Change is in the air this April as we say a fond farewell to Kathryn Welch, Voluntary Arts Scotland's Interim Director, and welcome back Jemma Neville from her 9 month sabbatical. 

Jemma shares some thoughts on her return as Director, gives an insight into the creative project she has been working on and reflects on the overlapping themes of creativity and community empowerment -

"I am hugely grateful to Kathryn Welch for having led Voluntary Arts Scotland in the interim as part of a secondment arrangement with Macrobert Arts in Stirling. Kathryn is now taking up a new role as Operations Director at Macrobert and we wish her continued success.

Voluntary Arts Scotland exists to promote active participation in creative cultural activities. As staff, it’s important that we practice what we preach and make time to nurture our own creative experimentation. During my sabbatical, I’ve been researching and writing a personal narrative book about the experience of neighbourhood and human rights on one single street, Constitution Street in Leith, Edinburgh, where I have lived for the last decade. Throughout the research phase, I was hosted at Edinburgh University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities (IASH) as their inaugural Community Fellow.

We talk a lot about community empowerment in the voluntary sector, but communities can be slippery things to define. Who is in and out of a community? Do we only listen to those making the most noise? By contrast, streets are like stories. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. Through interviews with my neighbours on this most social and economically diverse of streets, I have explored themes such as identity, home and change set against the broader context of constitutional flux in Scotland and the UK. I have listened to my neighbours who voted differently from me in the constitutional choices posed by recent referendums and I have challenged my own assumptions and prejudices, to consider what human rights, if any, we would want to enshrine in a new, written constitution. And I have been surprised by known and strange things right outside my doorstep. 

A recurring theme in the Constitution Street conversations was the importance of cultural life, particularly making, to feeling connected to one another. For example, my street is home to a digital recording studio, a stone and mineral polishing club, a Gala Day parade, a bridge playing club, and lots of pavement art. I am keen to relate some of my personal learning back to our work at Voluntary Arts Scotland. Meanwhile, you can keep updated on the street project through my personal Twitter @jemma_tweets."