FEATURE: Coalfield communities revitalised by kids’ creativity

Young festival leaders with trainer and artist Sally Lemsford.

Young festival leaders with trainer and artist Sally Lemsford.

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Young people in former coalfield areas in Derbyshire are being encouraged to use the creative arts to change their communities for the better.

The project - which focuses on the Amber Valley and Bolsover districts of Derbyshire - is the brainchild of new social enterprise PlatformThirty1, who have named it Black Shale in homage to the area’s industrial heritage.

Samantha Whelan and Jodie Cresswell-Waring of PlatformThirty1.

Samantha Whelan and Jodie Cresswell-Waring of PlatformThirty1.

The company - which has just been nominated for a Derbyshire Times Business Award - wants to help revitalise areas which have suffered since the decline of traditional industries and sees creativity as a way to do this.

The project’s first big event has been the massively successful Ofton Festival which saw Alfreton youngsters designing and commissioning the programme all by themselves.

PlatformThirty1 director, Jode Cresswell-Waring, who is from Blackwell, said: “We found that while there were not many creative industries based locally, there were a lot of creative people commuting to cities to work.

“It can be hard in a semi-rural area to change things but we are trying to make it so people don’t necessarily have to leave the area to work in the arts.

Members of the Coal Project with their artwork.

Members of the Coal Project with their artwork.

“When I was growing up my parents wanted me to be a dentist - they said you’ll never get a job as an artist round here but we feel that a change is now happening.

“The festival has drummed up so much interest and local people have really enjoyed having a taste of all this creative activity.”

​The project she and her business partner Samantha Whelan created is part funded by the Arts Council and Leicester-based arts funding body, The Mighty Creatives.

The pair decided upon the project’s distinctly earthy name after a chance encounter with an ex-miner in an Alfreton pub.

Woodbridge Junior School at a doofus workshop with Small Kid.

Woodbridge Junior School at a doofus workshop with Small Kid.

“He told us that if you saw black shale you knew it wouldn’t be long before the pit closed - and that the whole community would be affected by it,” says Jode.

She says the aim of the Black Shale project is to give the community a future in the absence of the traditional industries is has historically relied on.

Since setting up the project eight months ago, the pair have set up a number of projects including ‘Local Legends’ and ‘Talented Neighbours’ which have drawn on the hidden skills of local people.

Their biggest success to date, however, has been the Ofton Festival which took place in Alfreton in October.

Den building outside Alfreton Town Council.

Den building outside Alfreton Town Council.

The four day arts festival was created by two young producers and invited people of all ages to participate in workshops, encounters, events – and an exhibition of artworks in shop windows.

The festival was professionally supported by local artist Sally Lemsford.

She said: “I have been developing creative projects in the area for years as a solo artist. Now through this partnership, we have a louder voice that is being heard and things are accelerating. This festival is just the beginning!”

“These young people are bringing freshness and imaginative ideas, offering people of all ages and abilities exciting new ways of engaging with arts and culture.”

The festival - which its is hoped will become an annual event - was also supported by local shops and businesses, Amber Valley Borough Council and Alfreton Town Council.

One of the festival’s young producers, 27-year-old Andrew Turner, said: “Working on Ofton Festival has helped me tremendously. It has given me a big boost in confidence, made me realise this is an interesting area I’d like to explore, and opened my eyes to different career opportunities working with the community’.

Special effects make up workshop with Drooleys.

Special effects make up workshop with Drooleys.

And the teenagers Sally and Andrew have been working with have been equally positive about their experiences.

17-year-old Jessica Hopkinson from Swanwick Hall Sixth Form said that working on the festival had made her aware of more artists in and around Alfreton than ever before.

She also said that the experience had opened her eyes to lots of new different types of art and had helped her communication and teamwork skills as well.

And Liam Presley, aged 17, also from Swanwick Hall, said: “Art is a very big part of my life and is ‘ofton’ underestimated by so many people. To be part of something that gives more people an opportunity to experience it, was brilliant.”

You can find out more about PlatformThirty1 and Black Shale at www.platformthirty1.com.

A flag making and painting workshop.

A flag making and painting workshop.