More Than 100 Stories is a commission led by artists Sarah Butler and Nicole Mollet that explores and creatively maps the Creative People and Places programme.

Lego and stars: thinking about what matters – A visit to Ideas Test


On 8th Feb, Ideas Test kindly invited me to join their reflection day in their new offices at Number 34 Sittingbourne High Street – a creative space with a welcoming public shop front and upstairs office and workshop space.

Led by Tom Andrews from People United, the day brought the whole Ideas Test team together to reflect on the programme so far; to talk about what has worked and what hasn’t; to think about the ‘intangibles’ as Tom put it – about what got people ‘right here’ – putting his hand to his chest as he spoke.

Lego model

This was my first CPP visit since Nicole and I selected the ten themes we are going to work with for More Than 100 Stories, so I have tried to link my thoughts from the day to specific themes...

People: Tom led a brilliant exercise with his children’s Lego figures where we were asked to create ourselves – selecting bodies, legs, heads, hair and accoutrements – and to think about what our superpower was in the context of Ideas Test. It was a fun and brilliant way to give members of the team insights about each other. It was noticeable how many of the figures had multiple heads – to show that their job involved looking in all directions, seeing different points of view; or to show how one person might have a mix of different roles. I particularly enjoyed people’s descriptions of their superpowers: connecting; communicating; watching over; being curious; making peace.

Local: There was a lot of talk about the importance and value of ‘being there’. Of staff being together, at days like this one, able to bring their ideas and issues to the table and gain a greater understanding of each other’s work – something particularly challenging on a day to day basis with many staff part time and some working from different bases. Of staff being at local events – going to see the work they have commissioned, building those relationships, being present. And of Ideas Test being on the High Street – visible, tangible, present. There was discussion of the challenges of that – the difficult conversations with local people – and the opportunities it creates to embed the organisation in the local community.

Language: There was debate about the often frustrating disconnect between the messages Ideas Test puts out (for instance about the funding and design of their new premises) and the beliefs and understanding of local communities. What is said is not always heard. What is said is not always what is heard. What feel like clear messages can end up distorted. Common understanding is difficult to achieve.

I finished my visit with a walk along the coast. It is a landscape I’m unfamiliar with and I was struck by its sometimes bleak beauty – the mist hanging over the water; the sun glinting off the mud flats; the sense of space and light. Quite different from my bike trip across the north of England  last autumn. It reminded me, again, how ‘local’ each CPP project is, how they must dig into the specifics of their place to make art and arts experiences that truly connect.