Rethinking Cultural Inclusion and Diversity: A Call to Action for Milton Keynes Report Launch 16th November 17.15-18.45

ONLINE VIA ZOOM Book via Eventbrite:

A celebration for anyone interested in inclusion and diversity, with specific focus on the arts and heritage sector in Milton Keynes

In 2019, in response to a Discussion Paper prepared by Milton Keynes Culture Team, AHA-MK proposed a programme of research to take a hard look at how well our arts and heritage sector engages with our diverse communities, with particular reference to gender, disability, race, religion or belief, class, sexual orientation and social mobility. Milton Keynes Council commissioned and funded AHA-MK to undertake this work and deliver an Inclusion Action Plan for Culture. The report we created presents recommendations resulting from our research, and has resulted in a dynamic action plan to take the sector forward to the next stage of this journey of inclusion and diversity.

Entitled Rethinking Cultural Inclusion and Diversity: A Call to Action for Milton Keynes, the report was published in September (see here for online copy: and it will be officially launched ONLINE at this event.

We are delighted that guests Abid Hussain, Director of Diversity at Arts Council England and Carole Baume, Portfolio Holder for Culture at Milton Keynes Council will be present to make short speeches. There will be opportunities for communities and sector organisations to network, and some demonstrations of cultural activity from diverse communities. A full schedule will follow shortly.

So many of the Milton Keynes community have contributed to the creation of this report and helped to form the recommendations which will be actioned over the coming months. The launch will be a chance to celebrate these contributions, and it marks the beginning of the next phase of working towards a more inclusive sector.

Member Feature September 2020

The next member feature on the AHA-MK website is Ephemeral Lines at Milton Keynes Arts Centre by sisters Elmira Zadissa and Ramona Zadissa, a residency which runs between May and September 2020. 

Ephemeral Lines by Elmira Zadissa and Ramona Zadissa. Milton Keynes Arts Centre

Back in May 2020 the Zadissa sisters (Elmira and Ramona) began a digital residency at Milton Keynes Arts Centre. The residency responded to lock-down and self-isolation by collecting stories and experiences of how people have coped during this moment in time. It uses a website ( as a digital platform where the people of Milton Keynes can upload their stories. Pairing and matching stories together the Zadissa sisters use the website to create a new space that shows emerging patterns in the experiences we have had.  Since May, over 60 stories have been collected through written word, voice recordings and images.

The Zadissa sisters’ concept for Ephemeral Lines emerges from the idea that things are temporary, but can leave a lasting trace in communities and individuals. While lockdown and social distancing are very relevant now, it is just one section of the story that makes up the bigger picture. The website acts as an archive where we remember that these stories can change and develop, but existed in this form at a certain point in time.

Importantly, Ephemeral Lines creates a space where untold stories can be shared. When we connect with others through our stories there is an increased sense of belonging to something bigger, and an understanding that we are all in ‘it’ (life/lockdown/society) together. As part of the Ephemeral Lines development, the Zadissa sisters ran some online workshops with local diverse community organisations such as Living Archive, Q:Alliance, and The African Diaspora Foundation. These were really interesting discussions where aspects of identity were brought out. AHA-MK attended the beading and braiding workshops run by The African Diaspora Foundation and it was a lovely way to connect with new people and hear stories about culture and tradition while creating braids and necklaces from items we had at home.

A collection of the stories gathered throughout the project formed the basis of a large single artwork also entitled Ephemeral Lines, which will be presented online (Instagram @MiltonKeynesArtsCentre), and live at the Open Market, The Centre MK, in Milton Keynes on 19 September 2020 from 11am – 3pm. A programme of workshops and free activities suitable for all ages will be on offer throughout the day at both the Open Market, MK and Milton Keynes Arts Centre. Booking essential at

Member Feature. July 2020

From July 2020, the AHA-MK website will feature a recent arts or heritage event of an AHA-MK member, updated every 4-6 weeks. Two photos of the event will head the AHA-MK home page, and there will be a blog post to accompany it. It is with great delight and pride that our first featured event is Digital Light: Code Makers, a collaboration between MKIAC and Bletchley Park in March 2020.

