Co-design projects will help change the community says Sarah


With our Picnic in Jenny Lind Park just days away, we thought what a great time to introduce our new community producer Sarah Witcomb

Right now, she’s working on a trio of projects in that area, sharing her passion for transforming places and people via the arts. But we’ll let her tell you more about that… 

I’m really excited to be working at The Garage. I’m in unique position to co-design new creative projects with people from communities across Norwich. 

Co-design is about working with people in the community to develop new creative projects as a team. Everyone has equal input and are involved in every part of putting the project together. 

I’ve been excited to meet all these interesting and passionate members of the community. To talk about what they would like to create, what challenges they face and what changes we could make together. 

We respect many groups and individuals we work with come from challenging circumstances, or may be vulnerable, so it’s not always appropriate to shout about it. 

I’d like to use this blog to start talking about some of the achievements we can share. 

I’ve always been passionate about access to the arts for all and offering people opportunities to have creative experiences. I love the way that arts and culture can transform a place or people, and love that I get to play a part providing that for others. 

I was proud to have that acknowledged with The Education and Community Award at The Norfolk Arts Award in 2019. So, it was great to step into this new role and build on that enthusiasm and experience. 

It feels rewarding to create truly authentic engagement projects in our community and to be working in the area I love. 

These projects have begun to shape a great first year of this three-year initiative, which will celebrate our community and the changes they want to make in their world. 

The co-design process is very gradual and requires time to develop and gain trust as well as research what is happening. My first few months was spending time building connections, identifying communities and setting up the first co-design groups. 

Meeting so many people has not only been interesting and fun. These conversations and research are vital work and has really begun to shape and develop our relationships. 

The aim of the initiative is to create community volunteers that will work with us to come up with a project to meet the needs or challenges of their community. 

The initial steps of the three projects have started. 

The next is to begin the co-design meetings – the really fun part – which involves lots of tea and cake for our volunteers. 

Lots of creative discussions as well as inviting artists to deliver workshops, to develop skills and to creative find solutions to their community issues or concerns. 

I’ve been talking over cups of tea, meeting and walking with people from the wider community to work out who to work with, where to work and why. Where is the real need and where should I locate my three community co-design projects for this year? 

I’ve really enjoyed walking the streets, meeting people, chatting with grassroots organisations and people living in the lots of different areas. After which, I’ve begun to set up the following community collaborations. 

The project in Jenny Lind / Vauxhall Street is about working with those who live in a socio-economically deprived area which has a negative reputation in terms of anti-social behaviour. 

It’s near The Garage. However, we’ve found that there is little interaction from communities living in that area. 

Over the past few months I’ve loved meeting this vibrant community with lots of friendly and creative people living there. People running charity shops. Some who create their own crafts or jewellery. 

Record collectors and music enthusiasts. People running the local café. Those who gathered to support others in the pandemic. 

People who run faith organisations, who run community gardens, who help to run the food hub and some who need to use it. 

The community have been warm and welcoming, in particular the staff and customers at Sam’s Café, a true community hub. From these conversations I have begun to create a small group of collaborators who will begin to meet in May to start to work out what our co-design project will be. 

There is a lot of enthusiasm for shining a light on the positives of the community they live in. To highlight the good parts, rather than things often flagged as an issue for residents. 

The people of this community want to have pride in where they live and who they are. Our project will hopefully begin to explore this. 

I will also be working with a group with service users and staff from a new venue in Norwich called REST (Recovery, Eat, Support, Talk) which is managed by MIND and The FEED. It’ll be focused on working with people who are receiving and giving mental health support. 

We’ll develop a project together, holding regular sessions. It’s particularly interesting to me as the pandemic has had a massive impact on people’s mental health, in a time when people were already in need. 

I’m really pleased we can start to reach people with new creative projects to support their needs. I feel we can really offer something supportive. 

The third project I’m working on is our Community Ambassador Programme (CAP) with five students at Taverham High School

It’s part funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Clarion Futures, and supported by the DCMSNational Lottery Community FundHAYN Volunteering Academy and the #iwill foundation.

It supports young people in developing social action projects in their community. 

The programme started in early February and we’re really fortunate to have a group of inspiring and motivated young people. 

I’m proud our group applied for and were successful in being representatives for the CAP nationally as Youth Event Volunteers to help plan and deliver the final national celebration event in Birmingham in July. 

After a few months working together, the group have begun to plan their project events, focusing on issues faced by refugee communities and also the impact of period poverty. I’ve been inspired by their insight and research as well as their enthusiasm to make a change in the world. 

They’re keen to give a voice to marginalised groups. Both projects with this group are shaping up to be something special and we’re looking forward to sharing what they achieve. 

Some might be surprised to hear that we’re working on co-design projects like this, but it draws on our history of charity and inclusion work which is well respected and has supported thousands of people. 

We’re excited to be working with communities in this way, showing a different side to our organisation as we’re so well known as a hub for performing arts, a creative playground from first steps to professionals. 

Our roots as an organisation stem from our history in community outreach and support of vulnerable communities, so our community co-design work is an extension of this and further develops our skills and ethos to reach those we feel can benefit the most. 

We want to better serve, reach and represent the communities on our doorstep through this new line of work. We will empower people to make social change, working with them and delivering training and support so there is a legacy of the work. 

We’ll support the co-designers and participants in their future projects. Another part of this work is to document, learn and share with wider arts in the community. We want to understand the impact of what we’re doing and share with others. 

I can’t wait to tell you how we’re getting on. Click the photo in suggested reads to see what Natalie Songer, my King’s Lynn counterpart, is getting up to at our sister venue The Workshop

Our Co-Designing work across the county is part funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we are currently working to secure funding for the coming years for this important work. 

Our Picnic in Jenny Lind Park is taking place Thursday, 2 June to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. Come join us from 11am-3pm. Find out what we do, enjoy some music, face-painting, craft activities and more. 

If you’re interested in taking a creative class or course you can find out more here and here. Our friendly front of house team is happy to answer any questions.

Give them a call on 01603 283382 or email You can find our latest Covid policy here.

Keep up to date with everything we’re up to by signing up for our monthly newsletter here or following us on TwitterInstagram or Facebook.

suggested reads

Liked this? We'd love you to share the word