Saturday, 27 August 2016

Get Cultural and die trying - Young people and Participation.

I am writing this blog on the way from Edinburgh to London, the third Capital city I have visited this week. I have been in Edinburgh to learn, to hear from experts around the World about Culture, and how it engages with Heritage, Economics, and Participation. If that sounds deathly boring, I haven't explained it well enough. It was a week of great enjoyment.
We heard from the man tasked with protecting Syria's heritage from Daesh. We listened to the use of dance to help people with Parkinson's Disease. We saw how Streetwise Opera use performance to get homeless people proud of themselves again, and taking part in internationally acclaimed work. We learned the importance of the 'physical experience' in an increasingly digital universe. And we heard the Artistic Director at the Southbank Centre plead for a renewed focus on women in the creative arts - why we aren't "talking passionately about women as creative makers".

It was crucial. It was intensely stimulating. And Young People had a valued seat at the table.

On the first night it was clear that we had been placed in the summit as tokens of a box ticked. "A group of young people? Done". We were segregated from the delegates we had come to talk to. Delegates and participants we managed to talk to were expressing surprise and disappointment that we were not present during the down-time of the event, when there were no plenaries to listen to. We were present to talk to delegates. We were present to learn from them. Not to be holed up in a side room.

We complained about it. Loudly. To whoever would listen. And the director listened to us, and allowed us to participate in discussions way over our heads, and about topics we didn't know a great deal about. But that was the best bit of the Summit. Being completely out of our depths, and asking the questions that we had no forum to ask normally, I think we were appreciated. When a young person spoke, ears pricked, people sat forward.
I had great conversations, long conversations, over coffee and a biscuit, with the deputy culture minister from China, with the CEO of a huge charity organisation, with senior ministers from around the world, with Googlers, with senior lecturers.

I hope you don't feel like I'm name/position dropping here. I'm doing it for a reason, to highlight the amazing opportunity that was presented to young representatives of the UK, and other creative groups.
The crucial thing young people want is to be involved in the discussion. No matter how much it may be felt that we would be out of our depths. In fact, especially then. Young people are no different to any other mythical category of people, we learn best by being in the deep end.

The passion and forming expertise in the group of young people present at the Culture Summit meant that we weren't sinking, we were swimming, uncomfortably sometimes, and occasionally with a friendly hand, but there were no swimming aids, and there was no-one sinking. (I feel I've used the swimming metaphor to its full extent now)
This is a lesson that I will certainly take forward with regard to youth participation.Young people are bored of being pushed to one side, we want a seat at the table, without any special allowances, but with the same respect afforded to us as any other party.

This summit, and my other experiences as a young professional (God, I hate that term), has hammered home to me the inanity of organisations concerning young people not having young people on the board of decision making. I am applying for the Barnardo's Young Trusteeship and it's so refreshing to see a Charity solely for young people, look for a young person to sit on the board. It almost seems inconceivable that Companies and Charities have such a breadth of experienced and passionate young people that they are not tapping into.

Being part of such a gifted and intelligent group of young people this week has really confirmed and sharpened my ideas; young people are the future. But if we are only allowed to be the future in the future, and until then we have to passively wait in the wings, then we will struggle with the same questions that our predecessors have struggled with. If young people can understand the questions, and work on finding the solutions to those questions, we will be in a much better place.

(Also a brief note of disbelief that our Minister for Digital and Culture in the UK didn't attend the Youth Forum debate. Very disheartening, shows his approach to giving a damn about the views of the youth of the UK)