Digital Light: Code Makers, MKIAC and Bletchley Park collaboration

Connecting cultures by celebrating past and present stories of mathematics and design was a unique and special experience for all those participating in this Digital Light: Code Makers project” Anouar Kassim, MKIAC

In March 2020 Milton Keynes Islamic Arts and Culture (MKIAC) collaborated with Bletchley Park to create Digital Light: Code Makers, featuring the artwork of artists Sara Choudrey, Maryam Smit, and Soraya Syed. This wonderful and innovative event highlighted the history of mathematical thinking in the Islamic world by displaying geometrical patterns that are traditional in Islamic design. These patterns were lit up and projected at various points around the Bletchley Park site, juxtaposing the long history of maths in the Islamic world with the modern Western approach to code breaking developed at Bletchley Park during World War II.

Using the latest technology to create the light projections, this project celebrated the mathematical pathways that have brought humanity to this historical and cultural time where digital is all around us, allowing us to communicate across thousands of miles within seconds. One of the digital artworks was created at community workshops, splendidly bringing the voice of the Milton Keynes people into the mix. These workshops were formed of local Muslim communities, and diverse groups of young people from schools and MK College. The first evening of the event was open to community partners only.

The evening after was a preview for ‘invited VIPs’ with a reception and photographs, attended by about 200 people showing their support for this amazing display. At this buzzy preview, renowned scholars of Islamic maths and science spoke about the gap that exists in Western science books for 1200 years before the Middle Ages, where stories of scientific innovation are not recorded. Yet in the Islamic world, much scientific change and revolution occurred during that period, and mathematical thinking was highly developed. Not only does this demonstrate the very real bias our history books take when story-telling, but it also shows how different cultures influence each other to take humanity forward into new ground. While one culture is experiencing obstacles another culture can overcome them, resulting in a collective push forward.

When we collaborate, it allows us to go beyond our limitations and create something that is more than the sum of its parts. Digital Light: Code Makers is a fantastic example of a collaborative effort that was enhanced by the meeting of minds. It was phenomenal project to kick-start a new decade of intelligent and exciting cultural activity in Milton Keynes, that has inclusion at its heart.

Photos by Karen Kodish

Let’s stay connected!

I hope you are all well and positive during this  challenging time for the arts and heritage sector.

We were very disappointed to have to cancel our Forum on 18th March. Our planned keynote speaker Jenni Regan, Director of London Arts and Health, wrote to say she is looking forward to coming to speak to us when it is all over. Another speaker, Sonal Mehta of the NHS, also wrote to me to say that she is thinking of putting together some self-care signposting info on tips for people to stay fit and well in body and mind over coming weeks and months. I will share any resources that come through from Sonal.

Our quarterly forums gives us all a chance to connect as AHA-MK members and with friends and supporters, and foster a sense of a local cultural community. As we are asked to work from home and self-isolate  it is vital for us to work hard to keep connecting as a sector and community. While face to face contact is now discouraged, our access to virtual communication remains. AHA-MK sees this as its lifeline to the arts and heritage community over the next few months. Indeed, the creation of any art form via virtual pathways will be a positive response to the current climate. In this 2020 context, the existence of a virtual world gives us opportunities to be creative and relevant.

We will ensure our monthly newsletter goes out regularly to share news and updates addressing the current challenges. If anyone has a suggestion for a new section of the newsletter which you feel would be of interest/comfort to the sector at this time please let me know. This newsletter can become a resource centre for articles to keep us healthy or that inform us of any national updates in the arts. Send any news you have to .

We can all carry on with meetings over the phone or via Skype/Zoom/Microsoft Teams etc.

Best wishes,

Elizabeth Howard

MAKE Schools Relationship Manager in post

MAKE (MK Cultural Education Partnership) is delighted to announce that its new Schools Relationship Manager is now in post. Catherine Rose is a classically trained musician with a wealth of experience in the arts and arts education. Over the coming months Catherine will be building new relationships with schools in the MK area, helping MAKE to become stronger and more representative of the schools’ voice. If your schools is interested in MAKE please email to be put in touch with Catherine.

You, Me, Together. Arts initiative gets pupils in MK Schools talking about mental health and wellbeing

“The way I know mental health, is when people have big barriers in front of them and they can’t get through it”

In a survey of 338 Schools in 2016, 55% had experience a large increase in cases of stress and anxiety amongst young people. In an evolving initiative to understand and support young people’s mental health and wellbeing, Milton Keynes Council Public Health and NHS Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) created an innovative project called You, Me, Together, supported with investment from Artswork, the South East Bridge, and delivered in partnership with the MK Cultural Education Partnership (led by Arts & Heritage Alliance Milton Keynes).

