London is a dynamic
city. Keeping pace with change and understanding what constitutes important and
structural shift as opposed to passing trends is a challenge.
At A New
Direction we are constantly working to understand how children and young people
experience the city and what makes a difference in terms of their engagement
with arts and culture. Over the last few months we have been bringing together
research on poverty trends in the city to get a sense of what this is doing to
children and young people’s access.
On the 31 October 2013 we were very privileged to be joined by colleagues from across the
arts in London as well as local councillors and officials, charity and youth
policy leaders to debate these questions. Stella Creasy MP for Waltham Forest,
known for her campaigning against pay-day loan companies and looking to turn
Walthamstow into Awesomestow, kindly
agreed to lead our debate and place it in the wider issues for the borough and
The theme of the
discussion was poverty, its impact on children and young people and its effect
on their capacity to take part in art and culture. We located in the debate in
Waltham Forest a borough that has seen huge economic and social shifts in the
last ten years. The key questions were –
London facing a crisis in terms of poverty and what does this mean for children
and young people?
matter if children and young people have less access to arts and culture as a result
of economic disadvantage when there are so many other pressing issues to deal
What would a 'child/young
person-centered' approach to cultural engagement across London look like and
how might it take account of disadvantage?
Key to the debate is the
extent to which there can (or should)
be any kind of systemic response to these issues from those who work in arts
and culture – as artists, organisations, local authorities, youth groups or
Mark Rusling, a Labour
Councillor in Waltham Forest, started the discussion by reflecting on his
experience of economic change in his borough. He talked about Waltham Forest being
in the second wave of gentrification, following on from the first wave which occurred
in places like Hackney and Stoke Newington in the 1990s, and preceding the
third wave which would reach Barking & Dagenhamand Ilford in the next few years.
This trend brings with it a highly skilled workforce – the proportion of people
in the borough with a higher level qualification has gone up from 20% to 40% in
two years. But whilst wealth has come into the borough poverty has not gone
away and in many ways it has simply created two 'worlds that never meet' living
in very close proximity.
tell us that over the last five years inner London has got richer and outer
London poorer. Poverty remains more concentrated in the centre of the city but
we can no longer think of Outer London as necessarily better-off. This is
mainly driven by house prices.
talked about a 'hollowing-out' of the labour market, 40% of jobs are at the top
of end of the income scale, and this is growing and 40% are at the bottom, which
is also growing but the middle 20% is shrinking. For Mark this trend is likely
to be mirrored in housing very soon, whereby unless you are very highly paid or
in social housing 'you will not live in London'. Using current figures the average
age for a person on average wages to be able to buy a house in zones 1-4 is 52.
Another distinct trend is
towards 'in-work poverty', with 57% of families in London who are classed as
being in poverty being in employment – driven by wage stagnation and the rapidly
rising cost of living and housing. This a particular issue for London as higher
salaries no longer make up for the high cost of housing, pushing families into
poverty for the first time.
Faced with this picture many
young people feel that they have no access to the high earning 40% and they
have little desire to be in the bottom 40% - for Mark 'they have been sold a
As one delegate said, with
these negative statistics it is perhaps reasonable that young people ask 'what
is a job for' and see crime as a more practical way 'of getting money in your
Jane Caldwell from Kids
Company reminded the group that many young people live in 'chronically scary
places'. A recent piece of research they commissioned showed 50% of the young
people they work with had seen a close relative shot or stabbed, 30% were
sleeping on someone’s floor 'these children live in survival mode'.
Celia Greenwood from WAC Arts talked about the impact of the 'bedroom-tax' on families. WAC arts are losing a
family a week from their Saturday classes because Camden Council is re-housing
people out of the borough. This undermines one of the core values of arts work
that of establishing places of community.
The consensus of the group
was that the current trends on poverty and housing do suggest a move into a new
paradigm for London where the rich are even richer and the poor even poorer. The traditional structures of the state that
have in the past worked to alleviate the most significant impacts of inequality
but these have been weakened by five years of austerity.
But into this difficult
picture Stella Creasy MP made a strong plea to the group to not dwell on
negative indices because that can create stasis and a sense of not being able
to change or make a difference.
