinfected, but its a possibility?

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