The creative learning charity, Artis, worked with 150 young people and children in four Milton Keynes schools. The aim of this project was to gain a better understanding of how children and young people in MK perceived mental health, to get them to understand and identify mental health and wellbeing in others (you), in themselves (me), and to support each other (together).

Jill Wilkinson, Director of Health and Social Care Integration at NHS Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group and Chair of the Children and Young Peoples Mental Health and Wellbeing Transformation Programme said: “Our commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of the children and young people in Milton Keynes is one of the key aims of the CCG. We commissioned the You, Me, Together film as we were keen to hear from the voices of children on whose behalf we commission mental health services. We have continued to invest in child and adolescent mental health services and to work across the whole system to improve their overall experience.”
Muriel Scott, Director of Public Health at MK Council said: “To learn more about how young people and children understand mental health and wellbeing, we needed to ask the experts –the young people themselves. This project not only helped schools engage with what mental health and wellbeing is and why it’s so important to talk about it, but it also gave us a great insight into how young people perceive it and express it. I’m incredibly proud of how well the project worked and I’m confident it’ll help us to help the young people and children in MK.”

A film about the project was created to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing in young people, what it means to them and to open up a conversation. What is mental health and wellbeing and what can we all do to improve things?

Children in ten of our primary schools benefit from an exciting cultural programme working with artists

The Arts and Heritage Alliance Milton Keynes (AHA-MK), with its 39 member organisations, has formed a Cultural Education Partnership (MKCEP) for Milton Keynes. MK Council departments, cultural organisations, artists, schools and MK College are working together to enrich the lives of our children and young people in Milton Keynes, with increased opportunities for innovative, high quality creative learning.

We are delighted to launch a new exciting programme for MK primary schools exploring Place-making – what does this mean for children?  This is funded by Artswork, the South East Bridge, a regional charity who believe in empowering young people through arts and culture, and by Milton Keynes Community Foundation, who support transformational projects.

Chair of AHA-MK Francesca Skelton:

We are delighted that our funders Artswork and MK Community Foundation are investing in the future of our Milton Keynes children and that schools have embraced this opportunity to work with arts organisations to build the children’s understanding of their home town in such a creative way as they gain important skills.

Three hundred Key Stage 1 & 2 pupils from across the ten chosen schools will take part in inspiring creative sessions, developing creative and social skills, increased confidence, wellbeing and motivation.  Sessions will explore a range of art forms, from contemporary dance to visual art. All participating children have the chance to achieve their Arts Award Discover or Explore, a scheme accredited by Trinity College London.  An embedded teacher development programme, facilitated by action research organisation 5x5x5=creativity, will inspire and support schools to develop cross curricular links and nurture children’s creativity throughout the project and beyond.

Each school’s participation in the project will support their achievement of Artsmark, Arts Council England’s creative quality standard for schools, ensuring that hundreds more pupils continue to benefit from access to high quality creative learning in school.

AHA-MK member, MK Gallery’s Learning Manager, Tara Page is managing this project:

Access to the arts can support learning in all subject areas; pave the way for exciting and worthwhile career paths; and engage and bring joy to the most vulnerable of learners. MK Gallery is thrilled to support the development of partnerships between schools and arts organisations in Milton Keynes. During times of increasing adversity, it becomes more and more important to utilise the power of partnership working to ensure sustainable access to high quality creative learning for children and young people.

From an open-call advertising the opportunity to all Milton Keynes primary schools, we have selected the following ten schools to participate in the project: Bishop Parker Catholic Primary; Caroline Haslett Primary; Holne Chase Primary; Long Meadow Primary; Middleton Primary; Romans Field Primary; St. Monica’s Catholic Primary; St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Primary; Summerfield Primary and Willen Primary.  Each school has been partnered with one of five MK-based arts and cultural organisations: Inter-Action MK; MÓTUS; Milton Keynes Arts Centre; Pagrav Dance; and Will We Be.





Pedalling Culture Community Engagement Commissions

We are pleased to present a commissioning opportunity open to artists, practitioners and cultural organisations.  The commissions, part of the Pedalling Culture project, are for arts activities/interventions during Summer 2018, which encourage greater engagement with the Redways of Milton Keynes.  We are looking for projects that will encourage citizens and visitors to take part in active exploration of the Redway network, its environment and the cultural venues and sites that the network links to.

