WYRED gives young people a voice. When I was asked to find young people who were not usually given a voice, my first instinct was to go to the Pupil Referral Unit in Brighton. The PRU is the place where children go when they have been expelled from the mainstream school system. The class sizes are smaller, and there is a sense of a tight-knit, supportive community. However, many of the pupils often have issues around trust and positive communication.
I pitched plans for games, videos, dialogues and evaluations, and I was met with a warm welcome from the staff and a wary acceptance from the year 10 pupils aged 14-15. I pulled out my tried and tested ice-breakers, such as arranging the room in a circle of chairs and proposing a game of ‘all change if…’ It became clear that for these young people even feeling safe to express themselves among their peers was a potential barrier to participation.
One boy walked out of the room at the prospect of standing in the centre of a circle and speaking as part of a game. It was clear we were going to have to work step by step toward full participation. What are the implications for our society if our young people don’t feel safe enough to stand up and express themselves? This is something WYRED seeks to address.
We then engaged in dialogues after having watched a video about social media and loneliness. Several of the students mentioned there are too many platform options, and this dilemma deterred them from being involved. Few of them had email addresses and used them only for resetting passwords. None of them had really heard of WhatsApp. Facebook was for ‘old people’ and Snapchat was the tool of choice because it was quick and easy and ‘what everybody used’. One boy asked ‘Why is social media even considered a threat?’ For these young people, navigating their way through social media was something they had learnt instinctively from an early age. Here was an opportunity to pause and reflect, to look a little deeper, to consider the experience of others. Did they really feel unthreatened by the prospect of cyberbullying? If so, what was it that made them feel equipped to handle it? How would they educate their younger siblings about how to behave online?
Over the next few weeks I returned to the PRU several times and through social dialogue sessions and activities such as problem trees and mind maps, we began to explore different issues and build a relationship of trust. The trick was to allow space for the voices of the young people to emerge in their own creative ways and not to spend too much time sitting and talking but to engage in activities.
Through the dialogue sessions it emerged that the cost of living was a real concern for these young people. We divided into groups and looked at the price of food, played a game to guess the price of supermarket items, investigated the total of a weekly food shop, learnt how much it takes to own a car and discovered how much will it cost to rent a flat in Brighton – practical concerns perhaps not many teenagers have really looked into.
One young man chose to research the cost of housing, both buying and renting in Brighton. He looked at estate agents, forums and listings and found statistics online about the average cost of living and the average wage in Brighton & Hove. He was surprised to find out the average wage is below the average cost of living. We looked into how much it would cost him to get his own 1-bedroom flat when he leaves home.
When I saw him the next week he had made a cardboard cut-out house and asked if I could help him make a short film with his findings. He told me he had asked his mum how much council tax she paid and how often she had to pay her bills. I was pleased to hear that he had been thinking about these issues, was talking about it at home and was starting to gain a better understanding of his mum’s responsibilities. We made price tags and tried to convey his findings in a creative way. It was in the moments of crafting or setting up the camera and reviewing the shots that we were able to deepen our conversations. He had the chance to follow a train of thought and consider those other than himself. We talked about homelessness and how Brighton seemed to have noticeably more people living rough on the streets. He looked up the facts and discovered that homelessness had doubled in the last year and was second in the country only to London. In 2016, there were 78 people sleeping on the streets of Brighton, and that figure rose to 144 in 2017 according to Government figures. The research process was giving him empathy for those he saw on the streets who couldn’t find affordable housing or were dealing with other issues.
A young student in Brighton, UK presents his findings about income versus cost of living in his city. He was inspired to research the issue and create this video after WYRED encouraged him to make his voice heard.
He asked if I could come again next week and help him finish off the film. I could see his imagination had been sparked and he was committed to completing his creative project to express what he had found out. I think in this instance it was the opportunity to use his creativity to further explore an issue that allowed him to reflect and empathise with the people behind the statistics.
Watching his film in front of his peers was also an empowering experience. To be witnessed expressing your voice gives it more power. I hope that participating in this WYRED process helped the students to think for themselves, to follow their train of thought through a variety of mediums, to find out facts and to develop their belief in their ability to create, communicate and enjoy the research process.
By Gani Naylor – Sussex-based filmmaker, storyteller and Partners for Youth Empowerment facilitator