Archive for July, 2010

The Wheels on the Bus

July 31, 2010

We took the kids to Liverpool for the day on Friday.  I travelled with Sue and one of the youth workers, Deana.  I caught up with them on how they think the kids are doing.  They are all making great progress, albeit at different rates.  I was curious about the kids’ backgrounds and without naming names, they told me what kinds of crimes they had committed.  They asked me if I was sure that I wanted to know, and I said yes, but now I wish I didn’t.  There are some crimes that are more ‘acceptable’ in a way, than others.  I think burglary is more acceptable than violence, for example.  I had formed an impression about which kids I trusted and which I didn’t, which I thought had committed the more serious crimes, and which were habitual thieves.  I was generally right about most of the kids (given that no information given to me was specific).

It was interesting, though, as this background information does shape your attitude towards them whether you like it or not.  This isn’t their problem, it is mine.  It also doesn’t change anything; they all need help.

We gave the kids a pep talk about behaviour etc and set off.  One lad said that he couldn’t promise to be good as he has been bad for ages.  We started at the Beatles Museum.  The kids went through the museum quite quickly, many reverting to type i.e. it isn’t cool to be too enthusiastic.  At lunchtime, the romance blossomed a bit more between two of the kids, with a little love note being written!

While working out our next move three or four of the kids ran off.  One member of the YOTS team ran after them but this became a game.  they came back 10 minutes later, they’d just been to the end of the road to look at the sea.

We decided to get the bus to the White Feather John Lennon museum, as it had started raining.  An empty bus came along and we all piled on.  Ting started to sing ‘the wheels on the bus go round and round’ – hilarious, especially as one lad added a new verse: ‘the young offenders on the bus go natter, natter, natter!!!’  You should have seen the bus driver’s face.

At the second museum, the kids went into a 4D Beatles animation.  They were all quite giddy as they went in doing the usual swearing and shouting.  I was a bit worried as we were mixed in with the general public including children, but one of the young offenders shouted at the others to shut up as ‘there are people who have paid in here.’  Very mature.

The final stop was supposed to be Crosby beach, where Anthony Gormley’s statues are, but it absolutely poured down.  We go soaked to the skin, it was awful – and then we sat in our wet clothes in rush hour traffic for 4 hours!

Another brilliant day, where the kids were exposed to an array of new experiences and they met the challenge at every step.


Exercises & Accidents

July 29, 2010

I brought the photos that I have taken so far in to show the kids.  It was really interesting to see their reactions.  Occasionally, they dip back into being teenagers; worried about how they look, binning the photos where their hair isn’t right, their teeth don’t look good or their expressions are wrong.  MC liked his, he thought that they looked ‘professional.’  I have also taken shots of everyone individually looking through a paper window.  These will be blown up and put around the gallery.

The main exercise today was ‘physical theatre.’  A great idea as everyone had to stand up and get involved.  In the ice-breaker they had to tell one lie and two truths about themselves.  One of my truths was that I once broke my back – the kids seemed impressed with this!

They then had to work as a team to do freeze frames which represented words such as ‘outsider,’ ‘friends,’ and ‘reunion.’  I was impressed as they all had some input and seemed to enjoy it.  The exercise mixed groups up and got them to be physical with each other in a positive way.

Their reward was an hour of football in Batley Sports Hall, a different kind of exercise.  Well worth it – a very tough match with the ball (and people) being slammed into walls.  You could see that some of the kids were really trying to be good at football even if their coordination wasn’t quite there.

After lunch they were asked to prepare a Health & Safety risk assessment for tomorrow, as we are all going on a trip to Liverpool.  The kids had a lot of the answers (accidents, crashes, sickness etc) but the negativity crept in again.  I think they were tired, and perhaps just tired of thinking.  The consensus was ‘we’ll stick together and it will all be fine’ but somehow I don’t think that is enough detail for the HSE.

At the end they worked on the script for the film.  Ting was really engaged and came up with lots of ideas but when one of the others commented that he was taking the lead he stepped back a bit which was a real shame.  I guess it isn’t cool to be top of the class?

The day was rounded off with a 3 car accident outside the gallery, which the kids were really excited about (they all went up the road to look) and a couple of them even gave witness statements to the police, which I felt was rather amusing.

Looking forward to the trip tomorrow.  I think that we are doing a gallery and possibly the Beatles museum and may even get to a beach.  We have to be back for 7pm as one of the boys must be home.  I guess it must be the terms of his release from prison?

He’s getting killed…

July 28, 2010

The first thing that I heard when the kids arrived was ‘do you know Jonny X?  He’s getting killed.’  I thought this was more ‘banter’ but it seems that they were talking about a lad who was in for it.  This conversation was stopped.  It brought me sharply to my senses – remembering that these now familiar faces have a very different set of life experiences to me.