Pedalling Culture is a 2-year funded programme running from April 2017-April 2019.  The project is led by a consortium of cultural organisations: Arts and Heritage Alliance, Bletchley Park, Destination MK, MK Council, MK Gallery and MK City Centre Management.  The first phase of Pedalling Culture has focused on improving and building infrastructure, including increasing the number of electric vehicle charge points at cultural venues and improving wayfinding and signage to cultural venues on the Redways.

The second phase of this project is community engagement – encouraging people to make use of the Redways, better understand the combined walking and cycling network, and to use it to find their way to cultural venues across the city.  To do this we are commissioning a programme of walking and cycle based events that use interactive arts activity to engage local residents and people working in Milton Keynes, as well as attracting visitors to Milton Keynes.

Please see the Pedalling Culture Commissioning Brief Final for full information.  Deadline for applications is 7th March 2018.

The Arts and Heritage Alliance are managing this commissioning opportunity in partnership with the Pedalling Culture project, funded by Arts Council England through the Cultural Destinations Fund.

The Value of Culture to Milton Keynes

Each year we collect data from our members to show the impact of arts and heritage in Milton Keynes.  This year the combined impact of our members is:

To see the full Annual Report 2016-17 click here: AHA-MK Annual Report 2016-17

Our Annual Report collates data from our members and presents it in a one-page summary that we disseminate to our members and Trustees, as well as to Councillors, funding bodies, stakeholders and businesses – spreading the word about the great work our members deliver. By collaborating in this way, our members are able to demonstrate impact much more effectively than they can on their own.

Photo Courtesy of Milton Keynes Arts Centre

Statement from the 5 cities bidding to be European Capital of Culture 2023

The Arts and Heritage Alliance Milton Keynes received the below statement relating to the decision to withdraw the UK European Capital of Culture competition:

On Tuesday we met with representatives of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport including John Glen MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Arts, Heritage and Tourism. We met to discuss the letter sent last week to the UK Government by the European Commission stating that the participation of the UK in the European Capital of Culture in 2023 will not be possible.

Firstly we want to acknowledge the huge and passionate support we have all received locally, nationally and internationally since the receipt of this letter. In particular we appreciate the support from previous and future European Capitals of Culture, and from members of the independent judging panel which itself had expected to be interviewing our teams this week as part of the formal shortlisting process.

It is further evidence of the power of arts and culture to bring the peoples of Europe closer together. The five cities were united in their desire to find solutions which will enable them to realise their cultural ambitions and further develop their cultural integration with people across Europe.

The meeting with DCMS was positive and we were encouraged by their commitment to try and resolve this issue with the European Commission and agree a clear way forward for the cities involved.

We urged the Department to continue its negotiations with the European Commission on the legitimacy of its latest decision. In particular we wish to highlight that the announcement by the European Commission counters a very recent decision of the European Parliament in June 2017 and of the Council in September 2017 which includes a calendar confirming the UK as the host country in 2023.  In addition we are seeking clarity given that the United Kingdom has not yet left the EU and the terms of that departure are not yet agreed.

We have collectively therefore requested that DCMS takes further advice on the legal status of the announcement as a matter of urgency.

The meeting also allowed us to consider jointly how we ensure the local energy, enthusiasm and work done by our cities and partners to date can be positively harnessed and recognised even if the Commission maintains its position.   This sudden change of heart has the potential to disrupt well over 100 cultural collaborations across the continent which bidding cities have been developing in good faith.

We all recognise the urgent need to reach a conclusion in a timescale that allows us to harness the momentum in our cities.  Therefore intensive and constructive discussions will continue over the coming weeks.

Councillor Deirdre Hargey, chairperson, Belfast City Council Strategic Policy & Resources Commt.

Councillor, John Alexander Leader of the Administration, Dundee City Council

Stewart Murdoch, Chair of the Dundee bid team

Councillor Judith Blake CBE, Leader of Leeds City Council

Sharon Watson, Chair, Leeds2023 Independent Steering Group

Councillor Peter Marland, Leader of Milton Keynes Council

Councillor Jon Collins, Leader of Nottingham City Council

Paul Russ, Chair Nottingham 2023