My Working Perspectives Residency with #TYA:
‘From the very first visit time I met the very enthusiastic Dave Hodson, Manager, from Tweeddale Youth Action I quickly learnt that #TYA was a vibrant and diverse youth community organization that offers an essential and supportive service to the young people in and around the Tweeddale area. #TYA also links up with other local organisations eg PeeblesCAN to co-work on projects, imbedding itself deep within the community and engaging with all age groups. The energy from Dave during that first ‘blind-date’ chat was infectious, something also clearly felt by the young people who use the youth group to socialise.
Since last August I have attended six drop-in sessions on Friday nights in the Old Fire Station Building, School Brae – each time meeting new faces, learning more about the group and how it works. The group also has other nights they are open and more structured sessions running after school for younger people.
In October 2014 I went every Friday night as a regular drop-in visitor myself. I wanted to become more aware of what #TYA meant to the young people at the older end of their age range. Each week I learnt more about its members and how the group worked, and I spent time each session with Dave, Heather and Tom the #TYA youth workers.
The #TYA staff were open and focused on their roles and the young people clearly valued having their own space to socialize in with adults who they felt they were equal with. The young people hung out, challenged each other to play table football, to sample ‘Big Dave’s cooking (amazing by the way – you must try it), plan the refurbishment of their space or otherwise just get a bag of chips and chill out and play cards. The mood when I was there was always up beat, jokey but respectful, open but the boundaries were clear. Where there were tensions they were quickly resolved.
By having a more regular time to drop-in myself gave me the opportunity to try ways to engage and involve the young people in the Working Perspectives Residency, this was always going to be a challenge with such a large and fluctuating host community.
From very early on in the process it became clear to me the Working Perspectives Residency gave an opportunity to give these young people a voice, to champion their achievements, to promote how they are supported during their lows and to use this opportunity for them to say what they wanted. Words and paper are powerful media to me; I decided I was going to go back to basics with my approach and start with them. The hope was to get the young people to reflect on what #TYA meant to them.
Each week unknown to them I had a simple exercise using paper to try with the group – early on I had been advised not to try and plan, it wouldn’t work, the Friday nights were a social night and unstructured for the older members of the group.
This is where the hard part is – I struggled, I asked myself questions – what did I do when I was 12, 13…16? How do I engage with the young people? My God! Not that I was ever cool but how ‘uncool’ I felt. As an adult, just about to be 40 with a young family of my own I realized that I knew very little about today’s concerns for 12 – 25 year olds anymore and I didn’t know where to begin. I was out of my comfort zone – but soon remembered in the future I would have teenage children and how much there was to learn from my residency.
Then I received some golden advice from Dave who told me to ‘relax’ and ‘getting involved becomes involving’ and sometimes it wasn’t what you were doing at the time but what a young person saw you doing and took away with them and then had an influence on them – it wasn’t about the’ instant solution’, #TYA works and thinks long term. #TYA also fosters an open door policy to supporting its young people, the youth workers are there to talk if needed, but its not forced.
So my research continued to find something to make a connection…
In the first week last October I spoke with everyone who had come along that night and asked them – ‘What did TYA mean to them, in a word please?’ I wrote the words down, they were anonymous – that was important to give everyone that freedom. Including my own responses, and taking a ‘warts and all’ approach I collected 60 words and phrases relating to #TYA in one evening. These intense contributions, these ‘instant conversations’ would become key to the work I have been developing for the final exhibition.
The following week I brought old newspapers and box wrapping paper and quietly sat and made paper seedling pots, the themes of recycling and the connection to Peebles CAN had come out of conversations the previous week – I felt safe making something, rather than hovering round people and during the night I learnt more about the group and its staff from Heather one of the Youth Workers who joined me in making – demonstrating her creative talents and her sensitivity to helping me, involving me. It was like I was a new member of the group; there is a great sense of nuture, responding to individuals needs, sometimes this is lost as kids grow up. That evening we made enough to donate to Peebles CAN for their spring sowing season, I left feeling productive but still with lots of questions.
The following week I had brought paper to make mini books, but that week I helped make Halloween decorations and just chatted instead listening about the work that a small team of young people do to fund-raise for the group, finding out about the personal achievements of one young lady who has turned her life around and is now training as a hairdresser locally and has received an invitation to a competition in London. We were also treated to Dave’s amazing cooking – delicious. (Cooking, a passion of fully trained Chef Dave, is another way young people can be involved with #TYA’s Food Punks – from the beginning we had talked about them getting the opportunity to cater for the final Exhibition Private View, a great showcase for them.)
The last week in October I brought along the projector borrowed from Galashiels Works (another brilliant youth organisation) and ran a continuous slideshow of the words given in week one, the ‘unedited’ version. Along with some compilations of word clouds and other sketch ideas I had made with overlays of the #TYA words. The slideshow was without music as the room was filled with sounds – chat, music, cooking in progress. I sat that evening and wondered if anyone would even recognize their own words, it was a wonderful surprise to find people saw their own words and even knew (although it had been anonymous) other friends words. I had hesitated at the content of all the words – but censoring them never felt right and actually in abstraction all the words brought other meanings to mind relating to current issues and concerns for young people today. The majority of the words are overwhelmingly positive.
I have learnt a lot from my short time with #TYA and I have by no means covered all of my experience here, it’s a snapshot, a flavour of a community group who are deeply engaged with the young people in the area providing services to support them develop and channel energies into positive actions. I hope that my work reflects just some of my experiences.
The work I have made for this final exhibition stems from Dave’s ‘golden’ advise: advise which helps make #TYA such a successful organisation. The words that summed up the meaning of the #TYA to its young people is the center of the piece, along with the viewer’s own reflection: ‘getting involved becomes involving’. By immersing the viewer in the work, creating a moment between their own reflection and the words, I hope that the lasting influence will be to help provoke thought. The creation of space in which to think about what #TYA means; and hopefully remind the young people of the positive influences that can be gained from being involved.
Thank you very much to all at Tweeddale Youth Action – specifically to Dave and Heather, and all the young people I met at #TYA for such an enriching experience during the Working Perspectives Residence. I hope to get the opportunity to come back and see how your group develops.’
© Felicity Bristow, February 2015