Neighbours across the Tyne

Neighbours across the Tyne, BALTIC and North P&I Club have joined forces to nurture children’s natural creativity, as David Whetstone has been finding out

Originally published: July 2022.

An inspiring new partnership between BALTIC and North P&I Club will generate potentially life-changing opportunities for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

It will result in BALTIC artists working with three schools for three years, encouraging pupils to be creative and mounting summer exhibition of their work at the Gateshead centre for contemporary art.

Schools from across the region will be invited to apply for the BALTIC Stars scheme which North P&I Club is supporting with £45,000 spread over the three years.

You might wonder why an international marine insurer would be investing substantially in a visual art initiative.

It’s not as if North P&I Club doesn’t have much on its plate just now.

Dawn Robinson (North P&I Club), Kim Rogerson (North P&I Club ), Rebecca Surtees-Brown (BALTIC), Leanne Alldred (BALTIC). Photo: Barry Pells.
As Dawn Robinson, global people director for North for the past five years, confirms: “This is probably the most challenging time of my career because we’ve gone from the pandemic, and how we deal with Covid, to Ukraine and sanctions.
“Now, just to add variety, we’re heading towards a merger.”

Joining forces with London-based Standard Club has been hailed by North P&I Club chief executive Paul Jennings as a “merger of equals” and “terrific news for our businesses, our people and our members”.

They are destined to become NorthStandard, a significant new player in the field of shipping and marine insurance.

But while the corporate outlook is global, North P&I Club professes pride in its North East roots. Founded in 1860, its headquarters are on Newcastle Quayside with BALTIC visible across the Tyne.

In BALTIC’s bright and bustling Front Room (free hot drinks, donations accepted), Dawn explains the value of a relationship between two very different organisations that stretches back several years.

“I think for me it’s about having pride in the place and the people we work with.
“We’re much bigger than just the industry we’re in. The local community is key for us, part of our CSR (corporate social responsibility).
“I guess in the past it’s been more of a commercial arrangement, company briefings and things like that, but this is different and quite special.
“I think after the difficult pandemic period it’s even more important to look at how you can work in different ways and particularly regarding children who are our leaders of the future.
“What can you do to instil self-esteem and confidence and encourage them to work in more creative ways?”

North P&I was one of five corporate partners involved in the BALTIC Murals project of 2021, enabling artist Megan Randall to work with pupils of Cedars Academy, Gateshead, on an artwork featuring ceramic birds and butterflies.

“That was the start for us of looking for a different kind of partnering,” says Dawn.
“It gave us the feeling that this would be something we’d like to do more of with BALTIC.”

That was pushing at an open door.

Cedars Academy: Kaleidoscope created with artist Megan Randall. Sponsored by North P&I Club. Photo: The House of Hues ©

Kim Rogerson, co-chair of the CSR team at North, met Rebecca Surtees-Brown, BALTIC head of development, and BALTIC Stars producer Leanne Alldred.

The idea of an art-focused relationship aimed at sustaining a more substantial project appealed to all parties and so the new BALTIC Stars project is taking shape.

Leanne, who has worked on BALTIC Stars since it was limited to Gateshead and funded by BBC Children in Need, says brief applications will be invited from schools across the region in early autumn.

She says those who lack the means to take their pupils to BALTIC needn’t be deterred. “We will take the BALTIC experience to them.”

For those selected, whether primary or secondary, discussions will then take place to find out about the children’s interests.

“Ownership goes to them,” says Leanne. “We want to find out what’s important to them and how they want to explore it creatively.
“Then we’ll find an artist (BALTIC has a list of freelance artists on its books) who can complement that but also perhaps broaden it out.”

Evaluation will be ongoing but the annual highlight will be a summer exhibition at BALTIC with the children closely involved in its curation.

Leanne has experienced already the joy such events can bring.

“Seeing their faces when they come into their own exhibition at BALTIC, and seeing the parents’ faces… it is quite emotional.
“It shows them it’s possible for them to do things like that.”
Cedars Academy: Kaleidoscope created with artist Megan Randall. Sponsored by North P&I Club. Photo: The House of Hues ©
Rebecca adds: “Creativity is for everyone. It can offer surprising outcomes where everyone can really excel.”
Leanne has several such stories. “There was a pupil who was profoundly deaf and we were told he might not want to contribute.
“Suddenly he put his hand up and signed a thought to his teacher. He continued to contribute for the rest of the project.
“And I’ll never forget the child in Sunderland, where we worked years ago, saying, ‘I can be an artist and I’m going to go to university’. It’s about raising aspirations and showing these children in a different light.”

Don’t rule any of them out when it comes to being leaders of the future.

That is the message from their teachers and from the BALTIC staff and artists who have seen what they can do.

Dawn Robinson (North P&I Group) Photo: Barry Pells 2022.

And it is backed up by Dawn Robinson who says times are changing.

“We’re really concentrating on progression.
“We have all sorts of people, including top solicitors who started in the mail room. Nothing is predetermined and I think there are new skills people will be seeking in the leaders of the future.
“Employers will be looking for different experiences and social attributes. The more diversity you have within a group of people, the more you are likely to be able to think differently and stimulate new ideas.
“I wouldn’t rule out anyone when it comes to progressing in a company.”

Standard Club, she adds with a smile, have already expressed admiration for the partnerships forged by their northern counterparts and the investment in culture and nurturing young talent.

At BALTIC, understandably, they are hoping other companies will be equally impressed.

You can find out more about BALTIC Stars here.