Creative consultation with young people
Through a series of workshops and events around delivered around the borough, Collage Voices found out what young people like about Wood Green. There were also areas of concern. Finding creative ways to engage young people in important debates, and then helping them to turn their concerns into performances and artworks is a very powerful way of helping young people deliver hard hitting messages.
Beating the Bounds: Re-imaging Wood Green through the eyes of young people A promenade performance by the young people of Wood Green
Why did the Council want to consult young people?
There has been considerable debate about the redevelopment of Wood Green, in the London Borough of Haringey. The combination of the borough’s proximity to central London and, by London’s standards, its relative affordability, means that it continues to excite the interest of developers.
The trouble, from the developer’s perspective, is that there has been a steady stream of negative headlines that describe the borough as a hot spot for gang-related knife crime. Indeed, too many young people’s lives have been cut short. The headline usually defines young people as the problem. What if we decided to trust young people to provide the solutions and give them a stake in the future of the borough? An innovative experiment, led by Haringey Council, has decided to do just that. It has started to work with urban regeneration specialists muf architecture/art, to think about sense of place within the borough. They in turn have been working with Collage Voices, the youth empowerment arm of Collage Arts. Collectively they are asking young people, aged 8-18 to contribute ideas and concerns that will inform the emerging plans for the area.
Wood Green is not typical of other London boroughs. It is a very diverse borough with some of the richest and most deprived wards cheek by jowl with each other. But it also has the ability to surprise and delight. In the recent ‘revoke article 50’ petition, the highest percentage of the electorate in any borough in the UK came from this borough. The other high hitters in the petition were all well-healed university towns. Haringey doesn’t even have tertiary education provision, and yet it was providing strong leadership in the case for cohesion.
One of the borough’s key attributes is youthful exuberance. One third of Haringey’s population is below the age 20. Over 70% of these young people are from ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds.
The council has had a difficult balancing act to meet the conflicting priorities within its budget. Since 2010 its spending power has been reduced to just £405 per resident and the council workforce has almost halved. However, in the budget approved this year, commits the Council to invest £1 billion in housing in the next 5 years, working towards the provision of safe, secure and affordable housing for everyone.
Other budget changes this year have seen a £7.6 million uplift for Children’s Services. Haringey has been assisted by the largest grant (£1.5million) from the Mayor of London’s Young Londoners Fund. These funds will be spent on supporting young people to fulfil their potential and avoid getting caught up in crime. Haringey also received funding from the Mayor’s Good Growth fund which has contributed funds to regeneration projects in Wood Green, which has supported the consultation with young people. This process has empowered young people to articulate what they need and want to thrive in the borough. This means young people are in a position to have their voices heard by developers and the council to ensure that their needs are meet in the metamorphosis of the borough.
Steve Medlin, Artistic Director of Collage Voices, explains: “We were asked by muf architecture/art to help with an in-depth consultation with young people about what the borough meant to them, and to think about what they needed from any redevelopment. We used a series of artist-led creative workshops to draw concerns and ideas.”
Collage Voices and muf architecture/art recruited over 100 local young people. Some were recruited from local schools and pupil referral units; some were drawn in because of their interest in developing creative ideas.
Steve continues: “We started to see very different issues emerging from the different age groups. The young ones were traumatized by the make-shift shrines, set up to memorialize victims of violent crime. They worried that they could be caught up in violence. But they also had ideas for the development of the city scape that any surrealist artist would have been proud of. We could maybe summarise this as a ‘desire to surprise and delight’.”
The teenagers consulted had very practical concerns. They felt they knew how to navigate the streets but they felt vulnerable on the way home, until the tribal markings of the school uniform had been discarded. Shopkeeper often discriminate against young people in school uniform, limiting their entry into the shop to two at a time. Out of uniform they felt safer, more anonymous and freer but they were still not free from scrutiny: Muslim girls were criticised for dressing too modestly; other girls were judged for not being modest enough. So, whilst the perception of younger people not respecting their elders is a powerful narrative, it is young women, seeking to find their identity, that are more likely to be disrespected.
The teenagers also had very practical concerns, such as how to do homework when home is overcrowded. Others felt that some of the parts of Wood Green they valued were misunderstood. For example, the market area was seen as culturally significant. It was place that offered value for money –but more than this it is seen as cultural hub and the place you buy ‘a taste of the home country.’
Turning the consulting into events
When you arrive by Tube to the underground station, the intention is that you will be met by ‘soothing’ classical music. Except that isn’t what is happening; the music being played is judged to be most likely to stop young people congregating.
So, we mixed that up. We took a group of eight tall, diverse young men to the area opposite the tube station. In any other circumstances they would be seen as a threat and would have been moved along. But all of these people are skilled drummers and they arrived with their drums. They were joined by an equally diverse group of street dancers, making their way through the crowds. Popular folklore would have you believe that this would intimidate the shoppers of Wood Green. It didn’t. The skill and exuberance of the performers made people linger, in some cases talk to each other; where language barriers didn’t allow this, smiles bridged the gap.
Steve again: “At the end of the set the drummer put down the drums and three toddlers made their way over to the drums and starting to make their own music. The kids’ mums looked on, all smiles. Three women, who ordinarily would rushed passed each other, found that, despite their diverse backgrounds and inability to talk to each other, more united them than divided them. What had been defined as the problem – young people hanging about outside the Vue Cinema- was suddenly the solution. This was making memories and building a community’s sense of space and belonging.”
In total around 100 young people have been involved in the consultation. Their ideas for the future have been turned in to comedy, drama, dance and art installations. These were shared as a free, open to all, promenade performance on the 15 June 2019.
The event was called ‘Beating the Bounds’. Steve again: “Beating the Bounds is an idea that dates back over 1,000 years. Traditionally, a group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, to share knowledge and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands. Our beats come from drums and not sticks as in the past, and what we are doing is secular, but we like the idea of reviving something from the past to help us shape Wood Green’s future.”
Councillor Mark Blake, Cabinet Member for Communities, Safety and Engagement at Haringey Council, said: “With the support of the Mayor of London, the council is committed to increasing the resources it invests in young people despite continued reductions in its overall funding. We want every young person, whatever their background, to have a successful future. Activities like this empower our young people and give them the opportunity to articulate what they need, and want, to thrive in Haringey.”
Around 150 people joined in the performance in the streets of Wood Green and at McQueens Theatre in Coburg Road.
Collage Voices meets each Saturday. It is open to any young people aged 8-18. Young people pay £2 a week. The techniques used to co-create this event is central to the way that all our young people’s programmes work. Our tutors act as facilitators to help young people shape their ideas. They then act as coaches and dramaturgs to support the skills they need to turn their ideas into performances and ensure that the story works in the way they intend. Whilst we try to encourage all young people to be involved in performing the work they co-create, some young people want to be involved in the technical aspects of the performance. Collage Voices is able to support a range of composition, writing and technical roles. The skills learned at Collage Voices are applicable in the creative industries but are also highly transferable into any employment or leadership context.
Collage Voices is a programme developed by Collage Arts, an arts and regeneration charity that has been at the heart of Wood Green’s Cultural Quarter for over 35 years.
For more information contact Andry on 0800 0092 970.