Last year Circuit National Manager Marina Castledine and PhD student Nicola Sim attended the launch of Perspectives: A toolkit for working with hard to reach young people in cultural settings, at the Towner gallery in Eastbourne. The toolkit developed out of a project led by Towner and East Sussex Youth Offending Team as part of Artswork’s Youth Justice Action Research programme.
Not only did this event mark the launch of an important new partnership resource for cultural organisations and youth services, but it also offered insights into the particular challenges of collaborative work in youth offending contexts.
The Perspectives Toolkit is available here. In summary, here are a few reasons why this toolkit may prove to be useful:
1. Defining who your partners are
Youth programmers and practitioners are accustomed to thinking about partnerships as a set of relationships between organisations and between professionals. Rarely do we hear young people talked about as partners. This toolkit seeks to position young people as active and equal partners, alongside local services and cultural organisations.
2. Mapping perspectives
Understanding the commitments and priorities of each partner is a basic precondition of meaningful collaboration. The toolkit suggests a framework for articulating these priorities: through describing histories of practice, prompting questions about how success is measured for each partner and through building a ‘relationship map’. This map can exist as a visual representation of each partner’s wider networks, allegiances, social circles and support systems – providing potentially crucial information for corresponding partners and further recognition that partnership is not merely a relationship between two parties in isolation.
3. Learning from good practice
As this resource demonstrates, sharing and learning from ‘good practice’ shouldn’t amount to just reviewing accomplishments, but actually unpicking why something worked and being honest about what didn’t. Looking beyond the visual arts as a cultural context is also something this toolkit strives to do in its presentation of case studies.
4. Adapting to the particular partnership environment
While this toolkit is intended for use in any youth service/cultural partnership arrangement, it includes a range of specific recommendations for working in and alongside the youth justice system. Towner has a remarkably long history of partnership work with the East Sussex Youth Offending Team (2006-2014), so the advice presented in this resource comes from a place of experience.
Taking all of this into account, it’s worth noting that toolkits in this area of work do need to be approached with a certain level of caution. No region, group of young people, service or cultural organisation operates in the same way and there is no blueprint for the perfect partnership. But it’s commendable that the set of partners involved in Perspectives recruited a researcher and built in time to produce and disseminate this resource for peers. They are also open to receiving contributions (case studies and resource links) so visit the site if you’ve got a story to share.
The team behind this resource are also presenting the toolkit at the following event in April 2015:
Youth work, informal learning and the arts: exploring the research and practice agenda