Circuit, Space, and Citizenship

The Potential of Circuit to Create New Space, Thus Enabling Positive Intergenerational Integration within the Community


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‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?’

Hillel the Elder, leader of Jewish Supreme Court,
1st Century CE

If Circuit were to have a motto the Rabbi’s quote could be ideal. From our own participation in the Cambridge group’s projects we have discovered that members work incredibly hard, giving up evenings and whole weekends, to realise projects which engage and benefit others of a similar age. Yet, as a result of this focus toward one core aim, that of engaging ‘hard to reach 15-25 year olds’, we often see equally important outlying generations excluded from Circuit activity. Paradoxically, this serves to limit the group’s ability to successfully realise their aim, as inclusion of these ‘excluded generations’ is imperative to integrating youths within the community.

In this article we hope to form a focused response to an issue, which questioned the necessity of intergenerational exchange in projects, raised during a Circuit meeting held amongst our Cambridge group last December. Our primary purpose is to ask to hear the thoughts of anyone who has conducted research around this subject. It will also be of equal importance for us to hear from Circuit members, as well as those who have helped with, or participated in their projects in any way. This is because we intend to write a paper on Circuit and its potential to create new space, thus enabling positive intergenerational integration within the community; something we will argue it must do given its origins.

An understanding of the origins of Circuit will show that it was inspired by a breakdown within communities nationwide. We propose that the most contributing factor to that breakdown was the lack of a positive relationship across generations.

Two events which were sparked by the breakdown are particularly relevant to the groups formation: the 2011 England riots, often referred to as the Blackberry riots, and a public enquiry titled After the riots: the final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel 1 made into the riots in March 2012.

The shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 sparked nation-wide rioting, looting, arson, violent assault, the mass deployment of police, and most tragically the loss of five lives. Sixty-six different areas across England were consumed by the unrest, which was broadcast live on television, and people watched as homes and businesses that had been in families for generations were razed to the ground. The financial impact of the rioting cost the country around half a billion pounds. However, it seems evident that the biggest cost to the community was the intensification of a pre-existing social divide marked by the fact that rioters indiscriminately victimised members of their own community.

It was estimated that the majority of the 15,000 citizens involved in the rioting were disaffected and disenfranchised ‘young people’. This view was corroborated by the public enquiry made into the riots in March 2012, which cited a lack of shared values within the community as the primary cause of unrest.

After exploring possible causes for this social breakdown the enquiry asks, ‘what more could be done to build greater social…resilience within communities?’ 2 Following this question a conclusion was drawn as to the imperative factors which may contribute to future prevention.  We feel the following four points are especially relevant to the place intergenerational attitudes hold in this idea of supporting and reviving our suffering communities:

  • Where everyone feels they have a stake in society
  • Where opportunities are available to all, especially young people
  • Where individuals respect each other, and the place they live in
  • Where public services work together and with the voluntary sector to spot those who are struggling at an early stage and help them

Shortly after the enquiry, in 2012 the Independent newspaper ran with the headline ‘Riots spark £5m Tate arts project for the young’ 3. The ‘arts project’ in question is the four-year programme Circuit, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation: a national youth, peer-led network, with the goal of reaching 80,000 ‘hard to reach’ youths between the ages of 15-25. The aim was to do so by involving galleries and museums through the creation of workshops with established artists, projects, and festivals.

Nicholas Serota (Director of Tate Modern at the time) said of the project at its conception:

“The catalyst for it was the events of the summer of 2011, when riots in London, Nottingham and elsewhere across the country made us very conscious that institutions, such as the ones represented on the programme, offer young people opportunities that they both need in their lives and can help them develop those lives in a more meaningful way.” 3

Serota’s initial conception here is more decisively reflected in ‘A Guide to the Circuit Evaluation Framework’ 4 .Particularly in the four core aims of the group. It is thorough and covers desired objectives, outcomes, indicators, outputs, evidence, timeframes, and facilitator roles in depth 5:


