Episode 5 reflections on changemakers with Stoke CEP
The Questions & Answers
Firstly, can you introduce yourself?
I'm Kirsty Cotton. I am the owner of creative foundations (creative with a K), who are a creative alternative education provider. And I'm also a core group member of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire cultural education partnership, or Stoke CEP for short, which is led by a group of volunteers from across the arts and education sector all striving to provide high quality art provision for young people and children across Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire. We've also got a huge congregation of artists, educators, and directors in the mission that we're trying to achieve.
What inspired you and your organisation to initiate cultural explorers and activists?
Okay, so for CEP, youth voice has always been at the heart of what we've wanted to do. From those early days of Stoke CEP being developed, and for the partners that were feeding into that, it was always a focal point that all the partners wanted to involve children, young people and have them direct us. Back in 2019, a call out was sent out to partners to lead the strand and as always, with everything that we do at Stoke CEP, quite a few partners came forward. So, like the New Vic Theatre, and in high school, the YMCA, the City Learning Trust, a huge range of partners came together to look at how we how we do this and what we do. Kreative Foundations was the lead on the focal point that's been so integral to what the CEP wanted to do, which just was just an absolute honour.
What kinds of things do you usually do with them?
It’s very much changed, obviously, under what's going on at the moment. Originally, what we were looking at doing was having a core group of young people that we wanted to develop as cultural explorers. And we wanted to sort of get them to explore what art and culture was, and to move away from that generic concept of what it is, so that they could then make informed decisions with regard to the sector, with regards to their future career pathways. Also, so that they could lead the CEP with this wealth of knowledge that they were developing. So, at that stage it was training around what is culture, what is art and culture. They went and they all kick started with an amazing performance at the New Vic Theatre, where they went and saw the Prince and the Pauper. At that early stage you had young people going “I've never really been to a performance before and I've only come because I didn't really know what to expect and it was something to do.” And so even at that early stage, we knew that there was need for it and then we took them back to the theatre, and took them for that backstage sort of element of how it's developed. They had career talks, they went for backstage tours and, and then we did some training with them around what is a Cultural Explorer, and then obviously COVID hit. It was a bit like - what are we going to do? We need this project to continue, because it was supposed to be a really interactive project where they were going to go in different venues across the city and nationally. We then created what was called the Creative Youth Voice Challenge Packs, which had digital experiences in there. It had videos from local artists so that they could try out a range of art skills, and activities for them to be creative reporters. We've done things during COVID and the online world where they've taken over the CEP conference. So, we had young people lead the end of our conferences. They came up with questions that they wanted to ask arts and education professionals. And they actually led activities during the conference as well. And it was just stunning, what they created. And then we also delivered what was called the Creative Youth Voice Future Hopes workshop, and the result was, we created a video of what these young people have to say about their future hopes for the sector which was really, really hard hitting. but now moving forward, we're wanting to move away from that whole concept of cultural explorers, and we want to move them on to becoming creative activists where they are going to make that change, and they are going to take ownership of it. We’re having training again, for meetings, and hopefully, we can take them back to face-to-face things as well.
How have your goals changed to adapt to the limitations of the pandemic?
You know what? The limitations of COVID have actually made the vision bigger in some respects, because we've been able to do things that we probably wouldn't have done before that we wouldn't have even considered. And ultimately, it's pushed our creative thinking to drive it in a different direction. So yeah, it's been rubbish, obviously. But I think it has made the vision become better in some respects.
What are the most surprising things that have come out of the workshops that you've conducted with the kids?
So, I have worked with children and young people since I can remember. And but you know what, they still continue to absolutely astound me. The future hopes video that I've sort of just mentioned, that was a two-hour workshop. And, and it was just us asking questions about what their future hopes were for the sector. And obviously, at the time, there was a lot going on around the sector, and it reducing and obviously, it still is, and but what they had to say about that was so hard hitting and you know what, they aren't blaming anything. There's no blame within the video. It's very factual and it's their experiences. Each and every time - even though I've put the video together - I can't watch the video without crying. Because what they've got to say is so, so powerful, and they recognise that the journey that they're going to go on is going to be difficult but then they share the difficulties that they've already had as well. And but aside from that, in terms of our young people, I think of all the young people through the creative youth voices project, their commitment and drive is something that is massively inspiring. In the forum meetings, and we've obviously had to go through the process of getting consent forms and everything underway. And but they've been the ones going, come on miss we need to get going if we want to do something. Normally, we were doing it in school time. So, prior to COVID, we were doing it in school time but obviously with the bubble situation, it’s been very difficult. They said let’s do after school or at home, and they were the ones driving that. So, they're absolutely bursting the bubble in terms of the stereotype of young people, because they are committed, they are driven. They've got ideas, and they want to make that change.
