Support Us
Musings News Project Updates

Expectations Versus Reality: Community Arts Practice Edition

by Rachel Shnapp

It’s easy, when initially developing a creative project, to let your dreams run away with you. When I first thought up the project that I would be developing within The Stove this winter, my plans were, on some scale, grandiose. I saw the project spanning across the region, inspiring five football teams (full size, not 5-a-side) of young people, who, like me, had grown up surrounded by the moss and the hills and the dry-stone dykes of Dumfries and Galloway, dreaming of clapper boards, dressed sets, and, let’s be honest, Hollywood* mystique (*note the two Ls.)

The project I was aiming to deliver was a series of screenwriting workshops with three groups of young people from the region who, on a national level, fell under the bracket of ‘rurally excluded’, each from a different geographical area of the region. (Aside: we could have a whole other conversation (and multiple debates) about the phrase ‘rurally excluded’ and its role within diversity and inclusion, but that’s for another time.)

My aim was to teach these three groups of young people how to construct short narrative films, focussing on naturalistic and localised film, and through this process co-write a script with each group, that I would then go and shoot.

I envisioned ending with a series of coming-of-age short films based within the region, telling stories that spoke to a generation of kids who rarely (if ever) see themselves on screen. This would combine my own practice as a director, and the work I had been doing for the past six months at The Stove in community arts. The thought of inspiring the aforementioned penta-football gang of local-next-generation screenwriters and filmmakers appealed to no end. 

I’m going to do something you are generally not supposed to do in storytelling. I’m going to drop the spoiler in right at the second act:

I didn’t reach my expectations for this project. I’m going to do something else you are generally not supposed to do in storytelling: admit that I am an unreliable narrator. To say I didn’t reach my expectations for this project, would be telling only half the truth. The full truth, which sometimes we must wrestle with to discover, weed out of the proverbial pavement, is that my expectations shifted entirely throughout this project, and my initial goals, although in some ways not entirely met, paled in comparison to the happy accidents that shone through.

Due to various circumstances, I ended up only working with one group, of five young people, all from one town.

Firstly, with the impending threat of another Covid lockdown, all the schools I had hoped to work with were closing their doors to external visitors. Another group I had been introduced to were, sadly for me, not at all interested in screenwriting. Other pre-formed groups across the region had their spring schedules signed off well before Christmas, and were therefore unavailable. This singular group situation was not the geographically wide-ranging cinematic spectacular I had planned for. But within the confines of reality, I was able to spend more time and energy working with a group of young people who were determined, hard-working, and, truly benefited from the workshops in ways I had not at all anticipated.

(Disclaimer here: I definitely do not claim to take all the credit. I’m sure, without me, the group would have developed these skills in time on their own; and the team leading the group were making leaps and bounds with their photography and filmmaking abilities before I even stepped foot in the space.) But to see, first-hand, the benefit of having a space for young people to collaborate and work creatively, to try new ideas, and to (it seems so simple in hindsight) just be themselves, is more valuable than any evaluation procedure jargon I could have come up with in the first place.

This realisation, this eureka moment, is that what so many young people in rural communities really need is a space to hang out, to eat snacks with their friends out of the cold, dark Scottish winters, to truly be themselves around people who accept them and want to support them. A space to try out new ideas without the judgement of small-town-small-minds that can so often hold back anyone who does not conform entirely. I am definitely not the first person to make this realisation – I have seen colleagues in the region come to this conclusion and work tirelessly to provide these environments for the younger community. But to see it with my own eyes, up close, to be told by one of the young people that they feel ‘more at home here than at home’, to be able to contribute to that safe, comfortable space, where a young person is able to just be themselves. There’s nothing that could be more valuable, more inspiring, or more cinematic than that.

Rachel Shnapp is an Associate Artist forming part of the Creative Spaces Project 22-23


Door Handles of Change

By Sam Gonçalves, Digital Producer for Soap Box

Sam Gonçalves

Back in March I started a short term freelance contract with The Stove Network to help them set up Soap Box: a series of events, panels and workshops. The programme, alongside a whole host of extra resources, has now been brought together in an easy-to-use toolkit. 

The team asked me to write about my experience, but I have to admit the last few months have felt very different to the professional experiences I’m used to having. To give you some context, I have never met any of The Stove’s team in person! This whole journey I’ve just been working with disembodied heads on varying zoom calls. It wouldn’t take too much evidence to convince me none of them are actually real.

That was the biggest hurdle, in my opinion, to the development of Soap Box. An excellent programme focusing on the development of digital skills, ran entirely online and designed by a remote team. Suddenly all the strategies you learned to galvanise a team, work with people, create bonds and make together are not quite as applicable to an entirely digital world. 

I arrived at The Stove aware of the ‘newness’ of this challenge and interested on how it would be faced. As time went by, it was a pleasure to see how the team did it: with open minds and a keen sense of curiosity.

The remote nature of the programme was seen as an opportunity rather than a barrier. I don’t think a single one of our weekly meetings went by without a member of the team asking, “Who can we bring in?” about any given part of the project. Collaboration was an essential building block and it involved people in all sorts of career stages, of different ages, backgrounds and perspectives. 

When faced with the fresh challenges arising out of lockdown, I saw The Stove team open up to other experiences and expertise. They sought answers, as oppose to assuming they already had them. As a result, the programme hosted an incredible variety of people – from facilitators to attendees – who brought in knowledge that would not have been there if these events had been run in a business-as-usual way.

Here’s a humiliating metaphor I can use to explain this – Portuguese is my first language and when I moved to Scotland from Brazil at the age of 17, I discovered a cruel linguistic twist. The word ‘pull’ translates to ‘puxe’ in Portuguese, which sounds exactly like the word ‘push’. For years I’d read the work ‘push’ on a shop door and my brain would short-circuit and make me pull it. I’ve walked into my fair share of doors. 

I tarnish my otherwise flawless reputation to say – sometimes the main barrier is being unable accept a piece of knowledge is no longer relevant. What I really take away from the handful of months working with and observing The Stove is their unrelenting drive to learn more, bringing people in who will show them a new perspective and respecting what they have to say – whether they may be the head of an organisation or a young freelancer. 

I long to see the skill of un-learning being used in the creative and cultural sector more often, it would open many doors…

Sam Gonçalves // @SidlingBears

Want to learn more about Soap Box and check out the digital resource toolkit? Visit our webpage:

Skip to content