One to One Development Trust: Where health and heritage meet digital innovation and cutting-edge creativity

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In this interview, we catch up with Judi Alston, CEO and Creative Director of One to One Development Trust – an award-winning digital media arts organisation based in Wakefield. We find out more about One to One’s story so far, get Judi’s take on what the future holds for the video games industry, and steal a sneak peek into the future of the ambitious organisation. As recent participants of our Advance programme, we also find out how the programme has shaped One to One’s journey and what doors have been opened to the organisation as a result.

Can you give us a quick summary of One to One’s business journey so far?

Judi: One to One started its life in 1989 when I graduated from Bretton Hall College. It was originally a film production company inspired to tell stories from the coalfields, documenting the destruction of the coal industry and huge changes that local communities went through. In 2000, I met Andy Campbell and we began to embrace digital media in a broader sense.

Dreaming Methods, a digital fiction project that Andy founded in the late 1990s, became our ‘in-house game development studio’. It was a place where we could collaborate and work with other artists on more experimental work. By 2003 the organisation’s work was expanding and we were doing more international projects, so we set up a charity. In 2011 we decided to merge the production company into the charity and have one entity – One to One Development Trust.

What do you love about the creative scene in Wakefield?

Judi: The creative scene in Wakefield is so exciting and vibrant. There are many artists working across all disciplines. I think the Hepworth was a bold kick-starter for confidence in Wakefield, but other organisations like Westgate Studios and The Art House have also helped. It feels like there has been an organic growth in culture, particularly grassroots and DIY, like the increasing success of Long Division Festival. The Council have done well in recent years in embracing the benefit of the arts through health and wellbeing initiatives, as well as supporting heritage and tourism.

Where Wakefield has struggled is in embracing its geographical diversity and often being seen as city-centric. It has also found it hard to truly celebrate its success – but this is changing.

How has the past 18 months impacted your approach to creativity?

Judi: We have been busy during COVID. As a charity, One to One Development Trust has been supporting community groups and running online workshops. We’ve focused on two areas – health and wellbeing (running online arts projects for children and young people) and heritage (working with organisations to create bespoke virtual galleries and museums). It has been a hugely creative time for us. We also invested in drone equipment and some new film kit to strengthen our film production offer.

What made you want to get involved with the Advance programme?

Judi: We knew that the organisation needed some evaluation on where it was at and would benefit from some support and advice from external people. We are running a game project called ‘Our Earth Your Choice’ so we knew mentors from the games industry would help give us some useful advice and perspectives.

What are you currently working on the back of Advance?

Judi: Advance was one of the influences on our decision to turn Dreaming Methods into a standalone studio. As previously mentioned, our focus was to assess One to One Development Trust’s work and vision, and to look at ways to strengthen it. It became apparent that One to One and Dreaming Methods were essentially two separate entities which had the potential to better thrive with a clearer division.

Dreaming Methods as a standalone studio creates, consults, and collaborates on immersive games and digital experiences with a strong focus on reading and literacy. Many of its projects have won awards across different sectors and industries, including electronic literature, publishing, primary and secondary education, as well as within the games industry.

Advance has helped us think more clearly and objectively about our direction, both professionally and personally. It has given us time out (which is rare) to explore new potentials and opportunities. We’ve met some great people through it and some of the workshops we’ve attended have been excellent.

What do you think the future holds for the video games industry?

Judi: It’s likely to get much more diverse in the future – the edges where games ‘end’ and other art forms begin is already fading. We’re seeing digital tools and techniques that started out in the games industry being adopted and explored by many other sectors and industries which is fascinating – especially since, as an organisation, we have such a diverse range of clients. For example, we now use Unity which we previously used only to make games to develop interactive stories, virtual museums, digital installations, and advanced website applications across our entire digital offer.

What are your aspirations for the future of One to One Development Trust?

Judi: We’re always creating new and exciting work within communities. We are committed to helping combat the digital divide and supporting people in their creative journeys. We are focusing a lot on projects that merge our teams’ skills as filmmakers, digital artists and producers, and developers, so this means we’re likely to be creating work that includes a striking fusion of different digital elements.

Our vision for Dreaming Methods is to work as consultants on cutting-edge narrative-driven experiences, whilst developing our own ambitious titles. That vision is already underway, and we’re excited about what we have lined up for the future.

One to One Development Trust received bespoke mentoring from a variety of games mentors recommended by Creative England. If you’re based in Wakefield and you would like support in starting, developing or scaling a creative business, get in touch to find out how the Advance programme can be of help.

Brought to you by Creative England, Advance is delivered in partnership with Wakefield Council and funded by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Cultural Development Fund grant, which is administered by Arts Council England.