SCEP SPOLIGHT: News from the University of Southampton’s Connecting Culture project

A student at Mount Pleasant Junior School in Bevois, Southampton, with their Arts Award Discover certificate 

Today we are spotlighting the Connecting Culture research project, led by the Arts and Culture team at University of Southampton and supported by Arts Council England. The project has recently reached the end of its ambitious ‘Creative Consultation’ programme of artist-led creative workshops held with children and young people in Southampton. With children at the heart, the research explores the question of how Southampton’s thriving Cultural Quarter can enrich their lives as a future creative hub.  

A total of 25 workshops took place at 15 schools and youth settings across the city, with around 600 of Southampton’s young people taking part. All participants earned themselves an Arts Award Discover certificate for their efforts and, at a special presentation at Mount Pleasant Junior School, certificates were awarded to around 70 of their year 6 students.

In the sessions, led by Southampton-based artists Nazneen AhmedNatalie Watson and Faye Phillips, groups of young people explored what culture and creativity in Southampton means to them. The creative workshops involved visual art, creative writing and dance, so the young participants had lots of fun whilst sharing their ideas for research purposes, aided by specially designed creative activity packs. 

A young person takes part in a creative exercise reimagining buildings in Southampton. Photo credit: Xavier Fiddes

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, including two national school closures, there was a huge appetite in schools and youth settings to involve children and young people in creative activity as the country emerged from lock-down. Project partners and SCEP members Southampton Education Forum helped share the opportunity to schools across the city.

One youth leader that participated said they had “enjoyed seeing the young people being so passionate about the place they live in, using a creative outlet to put their own stamp on local places”. They added that the young people appreciated the “facilitation of a discussion around their own city and home.”

Artwork made by a young person in a workshop held with artist Nazneen Ahmed

The ideas that were generated during the workshops provide a diverse dataset for the Connecting Culture research team, led by Dr Ronda Gowland-Pryde,to analyse in the New Year. Together, the outcomes of the workshops from across the city paint a rich picture of how Southampton’s cultural sector is currently serving children and young people and, crucially, how the sector can better serve these groups in future. ­

Artist Faye Phillips instructs workshop participants in a creative mapping exercise. Photo credit: Xavier Fiddes

Reflecting on the workshops, Dr Gowland-Pryde said “young people clearly valued the opportunity to take part in new creative activities and take part in the research.” 

She continued, “it was clear that the young people really welcomed being listened to, knowing that they would be contributing to the future of arts and cultural provision for children and young people in the city.”

Artwork made by a young person in a workshop held with artist Nazneen Ahmed

The Connecting Culture project is generously supported by a £75,000 National Lottery grant from Arts Council England. The project involves a large consortium of arts organisations and child-focused services, many of whom are also SCEP members, and will inform the future development of arts and creativity in the city.  

The Creative Consultation is the first part of this wide-reaching project, the aim of which is to enable young people to produce a ‘Young People’s Manifesto and Map’ and to inform a sustained programme that reflects the needs of children and young people in Southampton. 

Artist Faye Phillips presented certificates to students at Mount Pleasant Junior School in Bevois, Southampton

The next phase of the project will kick off soon, in which 10 young people representative of the city’s communities and aged 16-25 will be recruited to take part in the ‘Cultural Connectors’ cultural leadership and creative research traineeship. They will receive training, mentoring and professional development, all the while working towards achieving their Arts Award Gold certificate.

Ultimately, working with the project researchers and having looked at the findings of the consultation, it will be these young people that lead on creating the Manifesto and Map. They will also have the opportunity to co-commission public artworks and events designed for children and young people.

The Connecting Culture project is strategically aligned with major cultural developments and ambitions in the city including the work of the SCEP, Southampton’s bid to be UK City of Culture 2025, and the city’s ambition to become a UNICEF accredited child-friendly city.

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