SOME years ago the British Council, the UK’s leading cultural relations organisation, changed its approach to the activities it carries out alongside its English-language teaching and examinations business. From the traditional, one-off-event approach it moved to a long-term approach. Under this new model it started projects some of which last as long as three years, enabling it to further develop and incorporate the experience gleaned into subsequent projects.
“It was a bit of risk several years ago to move away from the more traditional and one-off type of events into this long-term approach,” Andrew Spells, director of the British Council in Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator. “But I believe that it is paying off.”
One of the things Spells likes about the projects is that they are not short-term.
“What we are trying to do is, over time, bring about a change or a potential for change by investing in a group of people,” he said. “Because by working with people over a long period of time you can help them understand what they want to do, what they want to contribute to [society], how they can contribute, how they can develop some skills, gain experience, particularly from other countries… because all of these projects are not bilateral, they involve many countries.”
This ‘investing’ element is part of each project run by the British Council, whether it be Challenge Europe, a three-year programme about climate change which is coming to an end this year, Intercultural Navigators, or new projects which are just starting.
“We’ve focused on a small group of people over a period of time,” explained Spells. “So that over time we’ve had contacts with perhaps limited numbers of people who, of course, get older, go to university, get jobs, move around, but carry with them the skills and experiences they gained during the projects. Because it is not a one-off engagement, it is more an investment. I personally think that this is much more powerful.”
New projects starting this year
In April the British Council started three new projects, each expected to last three years.
The first one, called Creative and Cultural Economy, highlights the creative sector, which is also a theme of the Košice European Capital of Culture 2013 project.
In the UK and other countries the creative sector is very big, and is an important area for the economy and for employment. In the UK alone, two million people are employed in the creative sector, which makes up 7 percent of Britain’s annual economic output, according to Spells.
“With this project what we want to try to do is to open up subjects for discussion and debate in Slovakia and to offer the chance to share experience with the UK and other countries in Europe about development of creative industries,” said Spells. “Perhaps it is quite timely given that there is now a lot of unemployment in Slovakia, so creative industries have a lot of potential.”
There are two main strands to the project. One is a competition that will be held every year for young creative entrepreneurs. The other is to try and start a policy debate about the role of creative industries in Slovakia.
This year the competition focuses on the screen sector, film and television, and the deadline for submitting application forms is mid August. Next year the organisers hope to repeat the screen-sector competition and hold a second competition concentrating on the design sector. The competition will consist of two stages, one in Slovakia and one in the UK.
“We are looking to see what sort of response we will get,” said Spells. “We know that the concept works because last year one of the competitions was in the design sector and it was very popular in the design community.”
The second project named Connecting Classrooms is designed to link schools.
“We have identified that a common issue in many countries is that young people coming out of schools are perhaps increasingly uncertain of their place in the world, where they fit into a world which is changing quite rapidly, not only around them but generally,” said Spells. “What we are trying to do through this project is on the one hand to try and give young people a sense of how they fit into Europe, at least, by giving them contacts with children from the UK and other countries, and [on the other hand to] to encourage them to work with others on different projects.”
Close to these concerns is also inclusion, which Spells hopes will be a theme of projects at schools.
“We want to encourage schools taking part in it to think about inclusion from different aspects, for example disabilities or minorities,” said Spells.
The main mechanism in the project is school links. The British Council in Slovakia has started by cooperating with 10 secondary grammar schools (gymnasiums) in Slovakia this year, five from eastern Slovakia and five from the Bratislava area. Next year there will be another 20 schools involved in the project, 30 schools in Slovakia in total. They will be paired with schools in the UK and most probably with schools in Germany and Serbia, resulting in country groupings of four.
The council is providing mechanisms for the schools to get in touch, explore ideas and get to know each other. It then wants to them to move on to work together on projects of common interest. To help that happen it will provide training for some students. The training is designed to try to encourage and support students to take a more active leadership role within their schools and to be more aware of their responsibility and their ability to change things.
“The training will be based on experience from previous projects, for example Dreams and Teams, which was a very successful project which had this training element built in,” said Spells. “That project is finished now but we still come across people who say that they have heard about this project or people who had this training.”
Slovak schools will be linked to schools from north-west England around Liverpool, which was a European Capital of Culture in 2008.
“This is something we want to try to achieve, partly because there is another link between them,” said Spells. “Because some of the schools in the group will be from the Košice region, and Liverpool was a very successful Capital of Culture back in 2008, we can see the scope for providing links between schools in the Liverpool area and the Košice area as we move towards 2013.”
The third project is Active Citizens, a further development of another project, Intercultural Navigators, which is finishing this year.
“The basic idea behind the project is to encourage people to be more active in their communities,” said Spells. “Again it is a common theme we can see in many countries where there is a danger, perhaps, that people begin to feel that they don’t have much say over what is going on in their communities in some cases. We hope for a kind of snowball effect over the course of three years and that in the end we will have groups of people around Slovakia who understand that they can indeed take an active part in their communities and feel that they have got the skills and experiences to do so.”
12. Jul 2010 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková