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Youth Voice for Social Change

Ensuring that the voices of the least heard have meaning and impact

  • Visual Arts
  • Theatre & Performance
  • Culture & Heritage
  • Film & Media

We visit Coventry, Southampton and Manchester to explore how youth voices from marginalised or ‘least heard’ communities are given power.

Hear from Positive Youth Foundation, In Focus, and The Lowry and LUNG theatre about the work they do with young people in challenging circumstances – such as young carers, or those involved in the criminal justice system –  to give them agency over how they are represented in society, and what support is offered (and needed) to help them integrate with it.

Positive Youth Foundation

Selasi: This whole journey of creating an exhibition for City of Culture, as well as CVX, it's been awesome because it started as just an idea, a suggestion. Now it's a reality.

My motivation for getting involved in this art exhibition, is my love for artwork, my love for culture, my love for photography and seeing my work being exhibited is – it's awesome. It's amazing. And that's what pushes me to do more with the culture, spirituality of people.

I've got a few exhibitions called The Ga Mashie, which kind of tell a story of the people of the South in Ghana. The Ghans. And it's all about telling a story of how the hunger was ended among them (sic), how they had to migrate.

A lot of people didn't know a lot about Ghana. A lot of people don't know a lot of culture. A lot of people just know what their parents tell them or what they learn in school. But my kind of artwork was to educate everyone about all kinds of culture. And it does it. That's how my people value my artwork.

I'll say to young people, experiment, explore, and also get close to youth organisations or people who are also into the area of arts you are in.

So I'll say with Positive Youth Foundation, it was a programme called Changing Trax, which is basically for arts, music, dance, acting, story writing.

So get involved in communities which do what you like.

So my kind of advice to organisations who are hoping to help young people in the art industry is, we need to partnership (sic) with youth organisations which work with young people, like; schools, youth centres, church, mosques, community centres.

Partnership with them because they know the young people better. It makes it way easier for young people to open up to them, for young people to kind of explore more, for young people to feel free to talk to them.

For young people to also explore and also pursue a career in the arts industry. Because I feel like a lot of young people are so talented and creative, but because they are not given the opportunity to explore, it's quite difficult for them to do that.

I got a free course online with The Prince's Trust of a photography course, with a base of photography. And also the youth organisation Positive Youth Foundation supporting (sic) me and got me a camera.

So if you've got organisations doing the same, creating free courses, giving out equipment, softwares for young people, I think there's not going to be a problem and it's just going to push our culture and creativity forward.

Southampton Youth Offending Service

Faye: Hi I'm Faye and I'm a visual artist. I'm also an artist educator for In Focus.

So I run creative art sessions with young people, mainly focusing on photography but also creative writing and other visual art forms as well.

I work with a range of young people across Hampshire, including vulnerable and those most at risk. I work with looked after children. I work with special educational needs. I also deliver in pupil referral units and alternative provisions.

I think it's incredibly important to provide arts based groups for the young people across Hampshire because it gives them a form of expression that they might not have been able to access before.

I think engaging with a wide range of art forms really helps to broaden young people's horizons. I believe providing creative workshops for young people will help improve self-confidence and self-worth.

I feel that when young people are listened to, they're more willing to engage with forms of art or in creative practice. I love when young people are able to share their ideas with me, and then that can inform their Arts Award, the subject matter, and maybe potentially even a cause that they're interested in or an art form.

I think it really helps for them to engage with what we're doing.

Xavier: My name is Xavier. I'm the director of In Focus Education and Development CIC.

So our work is really varied it's quite broad ranged, but we do deliver creative workshops for at risk and vulnerable young people across Southampton and Hampshire, and we try and get to the most hard to reach groups across that sort of sector.

And for the work we do it's really important. There's a lot of evidence that suggests that creative workshops create a really good foundation for people to express themselves and for young people to actually look inside themselves and make sure they're producing some fantastic work, but also engaging in some really good pro-social activities.

We've really, really strived to make sure that student voice and pupil voice is embedded in every single one of our creative workshops and we make sure that we're always listening to young people and making sure that they always, always have their opinions heard within these sessions that we do and the project as a whole.

As such, we make sure that they are included in all our steering meetings, and we have a lot of opportunities for them to do something that's new to them, but also that is in their interest as well.

We have found that a lot of the young people are becoming a lot more self-confident. They're finding a lot more pride within their work and they're also doing a lot of new things that they haven't had the opportunity to do before. So it means that they get more excited about the work that they create. And they also at the end of the day, they can show off what they're doing and they can put a lot of energy into doing something that is really creative, and they can show that off to their friends and family.

