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How are we adapting our work during Covid-19?

Mon 1 Jun, 2020

Our Director, Sandeep Mahal talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the organisation and the thinking unfolding in the team at this extraordinary time.

"There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal." - Toni Morrison

In a time of much challenge, disruption and global isolation, I have been utterly halted by the tragic events of recent days. If you have been moved by #BlackLivesMatter, we have put together a thread recommending books on race and racism to help us all understand and stand in solidarity. Please do seek them out by borrowing from your local library or buying a copy from your local independent bookshop. It’s important we keep supporting them during this pandemic.

COVID-19 has affected us all profoundly. Our thoughts are with everyone affected and for the safety of our staff and the people we work with in Nottingham and around the world. It has been striking to witness the continued power of readers and writers in community-building. Books and stories are a lifeline to people going through hard times. While it has been upsetting to see libraries and bookshops closed, it has been inspiring to see how they have adapted to ensure books and stories continue to reach many people at this time.

Embracing digital provision during the pandemic

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature has had a key part to play in making sense of this new world and we are innovating at a pace you might not expect from a small team:

  • We re-designed MyVoice – a virtual celebration of Nottingham’s young voices, as they explored the key social justice issues central to their young lives. Watch performances from Debris Stevenson, Derek Owusu and Jerub and read the stories from Nottingham's young diverse voices. Download your copy of the Speak Up! Anthology.
Speak Up Edited For Size

The Speak Up anthology

  • We collated a one-stop hub of literary resources for younger readers.
  • We launched a Life During Lockdown series from a fantastic array of Nottingham writers and illustrators who all share their perspectives on lockdown.

We continue to harness our international relationships and gather insights from the network of UNESCO Cities of Literature across the world. They are all working hard throughout lockdown to ensure that literary communities remain connected. We celebrate their fantastic work in a series of new features, starting with Slemani City of Literature. We also continue to advocate the importance of libraries, literacy and literature as VITAL to the recovery of both our economy and our communities, and to forcefully make our case for additional support and recovery packages.

Our financial losses

Before Covid-19, the investment in creative and cultural partnerships that take time and energy to establish credibility was really paying off. We were effectively reaching into BAME and disadvantaged communities through our partnerships with libraries, schools and youth offending units. A 171% increase in grants secured supported a growth in co-production practice. In 2019 we recruited 14 Young City of Literature Ambassadors (50% BAME) to co-produce Big City Reads reached 3000 young people and a HLF-funded Heritage Leaning Symposium. For 60 of the city’s most vulnerable young people at risk of serious violence, we pioneered a new creative writing and mentoring programme.

The financial losses we have incurred have been severe. We lost £150k overnight and another £48k we were confident of receiving from previous funders; totalling nearly 80% loss of turnover on last year’s published accounts. We were already in a highly perilous financial position when we learned that a third of our core funding due in September from Nottingham City Council has been suspended indefinitely as a result of Nottingham City Council’s decision to pause the Central Library capital programme. We have a leading role in the city council’s plans for a new city library, where we will be based from 2022. However, the inevitable decision to pause the Central Library programme means that we are having to adapt and change our delivery model.

How we are spending Emergency Funding

In response to what is a severe and acute shock to our financial resources, we have taken decisive measures to reduce our spending. We are incredibly grateful to Arts Council England for Emergency funding, but this has meant profound changes for the way we operate. We have made the decision to furlough Matt Turpin under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. I have also reduced my working hours to both protect the charity and jobs. I am immensely proud of and grateful to the City of Literature team as they help us adapt to new ways of working.

With the Arts Council Emergency Funding comes a huge responsibility. A responsibility to our audiences, our partners and ourselves to provide new ways and platforms to engage and showcase our new work, and a sense of community and belonging which is so important right now. The Emergency Funding (£25,052) allows us to adapt and change what we do at a small and manageable level during the next 6 months.

We will:

· Collaborate with Five Leaves Bookshop to co-produce a new programme of conversations and connections between readers and writers.

· Work with young people whose lives have been disrupted and help them make sense of and process the period they are living through in a new Letters of Solidarity project.

· Develop online creative writing workshops for young people.

· Develop our digital operations to amplify our reach and impact.

· Prepare for long-term creative projects and audience engagement.

· Cover our essential overheads.

· Pay ourselves for six months.

I have been so humbled to see such generosity and spirit of collaboration; it makes me very proud to work in Nottingham. Our mission is to build a better world with words; it continues to drive all we do as an organisation.

Understanding the way the world is changing in response to COVID-19 will help us to reimagine ourselves and bounce back from this crisis. We will take the values we stand for – to be collaborative, representative and inclusive - into the future and I will continue to steer the organisation through this crisis. It’s all absorbing, but I hope we can emerge stronger and brighter on the other side.

Connecting with communities

Our relationships with young people, students, writers, poets, librarians, booksellers, publishers, creative freelancers, academics and funders continue to be important. In the present moment, we may only be able to communicate digitally but this is a connection that reaches further and wider than ever before. I hope that we can find ways to make it meaningful and stimulating for you now, and in the future – and do let us know if there are things we can do better.

We will continue to connect and explore how we work with communities, as we look to rebuild now and in the future. If you have any questions or comments about our forthcoming plans, or anything else related to Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, please get in touch with me.



Stay safe and thanks again for all your support.

Sandeep x


This post is tagged in

Covid-19 Lockdown NUCOL Sandeep library

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