Stella talked about pride, about
potential and about raising aspiration. "We
don’t just want to muddle through…we
want our young people and our communities to be world class’. Stella described
going into schools in the borough and telling the students that they will not
live the same lives as their parents. For some this is incredibly scary. ‘We need our young people to embrace the
risks they will inevitably face if they are going to be part of the positive
economic future for the city. As adults we need to inspire the next generation
and invest in their ‘future capacity’ so they can thrive in the world."
For Stella the arts and
creativity is a crucial part of how we build our economy to provide a future
and how we equip our young people to be resilient.
"Kids need the ability to be creative and inventive and we can’t have a
successful economy without a creative economy." "We can’t have a successful workforce
without the arts" because it builds academic and cognitive skills as well
as transferrable skills – confidence and teambuilding etc.
Stella laid down the
challenge to see 'potential and
possibility not problems and containment' when we talk about young people
and not to lower our expectations of what is possible because this would be a
The rights of children and
young people to develop their creative talents, play and be involved in arts
and culture are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the
Child. How do we make this more than just words on paper?
Real briefs, real work experience, real achievement
Running through the
discussion was the frustration and disgust at the persistently high levels of unemployment
amongst young people in London (a city with one of the largest economies in
the world). Most people with direct experience
of trying to support young unemployed people through interacting with government
schemes were exasperated and despondent about current provision in this area. We 'offer young people crumbs to do meaningless things'; 'young people are very
busy – meeting the demands of the job centre'. Without really showing young
people that their efforts at schools and in further education are meaningful in
the context of useful and fulfilling work we will lose them at an early age.
The group discussed the fact
that young people’s individual needs are not understood by the system, they are
made to jump through hoops and the whole process is perceived as having little
value and being fake.
As Justin O’Shaughnessy from
the Shoreditch Trust said – "young people want to do something real they want to produce something. The
creative sector should be able to offer real experiences where students at
schools can try out their skills in real environments and where FE students can
spend time with employers."
There was a strong push for 'alternative' job centres where young people could be engaged in cultural
activities and given a chance to take part in the real world of work. This is
not about training the next creative workforce necessarily (though it is this
in part) but about giving young people the confidence to move forward in their
Mark talked about the model of a 'youth job centre' in Waltham Forest
which is working really well. To make this work you have to un-couple the requirement
of the benefits system from training and development.
Rosie Ferguson from London Youth
described the Talent Match model that they are delivering in London which
focusses on effective information, advice and guidance and is separate from
Start with the schools
Chantelle Michaux from the
Waltham Forest Arts in Education Network and Alan Adams from Children’s Services
talked in different ways about the really positive things schools do to engage young
people and families. With concerted strategic support schools can ensure their
students have access to a range of activities and opportunities they might not
get through home. Alan talked about the difference the local authority is making
for children in care through targeted intervention and coordination of
But as Justin said schools
are under a lot of pressure to be 'exam sausage factories'. Their drivers do
not necessarily encourage them to push their students to engage with the
creative sector – to gain skills for employment – and far too many schools
don’t take their children on visits or view their role as broadening the
horizons of their students.
Schools and teachers are
critical to the way in which young people from disadvantaged backgrounds engage
with their communities, develop their creative talents and develop a sense of a
world beyond their direct experience. They can reach young people and families
in ways that very few other structures can through their universal coverage.
Who is London for?
Schools and teachers can play
a critical role in taking young children out of their immediate areas and
giving them a chance to experience the amazing cultural offers available within
London. As Anna Mason from the William Morris Gallery said – schools are
critical because "they bring the children, who then bring the parents".
But how accessible are
London’s cultural assets to young Londoners and to what extent do young people
connect with these places?
Hadrian Garrard from Create talked about the
surprisingly low percentage of the major London institution's audiences that
are young people from London. This is likely to be even lower if you just
considered disadvantaged young people.
Should we be calling our venerable
cultural organisations to account to ask what they are doing to open themselves
up to young Londoners? This is not just about
enabling opportunities for visits but about a wider sense of being part of the
future for London, part of the story of how to develop and enhance social
mobility and ensure everyone feels part of the city.
Steve Moffitt from AND talked
about London as a resource for learning and growth but in order to get the most
from it you have to understand how to navigate the city – 'you have to know how to live here'.
