Tomorr Kokona, Culture and Arts

Describe your role
I am the artistic director of Culture and Arts, an organisation wholly committed to enabling young and disadvantaged people across Britain to use active arts participation to discover their talents, improve their self-esteem, and assist them with their social integration. My role is to find and implement creative ways of making our Culture and Arts vision a reality by working with young people, professional artists, and those who work with young people (teachers, social workers, police etc).

Culture and Arts is definitely not an "art for arts sake" organisation. By involving young people in the creative and performing arts we can achieve a great deal and can enhance formal education – especially where there are problems of understanding (science and maths, for example), of behaviour, or of language and cultural awareness.

What makes a good participation worker?
Someone who gets as much out of what they do as they put in. For me it’s about nourishing your inner flame of passion - doing what you love every day to change young peoples’ lives. Although staying focused on your objectives can be difficult, it’s essential if you really want to make a difference. You’ve also got to be flexible and open-minded to be able to see issues through young people’s eyes. Above all, though, you’ve got to be willing to make decisions and carry them through: thinking is fine, but doing is better.

What are the barriers to working with children and young people?
To be frank, it’s often the lack of a joined-up approach, and lack of communication between different organisations.  There is also a lack of continuity: projects start and stop (often, it has to be said, for funding reasons beyond everyone’s control), so a lot of quality work, time and money is invested in developing programmes that achieve short term goals but do not have a long term lasting vision or effect. Some young people, therefore, find themselves forever in the starting point - and lose interest in what is offered. If organisations worked together and joined hands to continue and further develop projects, the results would be more effective.

What are the benefits?
I guess for me the benefits are simply being able to help make positive change happen in children’s lives. Children are the citizens of the future. Getting them involved in decision-making cultivates a sense of ownership and responsibility that will help become open, proactive and happy citizens as they grow up.

What tips do you have for effective participation with children and young people?
Consider and involve young people as your partners. Set up clear rules and responsibilities and spend as much time as possible planning for a successful and trusting relationship. Create a safe and inclusive environment and ensure freedom of expression is respected. Do not promise something you cannot, or do not want to deliver and always do the things you have said you are going to do. Have a clear view of how the current project can contribute to their long-term future. Most importantly, include fun and laughter in your every day menu - and share them with all around you.

What is effective participation?
Above all, I would say having a willingness to understand the children’s needs - being ready to walk in their shoes by taking off our own shoes first. Sometimes, we adults need to stop being adults and just for a moment, relax and to put more fun in the process. Communication, mutual respect and involvement with young people are what really work.

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