Natalie Smith: Being Brave

BD Giving

BD Giving

Nat Smith works as an Education Director at Arc Theatre, which specializes in creating and performing theatre that challenges assumptions and causes real change in the way that people relate to one another at work, at school and in the community. Arc Theatre received a grant from the Rapid Response Fund to purchase new computer equipment which would allow them to continue their work online and support them after the pandemic.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I work with different schools on various projects. One day, I could be in a school delivering a talk on FGM, another day I could be in Barking and Dagenham as a police officer doing our Stop and Search projects, or I could be doing the World War II play, which is part of the Shared Endeavour project around hate crime and intolerance. Or I could be sitting up on my computer doing all my emails and paperwork. I think that is probably why I have stuck at this for so long. The job is extremely varied and I rarely feel like I am doing the same thing every day.

Why was the Rapid Response Fund (RRF) important to your organisation?

We have three core members of staff. Each of us needed a new laptop to do our daily work. We had Macs that were close to 10-years-old with software and hardware update issues and weren’t up to speed. When we went into the lockdown, suddenly our technology was really holding us back. One of my main jobs, quite early on during the lockdown was to maintain our Raised Voices girls group, but my Wi-Fi, internet or computer kept letting me down.

What do you think about the RRF approach to funding?

It was one of the best, most painless funding proposals that we have ever done, with the most positive outcome. I felt cheeky and still do for asking for ‘new toys’ but when we realised that the lockdown was going to go on for longer than expected and that the fund had evolved and businesses could apply, I thought it’s worth trying.

I remember Cameron Bray phoning me, which was lovely to just have the human feel, especially when everything is so numbers-driven. The way the funding was designed and set out, and the fact that it was people in the community deciding who gets help is great. I wish all our funding applications were this way.

Actors from Arc Theatre's "Outsider"

What did you learn from this experience?

I learnt to be brave. The other two members of the team were furloughed, so it was just me for a very long time, or what felt like a very long time. It was quite unnerving because we work so well as a team, and suddenly I had more responsibilities. But it didn’t feel like pressure, because I was still in contact with them and if there was anything urgent I wasn’t just left in the lurch.

I feel like the more I did, the more confident I became. I recently completed some online training and I’ve signed up to a few more. Normally I wouldn’t have time for this, because we have so much work and there are always so many other things we could be doing. This extra time and headspace allowed me to be braver online. If this had been an option before, regardless of COVID-19, I might have not done it. Whereas now, I am growing in confidence and feeling empowered.

I was also reminded it is important to be honest and transparent. We didn’t have a project that could be funded during lockdown but what we needed was new equipment. We didn’t expect to get the money for the laptops at all. If we had gotten a ‘no’, we would have expected that and carried on as we were. But the successful outcome has encouraged us to be braver in asking for things. We asked and we got it. We feel amazed, delighted and grateful.

What message do you have for the world?

“You can’t expect someone to do everything. But you can expect everyone to do something” (Unknown)- I love that! I think it fits brilliantly with the world. If everyone did a bit of good then that’s a lot of good. Take the school meals for example. People are now stepping up, taking it on themselves to ensure children don’t go hungry. We all have the power to do something. I think for us within the Arts, we are able to tell stories and engage with people. We are able to engage with their hearts and mind. When you do that, people start feeling stuff and that’s when change begins to happen.


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