They all completed their records on the previous day and then Craig arrived again.  He quickly got the kids engaged, including those who weren’t there yesterday.  What followed was, once again, incredible.  He got the kids to write a song called ‘A Different Window.’  Well, he did this in stages.  I wouldn’t have thought it possible at the outset, but the kids were contributing great lyrics, especially one I am going to call MC (I am allowed to use Christian names, but I think it better to keep them anonymous).  I must remember to get a copy of the lyrics.  MC was asked to draw on his talents and create an MC version.  He took this really seriously, going into a separate room to concentrate.  He used a tune on his mobile to check that his words met the rhythm and he came up with something amazing which captured the whole story, even rhyming ‘methadrone’ with ‘telephone.’

He was helped by today’s new guy, who I will call Ting.  He quickly found his feet, was very confident and keen to let everyone know who he was.  By the end of the morning, ‘That Poetry Bloke’ was being interviewed by a girl, on the difference between poetry and MC’ing, with MC and Ting holding a debate.  Incredible.  The answer, by the way, is that MC’ing is ‘ghetto,’ ‘street,’ ‘grime,’ ‘negative’ – “you wouldn’t get someone MC’ing about flowers.”

Energies went up and down again, with snoozes aplenty, and ‘play’ (?) fighting aplenty (though including biting today).

In the afternoon, the kids settled down to creating some artwork.  The pace noticeably changed, as most of them worked on their own and concentrated on their pictures.  One lad created a wonderful picture using bright pastels.  Turns out his grandfather is an artist but he doesn’t have much to do with him.

We had our photo taken for the Huddersfield Examiner!

I’m printing out shots so far for the kids’ profiles.  Will be interesting to review which I have taken the most photographs of.  It is a certainty as there are particular faces and characters that I find more interesting.  I also need to review how the work is shaping up so far and where I want to focus (if you pardon the pun), as my photography needs to show what I think about what I am seeing.

Visited ProjectSpace in Leeds this afternoon.  They have a great venue by the canal, near the train station.  They have a room which is like a white box which would be ideal to host the photography, artwork and film together.  They are going to discuss the idea and let me know if they can support me.  Fingers crossed.

By the way, the chains with a crucifix on are from prison.  If they go to two services they get one.  At least three of the kids are wearing them…

27 July 2010 – photo

July 27, 2010

 27 July 2010


July 27, 2010

Today was a strange day.  I was tired as I didn’t sleep well, thinking about all of the kids.  It is very interesting to watch them.  They slouch in and flop down in a chair and say ‘get me some toast.’  I watch the young offender team’s reaction; will they insist on manners?  will they tell them to get it themselves?  It is a mixture depending upon the kid and, I guess, their attitude. It is a balancing act like this all day – judging how far you can push each person to complete a task, or when you realise that they have had enough and it would be counteractive to continue.  Their reaction to most exercises is to say ‘No way’ or worse, but with a bit of cajoling, the promise of a break, or a trade between the offender doing half of the writing and the youth worker doing half. 

It is important to judge the mood in the room as well.  It got very warm in the morning and people were starting to drift off, either in concentration, or literally sleeping.  A treat of 15 mins football was introduced but then something happened.  One of the girls had some cocodamol with her in the morning and the YOTS member checked it out.  I don’t know exactly what happened but there was a rumour that it was going to be exchanged for £10.  Next thing I knew, there was essentially a lock-down, though less dramatic than that.  Everyone sat around in a circle and talked about respect; one of the YOTS team said how disappointed she was as she has put so much effort into creating this opportunity for them and explained that there are plenty of people who don’t think that young offenders should be spending their time in this way.  They did listen, I think it went in – and then they went to let off steam with the football…

Their first exercise was to finish their Yorkshire Sculpture park work.  One lad was helped by a member of staff who wrote out a few post-it notes of key points, and he typed them onto a laptop.  She was called away and I offered to help, showing him that Microsoft Word had highlighted a grammar problem and a typo.  He said he couldn’t read, but he did read some words with me.  My kids are young and learning to read.  He must be around 17.  I can’t imagine a world without words.

Then, Craig Bradley arrived, otherwise known as ‘That Poetry Bloke.’  He is a Yorkshireman and is amazing.  He brought words to life and  engaged all of the kids.  If you’d have told them that within a couple of hours they would be writing poetry, they’d have told you where to go.  But at the end, they were finding words to rhyme with others, they’d described some characters in great detail, and they’d put it all together in a poem.  One of the girls visibly grew in confidence throughout this time.  At first she shouted out a few answers, then she agreed to read out loud, then she was adding in expression and dancing along with him.  She asked him a lot of questions at break time and someone noticed her ‘interviewing’ him and they ended up filming her interview.  Incredible.

The lad who said he couldn’t read probably contributed the most in shaping the film script, coming up with interesting rhymes in context.

