Behind the scenes with Chelmsford Light Parade

I am Adrian Deakes, I taught in Essex for nine years before working at Victoria and Albert museums (V&A) for 17 years. I was Education Manager at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden then Programme Manager for Performance at the main South Kensington site. A member of Ignite! and a Cultural Partner, I coordinate the schools’ learning programme for the Ideas Hub and project-manage this year’s Light Trail.

Between November 2020 and March 2021 the Ideas Hub’s creative team worked with 150 Year 5 children from Writtle Junior School and Kings Road Primary school and community groups including Girl Guides, The Sai Community and coding-group the Steamettes. A parade not being possible, we produced installations incorporating art and coding responding to the theme ‘Lockdown Loss and Future Hope.’ These were displayed around the city in February and March and online. The project was funded by Chelmsford City Council, Essex 2020, The Ragdoll Foundation and supported by Chelmsford for You and One Chelmsford.

 

If it’s something of a cliché to say that bands are plagued by ‘the difficult third album’ syndrome, there’s a grain of truth in it. Here are a few personal thoughts and reflections on that ‘difficult’ third Light Parade.

1.‘So you want to run a collaborative STEAM project with schools and community groups on the eve of a second national lockdown in the middle of global pandemic..?’

Assuming you’ve had your common sense glands removed, Let us begin… Actually, there are good reasons why this turned out to be a jolly fine idea:

  • Since March 2020, some community groups and schools suffered from a lack of extra-curricular creative opportunities. The chance to express themselves was seized on by all the young people involved. In feedback, teachers mentioned how self-confidence improved over the course of the project and parents said how engaged their children were.
  • Many of our friends and colleagues in the creative world have struggled to find meaningful employment this year. Committing to the Light Trail during the pandemic meant paid work for local artists and creatives. It gave volunteering opportunities to others and a chance for them to bring warmth and colour to the streets of the city using the skills they’ve developed over many years. (We’re sorry we couldn’t really tell you much about them at the time but you were all indoors…)
  • The theme spurred us to show our young people that they can triumph over difficulties. Despite lockdowns, work was designed, it was created and built, installations did happen… Hey! Maybe there’s never a bad time for Creativity and Resilience..?

 

2. Along the way we found out…

‘Email is rubbish…’ Effective communication was tested by individuals having to self-isolate and not able to work together in the same physical space. Yes, we like ‘Zoom.’ The phone is handy too (apparently, you can use your mobile to ‘talk’ to other people…) Drowning in email-chains is not good. WhatsApp groups are probably our future favoured way to go. Sub-dividing teams too so that there’s a clear ‘need-to-know’ structure is a good idea. It’s also useful to ask (and keep asking):

  • ‘Would a phone call be more effective than sending an email?’ Yes. Probably
  • ‘Would training a passing troupe of chihuahuas semaphore so they can signal to my colleagues from a raised vantage point in the local area be more effective than sending an email?’ Yes. Definitely… And they’ll look really cute too. Email works for summarising concepts and outlining plans. It’s really not good for actually getting things done. Best left in its rightful place… in a skip on the M6.

 

3. ‘Know who your friends are.’

We were well-supported by our friends; from teachers to venue and business owners. There’s clearly a desire and a need to grow work of this type in the city and although lockdown meant we couldn’t display in all the places we planned to, we were really pleased to be welcomed so positively by the city. The school teachers were amazing and our volunteers, particularly on the technical side of the project, were absolutely invaluable. We all worked hard too to support colleagues who were self-isolating. It looks like there’s a lot of hidden goodwill, talent, skills and experience behind the unassuming front doors of Chelmsford… Not that I can say I’ve seen all the front doors of Chelmsford. I’m led to believe some actually are quite assuming. What they’re assuming, I couldn’t really say…

Here are a few challenges to consider (and that we’re already working on):

  • How do we maintain and extend the skills and talents of the freelance team and volunteers so that valuable learning gained over the last three years on Light Parades isn’t diluted or lost?
  • How will we ensure our ambitions are matched by appropriate funding and support?
  • How should we grow to include other local creatives and attract more schools and the community?
  • How can we make this unique to the city, building on the STEAM potential of our industrial heritage whilst embracing the future?

So, ‘Cheers’ to this and the next Light Parade/Light Trail/Light Installation or whatever new words or phrases we all invent together. And remember, as an old band once sang on their ‘difficult third album’:
‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out…’

The Ideas Hub Light Trail team is Adrian Deakes, Ed Bye, Heather Smith, John Chappell, LauraTrevail, Vicci Button and Zoe Clifton. Thanks too to Edith Miller and our funders and supporters.

Images in order as the appear in this post.
1. The Kings Road Primary School Dragon
2. Hope Clouds’ at the Art Place, Meadows Shopping Centre
3. Writtle Junior School design
4. Installation day for ‘Captain Covid’ in ‘Happy Cat Coffee House’
5. A ‘Thanks’ to our pets in lockdown by Girl Guides