A blog from the Arts Lab project

Posted on: 06 May 2015

Written by: Vicky Ream

Effie Makepeace is our Programme Delivery Manager. She writes about the political engagement of the young people she works with on the Act Now programme.

When we started working with a new group of young people in January, the election wasn’t on our radar.  We had 11 weeks of evening workshops using theatre, spoken word and music to talk about the issues that were important to the group.  From our very first meetings, it became clear that for the young people we work with, who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness – there is no such thing as disengagement with politics.  They are living it every day.  Tentative invitations to talk about ‘issues’ resulted in passionate, heated debates which continued into tea breaks, boiling down to the issues of Benefits, Sanctions, Housing and Privatisation.  Spoken word workshops delivered articulate, informed critiques of the current system through angry rhymes and rhythm.  A visit to the GLA was turned down by some who didn’t want to be in a space so contaminated with authority and power that has let them down, oppressed them. 

Priviatisation isn’t difficult to understand if the services you use are cut or change hands.  Changes to the benefit system are keenly felt if the money you rely on to eat is taken away.  If you are told that you have to wait two years to attend university, if you cannot get a job in the field you want because of the agreement you have with the Job Centre, if your life becomes dictated by an increasingly restrictive system.  It is a misunderstanding to say that young people are not engaged in politics or the election – their engagement happens every day.

However, transforming these experiences and knowledge into the language of Westminster is a challenge.  A theatre company similar to ours The Big House, recently did a show ‘Politrix’ – a group of young people visit Parliament and it becomes starkly obvious how difficult it can be to bridge the gap between the lives of politicians and those whose job it is to help – even when the two meet face to face.  Ultimately young people do not hold enough power to catch the interest of the politicians trying to win our vote even though through the art they make, it is clear they care deeply.  At Cardboard Citizens in is not our intention to get involved in party politics, but equally it is important to engage with the challenges members face and allow space to explore them.  Through the music we made and the performance we created, the frustrations of the group were made tangible, and changeable, even if only for a short time in a controlled environment.

After working together for three months, we came up with no easy answers or neat manifesto to offer.  It is difficult to know whether group members will vote or not, and if they do, how the anger they feel at the current system will influence their decision.  But working on this project has made me realise that for those on the margins of society, the election is crucially tangible and important.  Assumptions will be made about them based on the numbers who turn out on May 7th, but it would be a mistake to believe that young people do not know, or care about the results.

Interested in getting involved? Check out our latest project, Speakeasy?