To youth board or not to youth board…? Creating the right environment to hear young people (part one)

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As one of the few adult ‘gate-crashers’ at Arts Council England’s #cypquality consultation event on 3 November I am unable to tell you much about what went on as I was kicked-out (politely I must add!) so that the young people could get on with their task of debating the thorny issue of quality. We were allowed back in however at the end of the day to hear participants present their ideas. Whilst I don’t what to summarize what I heard that afternoon, I do want to share my reflections more generally upon how I heard and to ponder more generally upon whether we are really creating the right environment to really hear what children and young people are saying.

At the Lyric Hammersmith in West London we think of ourselves as an organisation that does two things: we make theatre, and we work with young people. These two activities are intrinsically linked and continually feed each other, each one making the other better. We take great pride in seeking to deliver the highest quality work, an effort driven more by organisational vision and values than any particular external framework.

However, one area that we have continued to struggle with over the last few years is how we seek to involve children and young people in the ongoing decision making of the organisation. An obvious quick-fix solution for such an organisation? A Youth Board, of course.

So off we went to develop our Board. Did we consult with other arts organisations with similar ideas and research best practice? Yes. Did we manage to recruit a group of articulate and passionate youth people? Yes. Did we take some great photos of the young people debating which we threw into a couple of funding applications? Yes. But was it actually working to enable young people to inform decision making? No. I won’t attempt to summarise why it didn’t work and if I am really honest I don’t think that I really know why.

What I do know is that it felt forced and formulaic and one thing that it most certainly didn’t feel was in any way creative and honest...

You can read the second part of Adam's thoughts on the challenges of youth engagement here.

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