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Cardiff's Hill recognised by National Lottery for trailblazing work with Welsh National Opera

·6-min read
Jennifer is responsible for WNO's ‘Cradle’, an intergenerational creative arts project which seeks to combat perceptions around dementia
Jennifer is responsible for WNO's ‘Cradle’, an intergenerational creative arts project which seeks to combat perceptions around dementia

A Cardiff resident will appear in a unique photography exhibition, after being recognised by The National Lottery for her dedication and devotion to keeping the arts alive and accessible for all during the pandemic.

Jennifer Hill, 53, is a producer in the programmes and engagement department at Welsh National Opera (WNO). She previously worked in the WNO press office and established a long-term association with the company.

The digital exhibition marks the first time in history that eight of the UK’s most iconic art galleries - including The National Museum Wales, Tŷ Pawb in Wrexham and the Ruthin Craft Centre, in Ruthin, London’s National Portrait Gallery, and The MAC in Belfast and the British Film Institute (BFI) - have come together in this way.

The collection, titled ‘The National Lottery’s 2020 Portraits of the People’ celebrates the remarkable individuals, including Jennifer, who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to bring creativity, enjoyment and enrichment to people in new ways.

Thirteen powerful and poignant portraits have been created by Chris Floyd, who normally photographs celebrities such as Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Mo Farah and Victoria Beckham.

The exhibition was born out of insights from The National Lottery - whose players raise £30m each week for good causes - which indicate a ‘domestic renaissance’ in people enjoying the arts at home. Almost two thirds (61%) of UK adults said it helped their state of mind during the crisis, and almost half (47%) of Welsh people believing the positive impacts on their wellbeing would be long-lasting.

Hill's portrait will be one of 13 created by leading photographer Christopher Floyd
Hill's portrait will be one of 13 created by leading photographer Christopher Floyd

“I’ve dipped in and out of the company for years – I started off in the press office and have gone from there really.” said Jennifer.

“My job now involves working beyond the main scale stuff - we have a massive range of programmes from working with schools, to specific community groups.

“I’ve been dealing with people who are living with dementia, and we do digital work with refugee groups.

“We’re devising projects and they’re all generally around singing and are linked into what the company does more broadly.

“It’s just an amazing national opera company – it’s really nice to see the good music can do for people generally.”

Jennifer is blazing a trail for combating perceptions around dementia and is responsible for ‘Cradle’, an intergenerational creative arts project whose key aim is to create greater awareness of what it means to live with the disease.

And through the power of the arts and music, Jennifer is striving to show how every individual can contribute to the creation of a more understanding and supportive society.

The project consists of weekly Dementia Choir rehearsals, made up of people with dementia and their friends, family members, carers and volunteers.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck it looked as though the ‘Cradle’ project would be forced to close, but through Jennifer’s determination and innovation, a pivot towards virtual sessions kept the campaign running and made sure it continued to thrive.

“When lockdown started we thought ‘that’s the end of that now’, but I just started wondering if Zoom was worth a go, to see if we could do anything,” added Jennifer.

“There were massive challenges – the majority of the people in the room are 50 or older, and a lot of them aren’t IT literate and don’t even have a computer, or the internet or a phone.

“I just thought – right, we’ll give this a go and see what happens - and it’s now a lovely online community. I think anybody would agree that with these online things the real joy is at the beginning of the session, there are loads of people seeing each other on a screen and having a chat.

“I think it’s quite nice to have something in your diary to look forward to, and that’s certainly the feedback we’re getting. They can’t always come but they’re popping up pretty regularly, sometimes every week. We’ll just carry on that for now, and hopefully we can get back in a room together!

“Then the idea will be that because we’ve got the technology, we could do possibly a live session. But also have it on Zoom at the same time, so that the people who can’t come along still have the option of linking in.”

National Lottery players raise £30 million a week to good causes around the country, funding thousands of projects that make a huge difference to people’s wellbeing.

“I think to deliver the project in its entirety, the Lottery funding was really important,” said Jennifer.

“Once you don’t have quite so much then you’re making choices about what you do or what’s the priority, but having that in the mix has definitely helped us deliver the full thing, which is great.

“Our National Lottery award was quite out of the blue. I find it all quite embarrassing because I think there’s amazing work that’s going on everywhere.

“None of these things happen in isolation and it’s always a great big team making it possible. It just feels good that, in a very, very tiny way, maybe you can make something just a little bit better through having that personal experience yourself, so it’s great."

The digital exhibition in which Jennifer’s portrait features can be visited on the websites and social media of: The National Portrait Gallery, The National Museum of Wales, The MAC in Belfast, IKON Gallery in Birmingham, Summerhall in Edinburgh, Ty Pawb, Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales, The Photographers’ Gallery in London and The British Film Institute. The portraits will also be on display at BFI Southbank in London.

Photographer Chris Floyd added: “The journey to capture these artists of all varieties was an incredibly humbling one. I wanted to do justice to the ongoing and selfless efforts of these creatives and creators who have taken their skills within the arts and built accessible resources for those who needed it most. It feels like a small thank you in comparison to what they’ve done for their local communities and for the arts sector as whole.”

Nick Capaldi, the CEO of Arts Council Wales, said: “People in the UK have a great love of creativity, art and culture. We know these things can bring us together, enrich our lives, support our emotional wellbeing, and make us happier. Throughout lockdown we've seen that in villages, towns and cities, people have continued to participate and enjoy the arts whether that's at home, digitally, or through socially distanced activities within their communities.”

The works aim to create a ‘moment in history’, preserving the work of these unheralded champions for posterity and encapsulating the varied and innovative ways art can be expressed.