The Rainbow Collective 

17 October 2014

The aim of The Collective is to build a dynamic strategic partnership to improve the cultural offer to preschool children in Lewisham; and a vital part of this is to support those working in early years.

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Sowing the Seed

The Rainbow Collective’s growth started in autumn 2013 thanks to Lewisham Education Arts Network’s (LEAN) Connected London funding. The aim of The Collective is to build a dynamic strategic partnership to improve the cultural offer to preschool children in Lewisham; and a vital part of this is to support those working in early years. Over the last year this has included offering networking opportunities, training, developing an online hub to disseminate information, and more. We wanted this to be as inclusive as possible; for all professionals from arts and early years settings. The Collective is led by a cross-sector stakeholders group. We have worked with many people over the last year and we would like to share with you some of the things we have learnt.

Setting the Scene

Lewisham is a growing borough, with an increasing younger population; 1 in 4 residents (24.5%) aged under 19 years and growing. Indices of deprivation 2010 shows Lewisham becoming more deprived since 2007, moving from 39th most deprived to 31st.

Lewisham has many providers of excellent early years provision, and is happily home to many small, medium and large arts charities doing innovative arts education work. We wanted to connect the dots, share knowledge, good practice and different fields of expertise across the early years sector. We also wanted to support those who want to learn but may not always have the opportunities and knowledge to know the 'how, when, what and who.'

From Seed to Rainbow

The Rainbow Collective emerged from the Early Years Music Stakeholders Group which was active in Lewisham and facilitated by LEAN. Over the year we have added new members to the Collective's Stakeholders Group and it now covers all artforms and includes representatives from: Libraries; Children's Society, Lewisham; Pre-school Learning Alliance, Lewisham; Early Years Improvement Team; Freelance arts practitioners; Community Education Lewisham; Horniman Museum and Gardens as well as Lewisham Music Service and Hub.

The Old and New

Through the conversations at our Collective meetings, the events we have put on, the external events we have attended, such as Lewisham’s Two Year Olds Conference and the Emotion and Wellbeing Conference, we have recognised the importance of traditional relationship building through face to face meetings. The early years sector is massive, with 600 childminders in Lewisham alone. To kick start our activities and programme in this large sector, and ensure it was relevant and known, we felt it was important to talk and connect in person.

We have visited Lewisham Council’s Early Years Improvement Team Childminder Forums. Through this, we learnt more about the challenges facing childminders; such as the long hours and demands of their own families and being self employed. All of which can limited their ability to attend events and training. At the second Forum, we brought with us an arts organisation Tea Dance for Little People to deliver fun and creative 'rainbow' themed activities that the childminders could take away with them. In the future we will consider funding a crèche at any events we run.

To encourage more nursery managers and staff to be involved and become aware of The Rainbow Collective, we also frequently attended the Nursery Managers and Owners Network Meetings. The comments we received inspired the theme of our next networking event Stay&Play: Get Creative Outdoors, which was well received and attended.

We have had feedback that The Rainbow Collective name is now known and discussed. Invaluable to the growth of The Rainbow Collective in Lewisham has been our modern branding approach of developing a name, new logo and connecting to people through newsletters, emails, local blogs, local sector associations and social media combined with traditional face to face open conversations

Different Settings, Different Needs

Through our conversations with our Rainbow Collective members and others, we have a better picture of how arts practitioners and cultural organisations might operate within early years settings. Some settings operate in the traditional workshop deliveryformat where people will facilitate a timed session with a specific activity – for example in libraries or community education. However, many early years settings such as schools, nurseries, and children’s centres are now child-led and provision is continuous. In this context what can artists offer early years settings? We think a lot; this is a great opportunity for interesting and innovative arts and cultural learning practice. As a result, we are running a facilitated session for artists on 17 November to reflect on their own practice and inspire a fresh approach.

What’s Next?

We will be writing a fuller report on our whole project; keep an eye on The Rainbow Collective Hub and sign up to our mailing list to hear more.

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