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Animated Edition - Spring 2007
Buildings That Breathe: A case study in community development and engagement
Thomas Wildish recounts Derby Dance's year-long project in the Normanton district of Derby that aimed to use dance to bring together its diverse communities
Buildings That Breathe (BTB) was a celebration of the intriguing, private, public, forgotten and celebrated spaces and places to be found in Normanton, one of Derby's most inspiring but misrepresented communities. This year-long outreach and cultural community development programme sought to extend connections with a diverse range of people and groups within the Normanton area, giving local people increased access to dance and broader arts provision.

"It's a brilliant project because it's so varied. We have very different types of people; we have kids, we have adults, we have mature people and people from different communities. We have hip-hop dancers and jazz dancers, street and Indian dance. You have everyone involved in the project, so that makes it very exciting."
Filip Van Huffel, Choreographer, A Park Less Ordinary

Normanton: the heart of the programme
One of Derby's most deprived neighbourhoods, Normanton's story is familiar to many inner city communities throughout the UK; with issues surrounding anti-social behaviour, unemployment, community engagement and cohesion and a poor area image and environment.

Derby Dance's development programme has traditionally focused on young people and seeks to reach those normally excluded from mainstream arts provision. Buildings That Breathe was part of a broader strategy to connect with Normanton's diverse communities, using arts interventions as a way of engaging young people, helping them develop a sense of place and belonging, and supporting community cohesion.

The Spirit of Normanton regeneration programme, funded by the government and the European Union, sought to tackle these issues through projects that looked at: developing community involvement and leadership; increasing the confidence, abilities and life chances of local people; protecting and enhancing the quality of the local environment; supporting inclusive participation and the promotion and celebration of Normanton. Crucially, the programme also sought to share knowledge and good experience of regeneration across the European Community. Buildings That Breathe was funded through the Spirit of Normanton programme, which recognised that arts programming can help to achieve the outcomes highlighted here.

Buildings That Breathe: part of a longer journey
The initial concepts for Buildings that Breathe built upon the recommendations and legacy of the Hip Hop Happening, a project that similarly built around a series of volunteering, workshop and performance opportunities for Normanton residents in July 2004. That event attracted 5,000 visitors throughout the day with an equal split in gender and 75% from diverse backgrounds. One of the recommendations of the review of the Hip Hop Happening was a longer programme of work, at least twelve months in duration, to embed activity and build skills and capacity within the community.

What would make Buildings that Breathe different would be the facility to engage participants and audiences with a range of 'one off, short or long term contacts', the opportunity to match performers with a trans-national peer group, and the potential to draw in a wider range of partners over an extended period of project working.

The theme 'where I come from' permeated the Buildings That Breathe programme. This stemmed from a desire to explore the built environment and unique architectural heritage across the open, economic and residential spaces in Normanton. The programme also took strong account of the hidden histories, personal and collective stories to be gathered from within the diverse, vibrant and shifting communities of Normanton, which yields both old and new settlers. The exploration of these themes was augmented by the trans-national element of the programme. This saw individuals connecting and working with European based artists, giving them a fresh perspective on their work.

The importance of location to the ethos and delivery of the Buildings that Breathe programme cannot be overstated. Whilst the symbol and subject matter of the project were site-specific heritage and the built environment, the third consideration behind providing opportunities in Normanton was ensuring that these were accessible to Normanton citizens. It is also important to highlight that all activities delivered in the project gave opportunities for the development of artists and organisations, as well as making arts programming available to the public.

The programme of work
"This project will be like a dream for them, a little dream come true"
Neema Gautma, Shakti Arts.

The project was highly complex, with a spread of smaller residencies and development sessions complementing the main strands of the programme:

BTB: Where you Live - A huge focus of the programme was an ongoing programme of community development work based in a series of Normanton's community centres, beginning in the autumn of 2005, concentrating on dance but also including music, spoken word and visual arts. Derby Dance worked with these centres to give existing groups and their leaders additional opportunities to develop their skills. New strands of work were also instigated, giving people additional opportunities. These regular activities, along side one-off taster workshops, encouraged people in the area to recognise their creative potential. Many of the people taking part in these activities performed in A Park Less Ordinary, the culmination of the programme.

BTB: Building Blocks - In November 2005, a small group of Normanton residents, who were also community group leaders, visited Rotterdam to attend Culp Act Urban Theatre Festival and performed in the finale of Black Soil Urban Film Festival, expanding their horizons, skills and confidence and making links with the Hip Hop Huis collective, the Netherlands premier break dance crew. This group came to the UK in April 2006 to work with groups in the Normanton area completing the concept of trans-national exchange.

BTB: Your Normanton - The Buildings That Breathe programme sought to explore people's thoughts and responses to the Normanton area. The outcome of this research led to the creation of a unique pack of cards, through community based visual arts workshops. Each card shows a space or a place that has a special meaning or a memory. They help people find a sense of the city when their home may be far away and have been used by dancers, artists and musicians as a starting point in creative planning.

BTB: A Park Less Ordinary - The culmination of Buildings That Breathe was a performance in Normanton's Arboretum Park on Sunday 4 June 2006.

Antwerp/East Midlands based choreographer Filip Van Huffel (Retina Dance) worked with various groups throughout the programme to prepare them for the final event, and choreographed the performance. A Park Less Ordinary's soundscape was initiated by composer Jules Maxwell, with five core music groups developed to support the performance. A Park Less Ordinary wove together the disparate and diverse components of the programme into a cohesive whole, reflecting the truly cross-cultural nature of the work. The event saw over 100 local performers - from MC's to drummers to bhangra to break dancers - explore their community and celebrate its talent in front of an audience in excess of 2,500; most of whom would not have accessed dance performance in a traditional theatre context.

"It's bringing loads of cultures and religions together. Everybody gets to see how each other's cultures work, from different parts of the world and bringing it all together in one. It shows what Derby's really all about."
Audience member, A Park Less Ordinary.


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Animated: Spring 2007