  1. To make a positive difference with and for young people
  2. To improve access and opportunities for harder to reach young people through extending and developing sustainable networks between the youths and arts sector
  3. To develop and change practice within and across cultural organisations
  4. To change attitudes and behaviours towards and about young people


In hindsight it becomes apparent that the idea of Circuit existed in embryo in the four preceding points of the public enquiry. Its findings, Serota’s ideas, and the core aims of Circuit all explicate that without a feeling of shared responsibility toward, or shared struggle against economic and social stresses, certain sections of society (young people) can rapidly become isolated, frustrated and angry. Through the arts Serota hoped to combat the conditions which led to the events of 2011. He reinforces that the  opportunities absent from communities effected by rioting must become ‘available to all, especially young people’ regardless of their economic position, and that young people will develop their lives in a more meaningful way by feeling as though they ‘have a stake in society’, especially if they ‘respect each other and the place they live in’ and through these means develop a system of shared values. Fundamentally, Circuit could be a reaction to structural and social failures by enfranchising the youth, as well as equipping them with the necessary tools to overcome any economic disadvantages and by doing so help certain communities to function in a healthy way. However, in order for any of this to be achieved the participation of the entire community is necessary, including that of generations outlying the 15-25’s.

December’s meeting aimed to resolve any prospective issues members of Circuit could foresee with an upcoming twenty-four hour workshop they were to host- ‘Map Hack; Your Stories Make Cambridge’. Conceived solely by group members, and planned with the help of Circuit co-ordinator Tahira Fitzwilliam-Hall, the workshop was a response to ‘Curating Cambridge; Our Stories, Our Cities, Our Stuff’ 6; a festival of events, workshops, and exhibitions planned and hosted by the many Cambridge University Museums. Map Hack hoped to create an opportunity for the residents of Cambridge to curate and tell the story of the town from their own perspective by asking them to collectively overlay individual observations, stories, and experiences onto a blank map.  This was to be the voice of the people of Cambridge separated from the one of the university; a rebellion against its continual dominance over the image of the city presented to the outside world.

Towards the end of the meeting an important realisation dawned upon the group, wherein the motivation for this paper was born:

If Circuit is a youth group which only targets individuals between 15-25 years of age can people outside this desired age range participate in the workshop, or should the group rigorously control resident participation?

It was concluded that Map Hack, by use of targeted marketing, would only be directed towards individuals between 15-25 years of age. Furthermore, it would be possible to discourage the participation of anyone outside of the desired demographic by careful selection of the workshop’s location, and any additional activities offered throughout its twenty-four hour period. However, this did not mean the group wanted to place a restriction on entrance to the workshop. Anyone, no matter their age would be welcome to participate if they happened to walk in off the street. This response shows us that while it is deemed acceptable if people of the outlying generations (not 15-25’s) want to contribute, their contribution is not overly desired nor should it necessarily be encouraged.

So, if one considers the origins of the ‘Final Report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel’ and its findings alongside the core aims of Circuit, the decision made by the group to exclude other generations in favour of a demographic of ‘young people’ is perhaps a contentious one. Since it seems overwhelmingly that intergenerational integration is considered imperative to mobilising these youths.

It is our belief that Circuit has the potential to facilitate this integration by virtue of an ability to anchor itself within a community. From this unique internal position the group could change a community’s behaviour through the creation of new space. This potential has been hinted at in the group’s previous projects, where individual communities have been targeted through the evolution of place specific theories. These theories ultimately demand the redefinition of a space in order to successfully realise a project. Through this redefinition, achieved by reorientation, new space is created.

Undoubtedly, reconsideration of how to better implement this ability would enable Circuit to better achieve its core aims. In view of this, it becomes imperative to consider how it is possible for new space to influence a community’s behaviour.

