Techniques for supporting young people's wellbeing during heritage projects

Techniques for supporting young people's wellbeing during heritage projects

Two people wearing Reimagine, Remake, Replay tshirts using filming equipment at an event
Reimagine, Remake, Replay is a Kick the Dust programme that ran in Northern Ireland.
How Kick the Dust projects worked to create high quality environments for participants.

When the Heritage Fund launched its £10million pilot programme to make heritage relevant to young people in 2016, it had multiple aims. Most important among them: providing experiences of heritage for people aged 11–25 in a range of engaging and creative ways.

It was crucial for projects to work with young participants in ways that made them feel safe, welcomed, valued and respected. As the YMCA George Williams College’s Framework of Outcomes for Young People 3.0 says, a supportive environment will help young people gain the most – practically and emotionally – out of their experiences.

As Kick the Dust came to an end researchers from Renaisi spoke with staff from four projects – Ignite Yorkshire; Our Shared Cultural Heritage; Reimagine, Remake, Replay and Y Heritage – to explore how they worked to create these types of quality environments.

Creating supportive and engaging spaces

Our Shared Cultural Heritage asked the young people they supported to describe what a ‘safe space’ meant to them. They said it was a space that was “authentic” and “empowering”, not tokenistic and performative: “We spoke a lot about power hierarchies, trying to level out power so everyone feels like on a similar level. That's really important.” 

They acknowledged that heritage spaces do not always feel friendly to young people and limit their contributions. Through open conversations about making change, they discussed measures including decolonising language and changing hierarchical structures.

Y Heritage asked all participants – young people and heritage organisations – to sign a commitment to respect and value young people and what they can offer, and to appreciate the opportunity to learn from them.

Ignite Yorkshire focused on building high quality adult-young person relationships, drawing on youth work principles. They prioritised making sure that young people stayed motivated, felt engaged, and that they were 'on board' with the mission.

The Reimagine, Remake, Replay team also focused on creating a nurturing environment where young people felt comfortable speaking up. Their aim was to empower young people to “bring us their interests, and use the collections, the histories and archives – and the skills they were learning – to explore their own creativity and issues that mattered to them”. As a result, project aims focused on topics such as arts and wellbeing, LGBTQ+ issues and climate change.

a group of young people pose for a photo outdoors
Young participants in a media training workshop as part of Keeping it Wild, a Kick the Dust project by London Wildlife Trust.

Focus on relationships

Y Heritage partners took part in two days of dedicated ‘I’m a teenager’ training, developed and delivered by Hope Streets, another Kick the Dust project. Its trauma-informed and complex needs approach built partners’ capacity to provide tailored and relational support in response to each individual’s context.

Our Shared Cultural Heritage hired coordinators from similar backgrounds to the young people they were working with. “The coordinators have become kind of an inspiration point, a champion. The most important thing for us when we were recruiting those roles was that young people felt they could trust these people. And we have heard over and over again, from the young people, that it has been the most important element for them to feel safe within the project."

Working with young people to create better ways of doing things

Reimagine, Remake, Replay found that activities led by young people tended to have positive outcomes for young people. “When their ideas were listened to and supported and the project really enabled them to run with their creativity, that led to them having these really meaningful experiences where they connected with their heritage.” To support with this, they brought a young person onto the delivery team as a paid staff member.

Y Heritage participants have contributed to a policy and practice review of how the partner organisations view and work with young people using trauma-informed practices. The learning is being turned into a free toolkit for other organisations interested in engaging with young people.

Ignite Yorkshire took a co-production approach to measuring impact. They supported young people to define ‘wellbeing’ themselves, which provided opportunities to build trust and relationships before having conversations about their wellbeing, which could feel intrusive.

Benefits for young people and heritage projects

Findings from the Kick the Dust Year 4 programme-level evaluation indicate that participants were very positive about both the engaging experiences they have had and the ability of staff to make them feel comfortable and included.

While Kick the Dust was not explicitly designed as a wellbeing initiative, it has shown that it is crucial to designing successful projects for and with young people. Wellbeing is particularly relevant to heritage projects given that many opportunities focus on the interplay between heritage and personal identity, connection to peers and community and meaningful youth leadership.

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