Jenny Young, Director of Blue Cabin

Blue Cabin’s key ingredients

Find out more about Blue Cabin and the people we work with, from our Director, Jenny Young.

Recently our Director, Jenny Young, and Associate Artist, Nic Golightly, presented at A Prescription for Life – a seminar organised by Manchester-based charity 42nd Street in response to the growing need for mental health support for young people.

Jenny began by giving an insight into Blue Cabin including who we work with, how we support our team and how our programmes use creativity to strengthen relationships between care-experienced children and young people and the people in their lives.

Here’s what Jenny shared with the audience about Blue Cabin and our work. You can also download a pdf copy of Jenny’s words here.

About Blue Cabin, our director Jenny Young, and the people we work with

Hello, my name is Jenny. I am director of Blue Cabin. I live in Gateshead with my partner Ged, our daughter Ro and our dog Eba. I love walking, time on my own and gardening.

Blue Cabin is a Charity, we are eight years old, and we are based in the North East of England where the vast majority of our work takes place. We share learning nationally and internationally to inform practice and policy.

We develop and strengthen relationships between Care Experienced People (CEP) and the people and in their lives through trauma informed creative activities.

Right now, the North East of England has the highest number of care experienced children and young people anywhere in England. We’ve seen an increase of 34% in the NE in recent years, compared to 3.5% in London (DfE 2021).

What do we mean by Care Experience? We work with those on the edge of care / early help, those in care, leaving care, care experienced adults and children and young people who have moved into adoption.

Our cross-art form Associate Artists are experts in working with CEP and the adults in their lives – including foster carers, kinship carers, residential workers and biological family. They facilitate activities and interventions which support CEP to express themselves, develop confidence and agency, build trust in others, and increase their skills and knowledge.

Our online and face to face opportunities include stand-alone creative days, accreditation opportunities and long-term interventions.

Right now, our youngest participant is 12 weeks old and she takes part in our This is The Place project – weekly music making sessions for babies and foster carers in Darlington and Redcar & Cleveland. Outcomes include strengthening attachments, emotional regulation, language and social development.

Our oldest participant is aged 25 and he is in Deerbolt Prison, taking part in our Creative Aid project – weekly sessions facilitated by Blue Cabin Artist in Residence and our amazing partner staff at Nepacs. Outcomes experienced include improved wellbeing, sense of identity, and skill development including achieving Arts Award.

Taking a trauma-informed and strengths-based approach

Care experienced people (CEP) have all been through a range of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and will have experienced a single or a series of traumatic events before coming into care. By working in a trauma informed way (Choice, Trust, Empowerment, Collaboration, Safety, Cultural Competency) we work with participants, our team and partners with a mindful awareness of our role in supporting post traumatic growth – our awareness of this has developed through amazing support from Kazzum Arts.

We take a strengths based approach to thinking about ACES – with support from Mary Ann Hodd and the incredible team at Trauma Informed Consultancy Services.

There is no coincidence that the key ingredients, including the active ingredients, which are at the heart of high quality, safe creative activities are the same protective factors that support people who have experienced trauma – to enhance their levels of resilience and experience post traumatic growth.

Blue Cabin’s work is also – importantly – about rights. The human right for all children and young people to have access to arts and culture and their right to a spiritual life. The systemic barriers that care experienced children and young people face once in the care system mean access to this human right, the right that could in fact support them to process and understand the traumatic events in their lives – might not be available, accessible, affordable, or appropriate to their needs.

A space where care experienced children and young people attend every day – school – is seeing the diminishing school creative curriculum. Schools offering after school clubs may conflict with contact time / family time with siblings or parents and that’s before we factor in the long distances that some children live from their school – they may, indeed, be in a taxi going home.

Locally based creative projects may similarly clash with contact time and might be financially inaccessible. Or may not be facilitated in a trauma informed way and therefore are not providing a safe spaces for personal or creative growth.

We offer place based creative activities that remove many if not all of these systemic barriers.

Acknowledging the emotional labour of our work

So that’s a little about why we do what we do.

And if we think about the ‘how’ – I wanted to focus on something different to what has been mentioned over the past two days – and that is the acknowledgement of the emotional labour of the work that our team do.

We ask our team, 75% of whom are freelancers, (we couldn’t do what we do without them) to build relationships with every single person in every single session. This inherently involves sharing of the self – often something of the personal self – in order to build authentic, meaningful relationships that are equitable and built on compassion and respect. We draw upon theories of social pedagogy (Personal, Private and Professional) to acknowledge and understand this and to provide a framework of safe practice for every team member.

Part of this is an understanding of the layers within the act of building relationships and an understanding of vicarious trauma.

Knowing what to share and what to keep private and why is an example of supporting practitioners to facilitate safely.

For example – we encourage our team to ask themselves the question ‘in sharing something about me with a participant when I am getting to know them – am I doing this to offer strength to them, or because something I am working through personally or privately is unresolved’? – and this can also model to participants how to understand their own 3PPPS particularly as they are all too used to their private lives being at the centre of meetings of professionals in care review meetings.

And for our team, we support them to know what self-care is for themselves – their prescription for life.

We have an ethical responsibility to provide safe spaces for our participants AND for our team.

Spaces for reflection, check ins and check outs, 1:1s that are not cancelled, therapeutic supervision, learning and wellbeing budgets – all of which contribute to a kind, compassionate, responsive, resilient workforce.

Budget for this – is part of our core costs – and we fundraise for this every year. Without this as standard practice – we couldn’t do what we do.

Introducing Creative Life Story Work

So – I am over the moon to be here alongside Nic who has been part of the BC team for ages. AGES! To provide context to the session she will facilitate – it is part of our Creative Life Story Work programme.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Life Story Work for care experienced children and young people – it is an essential way to help CECYP find answers about they ‘why’ of the past, integrate their past into the present – better understand the now, and move into their future with a clearer sense of who they are.

All Local Authorities have a statutory responsibility to deliver Life Story Work but the process can be very challenging and provision is inconsistent and patchy across the country. LSW is part of Ofsted inspections and many LAs require improvement. HOWEVER, No national guidelines exist to explain what is ‘good’ LSW (there is for adoption) and as a result many Care Experienced Children and Young People (CECYP) leave care with unanswered questions about their lives.

Through funding from What Works Centre for Social Care, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and local authorities in North East England we worked alongside an international expert in life story work – Professor Richard Rose, and our team of Associate Artists to develop a creative group approach to life story work – it is called An All About Me Creative Experiences – it is based upon Richards model – The Rose Model.

Through testing out this approach, and through supporting LA staff and foster carers with in-depth training from TLSWi, we launched Creative Life Story Work – our sister website encompassing masses of creative activities, podcasts, blogs and training from internationally renowned experts in the field – which is now available to practitioners and organisations everywhere. LOADS of free resources as well as a membership model – in order to cover staffing and trainer fees. We want to support people to do life story work better and for CECYP to be supported to understand their past, be clear about the now and move onto a bright future.