All of our sessions for our young people is centred around providing a safe and welcoming space for them to engage in creative activity and perhaps do something that they haven't had the opportunity to do before because of their backgrounds or even just the stigma that the arts have in this environment.

The Lowry/Lung Theatre

Jenny: We haven't done a project like Who Cares before. Who Cares was the first opportunity to co-create with our amazing partners and young people in a way that meant we could really amplify the voices of young carers.

Matt: A group of four incredible young carers –Kerry, Antonia-Rae, Ciaron and Paige – came to a classroom at The Lowry and we were like, “We'd love to make a verbatim play about your experiences of being a young carer.” And they're amazing and they took up the challenge and they said, “Yes.”

Jenny: Yeah, we've done lots of creative projects with young people before, but they really wanted to work with professional artists to take Who Cares to the next level. And it really did that. So I think, you know the stats Matt, but it went as far as the House of Lords to campaign and lobby for change for young carers.

Matt: What was really incredible about the programme work here at The Lowry, and what we do at LUNG, is that we wanted to make sure that they had an oversight over every single aspect of the production, which is something that as a director and writer I'd never done before. So they're involved in casting, like their favourite songs were in the show, like costume design, set design, like everything. And I think it was an incredible process for us because those young people oversaw like all of the elements, it made it quite exciting.

Jenny: Yeah, really exciting, but also loads of learning for us as an organisation and as practitioners, just to really understand, I guess how much time that takes and how important it is to make sure that people have the space to think about those things and that you're communicating them in the right way, that people understand what you're asking of them.

Matt: I think what's been amazing about this play, and having like supporters like Curious Minds has just been so incredible for us, is that it's opened so many doors and it's meant that so many offshoots have kind of been sprung through the project and you've already kind of brilliantly said it Jenny, but as a direct result of seeing the play, I think over 200 young people who did not know they were a young carer have gone, “oh my gosh, that’s my life, that’s my story,” and have since like been identified and then been referred to services for further support. And I think it's why in this journey it's just been so amazing to see the tangible impact that like the arts can have as a vehicle for social change as well.

Jenny: Yeah, I definitely think it being a live performance piece was really important. Young people really responded to that, as did teachers and schools, and other organisations.

I just think that the impact of sitting there with such hard hitting stories and knowing that they've come from real young people and real young carers lives, you just can't escape it. And it's everybody that goes to see it comes away feeling inspired to want to make change and to– whether that's just in themselves in terms of helping other young people or being aware about how they can support as a friend or whether it's as a school or a teacher. It's just so impactful and empowering I guess, and challenges people to want to make change.

Matt: Art is a really powerful thing because sometimes it can articulate things that you might not be able to do in a PowerPoint or a lesson plan or, like, in a speech. And I think the thing that always comes that every single element of this project has always come back to is the power of those young people's words. And the power of their story as well.

But I think like at the heart of it it's so many partners sit around that and, like, I'm sure that so many people who've engaged with it, whether it's professionals, or unidentified young carers or like people who aren't young carers in schools and just want to be like an ally to their mate – it's had a ripple, and like at the heart of that is a power of the story of those young people and their bravery in speaking out.

Positive Youth Foundation

Positive Youth Foundation is a partner to the Coventry CEP, and works to raise the aspirations of young people aged 8-25 who are experiencing challenges. PYF has previously consulted young people to inform CEP programming, and input on the City of Culture programme.

You can hear what they have to say from 00:05 in the video

In Focus Education & Development CIC

In Focus provides the South of England with extra-curricular arts-based learning to at-risk and vulnerable young people. They work with local authorities to implement projects that support, amongst other things, crime prevention, restorative justice, youth diversion and pro-social behaviour models. They have been awarded Gold Artsmark, and have embedded Arts Award into their offer service. The delivery is also directly informed by the young people through a steering group. 

You can hear what they have to say from 03.11 in the video

The Lowry / Lung Theatre

The Lowry, Manchester, has a long-term relationship with LUNG and Salford Young Carers, which led to the creation of the verbatim theatre piece ‘Who Cares’. Led by the young people, it has toured nationally, and even been performed at the House of Lords. 

Founded in Barnsley in 2012, LUNG is a campaign led verbatim theatre company that tours work nationally. They work closely with different communities to make verbatim theatre and hidden voices heard. LUNG creates work that shines a light on political, social and economic issues in modern Britain, using people’s actual words to tell their stories. 

You can hear what they have to say from 06:34 in the video.

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