Cate Gordon, Harrow Arts Centre

100 per cent logo

Describe your role

I am Participation Programmer at Harrow Arts Centre (HAC) in north London. HAC is an arts centre presenting performances, workshops and exhibitions in all art forms, and we’re open to everyone, of all ages.

My job is to make sure the arts and the arts centre are accessible and available to everyone in Harrow. A big part of that is working with children and young people, designing and running workshops and projects they’d like to take part in or lead, and selecting shows and events that they would like to perform or come to. I work with lots of local schools and community groups and I also manage our work experience programme. My aim is to make sure children and young people know HAC is here and that it’s theirs to use and get involved with.

One of the biggest projects I work on is called 100%, which is a programme of gigs and events run by young people for young people. Everyone involved is aged 14-25. I facilitate the producers’ group, running event management training and helping them organise their events; the group are running or taking part in 15 events in 2012 so far. If you know young people who want to get involved, you can contact us on Facebook or Twitter. We’re also about to launch a big project called The Guestlist which is led by young people, linking young people up with local arts opportunities, and a new Associate Artist scheme for young people, so there’s lots to do!

A big part of our ethos is that children and young people should be involved in all aspects of the work, so that influences everything from how we programme events to what we include in our work experience placements. Young people can get involved in so much here, from reviewing professional events to running their own and my job is basically to make that happen!  

What makes a good participation worker?

I think it’s about being open to ideas that are different to your own and letting other people take the lead; you have to get rid of your ego and genuinely want other people to be involved. However you also have to keep that fine balance between supporting other people’s ideas, and challenging them to learn or try new things too. You have to be really flexible, ready to try new ways of doing things, and always on the look out for new opportunities. A good participation worker looks out for everyone and makes sure everyone gets their voice heard, and I think a good participation worker puts themselves out there – a lot of effort has to go into making sure people know you are there to listen to them and that you are reaching out to all kinds of people. You have to be resilient, caring and know that you’ll probably get things wrong a lot of the time. You have to be friendly and open, and people need to be able to trust you. I think it helps to participate in things yourself, so you can keep yourself in check and get new ideas from other facilitators too.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

The biggest barrier is the number of hours in the day! Sometimes it can be practical things like time and money but you have to find creative ways to get around it. Sometimes I think its about adults’ attitudes to young people being involved; I think some adults feel a bit out of control if young people are involved in decision making or they don’t see the point in doing it, but I think we’re good at this at HAC and everyone really likes having more young people around!

What are the benefits?

There’s loads of benefits for everyone! Children and young people can get more out of your activity or service, they can learn more skills in how to work with others, prioritise, make decisions and in thinking about other people’s needs as well as their own. I think it’s important for children and adults to work together, not just separately all the time. It’s meant we can help young people achieve some brilliant things and bring their ideas to life. For our organisation, it’s meant a better programme of workshops and events, more opportunities for staff and volunteers, more people coming to the arts centre, more opportunities for everyone to get involved in the arts, and more for children and young people in Harrow to do in general.

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?

Open as much as possible up to them and let them see how everything works, so they can have the full picture and make really informed decisions. I think you have to be available and make it easy to contact you so people can get a quick response to an idea, so we use a lot of things like Facebook groups that mean everyone can talk to each other quickly and easily without having to go through me, but also make sure you leave enough time for things to happen. Getting lots of people involved in designing or doing something can mean it takes longer to do, but it will be better for it! It’s important to be a good advocate and make sure everyone in your organisation knows what young people are doing and what benefits they are bringing and to give recognition and thanks to young people for what they do.

What is effective participation?

I think participation is best when its part of how you see the world, not just an add on that you have sometimes and not others or that you do to tick a box. There has to be real openness and real potential for change or growth. It’s effective when people feel they are contributing and involved, that they are valued, that they are gaining something and giving something at the same time.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB