How can we make emotionally safe spaces for participants? 

Insights and learnings from our February Cultural Sector Masterclass.

27 March 2024

In February, we held one of our Cultural Sector Masterclasses, exploring how we can make emotionally safe spaces for participants. This online masterclass was facilitated by Sheryl Malcom, and we were joined by Kiz Manley, founder of Hip Hop Heals and expert in therapeutic Hip Hop facilitation, and Bernadette Alexander, Enrichment Officer for John Lyon’s Charity.

This masterclass held a present and engaged space, and focused on how we, as cultural organisations, can keep our participants safe, do no harm, and how we can do that within the delivery of our programmes.

After an introduction from the facilitator and speakers, we dove straight into a presentation from Kiz Manley, where she shared her lived experience and background in trauma-informed hip hop, and dance as a way of healing. Kiz’s work focuses predominantly on exploring safe space building through workshop delivery and co-production. One point that we kept coming back to was the importance of looking after ourselves before we look after others – we should be filling our own cups before helping others. Creative self-care protects us, and through this enables us to protect others.

Next, Bernadette Alexander shared her tips to working with children and young people in a safe, conscious, and uplifting way, in the form of a presentation. Sharing insights into her background in teaching in inner-city London and working with children in care, Bernadette delved into the importance of knowing your space, knowing your cohort, and looking after yourself to then take care of others. It’s important to remind ourselves of ways in which we can create spaces to hold vulnerable children emotionally in a ‘failure-free’ environment, in a way which builds self-confidence and self-esteem.

One interesting method of communication that was highlighted within this session, was PACE, developed by Dan Hughes, with the aim of supporting adults to build safe, trusting and meaningful relationships with children and young people who have experienced trauma. This method lays out four key principles in interacting and working with vulnerable children and young people:

  • Playfulness: A willingness to laugh, joke and play even in difficult situations;
  • Acceptance: Builds a context of safety and connection;
  • Curiosity: The hallmark of social engagement, curiosity is how we can let people know that we understand;
  • Empathy: The experience of being understood develops the ability to care for oneself. This allows for an individual’s guard to go down and start shifting into more curiosity and possibility.

As we learned through this presentation, self-regulation, and in turn, co-regulation is also key to managing not only our internal states, but providing support and holding space for the children and young people that we work with.

Through this masterclass, we covered a lot – from practical activities as a form of therapy to furthering our knowledge in approaches we can bring into our programmes and ways of working. Holding safe spaces for participants and the impact it can have, shows the importance of building trust, relationships, and emotional safety. Through understanding trauma and its impacts on behaviour, we can start to put this knowledge into preparation, understanding our participants’ needs. Having an awareness of how our language and techniques can impact people to then use this to validate feelings, regulate emotions, and de-escalate situations rather than dismissing or further upsetting participants. To do this, we need to also look after ourselves, and reflect on our own practice to learn from our experiences – and put this into practice.