The WheelWorks story began in 1995 with our founder Gavin O’Connor, who was then working as a Play Development Officer in the childcare department of Voluntary Services Belfast (currently Volunteer Now). Gavin’s job involved working with community organisations to organise training in play development and to create playgrounds and multi-purpose sports areas.
Gavin quickly realised that while there was some sports provision in Greater Belfast, outside of summer schemes, there was very little opportunity for professional artists to work directly in community settings with children and young people. He took that knowledge and combined it with his experience as a Play Development Officer working with the mobile play service to create an innovative new idea — the first mobile youth arts resource in Northern Ireland!
WheelWorks’ first major success was to secure funding for an initial project which delivered a dedicated week long summer arts intervention in six communities in Belfast. This was followed by the Flying Horse Estate in Downpatrick where arts activity was used as a suicide prevention method for young people. This demonstrated the versatility of the arts, which could be used to explore and experiment while also addressing community, social, personal and health issues.
To bring his idea of a purpose built mobile arts vehicle which could combine traditional and digital art forms to life, Gavin travelled to Bristol and worked with the National Playbus Association and Bences and Yeats, one of the best coach builders in the world.
From there, the ArtCart was born. WheelWorks stepped out from under the wing of Voluntary Services Belfast and became independent in 2000. Since then, the organisation has been internationally recognised and won numerous awards for its work with young people.
WheelWorks will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in June 2020 and you’re invited to the party!