At Brent Youth Theatre we have always approached the creation of our art from the inside out - the children and young people provide us with ideas and we respond by giving them the tools to bring these ideas to life. We pride ourselves on the fact that it is the children and young people of Brent that shape our art. But what sets Brent Youth Theatre apart is that we also understand the factors that shape them. This year we hired a Music Therapist to support our sessions. This has allowed our staff to listen and understand the children and young people in a whole new way and in turn they were able to access their creativity like never before.
“What you are doing is so important for our children. This is such a hard time, thank you.” (Parent, Feedback)
The last two years have been uniquely hard on children and young people. When further lockdowns were announced in Autumn of 2020, we saw the energy of our young actors decline and their mood fade. Having braved so much adversity, this seemed to be the moment they were at risk of losing their spark.
“When we are stuck inside because of the COVID, we go to Brent Youth Theatre there are always so many people around us, it feels like we aren’t lockdown. We are free like a free bird.” (Participant, Feedback)
At this time, we launched our Music Den sessions, a weekly singing and song-writing class, we had been planning for some time. The songs the young people created at these sessions would form the musical element of our shows for the next year. There was no doubt in our mind that writing lyrics, creating melodies and singing would be fantastic for our young people. But we knew that merely providing our young people with an opportunity to create was not enough; we needed to ensure that we gave them the support to regain their ’spark’ too.
We hired Lizzie, a talented music therapist, to assist the musical director in the design, development, and facilitation of our sessions. But there was no way we could have anticipated the profound effect Lizzie would have on our community.
“The thing I like about Brent Youth Theatre is that we can make our own choice. It makes me feel more comfortable about making my own choices and not someone else making it for me.” (Participant, Feedback)
The true magic came from the way that Lizzie fell into a position of observation and low-stakes conversations with all of the young people. Initially we would introduce Lizzie to the group, as the person to go to if they were feeling a bit “meh” (usually accompanied by a hand gesture). This may not mean much to you, but to the participants it was clear almost straight away that there is someone here they can talk to. The provision started on zoom and conversations began with private chats in messenger and moved into breakout rooms. Every young person seized the opportunity to have a chat. Needless to say, we quickly applied for further funding to extend the position across all of our services. The culture has become so supportive that we feel like we all are coming home when we go to work. Something that started as a temporary support for children and young people, has seeped through every part of the organisation. We are now working towards developing a robust mental health strategy that will support participants and staff alike as we move forward in this uncertain world.
“Brent Youth Theatre is truly a magical place not just for the young people to explore new creative arts, hone new skills and build friendships - but for those who work here too. It is a supportive and inclusive space where staff have every opportunity to learn and grow together with the young people. Looking over the last year the young people have only grown in confidence and I can say the same for myself too.” (Staff Member, Feedback)
Every arts service that works with children and young people - that’s not just those that under the umbrella of ‘vulnerable’ but EVERYONE could benefit from a professionally trained arts therapist in the room. For children and young people to be truly creative, it’s vital for them to know that there is someone to listen and not demand anything from them. It’s vital to have someone quality checking how we are responding to the needs of those creating the art, rather than just quality checking the art itself. It’s vital to break barriers to communication, provide a comfortable space for participants to speak their mind, and create structures to support anyone with obstacles to unleashing their creativity.
And the wonderful thing is, this will only allow the art to get even better.
Thank you Young Brent Foundation & The London Community Response Fund (London Community Foundation) for making this possible.
Watch the film created by the young people last year - all of the songs written by participants of Music Den: