Case Study: Coney

Giving people the tools to cope with the crisis we face, and how to sustainably push for social change

by Toby Peach

Coney are interactive theatre-makers – creating games, adventures, and play where people can choose to take a meaningful part. We have a focus on sparking change through play. I’m the Associate Director there, with a focus on our Young People & Families programme. I’m going to briefly reflect on our work with young people in response to ACE’s Investment Principle around the Environment and Sustainability.

Our young person programme is called the Young Coneys, a training programme in Tower Hamlets that offers the tools for young people to be an Agent of Change through our practice of Playful Activism.

If Activism is the use of direct and noticeable action to achieve a result, usually a political or social one. Playful Activism infuses the action with play and creativity. It demonstrates how the best art comes in the form of a gift. It aims to spark change through play.

We’ve been developing this practice over the past five years, with our workshops focused on discovering the creative superpowers and passions of the young people we work with and, alongside Coney practice, giving them the space to have conversations with those they want to speak to. From air quality in inner-city London to Fake News, we’ve lent our skills to young people, enabling them to put their experiences front and centre in their own creative projects taking place in public space. A lot of this work was sparked by a collaboration with Greenpeace back in 2018. Codename:Violet (you can see a video of the event here) was a playful intervention, created with the Young Coneys, where young people took on the role of junior doctors and created a non-violent action to communicate the impact of diesel on young lungs. They arrived at a car industry gala and offered health checks to the people attending, with lung capacity tests and a giant game of operation. Undercover, uncertain, nerve-wracking and full of determination – it was a very special thing. And so, so incredibly cool.

In 2021, Coney was selected to create a creative intervention in schools for the Barbican, for their acclaimed Barbican Box scheme, where we reached 8 secondary schools, in Harlowe and Manchester, for approximately 270 young people. This box focused on inspiring Playful Activism and developing tools to support students’ mental health in secondary schools and giving young people the agency to spark change in their school spaces. These skills were used to co-devise a playful intervention, a gift, to have a positive impact on the wellbeing of their school, and with it the creation of a piece of Playful Activism.

We are now looking at ways of sharing these tools more widely and redesigning the box to land in schools to give tools to focus their playful actions on the climate crisis. Finding ways to bring Playful Activism to where young people meet is imperative, otherwise, it becomes exclusive to those who can take time off to go to the climate strikes.

Also, importantly, it is also about giving people the tools to cope with the crisis we face, and how to sustainably push for social change. Climate Anxiety is growing, not just in young people and one of the key factors to help people cope with that is about feeling some agency, and feeling they are part of a movement. That there is hope for the future.

By empowering people to use their passions and creative superpowers to influence the community around them, we arm them with the tools to create meaningful creative action in their local area that connects with people through adventure, curiosity, and loveliness.

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