The Old Courts Arts Centre is a six year old multi-arts organisation based in Wigan. They initially had no concept of the impact the pandemic would have on The Old Courts. When the pandemic hit, they needed to find a way to stay connected to the local community. Using their logistical skills and in- house software they worked closely with Wigan Council to deliver effective community support through food distribution and shielding calls.
They key question facing the Old Courts was how they could keep engaged with audiences and have a positive community impact while their doors were closed. They needed to learn rapidly how to navigate a global pandemic with a view to emerging with talent, reputation and audience intact.
The Old Courts team already had a challenging task in hand as they pursued their ambition to support local communities to gain aspiration and pride in their town and to create an inspiring cultural destination.
As COVID-19 hit they suddenly had no face time with audiences, no artists and the hard-earned and varied programme was impossible to deliver. At the same time the local community needed help, but not the type the team was accustomed to delivering.
The Olds Courts faced significant changes. The centre went from anywhere between 10 and 50 events per week to not having welcomed a single member of the public since March. Nevertheless, there was continuity in their approach.
‘Behind every single moment of everything we do is the same set of happy, considered guidelines and loving, encouraging sentiments. We’ve just applied these differently of late.’ Jonny Davenport, Artistic Director
The team approached the local authority in Wigan to discuss how the Old Courts could help with the Covid-19 response.
At this point, prior to lockdown and the furlough scheme, the Old Courts had taken the decision to send staff home to isolate whilst they gathered information and formed a meaningful way forward without public shows.
The Old Courts have a team of talented, dynamic and committed people with expertise in event management and logistics, planning and programming, costing, reporting, data handling and of course, evaluation.
It was very early days in the pandemic and Wigan Council were determining what was required in the borough and how they were going to be needed most. The Council recognised that the logistical capability and expertise of the team at the Old Courts would be invaluable to them in the response to the volume of enquiries they were already receiving from distressed and isolated households.
How did it work?
Wigan Council were already working in collaboration with Fur Clempt, a local charity that diverts food bound for landfill to the plates of hungry residents.
The Old Courts have a bespoke computer programme built in-house and this was used to build a brand-new strand which could handle the requests for and delivery schedule of food parcels to the community. Wigan Council loaded each enquiry onto the system, which auto-alerted Fur Clempt to prepare the food, which was then delivered by volunteers of The Old Courts.
By early August The Old Courts volunteers delivered food parcels to 724 households in the borough
In addition to the programme created to service the food deficit in the borough, the Old Courts recognised the need for human contact among isolated residents and so they created a second Covid-19 programme designed to schedule welfare and isolation calls to residents. Some of these calls were requested by the individuals themselves, others were requested by concerned friends and family.
By early August The Old Courts volunteers had made well over 600 welfare and isolation calls to residents in the borough.
The impact of the pandemic has been enormous on the operations of The Old Courts. The team are working tirelessly with funders to protect projects underway and to protect the future of the team and their creative spaces..
Despite this, the team have discovered a new level of resilience and determination to make change. They have proven themselves to be ready to face adversity.
‘I feel that the lasting impact of 2020 is we feel even more grateful of The Old Courts and what it’s stands for. It’s an extremely humbling experience to realise that something of such value could be taken away by things out of everyone’s control.’ Jonny Davenport Artistic Director
How is the new approach being sustained?
In terms of sustaining this new approach The Old Courts have committed to continuing both services related to the pandemic for as long as they are required in Wigan. As an organisation they specialise in refining lean processes to run all of our projects and they have applied the same treatment to these new strands of work.
They recognise that volunteers played a crucial role in their work during this time and continue to do so. Jonny Davenport notes:
‘I feel it’s only right to add that we began our ‘Covid services’ at a point when we didn’t know what the future held for our organisation so eternal thanks must go to all our volunteers who gave their time and put their own troubles aside to help others. These qualities are the essence of what we do.’
The Old Courts have learned a great deal about the role a cultural organisation plays in society. In their view, the good ones make fantastic work and attract audience, artists and funding. The great ones do whatever it takes to make people happy with arts and culture as their chosen specialist subject.
‘In my opinion, for the arts centre concept to work you need the basic values required to make a success of most things which are great ideas, a commitment to hard work and above all else, kindness.’ Jonny Davenport Artistic Director
Wigan Council are very supportive of the Old Courts and they have worked closely with them throughout this pandemic.
‘It’s very easy for people to criticise any council for red tape and elongated bureaucracy but the fact is, Wigan council acted fast and trusted our capability and commitment to delivering the emergency provisions during lockdown.’ Jonny Davenport Artistic Director