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Clubbing Together

2nd November 2020

Abbie Canning, Programme Curator, Derby Quad

Working as a freelance artist for fifteen years, Abbie Canning knew all the positive benefits creativity brings and wanted others to experience them.

Four years ago, she joined Derby QUAD, the independent contemporary arts centre a short stroll from Derby River Gardens, and a year later, began leading Q Club. Created for children on the autistic spectrum, those with additional support needs, who are socially excluded, or have disabilities, the programme Abbie creates for Q Club – funded since 2016 by BBC Children in Need – allows young people aged between five and eighteen to explore digital technologies in a creative art context, and often, presents this work in professional exhibitions.

"Art helps us learn about ourselves and others,” notes Abbie, who also has a son with autism. “To experience the world in new ways and open our minds. There are so many different art forms that people can access, so it's about allowing participants to find the thing that really works for them.”

When the pandemic struck, QUAD was forced to close its doors. A huge blow to an audience centred venue. Fortunately Abbie was able to continue working and knew how important structure and routines were for many of the young people who access the sessions, especially given that everything else in the world was in flux.

As a digitally-focused organisation, QUAD had the infrastructure to be able to transition to our strange new world seamlessly. Immediately moving the programme online and working on a weekly basis, Q Club also sent activities and boxes of materials so that participants could remain engaged and feel connected. Over the summer holidays, photography, animation, digital play, Minecraft, alongside a wide variety of arts and craft activities, were offered.

Concern as to whether participants would engage without face-to-face contact quickly disappeared following feedback from parents and carers who stressed how important the stability had been, and Abbie believes that art itself had a role to play in how Q Club made the change: “The benefit of working in the arts is that everyone is flexible and adaptable. It fuels your imagination and aids problem-solving thinking. All of those creative skills that art gives you, we were able to flex.

“Seeing ways that we can engage audiences that we would never have otherwise seen has been a real blessing, and it has offered us a hybrid way of delivering some sessions for the future. The arts have really buoyed people through, it's quite invigorating to be able to see that.”

The organisation is one of many good causes who benefit from the £30 million raised every week by National Lottery players and Abbie adds that without the foundation funding provides, none of the project could go ahead. She also admits that when she received an email notifying her Q Club had won an Arts Council of Wales Award, she assumed it was either a joke, or at best, spam.

“I didn't reply immediately because I thought someone had sent it as a wind-up! It’s hugely uplifting and motivating for all of our practitioners. It truly has been a real team effort. To know what we're doing is being recognised and acknowledged, is hugely inspiring. We all have the same ethos: we want to do as much as we can and we work very hard to do that.”