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Craftivist Automata Project


Automata on the Pier is the third major project for the Craftivist Network, a group of community organisations that support vulnerable adults including people with learning disabilities, people suffering from poor mental health and people with complex needs. The group was started four years ago by Hastings Furniture Service and Culture Shift to find ways for organisations to collaborate and connect their members with mainstream arts and culture. This project was devised by Culture Shift working in partnership with internationally renowned Cabaret Mechanical Theatre Collection and Hastings Pier.

Automata on the Pier created opportunities for seven organisations to be part of the Automata project. 60 people were involved in making work for the exhibition, with a further 35 involved in the Automata Fest community event.

The seven organisations involved were:

  • Active Arts
  • Autism Sussex at the Roebuck Centre
  • Boathouse Theatre
  • Open Door, Hastings & Bexhill MENCAP
  • Parchment Trust
  • Seaview
  • Southdown’s Wellbeing Centre in Bexhill (previously 73A)

What happened?

The Automata making project started in December with a masterclass from Stephen Guy at Cabaret Mechanical Theatre for group leaders and project artists Keith Adams, Peter Quinnell, and Janey Moffatt. This created the momentum to start working on Automata for the exhibition. Groups that wanted support were able to work with one of the project artists. Active Arts chose to work on a dance performance with their regular dance tutor, dance artist Yumino Seki, which was filmed by the film group at Autism Sussex and presented in the exhibition.

The work from the Craftivist Network was installed in the exhibition amongst the work from the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre collection.

A special community launch provided a day time opening that many members attended, with the Mayor of Hastings opening the exhibition. The Automata Fest provided another moment to celebrate the work of the community groups, with an afternoon of performances and workshops. Boathouse Theatre devised an outdoor performance of human automata, the Seaview choir performed as well as The Ctrl, a young rock band supported by Autism Sussex.

Over the four-week period of the exhibition, there were in excess of 20,000 visits to the exhibition, with a significant number of repeat visits. The automata delighted people and news of the exhibition spread swiftly through word of mouth and significant media coverage. The involvement of the Craftivist groups was a talking point in the exhibition and appreciated by many visitors.

As one of the duty managers on the pier reflected:

The feedback was always positive, people felt it was exactly the right thing to have on the pier and a really good use of the space…The tie-in with the community workshops interested people, they liked that various community groups had the chance to make their own automata and be included in the exhibition.


I spoke to some group members and staff from Mencap Open Door and Southdown Wellbeing when they visited and they had found the group workshops a very positive experience, the group members were very proud of their part in the finished work and the group leaders could see the confidence and pride it gave them to have taken part.



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Benefit for participants

  • Being part of a hi-profile exhibition: All of the groups cited how amazing it was to be involved in such a high profile exhibition in a landmark building attracting in excess of 20,000 visitors.


  • Making automata: This was engaging and rewarding for participants, involving challenging degrees problem solving and thinking.


As one group leader reflected:

Most members felt quite challenged and somewhat anxious about being able to master the technical skills required for this project. But all agreed that the end result made it worth the effort.

  • Connecting with heritage: With Hastings as a theme, almost all the pieces made for the exhibition involved looking at Hastings heritage.


We loved the visit to the Pier to find out about it and it gave us all lots of ideas of how we wanted to move.

Active Arts

  • Inclusion: Being part of larger community arts project and exhibition was significant for many participants.


Working with outside groups and an artist, and feeling the experience of being part of a community event… and performing on the pier, they loved that!

Boathouse Theatre Arts


Service users took their families to see the exhibition, they would never have accessed something like that otherwise. The fact it was free allowed people to go again and again.


  • Wellbeing: For many participants, the project impacted positively on their wellbeing.


It’s about not giving up. It was therapeutic in a way, it kept us well. We missed doing it this week now it’s over.

Southdown Wellbeing Centre


This project helped us learn how to be in different situations, how to develop social skills, how to be aware of the bigger picture, and solve all the problems around what we are doing.

Autism Sussex

  • Collaboration and connections: The opportunities to collaborate between groups, and with artists, was a significant part of the project.


It has been an absolute privilege to be part of this project.  Having the masterclass prior to starting the work was an excellent idea. It gave a real insight into the work and how to set up the project with our groups. Incredible work has been produced despite not having full funding for the project. Thank you to everyone involved in setting up and running the project. It has been a brilliant success.

Active Arts

This has been one of the most difficult and most rewarding projects we’ve ever embarked on.

Southdown Wellbeing Centre

This project was kindly supported by Foreshore Trust and Rother District Council.