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Working with the community: Designing with Oasis Centre, Cardiff

Final year Design for Performance students Ruth Norwood and Amelia O’Toole spent last term working with refugee and asylum seeker community, hosting creative workshops for all ages and abilities, as part of their course. Ruth tells us more about it:

Collaborating creatively with the Oasis community

The Oasis Centre in Splott, Cardiff offers support and guidance to those seeking asylum and refuge. Helping them to integrate with their local community, it also has a huge food initiative, feeding around 200 people a day.

The goal of the project was to work with the community at Oasis to make their dining hall space more welcoming. The staff asked us to create soft and colourful furnishings that were moveable for their multi-purpose space.

Our Design lecturer Lucy Hall has organised similar projects with previous design students and when she offered us the opportunity I took it up because I like working with a team and wanted to work with people of all ages and backgrounds in a creative space.

‘I wanted to work on this project as I was looking for a way to give back to the local community, as well as help teach and introduce artic skills to those who might not have access to this readily available.’
Amelia O'TooleDesign for Performance Student

This project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Helen Moseley-Williams the current Triage and Integration officer at Oasis, and Valentine Gigandet, RWCMD grad and Oasis staff member who supported us though our volunteer training and week to week sessions at Oasis.

Co-creation: Sharing stories and skills

Designing for this project was impacted by the participants’ responses and the materials available to us, so we had to work on it as we went along. 

The final piece was a huge collaboration of refugees, asylum seekers and volunteers work made up of donated, sourced and brought supplies. In the early weeks we designed with the participants, they drew pictures and made mood boards that we used to inspire us when planning the sessions.

Working with the participants was the best part of the job: you never knew who would show up week to week and what stories they would tell you. We had a big focus on co-creation and I got to learn new skills from them in return, like Arabic letters or jewellery making.

Pushing the boundaries of their creativity

As the final artwork would be in the dining hall, we started with a big focus on food. We played with lots of mediums like paint, collages, fabric, pens, beans and vegetables. The participants where very willing and open to explore many art forms, so we really tried to push the boundaries of their creativity.

As the weeks went on we began to get regular participants coming back to work with us each week and make art over multiple sessions. We also began to expand our activities based on their responses to the sessions.

Each week Amelia and I would review the successes and failures of the session, for example we increased the amount of sewing we did as we realised that the participants really enjoyed it as it was such a transferable skill.

After the 12 weeks of work Amelia and I combined the artwork into tapestries and a mosque that they could hang in the dining hall.

Amelia and Ruth with the wall-hanging that will hang in the dining room at Oasis Centre

A sense of common purpose and belonging

The overall project was really successful and the feedback was incredible. Not only did the participants enjoy the sessions but they were also really proud of the final result of their skills.

‘I really enjoyed gathering with people creating all at the same time, it helps with feeling a sense of common purpose and belonging’
An Oasis volunteer
‘It is good learning different skills and cultures with new people.’
A workshop participant
‘Activities with you are a good way to spend some time. I like arts and crafts that’s why. I meet different people every week which is fun to interact.’
A workshop participant

‘We were lucky enough to use the opportunity as a specialist study towards our degree,’ Amelia said. ‘ I’ve also taken away many life skills from running these workshops, such as learning new forms of communication, encouraging participation and developing leadership skills, which are not only helpful for the course, but any future jobs I may have.

We successfully created three beautiful tapestries for the dining hall space and through the process built connections with the clients of Oasis as well as providing positive distractions for many of them.’

‘I really enjoyed my time at Oasis, this opportunity has made me more confident in my own ability as a designer and has opened career opportunities within community work. Which I now know is definitely something I want to pursue after graduating.

This is just one of many external placements my course offers to experience the design industry and its abundance of career pathways. ‘
Ruth NorwoodDesign for Performance student

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