Blog written by Ryan, a participant in the Y Heritage, Kick the Dust funding programme, Sanctuaries.

As someone who has worked in many a dead-end job – from being mistreated as a waiter, to working in a pickle factory and even 2 months unpaid work at a supermarket chain and ultimately always been made to feel like a number or a robot, never really feeling valued – working for an Arts Council England National Portfolio Company like ArtReach has been a refreshing experience, to say the least.


What has it been like working at ArtReach?


The staff here are all passionate about what they are doing. With many different projects going on at any given time, there’s always a varied number of tasks to be worked on… And yet the atmosphere is always relaxed and laid back whilst still maintaining a professional attitude. These are things that we may often be led to believe aren’t a possible combination in a workplace.


Above all, I appreciate that whilst working at ArtReach, staff are encouraged to work on projects that they enjoy and these tasks and projects always contain a level of creative freedom that is free-flowing and natural in progression. In my brief time here and even though my placement here may be temporary, I feel valued.


Being what has become an essential bridge between staff and the young residents at The Y Leicester, this has made taking a lead in discussions between the two groups of people participating in the project, a fun, open and engaging experience.


In a recent session, we talked about how participants in the project could engage the audience on the weekend of the exhibition in ways that could be immersive. We played around with sounds, looking at things like the Tibetan singing bowl, which easily impressed and a traditional rainmaker, which bought some nostalgia as the last time I’d seen one was when I was in primary school, some 20 years ago. We even explored what may be a good idea to leave a lasting impact on visitors such as “Gratitude Stones” and paper flowers that could prompt people to become more present and think about what a safe space is to them, long after they’ve left the exhibition. There were plenty of ideas thrown around that could potentially take the project to a whole new level, no matter how simple or subtle they may seem.


With each week, the more I get involved in creative projects like this one, the more my involvement seems to be becoming more and more integral in engaging residents with the project. Due to my key role in Bring The Paint being audience engagement, I have now been asked to lead on the next Y Heritage trip and show the younger residents where the many new street art installations are around Leicester City Centre. I must say that I am proud to be a part of Leicester’s unique and growing creative hub and to have the opportunity to share our legacy with people of all ages and backgrounds.


Working on The Sanctuaries Project has been a winding journey so far and just like in life, plans change.

Whilst the project is coming together day by day, week by week, the final product appears to be taking shape and a clearer vision of what things may look like is on the horizon…but of course, there is always room for things to go in a different direction.


From where the artistic safe space installations are placed in the All Saints Church, to the inclusion of sounds and smells to add to the level of immersion, things are changing and taking different shapes all the while.


What is interesting to me after looking at what different people’s ideas of a ‘safe space’ are, is how completely contrasting and different they can be. For example, my safe space is a place that I’ve only ever been to once many years ago. It is a beach overlooked by man-made caves from 220 BC, in Crete, Greece. A lovely place called Matala.


It’s a small beach with decking running right down the centre towards the waterfront that almost feels like the rocky land around it is holding or hugging you with arm-like formations wrapped around you. It’s almost as if you’re being embraced by the earth itself. The sun is setting and the sky is painted with dark and pale blue, mixed with the warmth of the red, orange and yellow light emanating from the sun as it sets. The calm tide sways in and out against the pearly sand and the whole world falls away from you.


This is where my mind naturally took me when I was asked to go to my safe space or happy place. I’ve only ever been there once but to some, a safe space is a physical somewhere that they’ve been to or go to many times and that’s what makes it safe to them. Some people would only ever want to be alone in their safe space. Once, I even found myself letting someone into my safe space. I think there’s much to be said metaphorically about how a safe space represents and reflects ourselves. I encourage you to think about what a safe space is to you and why you think that may be. How does it reflect who you are?


Think about this question further at the ‘Sanctuaries: Looking for Safe Spaces’ event on Friday 21 June and Saturday 22 June, 12 to 7pm at All Saints Church, Leicester. Find out more here.