This month we are featuring a guest blog from Southampton Cultural Education Partnership member Artswork. Discover how a creative arts project using fables and Forum Theatre is empowering young people to understand the risks of violence, knife crime and exploitation and make choices which keep them safe.
Artswork empowers young people through creativity. We are currently delivering Choices, a creative approach to violence reduction in schools across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. This is just one of the ways that Artswork delivers on its mission through creative programmes by, with and for young people alongside our core programmes around activating young cultural changemakers, creative learning and creative careers.
Choices is designed to support young people to make informed decisions. It helps them to recognise the power that things like peer pressure can play on their actions, so that they feel empowered to make choices which keep them safe. Taking a trauma-informed approach, the programme draws on the lived experienced of young men in Winchester Prison. Following their feedback, we don’t specifically talk about issues such as knife crime or county lines. Instead we use metaphors and fables which enable the young people to engage at their own knowledge level. It’s a fundamentally creative approach which sets up the conversations that develop in a different and productive way.
We start with training for school staff, looking at tools such as philosophy for children and Mantle of the Expert. This equips teachers and staff with a diverse range of approaches to discuss matters that truly resonate with young minds. Feedback from these training sessions has been really positive with staff saying that it provided “creative ways to get children to think about themselves and the world”.
“It really changed the way I think about approaching these topics with students.”Training participant
We then have two workshops with the young people which use Forum Theatre techniques, run by our project partner Bear Face Theatre. Forum Theatre, originally developed by Augusto Boal in South America, empowers the audience to interact and try out different solutions to challenges presented. Pupils are shown a short animation in which they are introduced to our characters, Buddy and Joe, and hear their dilemmas. These characters grapple with common challenges, such as the desire to belong and the search for excitement, all while navigating the potential consequences of their choices.
The young people explore possible decisions to find ways to have a positive outcome for the characters. Using Forum Theatre allows the young people to ‘rehearse’ situations. In a similar way to an exercise class which seems hard at first but becomes easier as your muscles remember the movements, this rehearsal allows young people to be better equipped to make informed choices when faced with similar situations in real life. It’s a creative approach that can have real impact on young people’s actions and lives.
“We thoroughly enjoyed the training and the subsequent work with the children has been really impactful.”Primary Teacher
A unique aspect of Choices is the involvement of students in creating their own fables. Following the workshops, young participants write their own fables that address challenges which are authentic to them. These peer-led resources are then collated to create a lasting legacy. This allows other schools and their pupils to engage with and learn from the project.
The programme is funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner through Hampshire and Isle of Wight Violence Reduction Unit. It runs until July 2025, leaving behind resources and embedded creative practice that schools tell us will last far longer.
“I am really pleased to support this fantastic programme which will have such a positive impact on school children across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. Interventions, especially in these formative years, are crucial as they allow young people to understand the risks of violence, knife crime and exploitation and help them make informed decisions on how to respond more positively to challenging situations throughout their life.”Donna Jones, Police Crime Commissioner
Choices is testament to the increasing recognition of the transformative power that creativity can have in addressing complex societal issues. The programme recognises pupils as experts in their own lives whilst providing safe ways to explore difficult subjects. As one pupil said “It’s a serious subject, but they made it as fun as they could”.
Choices will be externally evaluated by Liverpool John Moores University. The evaluation will provide further learning about the use of creativity in such interventions. To find out more, please contact email@example.com.
Annabel Cook, Deputy CEO of Artswork