14 December 2019
Last month, I spent the weekend with 50 teenagers and a team of theatre-makers stranded in a Cromwellian mansion in the countryside with no WiFi and nothing to entertain us but costumes, spray paints and music. I know, lucky me!
This isn’t the set up for a horror film; it was London Youth’s third annual Arts Weekender at Woodrow High House. The young people were a diverse group of teenagers from six community youth organisations, all located in Outer London. They were: Hillingdon Young Carers, Tag Youth Club for Disabled Young People, Cedars Youth & Community Centre, St Michael’s & All Angels, Reach Academy Children’s Hub and Achieving for Children.
The groups came from different parts of London and in some ways had very different lives, but over the course of the weekend they worked with the team from Immediate Theatre, our partner on this project, to come together and produce brilliant works of art addressing issues they care about.
Through a packed programme of workshops exploring public speaking, forum theatre, dance and street art, the young people worked together to create posters, plays and dance routines that spoke to some of the most important issues young people are facing: inclusion and disability, racism, inequality, sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, the climate emergency and the need to support young people with their mental health.
I think most of the young people would say the highlight was performing for each other at our Saturday Night Showcase.
From a visually stunning dance performance about a future without trees to inspiring protest art and posters, the young people achieved some truly impressive outcomes in a short period of time. The winning performance of the evening was a moving theatre piece about the value of accepting difference and celebrating what makes people unique. It featured an unforgettable Elton John impersonation and a Makaton interpretation of ‘What a Wonderful World’ that left not a dry eye in the house.
A lot of staff commented on the way the young people all bonded and worked together. Because the groups were mixed up, everyone had to collaborate with new people. Anyone who works with young people will not be surprised to hear that this brought out the absolute best in them. They were inclusive and supportive. They were patient and helpful with each other. They made new friends with people they might otherwise never have met. I think watching them be their best selves was the highlight for a lot of the staff who were present.
And then there was a personal highlight for me. It was the moment when a youth worker came up to me on the final night to tell me how much their young people had enjoyed it. They admitted that they had been sceptical about all this artsy-fartsy stuff, unsure whether their young people would get it or enjoy it. But with brilliant facilitators and a group of young people who gave it their all, he said it had won him over completely.
We’re incredibly grateful to the young people who came, the youth organisations that made it happen, our partners at Immediate Theatre who brought the magic and Arts Council England who generously funded the weekender. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a weekend, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.
Emily Reddon – Arts Development Manager