Adapting to the ‘new normal’ in 2020 and beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted charities across the world, each forced to adapt and innovate in their own way. Aliyah Zaidi speaks to Delight, Paintbox and Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village, to find out how, together, they navigated the new challenges.

When lockdown forced schools to close in March 2020 it posed an immediate threat to the education and wellbeing of children, the impact of which is only being truly understood now.

At the time the pandemic took hold, Delight was delivering arts education programmes in schools across Surrey, all of which had to stop with lockdown. Determined to respond to the challenge, Delight set about exploring new ways to deliver their programmes to support children, their families and schools through these difficult times.

“Thank you for making it all happen. It’s more than a glimmer of joy, it’s a bright shining light and will make so many children happy.”

Head Teacher, Surrey Primary School

Responding to COVID-19

In July 2020, Delight launched two COVID-19 emergency response programmes, Bags and Boxes of Delight.

Bags of Delight delivered 6,000 books directly to the homes of children in partnership with 17 primary schools, while Boxes of Books supported 6 schools in distributing 4,742 books to 1,654 children before they closed their doors. Box of Delight, created in partnership with Paintbox, delivered 2000 boxes, each containing four art activities for children to work through independently at home. The children’s final ‘Box of Delight’ creations – a collection of beautiful, individually decorated 3D birds – were assembled in ‘Swoop’, a special celebratory installation at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village.

Aliyah Zaidi: “What did you do when Covid-19 hit?

Kathryn Mills, CEO Delight: “The long-established partnership we have with schools and our arts partners Paintbox and Watts Gallery – Artists’ – Village enabled us to respond quickly. It was all quite organic and involved a lot of back and forth on ideas. We knew we wanted to keep the ethos of our intensive programmes meaning that anything created had to include a ‘wow’ element, progressive learning outcomes, artistic learning, and some gentle academic learning throughout and a sharing opportunity.”

Aliyah: “How was Box of Delight developed and delivered?”

Hannah Maiya-Mills, Paintbox: “After realising the severity of the situation, our thoughts turned to how worrying it must be for children. We wanted to create something positive and fun to keep them occupied and engaged in their education. It also had to provide everything they could possibly need; we didn’t assume that the children had art materials of their own at home.

After realising the severity of the situation, our thoughts turned to how worrying it must be for children.


We felt it was important to give clear, understandable instructions, so that every child, regardless of their age or ability, would be able to access the activities. A child may have been in a situation where their parents or carers were working, and so we needed to ensure that they could complete it on their own.”

Kathryn: “The Delight team worked incredibly hard and are really committed to making sure we could reach children and families. The teaching staff really supported the outreach element, getting the boxes out to the families at home. We have an incredible collective of arts companies we work with as well as freelance artists and it is the creative and agile mind of these organisations that enabled both our Boxes and Bags of Delight to be possible at all.”

Celebrating the Children’s Art at Watts Gallery – Artists’ Village

Aliyah: “How did the ‘Swoop’ exhibition come about?”

Sarah Jarvis, Watts Gallery – Artists’s Village: There is a connection with birds, in that we have artwork of birds in the gallery. George Fredric Watts and Mary Watts, artists and founders of Watts Gallery, both had a love for nature and birds. For Box of Delight we made resource sheets introducing the gallery and the artwork in the gallery. We also helped to design an activity which would involve the children in creating something that they could contribute to the gallery through the Swoop exhibition.”

“I liked all of the delight because it takes my mind off everything thats going on and makes me happy.”

Participating Child

Hannah: “All the work we did to create the Boxes of Delight and get them to children happened when the gallery was closed due to covid. It lined up really nicely, so that when the school term finished in July the gallery had just reopened, and we could exhibit the children’s birds.

Our hope was that the children visit the gallery with their family and find their bird in the exhibition. To make this easy for families, each Box of Delight included a ‘golden ticket’ – although access to the gallery is free for all children, adults are required to purchase a ticket. The golden ticket enabled one adult to visit the gallery free of charge.”

Swoop Exhibition 2020

Shaping Delight’s Future

Aliyah: “How did the emergency response programmes shape Delight’s current programmes?”

Kathryn: “Our 2020-21 Bubbles of Delight programmes are a combination of everything we’ve learnt through lockdown and everything we learnt previously from our intensive programmes.

“These programme involves children enjoying a ‘wow’ experience in school, either a filmed play, dance performance or gallery tour, followed by creative sessions with dancers, actors, or visual artists, which can be delivered either in school or remotely as the situation requires. At the end of each programme the children can share their experience by filming or photographing their final artwork or performance.

“None of what we achieved would have been possible without the rapid support of many dedicated and passionate volunteers, sponsors, partners, and funders, who worked together to deliver solutions to what seemed an insurmountable situation. And for that we are extremely grateful.”

There is no doubt that this has been a tough year for charities and art education providers across the country, but what Delight, with their arts partners and schools, have achieved throughout the crisis proves that working together they can continue to make a positive impact on the lives of children within the framework of the ‘new normal’.

Read the evaluation reports for Box of Delight and Bags of Delight.

Contact Delight to find out more about Bubbles of Delight.

Thanks to Aliyah Zaidi, who is currently volunteering with Delight’s Communications team.

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