I may be wrong here but I think that a romance could be blossoming between two of the kids.  Is this OK?

The last hour or so seemed a bit tense to me, starting just as Craig was leaving.  I don’t know if it was the fact that they had all concentrated so hard for so long, but there were a couple of minor scuffles late on.

Must ask tomorrow what the significance of the beads are that several are wearing – a simple bead necklace with a cross attached.

Someone’s daughter, someone’s son

July 26, 2010

I spent an incredible day today taking pictures of young offenders in Yorkshire.  It is something that I stumbled across.  My artwork from was exhibited in a gallery and the owner (Sue) runs summer arts colleges for these young people.  She mentioned that she would like to document the progress that these guys make over the whole course, and I found myself rearranging my summer holiday and volunteering to join them.

Today was incredible for many reasons; the collection of young people who are already creating interesting work, the challenges that they bring, and the trust that is being shown them.  My own reaction to them is curious too; on the one hand I am intrigued as to what they have done, what have they experienced, what led them to end up in the positions that they are now in, and a part of me doesn’t want to know.  But when it comes down to it, they have probably seen more violence and agression already in their short lives (they are between 14 and 18 years old) than I hope to see in my entire life.  And when you look beyond the attitude and attention-seeking, they are all someone’s daughter or someone’s son, and as a mother I can’t help wondering how I can steer my kids down better paths and protect them from a world which can do people such harm.

There are some real characters among the kids too.  I am not sure if I can use their Christian names so for now I will keep them anonymous.  One lad spent a large amount of the morning on his mobile phone, but when he commented his remarks were both insightful and interesting.  One boy is much younger than the rest but holds his own with plenty of agro, and when he got bored his attention turned to drawing on the hands of one of the girls with a biro.  One chap is very well turned-out (I thought that he was a member of the young offender team) but it seems like he is here for the second year running, and he is mentoring one of the others really well.  One of the girls describes herself as ‘gobby’ and is always loud; a need for attention?  The other girl is more settled and gets on with her work, taking the time to try and understand what is being asked of her and coming up with some creative ideas.  One boy wore his hoody the whole day, and often zipped it up and pulled the hood down to meet the neck completely concealing his face.  He was the only person who was negative about everything – this is crap, that’s boll*cks, etc, but when encouraged by his incredibly patient young offender supervisor he completed all of the exercises.  He is also here for the second year.  I asked him why he had made a film the previous year – he said that ‘he had to.’  I asked him to explain as I am pretty sure that he wouldn’t do anything that he didn’t want to do, and he said that if he hadn’t done it he would have had to go to prison.  At this point I stopped asking questions as I felt that I am not qualified to deal with the response. 

The last member of the team joined in occasionally, but also laid down for the majority of the afternoon hidden under his hoody.  He blushes a lot which confuses me as I would have interpreted that as embarrassment but he seems very confident in himself.  I took some shots of him when he was asleep but realised he was wearing an electronic tag around his ankle.  Again the question comes to mind; what has he done?  But it is none of my business.

I nearly forgot the third girl, but she didn’t come until the afternoon and I haven’t formed an impression of her yet.

They did three exercises today.  One was a review of a trip that they had recently been on, expressed as a collage and they had to write 150 words describing it and what it meant to them.  I was impressed with the boy mentoring the younger one.  As they share some kind of experiences the younger one will take instruction from the older one in a way that I am not sure he would from the young offender team; they speak the same language.  There is a lot of maturity in the older one and between them they completed the project really well.

The second exercise was called ‘Who are you?’ and they put a lot of information about themselves on a large piece of paper along with descriptions of themselves.  One boy simply said “I don’t know” and didn’t want to take part but Sue encouraged him to write this phrase down and said that it was a block that he had now parked so he could now go ahead and write more answers down – and he did, adding ‘confident’ and other descriptions.

The third exercise was to come up with an idea for a film.  It is called ‘A Different Window’ and the theme is Action/ Consequence.  It is amazing what you take for granted as not all of the kids understood what this meant and examples were given, but once they ‘got it’ they started throwing themes out: teenage pregnancy, affairs, violence towards partners, drug-taking, gun crime, discrimination.  Quite a list.  They settled on exploring the new M-Cat drug since it led to much of the themes on the list.  One girl qualified this by saying that ‘when I was on it I was well violent.’  I obviously don’t know if it is true, or said for effect, but I felt that she gained respect from the others for having taken it.  It reminded me that these are no ordinary kids.

The most amazing thing of the day was the fact that Sue loves them.  All of them.  Unconditionally.  She knows all of their histories, and believes in them, trusts them.  When they did the ‘Who Am I’ exercise, they started off by describing Sue and one of the girls pointed this out – that she genuinely cares about them no matter what.

I am going to sign off now and have a look at my shots, but I am going to try and blog daily, so stay tuned. K