Practicing What We Preach

Practicing What We Preach

Posted: 19/03/2024

Adopting a creative approach to ‘youth voice’ consultations

I was once a young person in Warrington.  

I was lucky that my parents could afford weekly dance classes and I enjoyed music classes in school, but I always felt like you had to travel to Liverpool or Manchester - even London - to experience high-quality arts and culture.  I certainly never felt that I had a ‘voice’ to influence what was programmed for me and my peers, in terms of arts and cultural activities in the town. 

And so... I now spend my day to day ensuring that ‘youth voice’ is at the heart of what I do, as Creative Producer (Young People) for Culture Warrington; providing as many opportunities as possible for young people to access arts and cultural experiences right here in their hometown. 

A fresh take on conversation with Warrington's young people

In February 2023, I was delighted to be asked by Chairs of Warrington’s local cultural education partnership (LCEP) – as a then freelancer - to help capture youth voice about arts and culture in Warrington.  More specifically, the ‘mapping and gapping’ of current cultural provision for young people; feedback about where they can experience/absorb culture and their desires to engage with future planning and how this may happen.  

Surveys had previously been sent out to young people with little-to-no engagement and a new approach was needed. The information captured would then help to shape Warrington’s Cultural Framework 2025-2030. 

We held an initial meeting about the new approach, at which the LCEP members and I discussed:

  • Why young people were unlikely to engage with surveys (as shown previously) and provide their real thoughts and feelings this way.
  • How light touch facilitated creative activities are a fun and accessible way to encourage open and honest conversations, as well as providing a creative means of expression for those who want or need a non-verbal outlet.
  • The benefits for the LCEP members from building a framework/session plan/toolkit to follow, to build confidence in capturing youth voice young people’s voices in a creative, interactive way.
  • Why young people need to be in a familiar, trusting, safe environment to feel comfortable to express their honest thoughts and feelings to a trusted facilitator.
  • Why all staff working in cultural venues and arts organisations need to be invested in welcoming young people into the building – particularly when young people were more likely to ‘drop in’ rather than come into the venue for a facilitated session.

From here, I developed a series of creative activities in a toolkit format.  The activities encompassed: 

  • Movement games - to express their level of enjoyment of activities
  • Doodling exercises - to capture thoughts and feelings
  • Body mapping – to ‘map and gap’ their current interests and wants
  • Guided visualisations – to inspire creative thinking
  • Billboard making – to design dream events
  • Photo/Sticker exercises - to identify which venues and events they had previously visited.

The LCEP members would each deliver the activities directly with their young people, and feedback their findings. I therefore facilitated a CPD session for them, so they could deliver the activities with confidence - adapting to their own settings and young people’s needs. 

A lightbulb moment

Although the feedback from the activities was important, the organic conversations during the activities were arguably more impactful. I collated and presented the findings of this first stage to the LCEP and Warrington Borough Council. 

It was exciting to hear from LCEP members that the toolkit had inspired a new, accessible consultation approach, encouraging their individual organisations to embed youth voice in their work. Libraries commented on how the drop-in creative activities were a draw for new young people to visit the library. The findings have also shaped Culture Warrington’s new Young People’s Programme (funded by Arts Council England) which includes a Young Producers programme (highly requested in the LCEP consultation). 

Widening reach

Going forward,  next steps include adapting the toolkit with LCEP members who work in SEND settings, using symbols and pictures, as well as other communication methods. There is also an ambition to increase schools' engagement in the Warrington LCEP and to promote consultation across primary and secondary schools. 

The youth voice consultation has already influenced future plans for arts and cultural provision in a big way. Warrington LCEP is committed to developing new ‘youth voice’ strategies and creative approaches to consultation; ensuring that young people in Warrington feel that their voices not only matter but have real influence on creative and cultural opportunities in their hometown.

Thirteen-year-old me, would be very happy to hear this!