Annual Report 2020-2021

The Spark Arts for Children

Ready to Respond


Extraordinary experiences for children, sparking creativity and change.

2020/21 was a year of sudden and unexpected challenges. Leicester's year in lockdown was more difficult than most and it presented us with a year of constant research and development - re-evaluating, adding policies and responding to new challenges.

Throughout the year we listened to artists, children, families, schools and partners and developed our activities to remain purposeful and provide safe hands in a crisis, finding fresh, inventive ways to make a positive difference to children and families.

A Year of Impact and Learning

Dave 'Stickman' Higgins wearing a red Spark T-shirt plays the drums Rhythm Play Express in his music cave surrounded by instruments and African pattern fabrics

March 2020

Lockdown announced - A rapid response

Within 2 weeks of full lockdown we developed and shared our first online video content Rhythm Play Express and Paper Palace. It was essential to respond quickly to maintain the strong relationships built by Artists in Residence Dave 'Stickman' Higgins at Pork Pie Library & Community Centre and Sophie Cullinan at St Barnabas Library

This online content was supported by creative resource bags and worksheets, distributed to children without internet across the city by Leicester Children's Centre's staff.

Takeshi Matsumoto drawing on his fingers - the cast of Mano - A Hand Ninja, a story told without words

April 2020

Stories from Home

Vital Spark recognised the importance to hear lockdown stories from voices relevant to and representative of all children with an open commission to produce an original story from underrepresented artists. A team of children and families were part of the commissioning team, helping to select the stories they most wanted to hear. Stories from Home were produced by 8 artists and one of the stories retold in British Sign Language. Printed copies were distributed to families with no online access.

A boy's hand positions a stick making a mandala artwork using natural materials

May 2020

Creative Learning Toolkit launched  

In response to teachers' needs we created The Spark's Creative Learning Toolkit, a high-quality resource that gave children at home, and in the classroom, the opportunity to enjoy high quality, artistic adventures. A companion Arts Award discover logbook was developed with funding from The Mighty Creatives, enabling families to achieve their Discover Arts Award from home. A specially created Facebook support group shared creations and experiences and stayed connected with Spark activities through the year.

illustration of Walter Lemonface and his colourful friends in The Big Veg Takedown adventure

June 2020

Making online Theatre for Library Audiences

Each year The Spark works with its Among Ideal Friends library partners to produce imaginative theatre for families in their communities. When libraries closed it gave us the opportunity to work as a partnership to commission new online content. The Big Veg Takedown was an innovative project, produced with 154 Collective, where artists, children and families all worked together to create an exciting, animated story through digital collaboration.

We also commissioned Theatre Rites to produce two short Talking Rubbish videos to inspire children to create puppets from recycled materials.

A school band rehearse with vocalist in front of keyboard, drums and Vibraphone

June 2020

In The Classroom

We ran our first online webinar. Aimed at primary school. teachers to increase confidence in delivering poetry activities in the classroom, Powerful Poetry, had 42 live participants and 41 watch the session 'on-demand', more than could be facilitated at one ' in person' session.

Leading Leicester-shires Cultural Education Partnership, The City Classroom, we played a key role in developing the Recovery Curriculum Action-Research Project to learn about the fears, anxieties, and emotional needs of pupils coming out of lockdown at the start of a new school year and to help us devise suitable materials for Leicester-shire's recovery curriculum.

3 Vital Spark artists in discussion

July 2020

A Seat at the Table

The Vital Spark movement held a series of online discussions that gave a platform for freelance artists to share and debate ideas. Engaging 25 artists over 7 sessions these conversations led to a range of online CPD training sessions in leadership language, project planning and Grant Applications and an industry Code of Care document for use between freelancers and those that employ them.

Five children and two Early Years practitioners playing instruments in their early years classroom

August 2020

Early Years Music Network

The Spark took the lead role in the newly created Leicester/shire Early Years Music Network and were awarded a £95,390 grant from Youth Music, using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England to promote the role music plays in the development of children aged 0 - 4 years and support musicians and early years practitioners to be 'music champions'.

