Helen Ball, Audiences London

Describe your role
Having been a participation worker for children and young people I now work in the arts for a charity called Audiences London. Our job is to work with publically funded arts organisations to enable them to be more ‘audience’ or people friendly. My particular role is to build relationships and understanding between arts organisations and people who wouldn’t normally attend the arts, including groups of children and young people. 

What makes a good participation worker?
Good participation workers have a positive outlook and like working with children and young people. They are good at listening and having empathy for different points of view. They want to see change and are always thinking about how their actions and influence can have a positive impact on the situations of the children and young people they’re working with. They’re passionate about what they do but are also good at being hands off, knowing that their skill is also in supporting children and young people to lead for themselves. 

What are the barriers to involving children and young people? 
In the arts the main barriers are time and people! Often intentions about involving children and young people are good, but in reality there is insufficient time given to develop relationships and trust and a lack of resources to enable anything meaningful to happen. When it comes to people, there are 2 barriers. The first is that frontline staff in some arts organisations haven’t been trained or supported to work with children and young people and therefore are sometimes not confident or do not want to do so. The second is that for an organisation to change, the commitment to involving children and young people needs to be present at a senior level and this isn’t always happening.   

What are the benefits?
Benefits include, more skilled and self-aware young people who recognize they have choices and are able to take responsibility for their actions. Benefits for the arts organisations I’m working with also include more audiences, more support and recognition for their work from funders and influencers and finding new talent. 

What tips do you have for effective participation of children and young people?
It’s more effective to start with small changes and build on their success. Young people are more active and social than older people so events can be a good hook for getting young people involved. Don’t lose sight of the work that needs to happen behind the scenes to advocate what you’re doing. Sit down with the young people at the start to think about why you’re doing this and where you’d like to get to. Then map out all the people that need to know about what you’re doing in order to get you there and how you’re going to reach them. It might be senior people in your organisation, press, police, local businesses, British Youth Council etc. etc. There was a recent festival at the Roundhouse called Turning Point, put together by a committee of young people, that managed this process really well. 

What is effective participation?
Effective participation is always leaving space for individual voices, while bringing people together to collaborate and create something that would not have happened without everyone’s input. The legacy of this is that individuals are left with new skills and confidence to take forward into their future.

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