Can you give me any examples of changes your young changemakers have decided they want to make?
Going back to that Future Hopes video, within that, they identify things that need to change, so, they said that about arts and culture being fed into education much earlier. So, we're looking at eventually developing a primary workshop with our young people, they're going to develop the workshop, and hopefully deliver it. But that's sort of way off in the distance. At moment, our forum meetings are relatively new. Obviously, we've met these young people many times, but these monthly forum meetings are relative, and they are currently taking ownership of that. So, what that is going to be about and what they want to focus on. And even at that early stage, they've started feeding into really core strands of Stoke CEP. So, our career strand, for example. As a CEP, we were sort of exploring “how do we hold some sort of careers week?”, which the CEP have been doing for quite some time but how do we do it under the current circumstances. And we were sort of discussing video, so we had that discussion with our creative activists, and they said “we don't want videos, we want people coming in.” Okay then. So that surprised us. And there was a bit of a distrust with regards to videos. And it was like, we recognise that someone's filming themselves over and over and over again so it's really professional. And we don't want that, we want to put someone on the spot and ask them questions and get that feedback. So yeah, they're starting to feed into core strands and how we deliver it and we're looking at them developing their own conference, either at the back end of this year or next year.
Also, partners are always coming to us about different activities. So, they'll be involved in different partner activities as well. So yeah, we're sort of discovering where it's going at the moment.
What has been the most challenging thing about the work that you've done with young people?
You know what? The challenges aren’t actually related to the young people at all the challenges everything around that. So funding is obviously always difficult to deliver these projects. Stoke CEP is predominantly led by volunteers and to deliver this project we've had some small parts of funding, and we've had some donations been delivered on volunteer time.
The other thing is checking yourself. So, what I mean by that is, even if you've worked with children and young people forever, you might develop an idea of what you think they want. But actually, when you ask them that question, become really surprised and it be completely different. So, yeah, it's making sure that you're holding back and letting them drive it and not influencing, which you naturally sometimes want to do, but it’s about their voice, and that's what matters.
How do you ensure that you're reaching out to as many young people as possible, who are going to benefit from being involved?
We've had this core group from the start which had 24 young people. That group has reduced slightly because of obviously everything that's going on. And because we started the programme with years 6-9 students and those year-6 students dispersed during COVID. So, it's been it's been difficult to contact them. We've got this core group of young people now, who are sort of year-7, all the way up to year 11, I want to say, but then we're also doing outreach activities and that's something we're moving forward with at the moment. So, in Stoke-on-Trent there are a lot of arts education providers who are delivering some amazing youth work in groups across the city. So, we thought rather than reinventing the wheel, we would have out-reach activities with those and work together collaboratively with them. And also, within the area, we've had a new network that's formed of about 70-odd partners, who take a collaborative approach and through that we are working with those partners to develop youth voice.
What is next on the horizon for your young people? Your young activists, creative activists, young explorers - what are your upcoming goals?
That they continue to feed into the CEP and our core strands. Making sure we're checking ourselves and, and that we're delivering what they actually want us to deliver. We are moving forward, hopefully, with the creative activists and training, and them leading partner activities across the city, and them developing their own projects with our support.
In your opinion, why do you think it's important for organisations to make space for voices and ideas of young people and young changemakers?
Because ultimately, they are the next generation of changemakers. I think, as organisations we can sometimes overthink how to work with children and young people, because obviously the fear of risk assessment, consent form, things like that. But my advice is just: go for it because once you start gaining their voice, the scary things actually aren't as complicated as you thought they might be. And those young people will come up with solutions as well and ultimately, it's all massively rewarding. And the whole point is that we're trying to provide opportunities to children and young people, but if we don't ask, then we don't actually know what they want.
Where do we find you online?
If you go over to our resource page you can find the information there of some of the resources that we've been providing. Also, if you go to the news page you can find the Future Hopes video.
If anyone would like to connect with me directly, on how we can together develop youth voice further, please feel free to contact me direct so that's
or you can contact Stoke CEP, which is