In 2020, the Poverty Proofing© team at Children North East worked with the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art to listen to the experiences of their visitors, communities, staff, volunteers and trustees on how poverty impacts their engagement with the venue and to explore ways to remove barriers for those living in poverty. Located on the Quayside of the Tyne, where cities Gateshead and Newcastle meet, it has welcomed over eight million visitors and was the first venue outside London to host the prestigious Turner Prize. Two years on, our team sat down with Vicky Sturrs, the previous Head of Learning and Civic Engagement at Baltic to learn more about the impact the project had made for the Centre and its communities.
What have you seen change at Baltic since you embarked on the Poverty Proofing© journey?
“One of the main things that I saw change was staff understanding that working with people in poverty, and supporting people in poverty, and changing practice for people in poverty, was everybody’s responsibility. Initially expectation was that it would focus on events, the shop, the café – but when we got to the end of the process, it opened up things about space, about exhibitions, about what you programme. I don’t think we ever expected that this would impact what we did and our practice. It made the organisation more interesting, valued, engaging. That was a revelation to the organisation.
“What Poverty Proofing© did was give that advocacy to community. It gave the ammunition that was needed for a board to see that communities are struggling more and more and we have the power to change that, within our sphere of influence.”
What are your ‘Top Takeaways’ from the process?
It can inform valuable change across every corner of an organisation:
“It gave us takeaways to use in business plans, report writing, ACE funding… we used it in so many different ways. We talked about the training, and being part of that, as such a marker of what Baltic wanted to be. That can’t be understated.”
Be open to being challenged and changing your perceptions:
“There’s something on a personal level about the need to understand that that the perceived ‘good job’ you are doing is not always as accessible or inclusive as you hope or think. It made us have to look so much more widely. We had ‘go and see visits’ and some people didn’t make it past the front desk… and that was really valuable. What we thought was happening, in some cases, just wasn’t happening.”
How do you think the process has empowered people?
“Through the process I felt very separate from the communities that had been involved. It highlighted that there was a lot of people that wanted to give their opinion and we didn’t know them. We didn’t know that we hadn’t given them the opportunity. I hope that the process started that journey for Baltic. It made us think a lot about threshold crossing.”
What would you say to another organisation who was considering undergoing the Poverty Proofing© process?
“Approach Children North East in the process as being a critical friend. It’s a supportive process. No-one is running you up a flag pole to say you’re doing the wrong thing, it’s how do we action things together.
“Think really carefully about who your liaison is, what their position in the organisation is, and what their power to influence the organisation is, and what their capability to make change is. That individual might have to have a strength of will to pull the organisation up the hill.”
Poverty Proofing© is a concept developed at Children North East. For further information or to look at a bespoke process designed around the needs of your organisation please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.