Charity Awards 2024

Derby Theatre

Derby CAN – a four-year, citywide arts inclusion project with co-production at its heart

Research showed that in Derby, engagement in the arts was significantly lower than the national average, despite the range of cultural offerings within the city centre. But there was also evidence that people would get involved if activities were more relevant to their needs and interests.

Derby Theatre

Credit, Grant Archer

Derby Theatre wanted to create a stronger, more diverse and more resilient cultural scene in the city by engaging communities and audiences in the artistic process. So it tested a new model of arts co-production in underrepresented communities through the creation of hubs in two highly deprived areas of the city, Normanton and Stockbrook. A citywide survey was carried out, alongside several community engagement events, to understand people’s aspirations and areas of interest. From this, a comprehensive programme of arts events and activities – Derby CAN – was planned in collaboration with the community.

These included several indoor and outdoor performances in the main theatre and other city venues; commissioning of artists to work with community groups; an outdoor festival and circus show; a two-day Mela and world music festival attended by 3,000 people; Derby Vision, the city’s local take on Eurovision; Derby Dishes food and entertainment event, and a series of short film commissions, In the CAN.

The project team consulted 33 community leaders, engaged 47 partner organisations, and held 539 co-creation sessions involving 365 independent artists. More than 31,500 people saw or engaged with the project in some way. More than 320 people attended community skills workshops and several went on to secure employment as a result. And 39 people attended five community leadership programmes.

Derby CAN was initially funded for three years but this was extended to four because of Covid. The final budget was £1.9m and Derby Theatre has since secured lottery funding to keep the community producer post for three more years, to continue facilitating the hub-based activity.

In the second half of the project the team saw a huge increase in suggestion and ambitions for activities and events that the community wanted to see in their local area. A shared framework and toolkit is now available to all to help plan future events, and several joint projects have continued beyond the initial programme, some of which secured other forms of funding.

Derby CAN exceeded almost all its targets and an independent evaluation by the University of Derby confirmed that it improved access to the arts, particularly among those who were previously excluded.

Charity Awards judge André Clarke, director of charity development at Lloyds Bank Foundation, said that co-creation was highly valued in the work, through extensive community consultations, surveys and steering groups. He noted there was good evidence that Derby CAN had brought plenty of new people into the arts and culture scene, such as through the Derby Mela festival where two-thirds had not attended such an event before.

CC Reg no. 1129005

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