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Changing attitudes towards gender issues through digital adoption

Motivated by a desire to change attitudes towards gender issues and shape the conversation on domestic abuse, Lisa Charlotte Davis set up Changing Relations as a community interest company (CIC) back in 2013.

The social enterprise delivers a number of educational resources and training programmes to schools, businesses and communities and recently received grant funding and support from Digital Drive County Durham to develop a comprehensive e-learning offer.

Talking about things like gender discrimination, domestic violence, sexual attitudes and toxic masculinity can be difficult, especially in the workplace.

And while businesses are increasingly aware of the responsibility they have for the wellbeing of their people, they might not know how best to approach some of these issues in a way that promotes compassion, empathy and mutual understanding.

Lisa Charlotte Davis set up Changing Relations to find new ways of having difficult conversations, using art-based solutions to create an open and inclusive environment for learning.

The community interest company (CIC) was founded in 2013 to engage audiences by using the arts as a transformative way to reach people and change lives. In the years since then, it has worked with many schools, businesses and community groups to do exactly that.

For Lisa, who has a background in education, the reason for focusing on the arts was because art can reach people on an emotional level and open them up to new thinking and ideas in a way that conventional training programmes sometimes struggle with.

She says: “Because my teaching background was in English Literature – looking at plays, poetry and writing and what we can learn from them – I always felt the arts could be a really powerful tool to reach people in a way that simply lecturing them doesn’t.

“The reason I set up Changing Relations was to create a vehicle whereby we would create artistic products on a particular subject whether it’s sexual attitudes and behaviours or gender stereotypes and build education and training around them.”

Lisa and the team have created a number of engaging campaigns over the last eight and a half years, each of which is driven by a strong commitment to delivering real change.

“I think a lot of the time what you get with activism is the risk of preaching to the choir and what I’m interested in is actual change,” adds Lisa.

One such campaign was the 2015 Arts Council England-funded play, Make Do and Mend, which was based on three real survivors of domestic abuse who had received support from the Just for Women Centre in Stanley, County Durham.

The play evolved into a film and became an art-based educational tool used in training workshops with organisations like Gentoo, Northumberland County Council and Believe Housing.

Make Do and Mend is a good example of how Changing Relations uses the arts to draw attention to particular issues, in this case domestic abuse and relationships, and introduce these into workplaces and educational settings.

Other similar projects include an original artistic exhibition called Stepping Out of The Box, which aimed to initiate conversations around gender roles and stereotypes, and Let’s Talk About Sex, which invites people to share positive relationship stories in order to transform and challenge harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours.

Prior to 2020, much of this work had been delivered through in-person workshops and live events. But with the onset of COVID-19, it became clear to Lisa that the company had to find new ways to reach people.

This is where Digital Drive County Durham came in.

Digital Drive is a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Business Durham-funded programme that aims to help SMEs in County Durham to maximise their growth potential and sustainability through digital technology.

Lisa secured grant funding through the scheme to develop a new e-learning offer and start her company’s digital transformation journey.

She says: “During the pandemic, I had a number of training contracts lined up that were simply not going to be delivered because you couldn’t be in a room with anybody.

“That got us thinking about developing our training as an e-learning resource.

“The investment from Digital Drive enabled us to start on the journey of shifting our business into the digital space and developing an e-learning offer.”

As well as the grant funding, Lisa also received support and advice from Digital Drive’s advisers, who helped her understand the benefits of becoming a digitally enabled business.

“Through the process of working with the advisers, we were able to bring in help to restructure our website, improve our presence on social media and have graphic design support to create branding for our different campaigns,” says Lisa.

“Overall, Digital Drive has been the starting point of our journey to improving the way we present ourselves in the digital landscape.”

Looking ahead to the future, Changing Relations will continue to invest in its e-learning resources and has a number of projects lined up with schools and business groups such as the North East Initiative on Business Ethics (NIBE).

Lisa concludes: “One of the really exciting things about what we do is that it’s never not relevant.

“I also think the pandemic has made people think seriously about staff wellbeing so hopefully that will lead more organisations to look at what we have to offer.”

Leanne Miller, Senior Project Manager for Digital Drive at UMi, said: “Changing Relations are a perfect example of business resilience faced with the pandemic.

“They were delivering fantastic work in person pre-COVID and realised that a digital e-learning offer would enable them to continue that and even expand on it when face-to-face teaching was simply not possible.”

Sarah Slaven, Managing Director at Business Durham, said: “We are so pleased to see another business benefit from enhanced digital technology knowledge and skills, delivered by Digital Drive County Durham.

“Now more than ever, businesses must be adaptable and we’re here to provide the practical support and resources to help them navigate the future through embedding a digital mindset.

“Providing the support, encouragement and the knowhow Digital Drive can offer has been transformational for Lisa, it has broadened access to the services her business provides to a much wider audience which will be beneficial to her and her clients.

“I really look forward to hearing how Changing Relations continues to develop their e-learning resources, and I would encourage other businesses thinking of improving their digital presence to get in touch with Digital Drive County Durham.”


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