AN award-winning arts and culture project is working with three community organisations to help connect people with artistic activities in response to the COVID pandemic.

The Cultural Spring has adapted its popular Your Art programme to look for ways to reach people who have been particularly isolated during the COVID crisis. In order to do this, The Cultural Spring has appointed Your Art Community Connectors to work with the organisations and develop their ideas.

The three organisations chosen for support are: Regeneration North East CIC; Sunderland MIND and the Just Let Your Soul Grow project at Thompson Park Community Garden in Sunderland.

Wearside-based Regeneration North East has been given £350 to develop its Butterfly Project which is encouraging people in Sunderland and South Tyneside to send in images of artwork depicting butterflies in advance of a virtual gallery of artwork which will be launched on October 10, World Mental Health Day.

“The butterfly is a metaphor for people’s mental health. In many ways butterflies are so fragile, but these tiny creatures can also be incredibly strong and resilient, flying thousands of miles during migration,” said Gary Nicholson, Director of Regeneration North East, a community interest company which delivers creative interventions to support people’s physical and mental wellbeing across the region.

“There’s no doubt that the COVID pandemic has increased isolation, particularly among those who have existing physical or mental wellbeing challenges. We’re really grateful for the support of Cultural Spring and look forward to working with Carol Cooke in developing the project,” he added.

Carol, a South Shields writer and broadcaster, is one of two Community Connectors working to develop the three projects. Carol is also working with Sunderland MIND, who’s project, Total Arts, will see the creation of a youth drama group in order to boost the confidence of young people using its services. Cultural Spring is supporting the project through Carol’s help and with £500 towards the costs of the project.

Community Connector Jackie Nixon, who is also a public health practitioner, is supporting the Just Let Your Soul Grow project at Southwick’s Thompson Park community garden. The project will help pay for tutors and equipment for sessions in subjects such as photography and music. The community garden is a voluntary-run project that works with groups such as Friends of the Drop In for Asylum Seekers and Refugees (FODI) in Sunderland; Headlight mental health project and Southwick Neighbourhood Youth Project.

The Cultural Spring is supporting the Let Your Soul Grow project with £450 towards the cost of the sessions.

Over the past few years, the Cultural Spring has invested almost £100,000 in local communities through the Your Art scheme.

Michael Barrass, Project Producer at The Cultural Spring, said: “We’ve slightly amended our Your Art approach in response to the COVID pandemic. We were looking for partnerships to test new ideas to connect people with creative activities.

“We wanted ideas co-designed and genuinely place local people at the centre of the projects in order to reach people who don’t usually have access to creative activities and opportunities. Further, we wanted to match projects with members of our team, our Community Connectors, who are collaborating with the projects -sharing their experience and insight of getting community-based arts projects started.

“We’re also working to market the chosen projects to wider audiences and participants and help them to grow their ideas so they become longer-term, sustainable projects.”

The Cultural Spring is funded by Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places project and its four partners are the University of Sunderland; the Customs House, South Shields, Sunderland’s Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust and Sangini, a women’s health organisation.