In ‘Cities for a Small Planet’ 7 Richard Rogers proposes that it is possible to counteract the declining quality of life in poorer inner-city areas by ‘mobilising the participation of individuals and their sense of belonging to their city’. He defines this individual commitment to the city as ‘citizenship’, a feeling which may be encouraged through interaction with different types of public space. Citizenship entails both a duty towards ones environment (place), as well as a communal right to be a part of it.  This way an individual may feel that they are ‘a part of the community of the city’.

It is perhaps in Italy where the marriage between public space and citizenship is played out most successfully, seeing the integration of all generations within one concept; that of ‘La Passeggiata’ 8. La Passeggiata refers to a public space like a street or square where men, women, and children meet to carry out an age old tradition of walking in the dusk of the evening. In a specific space and at a specific time they have the right as well as the duty to mix; inevitably this attitude is carried over into the rest of everyday life.

It seems evident that Circuit could, by learning from the public space found within the concept of ‘La Passeggiata’, change the way we behave to create the feeling of community through citizenship. Ultimately, if Circuit implemented these ideas with success, there could be a shift away from temporary Circuit space in a solidification process which sees it become ingrained within the urban fabric of a town, or a city as a permanent fixture and focal point for a community.

If such new space came into existence it would have a significant impact on the United Kingdom’s urban fabric, especially as councils and town planners currently place little value on unprofitable public space located at the heart of our communities. All too frequently open minded public space (undefined space: parks, boulevards, squares) is being replaced with single minded public space (defined space: retail space, complexes, offices) because of its ability to generate a higher return on investment per square metre. However, valuing profit over quality of life inevitably impacts a community’s ability to function in a healthy way and, therefore, to respond positively to external pressures.

Fortunately, due to a flexible nature Circuit will flourish in a situation which forces it to practice in previously overlooked space (an alley or woodland,  ones street, a blank wall, etc) once disregarded because of an inability to generate profit. Furthermore, a space of this type will usually frame the activity of day-to-day life, consequently enabling the programme to exist in close proximity to its audience; unlike its counterparts the art gallery and museum. As a result the programme can, without objection, become part of a changing urban environment. It is for this reason that it will most likely succeed.

Circuit rose gloriously out of the ashes left behind from the rioting, inviting the rebirth of any of the disaffected and disenfranchised youths who participated in the wilful, and wholly violent disturbance of the peace that summer; its motives can only be viewed as noble and just. Yet, despite the aforementioned findings there has been an undercurrent of generational exclusion throughout every Circuit project we have been fortunate enough to participate in. Sometimes it is directly encouraged, at others it is just a barely noticed and accepted premise.

The paper we will write seeks to understand why it is deemed to be positive or useful in current Circuit practice to exclude certain subsections of society in order to achieve its core aims. Furthermore, it will propose that a healthy society breaks down the barriers between generations, and will explore the potential of Circuit to create new space to facilitate positive intergenerational exchange within a community, alongside fulfilment of the programme’s core aims.

We would like to hear from people who have previous experience, no matter what form it has taken, of the Circuit programme. If you would like talk, please email us at


1  Riots and Communities Victims Panel, (2012),  After the riots: the final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel,  Riots and Communities Victims Panel.

2  Riots and Communities Victims Panel, (2012), Executive Summary, In: After the riots: the final report of the Riots Communities and Victims Panel,  Riots and Communities Victims Panel, p.6.

3  Clarke, N, (2012), [Online] Available:, Last accessed: 28th February 2015.

4  A Guide to the Circuit Evaluation Framework, (2013), A Guide to the Circuit Evaluation Framework, Tate Plus.

5  A Guide to the Circuit Evaluation Framework, (2013), Circuit Core Aims, In: A Guide to the Circuit Evaluation Framework, Tate Plus, p.2.

University of Cambridge Museums, (2014), Curating Cambridge; Our Stories, Our Cities, Our Stuff, University of Cambridge Museums.

7 Rogers, R, (1997), The Culture of Cities, In: Cities for a Small Planet, Faber and Faber Limited, p.14.

8 Rogers, R, (1997), The Culture of Cities, In: Cities for a Small Planet, Faber and Faber Limited, p.15.