And the challenge of access
is a profound one, as Jane Caldwell said – 'even if it is across the road, it
is a long way'. Jane said that Kids Company are helping cultural organisations
with their programmes – and subsidizing their programmes because they are not
good at getting new and different young people into their activities. They are 'good
at deepening but not widening'.
Mark Rusling said that for a
person living on a London living wage income the cost of a travelcard to get in
to central London would be the equivalent of 20% of their annual wages – 'they
are not going to central London'.
It was felt that local cultural
offers are critical – and they have to aspire to be excellent – but that large scale
and central cultural organisations also had a responsibility to young Londoners
from all over the city.
Do we build our services in a
child or young-person focused way?Do we understand when things are off putting
to young people in subtle ways?Do we listen to young people enough and work
with them to co-create services?
Poverty through poetry
There are still too many
people who don’t value creative practice for young people and arts & culture.
There are still too many schools without art rooms or time for dancing. But as
a sector we don’t always help when, as Mark says 'you say you can do away with
poverty through poetry' making vast claims with little evidence or understanding
of the territory.
Natalie France from the
Princes Trust talked about funding arts activity 'by stealth' – we know it has
an impact on youth engagement and is very powerful but we can’t put it upfront
because it might be perceived as frivolous. We need a solid evidence base which
really shows the value of this work.
In the context of poverty
there is a lot of attention on how to promote social mobility. There is an anecdotal
understanding of the link between cultural knowledge and progression – the idea
that if you have a hinterland of experiences and shared cultural reference
points with others you are more likely to be able to converse with different
people and make useful alliances.
As Celia Greenwood said – Eton provides 1,000
hours of music tuition a week for its students –'not because they are training musicians,
because they are training Prime Ministers'.
Surya Turner from Kuumba Youth
Music based in Waltham Forest said that partnerships are important to provide
for the whole young person and needs to be engaged with imaginatively. For
instance Kuumba have partnerships with the Royal Academy of Music as well as
with Ford UK which supports young people in getting access to excellent music
training whilst also giving them exposure to work opportunities.
Kuumba are committed to this
work due to their belief in the power of this work to help young people move
forward in their lives.
This is just one area in this
field where we need a new and more relevant evidence base.
What has happened to our voice?
Celia asked if the cultural
sector has gone quiet on issues of equity and exclusion. Do we no longer think
it is fashionable to promote the needs of the less fortunate?Are we uncomfortable
at what the mirror shows when we hold it up to our own organisations and practice?
It was felt that if nothing
else, this gathering at The William Morris Gallery showed the beginning of a
new hunger for a debate about what is happening in the city and how the
cultural sector should respond; and also the start of platform for
collaboration and campaigning which could make a real difference to lives of
The following is a summary of some of the ideas
that came out of the discussion.
Which would you back, which would you oppose?
Develop ‘creative Job Centre’
helping young people into work in the sector
Campaign to un-couple
training and development from benefits
Get more cultural/creative
employers to offer real work experience for young people as well as developing
effective entry routes into the sector
Campaign for every cultural
worker to be a mentor
Campaign for school age young
people to have guaranteed access to creative/ cultural opportunities through
Build local level partnerships
to deliver high quality cultural experiences working with schools
Campaign to stop the erosion
of children’s centres and youth clubs, and explore how libraries and other
organisations can add capacity
Campaign for philanthropists
to support more bursaries for young people to take part in culture
Engage London institutions in
debate about their role in supporting young Londoners and schools/teachers
Innovate to find new forms of
incentive to get different kinds of children and young people to take-part, as
well as investing in channels where they do
Look at how venues and
libraries could use their assets differently to provide more safe space for
young people living in overcrowded conditions
Look at models of touring into
Outer London – get high quality, world class culture into boroughs like Waltham
Forest as well as supporting brilliant local provision
Develop a solid evidence base
for the impact of cultural engagement on social mobility, effectiveness of
creative interventions for low SES students, effectiveness of cultural
engagement for work-ready skills
Involvement in decision making
Campaign to get cultural
organisations to give away more power to children and young people – takeover
Facilitate new ways of
listening to young people – especially those form disadvantages backgrounds