School for the Creative and Cultural Industries


Creative Careers: Connecting with your communities

28 June 2024

We invited Creative Producer and Engagement Manager Liza Fletcher to share her experiences and deliver a masterclass on developing a meaningful, community-engaged approach to creative and media practice.

5 students sat around a table talking with each other and speaker Liza Fletcher with a screen behind them showing a slide saying 'Pitch your project'

A mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students from the School for Creative and Cultural Industries met with Liza to discuss their creative projects, which ranged from producing a play, to writing and directing an experimental film on family trauma, to editing a coming-of-age LGBTQ+ fictional film.

As well as sharing learning from her own film projects, Liza led interactive group sessions with our students on how to develop a community engagement plan to enrich the quality and relevance of their creative work.  

A career in community engagement 

Trained as a visual anthropologist, Liza spent the early part of her career in the television industry, working for channels like ITV and MTV, and on projects aiming to improve disability representation such as the London Paralympics 2012. 

In 2021, Liza decided to combine her professional and academic experience to focus on documentary filmmaking, ethnography and community collaboration. This was a strategic move to build on her work at E17 Films & Emerging Talent CIC, which she co-founded in 2010. This included the annual Walthamstow International Film Festival and Future Film Focus, two volunteer-powered initiatives, aiming to platform emerging young talent in Waltham Forest and boost local employment in the creative industries.

Liza continues to work on the ground with local communities to create documentaries and immersive stories, from a series of short films made on smartphones during Covid, to a podcast series on memory with the residents of the local Avenue Road Estate.

Community engagement and partnerships have always been central to Liza’s creative practice, supporting her to develop meaningful and inclusive work that resonates with diverse communities. 

Creativity is about Community

Liza says: “Creativity is not always about having access to the best, most expensive equipment. It’s about community and who you work with”.

Photo: E17 Films

For the second part of the Masterclass, students were split into groups for an interactive session on developing a community engagement plan. Liza suggested some key considerations to help them along the way:

Who is your ‘community?
Think about who you want to work with – by their experiences, locations, interests and concerns.

What will you do to make your community engagement project meaningful and stand out?
Consider how people like to engage. For example, digital versus non-digital mediums. Visually through art or film, through reading news, or through listening to podcasts and music. In the case of a film, you can experiment with different mediums. For example, found footage, non-linear narratives, or using sound in different ways to make your audience feel - it’s not all about dialogues. 

Consider your style and tone of voice. 
Is your voice active or passive? How can you connect with your community on an emotional level? 

Are there gaps in who you are reaching?
It’s easy to work with partners who are more willing to work with you, but it’s important to be intentional in reaching different communities. For instance, people who don’t normally participate with universities or in arts spaces. 

Are you considering ethics and sensitivities?
People in your community may be going through health or legal issues. They may have experienced difficult change, death or loss. Are you listening to them? How are you building consent and an ethical framework into your plan, and are you talking to the right people to make sure you get this right?

How are you assessing the quality of your engagement and documenting legacy?
Make sure you are checking in with your communities regularly, capturing feedback, and adapting your plan in response to this.

The students were able to use these questions to start developing community engagement plans for their creative projects, and pitch them to Liza for feedback. However, Liza reminds them that the most important thing will always be going out and talking to people, and taking the time to build relationships:

“You can have a brilliant engagement plan, but sometimes you just need to take your camera into the community and talk to them, and the story will come to you. You don’t decide the story alone, community drives it.”

Liza’s top tips for a community-engaged approach to creative projects

  • Everything is a lesson. Everything you’ve done before, what worked, and what didn’t is an important lesson and helps you find out what matters most to you and your communities.
  • Use your networks and keep in contact with the people you have worked with previously. It’s always good to have people who understand what it’s like to make a film, edit a podcast, direct a play – you need that sounding board.
  • Get out there! The more experiences you get, whether this is temping, volunteering or freelance work, the more you will develop your skills and portfolio. 
  • Make it personal. In my experience, being professional and ethical is important but being kind and empathetic is even more so and will make your work stronger.
  • Take your time. Building meaningful, sustainable relationships takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. 

Liza Fletcher is a creative producer and community engagement manager as well as the co-founder of E17 Films & Emerging Talent CIC and The Walthamstow International Film Festival

This masterclass is part of our Creative Careers series with UCL Careers, which aims to highlight different career pathways and employment options through talks and learning from inspiring speakers and leaders in the creative and cultural industries.