An interview with Wigan STEAM

Nestled within our beautiful Victorian building are a diverse range of businesses who call The Old Courts home. We spoke to one of our creative tenants, Community Arts Organisation, Wigan STEAM with Creative Director, Louise Robson.

What is Wigan STEAM?

We are a creative organisation all about helping people explore their creativity and culture in their local area. We provide opportunities for people to access creativity, such as workshops for adults along with an extensive young people’s programme. There are early years events that we do on a weekly basis and holiday camps! We also work with different groups of young people to do Arts Award. We provide one off events with artists, we do a lot of Artist development, putting on residencies too and putting artists into schools. There are lots of different things that we do but they’re all centred around creativity and helping people to explore their creativity in different ways.

Wigan STEAM came about in 2016, since then, it’s grown and existed in a few different forms. We used to be based on Library Street, after that moved into the galleries and more recently The Old Courts. The team is made up of myself, Emily Calland, Steph Peet and Emily Robson. Between us, there is a nice mix of artistic backgrounds, from printmaking, illustration, textiles, handmade crafts and even drama.

Why is art important and what kind of impact do you think your organisation has on our community?

For us, the most important thing is the mental health and wellbeing aspect of what we do. We know that taking part in creative activities can benefit people massively just by giving them a bit of respite from their daily life. Getting into that state of flow where someone is really into something takes their mind off their worries and focusing on something creative. Aside from that, it improves social skills, giving people a space to make friends and build relationships and with that, improves their confidence.

People we work with may not do anything outside of coming to work and coming here, so socialising for those couple of hours a week might be someone’s only opportunity to socialise outside of their day-to-day routine. Art can help people to have a sense of pride, a sense of belonging in being part of a community like this. On a wider scale, being proud of where they live, feeling like they have a connection to Wigan.

Who are your workshops/classes for?

We genuinely believe that there isn’t a person out there who can’t get creative. To those who say they can’t draw, we say, if you can make a mark on a piece of paper, you can draw. Whilst we do have a focus on young people, we do offer a lot for adults. We do find, with lot of parents who bring their children to get involved initially, we’ll encourage them to try one of our workshops, at first, they seem hesitant, but then a couple of weeks later you’ll see them in a pottery class loving it. We are trying to grow our programme. we’re not precious about things, it’s all about having a go, trying new things, and seeing what happens.

Now that your tenants at The Old Courts how have you settled in?

It was definitely a big change for us, one of our main concerns when finding a new space was accessibility, making sure we could welcome anybody no matter what additional access needs may be. We were so excited when we came and looked around The Old Courts to see there’s a ramp, automatic door, and accessible toilet. We knew this would mean that everyone and anyone can come and enjoy our workshops. We now have an office separate to our workshops. In our previous space our office was the workshop area. Here, we use the Community Room for our workshops. It’s also great to mix with other organisations who use the community room.

It’s been nice to be part of a wider community. Whilst we have had previous connections with The Old Courts and the people that work here and some tenants, it’s nice to go upstairs knowing you might bump into people, and you can have a chat. It’s nice to be in a place where there’s so much happening, we feel well looked after here, which bleeds down into our participants. It’s the little things like having tea and coffee available, being in a warm building with a comfortable atmosphere.

What does the future look like for Wigan Steam are there any exciting things coming up that we can look forward to?

We have two of the prison cells, which is very cool! They will eventually be used for community workshop stuff. They’re a work in progress, but we’re hoping to do some work on these spaces so that people can come and use the kit, like the laser cutter, kiln, 3D printer and sewing machines. We’ll have plenty of Christmas workshops and making sessions coming up for the festive season! We will also have new projects for young people just after Christmas!