Stickers on the library floor inviting children to 'Wiggle In this space' and 'Dance in this space'. In the centre of the picture a child is dressed in a self decorated suit on their 2metre stage

September 2020

Reclaiming the Space

Between lockdowns, Spark Artists in Residence Dave 'Stickman' Higgins and Sian Watson Taylor created Reclaiming the Space, a blueprint to provide creative adventures for children & families in libraries during times of social distancing and show how to embrace the restrictions.

October 2020

Artists at the Heart of The Spark

The Spark announce the appointment of Trina Haldar and Daryl Beeton as our new Associate Directors, placing artists at the heart of The Spark's decision-making process, working within the city's schools and communities to nurture and protect the arts for children in a fragile time.

A spread of The Girl of Ink and Stars printed scripts

November 2020

Gripping Audio Drama

Looking for new ways to bring exciting and imaginative stories to children during home schooling, The Spark adapted the 2019 theatre production The Girl of Ink and Stars into an audio drama, complete with a comprehensive learning pack with lessons plans and activity sheets. Members of the creative team Zoomed into 14 classrooms for Q&A sessions. These were adapted as videos for schools and families to watch on demand.

The Spark Festival promotional graphic - and illustration of 3 quirky characters and a colourful swirly patterned background

January 2021

National lockdown announced - online Festival launched

A year's learning meant we were able to adapt plans for a festival of intimate one to one live experiences and events in parks and playgrounds to programme an ambitious, accessible and relevant digital festival just 2 weeks after lockdown was announced. Launching a full festival programme of 56 'live' online performances, 19 workshops and 7 festival shows to watch on demand.

Children celebrate the Spark festival wit homemade flags and outfits

February 2021

The Spark Festival

Families turned their homes into festival sites with homemade bunting, indoor festival tents, costumes and displays. Key 'ingredients' for making storytelling stages and creating a sparkling Festival atmosphere at home, were posted through the letterboxes of our families and nursery partners. Live streamed performances and workshops provided audiences with a shared experience and a new type of online activity where people could get together virtually and enjoy being in the same space as other families.

We were able to develop new national and international audiences. Families from India, Dublin and Dubai joined local audiences to hear Secret Stories, a project created in the heart of the Belgrave community. A commission to Replay Theatre to produce a digital version of their live sensory theatre show provided neurodivergent audiences with more opportunities to engage than would normally be possible during the festival.

The Spark Festival 2021 created a vibrant and engaged community in a digital world.

March 2021


Across the year Trustees and senior management met regularly to assess ongoing government advice and evaluate risks. Financially across 20-21 we reduced costs where possible. We can move forward confidently into our next operating year, safeguarding activity to ensure our work with children - those most impacted upon by the pandemic - is purposeful in supporting recovery, wellbeing and growth.

The future

2021- 2022 and beyond

We are, of course, excited at the thoughts of meeting our audiences face to face and heading back into schools and venues across the city for the 2022 Festival, but we are also excited at using the learning from this unique festival and the experiences that have expanded our digital horizons.


The Spark receives National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) funding from Arts Council England and annual revenue funding from Leicester City Council for our annual festival. We remain extremely grateful for their continued support.

The Spark Arts for Children continues to receive the majority of its income from project grants and grant dispersal across the breadth of our work in libraries, schools and communities. During the year the charity also received welcome support from corporate partners, Trusts & Foundations and individual donors and these continue to be an important component of income generation. Many funders were generous in their support for re-imagination of the projects, and re-scheduling or postponement of some activity to the next year. As a consequence the company is holding restricted and allocated funds for completion of these current projects.

Across the year Trustees and senior management met regularly to assess ongoing government advice and evaluate risks. Across 20-21 we reduced costs where possible to enable us to hold a reserve fund inline our Reserve Policy. We received funding for furlough payments to staff over the year of £20,797, and a Business Support Grant of £10,000.

The organisation can move forward confidently into our next operating year, safeguarding activity to ensure our work with children - those most impacted upon by the pandemic - is purposeful in supporting recovery, wellbeing and growth.