Jo Stockdale, Young Adults Young Artists

Describe your role

My role is to support a group of young people aged 16-25 in Nottingham city and Nottinghamshire called YA YA -Young Adults Young Artists. This is a Youth Arts Leadership initiative that was set up by Nottinghamshire Arts Partnership in 2008.

My initial role was to support YA YA in managing every aspect of their own arts festival in summer 2010: a ‘main’ event in the city and 4 ‘outreach’ events across the county.

I linked with arts organisations and young people’s services to support a weekly group meeting in Nottingham, and identified groups in the county that wanted to be involved in YA YA.

I co-ordinated and facilitated support, which includes input from other youth workers and arts organisations- pitched accordingly to their existing experiences in leadership - to give them real life experiences in the professional arts sector. This support included help with applying for funding, learning an art form, events management, artist’s recruitment, programming and shadowing professionals.

After the festival, we decided that YA YA should become an independent organisation, so we’ve spent the last few months creating a constitution and now have an elected committee. We’re now supporting YA YA to explore what their role is as a youth led arts organisation and how they take that forward. They’re getting accredited through Young People’s Arts Award and V: Involved as well.

What makes a good participation worker?

It’s a challenge to be able to see things from the young person’s point of view, to be able to shed all the jargon, and to de-construct the political climate so you can communicate effectively to young people in a way that is relevant, while keeping them motivated at the same time.

I go into sessions knowing that we need to discuss this or decide that etc. So you have to be a good facilitator, but because it’s a fine balance keeping them on track and making sure you are really hearing what your group is saying, you need to be a good listener and be really responsive.

I also try to keep in mind that these people are volunteering their time to do this, so I have to give them a reason to want to. You need to sense when motivation waning, and respond positively to that.

What are the barriers to involving children and young people?

Practically, because YA YA operates across the county, there are obvious physical issues such as distance and travel. The long term commitment required is another - YA YA is just one commitment in busy lives that also have college and jobs and social lives to fit in.Young people are very aware of the difficult economic climate and the lack of funding - that makes it difficult for the group to deliver what they want, and to plan very far into their future, which obviously affects motivation and ambition.

I think the main barrier in terms of YA YA’s ambition is that they can’t become arts leaders over night. They are working with arts professionals who have worked 5 or 10 or 15 years in their field to get where they are. So it’s as much a barrier for us than for them. We have to make those judgements about what young people can be expected to know, learn, understand and do… There’s no formula to provide the right level of support, so a lot of sensitivity and responsiveness is required from support workers and mentors in terms of what young people expect from us.

What are the benefits?

We hear the term ‘youth leadership’ a lot and YA YA has empowered everyone involved to really discover what meaningful youth leadership is. YA YA has given participants the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge by working alongside Arts Development and Events teams, with professional artists and arts organisations in a way that isn’t offered to them anywhere else.Their decision making has gone way beyond ‘what shall we call ourselves?’ By appropriately pitching the support they’ve been given, they’ve been through the same processes as professional arts organisations.

The impact is relative; for the city group, they’ve decided that YA YA offers them a career pathway by becoming an independent youth led organisation in their own right.

For those newer to arts leadership, there have been young people who are not in employment, education or training who have astounded their youth workers because they actually participated! They have exceeded anyone’s expectations of them.

We’ve all worked hard at developing YA YA’s credibility and profile and that’s paying off now. We were recently approached by Tramway Theatre in Glasgow to make a presentation about YA YA at the launch of their ‘Fresh Faced’ youth audience development programme in December, which has been really affirmative.

So as well as all the professional work experience opportunities YA YA has exposed them to, obviously there has been leaps in motivation and confidence. I think the best thing for YA YA is that it has made them all realise that the possibilities are so much greater than they first expected, which is a great philosophy to take with you anywhere in life!

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

To remember whose benefit the participation is for, which keeps your ego in check! You need to know when it’s absolutely right to intervene or question, but a lot of the time you have your concerns and have to keep them to yourself!

I try to treat all the young people as individuals as much as I can because they can get lost in a group. They all have different ways of participating, and need different approaches so they can give the best they have.

It’s really important for me to really hear what is being said-often by it not being said. By responding to that, you foster trust in a group and encourage all young people to speak up.

The most productive approach for YA YA has been for us to think of the festival as a corner stone rather than the finish line; It was by asking ‘what now?’ instead of just closing the book that led to YA YA becoming an organisation in its own right. It’s a fantastic outcome, but one that wasn’t part of the grand plan at the beginning.

What is effective participation?

Effective participation will always create positive change in a young person. It might be tiny or huge, but it’s the effects of that change that keeps them coming back. When they come back you can build a positive relationship which helps you to get to understand what motivates them and what support they need. If you gain the trust of your young people, you can stretch your expectations of them and that can stretch their expectations of themselves, which I think effective participation is fundamentally all about.

To find out more about the project visit the YAYA website or Facebook page or e-mail yaya@gmail.com.

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