Network of Regional Youth Work Units England blog

A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.

Space – the final frontier?

somewhereto group 2This month saw the launch of somewhereto_ re:store [the high street heist], a month long campaign providing young people with the opportunity to showcase their talents and inject their ideas into  the high street.

A youth led high street take -over of six disused shop spaces around the UK this summer, the campaign is also backed by retail magnate Theo Paphitis.

The Newcastle launch event was a seven-hour spectacle of local talent featuring dancers, DJs, a graffiti artist and lots more besides, attracting over 100 young people on the day.

The idea is that now, our somewhereto_ NE co-ordinator Neil, will liaise with young people who want to host workshops, exhibitions and performances over the next few weeks; giving them the chance to use this space to do something that they love.

We have been running the somewhereto_ programme in the North East for several years now, matching young people up to a host of spaces around the region, including libraries, theatres and former locomotive works.

Time and time again, through projects like somewhereto_, we are reminded of the importance of space in young people’s lives, and how, even today, it’s still an issue peppered with misunderstanding and conflict.

So why exactly is space important and why does it conjure up so many issues?

The function of space

Space is important to everyone, regardless of age, as it provides opportunity to socialise with our peers, exercise, enjoy the outdoors and explore our surroundings. But with many different social groups looking to use the same spaces; conflict can arise.

The social norm appears to be that, with most public spaces having been designed by adults; ‘sensible’ adult-associated behaviour should be adhered to in these places.

So when it comes to teenagers using these areas, they don’t quite fit with these expectations from wider society and are looked upon suspiciously by other user groups. These perceptions also compound the issue of young people feeling socially excluded from public spaces, be it a park, building or street corner.

No place like home

According to research from the University of Stirling, a sensory experience (sounds, sights and textures) can provide a strong sense of belonging. These feelings are supported by young people being able to personalise their own places and being able to contribute to communal activities. But how often does this actually happen in practice?

In the research paper ‘Excluded from streets and space’, Helen Woolley (reader of landscape architecture at Sheffield University) discusses how young people seek to establish their own sense of identity through their teenage years, reflected in their opinions, looks, musical taste, clothes and leisure activities. They value places where they can gather with their peers and claim it as their own.

This obviously poses a problem when it comes to using public spaces as they are competing with other user groups, such as young children and older people, and are therefore unable to put their own stamp on these spaces.

What happens when young people are given the chance to claim a space as their own and have free rein in developing it?

A creative approach

Part of our four-year Legacy Trust UK programme NE-Generation – Space Invaders provided young people with that very opportunity, giving them access to a derelict old police house in Gateshead.

The group transformed the building over an eight-week period, conjuring up a jungle room, aquarium and mad hatter’s tea party. It amassed lots of positive feedback from the public, as well as regional press coverage, showing that young people can do inspirational things when given the opportunity.

Space Invaders

Meanwhile, Urban Alchemy saw young people working with cultural organisations to develop work in unexpected places. Transformations included large scale murals and urban arts performances, including a promenade performance of Romeo and Juliet.

Back to basics

Creativity and feelings of belonging aside, sometimes young people just need an informal environment where they can hang out with friends. Step in the local youth centre, and in particular MyPlace.

MyPlace was launched by the government in 2008. The aim was to develop world-class youth centres in some of the most deprived areas in England. It was expected that £240 million would have been invested into the programme by 2013, comprising 63 MyPlace projects in total.

Arguably, MyPlace has achieved varying degrees of success in different regions, but with youth provision sliding down the local government agenda, it will be interesting to see how this will impact on young people and the way they make use of their surrounding space, in the future.

More to debate

Young people and space is something that merits much further discussion – we’ve only touched upon a few issues in this blog post.

For example, how can young people effectively participate in the re-designing of public spaces? When it comes to town planning, architecture and so on, what do young people actually want? And what role does Asset Transfer play in the long-term sustainability of youth centres?

If you’d like to share your thoughts on this topic – please feel free to leave a comment below.

Until next time…



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