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My work is very much about collaboration, whether that’s teaching, drawing on other people’s experiences to create something, or making work together.
I trained as a graphic designer and, after university, one of my first professional roles was with Gallery TS1 in Middlesbrough, working with young people who were not in employment, education or training. That was in about 2006 and since then, over the years, I’ve developed my practice to include design, creating artworks to commission and a participatory practice.
One of my first experiences of working with care-experienced people was via Tees Valley Arts. It was a project called Moving On, with young people who were leaving care and it was incredible.
It was challenging and involved a journey of finding out about the young people and their stories, and then using creativity to make something that enhanced their wellbeing, gaining them an Arts Award qualification and new skills along the way.
In my experience, this type of work always has a positive outcome, from the tiniest thing to a huge change. And there are so many examples that I’ve seen, it’s hard to choose one.
As part of the Moving On project, I worked with a young woman who achieved her Bronze Award. She went on to work on another project I was involved in at The Bowes Museum, achieving a Silver Arts Award too. She worked with a visual artist, a performer and a theatre practitioner and, at each level, it was as though you could see her shoulders lifting, and the physical change as she found her confidence and began to see what she was capable of. Doing these creative activities and gaining these qualifications had a real positive impact on her, beyond the project.
More recently, I’ve been working on Blue Cabin’s Studio of the Fostered Heroes project. At the start, one of the young people taking part was very quiet and didn’t really speak to the adults in the room. Fast forward a few months and she’s now happy to share her opinions. She’s found her voice and is a key figure in what we’re creating together.
At times like this you can see how young people really benefit. It could be that being with others helps them to understand who they are as a care-experienced person, or it could be a bigger shift, as they start to see new possibilities in their lives. It’s also brilliant to be inspiring future creative talent in the young people we engage with.
Alongside my role with Blue Cabin I’m also a director of arts organisation Navigator North, which supports artists and provides creative spaces in the North East.
And in my home life, I have my two boys who are both adopted and so, for me, it’s really important to be involved in working with care-experienced people.
Working with Blue Cabin also gives me security as an artist and has allowed me to combine both aspects of my career: my collaborations with care-experienced people, and my work with early stage, emerging and more established professional artists.
I’m looking forward to using the training I’ve done with Blue Cabin, on attachment, life story work and the impact of trauma with Richard Rose from Therapeutic Life Story Work International and with Matt Stalker, Blue Cabin’s Therapeutic Supervisor.
It’s one thing to receive the training but when you’re in a space with a young person that’s when it comes into its own. Putting it into practice in real terms is where the magic happens.
Blue Cabin are always imagining and creating new ways of working with care experienced young people, which is both a challenge and crucial to developing and reaching young people from all walks of like. I’m excited to be part of this journey, along with the superb Blue Cabin team.