Case Study

Sharing the community wealth: How WHALE Arts is leveraging capital investment in creative technology to develop new opportunities for less privileged communities

Sharing the community wealth: How WHALE Arts is leveraging capital investment in creative technology to develop new opportunities for less privileged communities

WHALE Arts is a community-led arts charity and social enterprise set up by local people in Edinburgh in 1992. Wester Hailes, located in the south-west of the city, is a neighbourhood rich with ambition and assets but struggling with the impacts of multiple deprivation which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. WHALE Arts aims to improve peoples’ health, wellbeing and happiness through arts, creativity and innovation; improve peoples’ economic prospects through developing creative enterprise, learning and skills development opportunities; and increase and sustain the pride that people feel for the local area through community-based participation in the arts.

WHALE Arts programmes are designed to meet their community’s specific needs and so have an emphasis on creating physical, emotional, psychological and economic wellbeing. Their work is preventative, enhances recovery, improves the quality of life for people with long-term conditions and helps rebuild a sense of empowerment and control. Participants develop confidence, self-reliance and transferable skills which can be applied to many situations and can greatly increase employment prospects. The organisation’s Health, Wellbeing and Happiness strand comprises a wide range of regular groups, workshops and projects and aims to promote positive wellbeing through engagement with the creative process.

Image: Wester Hailes Arts Centre. Credit: WHALE Arts

Participant outcomes include reduced reported levels of anxiety, depression and social isolation; increased self- confidence and self-esteem, social connectedness, positive relationships and sense of purpose within the community.

Despite WHALE Art’s 30-year track record of success in serving their community, they have not had resources to invest in technology to utilise data to enhance their strategy and delivery. However, the organisation recognised the potential such investment would hold for their team and the community they serve.

WHALE Arts applied to the Community Creative Tech fund seeking primarily to innovate their data management and utilisation through purchase of a new CRM system; acquire a large TV screen and stand to support the digital display of artworks and publications; and develop a new creative collaboration space and digital café to support social enterprise – all of which would enable them to better support community wealth building in their local area.

“The purchase of equipment and change of use of space will allow us to open new income generating opportunities [which] will go back into the organisation, allowing us to continue delivering our creative programme of activities to Wester Hailes, and reducing the staff time required in applying for grant funding.” – Kate Griffin, WHALE Arts

WHALE Arts achieved both practical and ambitious outcomes with their funding. New hardware, including higher end desktops and laptops with the capability of running design and editing software, were purchased for community use during digital sessions in the organisation’s venue.

Image: Community workshop at WHALE Arts. Credit: WHALE Arts

This is particularly important in Wester Hailes, as an area of deprivation where many people do not have their own device or rely on a smart phone with limited capabilities to access digital services. The purchase of GoodCRM, a data platform specifically designed for smaller charities, replaced the use of antiquated spreadsheets, allowing much faster and high-quality data collection and reporting on those currently engaging with the organisation, and where audiences could be expanded, as well as feeding into future programming.

But perhaps the most transformational and impactful activity supported by this funding was the initiation of building works to convert the organisation’s defunct photography dark room into a creative collaborative digital space. This included a full staff “clear out” and declutter which saw the disposal of two skips of redundant equipment and materials acquired over multiple years, as well as utilities for the development of photos, allowing for the creation of desk space, updating of electrics, and addition of furniture for the use of the space as a digital hub.

The organisation’s full-time Summer programme of activities delayed development of this space due to the entire building being used for children’s activities, but the decision was made to close the building for a week in September, to allow staff to clear the building without interrupting their usual adult groups. This meant that the team could not only prepare the room that would become the creative collaborative space but also reorganise other areas of the building, including turning a different room into a meeting room and organising a storage cupboard to maximise the efficient and effective use of the building’s limited space to support the community.

Image: Wester Hailes Arts Centre. Credit: WHALE Arts

The new Digital Collaborative Space, once completed, will be open to participants in WHALE Art’s skills programmes – including those learning basic digital skills, applying for work and benefit applications.

Participants of the organisation’s Enterprise, Learning and Skill programme of activities, who aim to use their data and ideas to generate income, improve their mental wellbeing and standards of living will be particular beneficiaries of these new facilities. This includes a regular digital group which is made up around 30 people, 70% female, 41% from a BAME Community with the vast majority living in an area that ranks in the lower 10% on the SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation), and the organisation’s Craft café group which works with local people who have an interest in developing their skills and interests with a goal of generating income. They also expect that participants in their Create Community Wealth project, which supports local people to start up their own business, will be able to use the equipment to further develop their ideas.

The WHALE Arts team are also exploring the potential of accommodating co-working in their new space to generate new income streams to further support and empower their community, in addition to the broader business development opportunities offered by new hardware and CRM.


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