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Camden ‘Handbuilt’ Art Project


‘Handbuilt’ was an intergenerational art project that challenged the perceptions of different generations by bringing them together to produce a creative arts piece. Community artists ‘Face2Face’ worked with a group of young and older people to help them make casts of their own hands and to share experiences through creative writing. The casts have been used to build a wall of united hand casts that represents diverse members of a community working together to promote greater understanding and respect between generations.

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  • improve relationships between older and younger people in the area
  • iprovide access to creative activities for local people
  • iincrease community cohesion through engendering a sense of pride and achievement in what different generations had achieved together

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The Well London community consultation revealed an intergenerational gap and mutual mistrust between the generations and also that local people would like more access to healthy spaces. People were very enthusiastic about arts opportunities but felt that these were limited.

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Groundwork brought together 15 older people from the local community and 15 younger people from Haverstock Hill Secondary School at the Charlie Ratchford Centre, a day centre for older people. Participants were engaged through the school and day centre; the involvement of the deputy head and centre manager was key for getting participants involved. The young people were able to take part in the project during school hours which helped guarantee attendance. Initial sessions were run separately with the older and younger people, to introduce them to the project and prepare them to meet one another. This involved challenging any perceptions they might have about each other; a representative from each group attended the ‘other’ session to help do this.

At the first session with the older people, Jessica Robinson, Senior Projects Coordinator from Groundwork, asked them to tell her what a younger person looked like and she then drew what they described. As Jessica says, “As you can see from the photo, the results were very amusing – and often surprising.”

Future sessions all involved both groups. At the next two sessions, participants made casts of their hands, as instructed by the artists from ‘Handbuilt’ who were commissioned to carry out the project. Participants were put in intergenerational pairs, which worked really well. A writer also helped them discuss themes about how they felt about each other and their area, whether they were afraid to walk home at night or intimidated by young/older people, which helped to address issues of perception and intergenerational mistrust. Meanwhile, making casts of their hands proved a fun and sometimes messy way for the two groups to work together – timing was an issue because you have to move fast before the plaster sets!

The final session provided a round-up and an opportunity for participants to reflect on whether their feelings about older and younger people had changed since the start of the project. The artwork was unveiled at this session and it was clear to see how the two groups had come together, as Jessica explains: “At first some of the younger people needed some encouragement to get drinks for the older people, but by this final session they sought out their older friends, sat with them and didn’t hesitate to get them refreshments.”

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Evaluation was carried out throughout the project through use of visual interactive posters and these revealed an increase in positive feelings in both groups. At the first session, less than half the participants described themselves as ‘excited and happy about the project’ but in future sessions all but one or two described themselves as excited. Positive feelings at the end of the project were slightly higher among the older participants with all choosing ’Feel great/really enjoyed the project’ whereas the majority of younger participants chose a rating midway between this and ‘feel bad/didn’t like the project’.

At the final session in July 2009, when the artwork was unveiled, everyone admired the finished piece and spent some time identifying their hands and chatting with their partners. There was some discussion about how participants in the project now viewed their older/younger partners, and one of the younger participants said: “My perceptions have changed during this project because the old people – they’re kind – I never thought they’d be that way. They were different to what I expected.”

The Deputy Head at Haverstock School, Nikki Haydon, said that she felt emotional watching one of her pupils, who would never have spoken up in class, take the microphone to say how much she had benefitted from the project.

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The final ‘Handbuilt’ wall is now on display at Haverstock Hill Secondary School, as a symbol of what the community achieved collaboratively across different generations. The project certainly built relationships and improved community spirit. One older participant said; 'The younger people - they need TLC. I think they're so brilliant. I know we get some bad ones but there’s bad in everyone. If you talk to them nicely, they will respond'.

Councillor Martin Davies, executive member for adult social care and health at Camden Council says: “This artwork is a fine example of how important it is to make links across the generations. I’m delighted to see it on display in one of Camden’s resource centres and I hope it will inspire people, young and old, to see what can be achieved when you work together.”

Groundwork London hope that the project will leave a lasting impact on the neighbourhood, improving the relationships between a significant number of the younger and older people in the area, and that the project participants will feel a sense of pride and take ownership of the finished community art feature.

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  • Projects that have lots of revenue funding (funding for staff time) can work well as this allows quality time to be spent preparing, co-ordinating and properly executing (‘holding’) the process
  • Establishing relationships with community hubs (the school & day centre) worked well, particularly as there were individuals who were flexible and actively engaged, and more than happy to co-operate/accommodate. Also, crucially, they encouraged people from their centres to get involved
  • Doing the project in school time ensured that the young people attended. Because it can be a challenging thing for them at first, it’s unlikely that they would have shown up without some pressure. But in the end many enjoyed it and got a lot out of it
  • Careful planning and adapting the process as we went along if needed, ensured that the project met the needs of the participants (as well as the funders)
  • Having one person that was present throughout the project and responsible for its development (Jessica) was vital as they were able to oversee the project, provide continuity and understand the motivations of participants
  • A real need for the project as revealed by the consultation was a key driver, meaning that there was interest in the community and the project was not imposed from above

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