This Easter holiday, we were lucky enough to run a project in Hackney, in partnership with Hackney Virtual School. Our group were 11-14 year old children in care from the area. This is a feature on the creativity, resilience and intelligence of these young participants.
“Are you Michael Rosen? Because I was told they’d be a poet here and he’s the only one I know” - and so started the week, working with an inquisitive and outspoken group ready to enjoy their holiday. We began with games upon games: getting to know names, personalities, energy levels, and interests amongst the group. This was followed by an interactive survey to gauge how many of the young people felt familiar with the ‘creative arts’: poetry, painting, drama and craft. More often than not, hardly any of the young people we work with have extensively tried these, if ever (hello government cuts to school arts departments; Call of Duty; mounting pressure to secure sustainable employment via academic achievement).
With Storeys, what we’re interested in is what the arts can ignite in a young person: of course it’s great if they discover they have a flair for acting and want to adoringly pursue this; or notice their talent in intricately detailed pattern design; but even if neither of these apply, the very fact of trying something new, of having the space to experiment, of challenging themselves to think in a different way, is the real piece of art. We aim to embolden all our participants with the knowledge that creativity can be found in their own everyday lives, that they are founts of creativity and that their creative voice matters.
And so it is fantastic to see, on our first day on the Hackney project , that one participant whose foster carer told us ‘only has interest in football’ was able to bring this passion into painting, to create a plant pot with a beautifully designed Arsenal badge on the front. Later in the week, he would write a poem with the extraordinarily powerful line, “You are the anger in my missed goal”.
There would be other stand-out moments from the week, where the group produced truly beautiful pieces of work. Important relationships in their lives, emotions that they experience, communication skills they can call on and strategies they have developed for keeping positive were represented through photographic portraits, painted canvases, verbally dramatic scenes and layered salt jars. The young people we work with will often have had difficult starts in life. It is crucial therefore to build up emotional stability and soft-skills such as self-expression and confidence, in order for them to look forward rather than back, and realise the potential in their future.
It is equally as crucial for us - the adults/post-teens/grown-ups - to acknowledge the relevance of young minds: with the political, ecological and social climate of today, it seems more appropriate than ever to listen to young people and understand how they see the world. These insights can be heartbreaking: like when, during our confidence circle exercise, ’ in which each person has to enter the room as if they were the most confident person in the world, one of the boys entered as a mugger. They can also be funny, like when our football-crazy participant declared “I wish the world was like a football match and then we could give Donald Trump a red card and he’d be sent off for good”. They can be beautiful, like when a colour mixing exercise turned into a discussion about how a mix of people, of beliefs and of identities makes for a society “just like a nicely coloured painting”. We must not forget just how much we can learn from young people, and never underestimate the importance of giving them space to grow and develop these opinions and observations. As agencies involved with young people, we must ensure that we work together to give this group the best possible opportunities to become active and engaged citizens - and then we must listen with open ears to what they have to say.
The last day ended with an exhibition of everything the group had produced throughout the week. We held all of our sessions at Hackney Pirates on the Kingsland Road: Their beautiful space, ‘the deep’, worked as an absolutely perfect gallery for the exhibition as well as a wonderful space throughout the week to create (plus, its book-spined staircases offered inspiration to many of the guests!) Each young person had their own exhibition space, individually and jazzily decorated. Foster carers, social workers and siblings went from station to station, later becoming the audience for the group’s drama and poetry pieces, cheering on these young creatives. The deliciously kind-hearted Franco Manca gave each young person a pizza voucher for completing the programme, and thanks to the Easter bunny a considerable amount of chocolate was consumed, by all ages. For some of these young people, it will have been the first time that they have been applauded for creating their very own pieces of work. Here’s to many, many more.