We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us. Jo Cox MP
People United were approached by Newington Big Local, a resident-led group, to develop a large-scale participatory arts project. The Best of Us uncovered stories (both past and present) that reflect the best human characteristics and strengths of the people in Newington, Ramsgate and beyond. Unearthed and explored through a whole host of arts and creativity including film, photography, dance, visual installations, sound, song, and urban art, people shared their capacity for kindness and creativity.
The themes of the project drew upon the work of Christopher Peterson & Martin E.P. Seligman in their 2004 book Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (Oxford University Press).
Together, local residents, artists, schools and community groups gathered stories of bravery, citizenship, hope, zest and persistence and in doing so revealed the commonalities between people regardless of difference. In addition they have used the arts as a way to make a difference in their community through positive social action.
“The Best of Us is making more people socialise, it’s bringing people’s inner sides out and putting us together and it’s making something big for our community”
Samantha, Creative Champion
Over two years, the project took place across Newington. In the community centre, local churches, the green roof shelter, schools, parks and recreational spaces but also outside of Newington – e.g. Turner Contemporary, Tate Modern and Postman’s Park, London.
Creative Champions and artist in residence Nova Marshall
Working with artist-in-residence Nova Marshall, an intergenerational group of residents co-created and collaborated to develop a project that spoke to their community. These Creative Champions made work, curated exhibitions and events, and programmed an annual high quality arts festival called Best Fest.
Guided by Nova, the Creative Champions:
- made creative small gestures and messages of kindness to their fellow community members
- went on trips to art and heritage venues
- co-commissioned an artwork around kindness with People United and Newington Big Local
- programmed 3 arts festivals called Best Fest
- fundraised and developed an urban art board project that highlight community spaces (Young Creative Champions)
They have had fun and have discovered their creative potential.
The Wider Community
A whole range of people who live in Newington and the wider community took part in activities as part of the project. These included:
- An intergenerational singing group called Sing Your Heart Out
- Music and sound workshops
- Big History project where residents researched and recorded Newington histories and honoured local unsung heroes through four permanent plaques.
- made zines that focus on friendship in Newington
- social action projects including brightening a church garden with mosaics made by the community and creating Christmas decorations for residents of a care home.
Local school children have:
- taken part in an Arts & Kindness Week with performance artist Bob Karper and Nova Marshall
- helped to write a song saying thank you to their kindness heroes
- produced a playful installation exploring courage
- created a memory book of stories
- made artboards exhibited at Best Fest
“It feels very nice to be a Creative Champion so I can show everyone around me my art skills and how much I like to create things.”
Tyla, Young Creative Champion
Co-commissioned with the community, internationally acclaimed artists Thor McIntyre-Burnie, Chloe Osborne and Kati Francis explored the sensory experience of kindness through sound, sight, touch and smell and built an interactive installation with and for the community. Read more here.
In October 2015 and July 2016 the Creative Champions programmed two community arts festivals to bring people together. Best Fest is now an annual free community arts festival full of art, music and fun activities for the whole community to take part in. Highlights from the two events include:
- Fun creative activities such as; an art trail, puppet making and The Imagination Lab.
- Artworks made with the community including; The Giant Kindness Tapestry, The Kindness Investigation Sensory System, The Whispering Forest and The Art Shelter
- Music and singing performances
- Interactive stalls from local groups and organisations
“What a wonderful, life affirming afternoon! We came for an hour, stayed for 3 and didn’t do everything. Our hearts are happier and the much needed focus on kindness & the community will linger. Thank-you!”
Visitor, Best Fest 2016
With support from People United, Nova Marshall successfully applied to Arts Council England to extend her work in Newington. As a result the Creative Champions continue to meet and create artwork. She has also supported Newington Big Local to start a new youth club curated by young people in Newington. Find out more here.
Programmed and organised by the Best Fest Steering group with the support of People United. The community aims to make Best Fest an annual event organised by Newington Big Local with local residents. Find out more here.