Smiles, skills and shimmering colour
Date Created: 8th Aug 2022
“I’m going to make it my mission to make sure you’ve smiled by the end of the day!” This was the response of one young person to another who’d just arrived, after they shared that they’d had a particularly tough weekend. It was typical of the warmth, passion and also the challenges faced by the young people who take part in Artswork’s Portsmouth Creative Skills programme. Judith Carrie has been running this programme for 6 years, helping local young people in difficult circumstances, many of whom have experienced the care system or homelessness.
Over six weeks, participants explore all sorts of things through creative activities, from developing their aspirations, confidence and self-expression to understanding more about the barriers they may currently be facing to employment and how to overcome them. They learn lots about creative and cultural career opportunities, while Judith and her skilled support workers Ben and Naomi help participants to navigate both emotional and practical difficulties as they arise.
On the day I visited them at their base in Portsmouth’s Guildhall, the group spent the morning working on their Arts Award portfolios. They are all working towards their Bronze Arts Awards, and were finding different ways to write up and present the cultural visits and creative workshops they’d taken part in, using collage, photographs, drawings and words to capture what they’d enjoyed most and what they’d learned.
There were lots of laughs as they remembered a session about self-image led by Portsmouth Costumiers (based in the New Theatre Royal) that had resulted in trying out some very different characters through clothing. There was also understandable pride as artist Elisa Mott popped up from The Makers’ Guild downstairs to hand over the group’s finished fused glass pieces, beautiful colourful coasters that they had each designed and created.
The group was also keen to share the lyrics or poetry they’d written, both separately and together, as part of a creative writing workshop with musician Ricky Tart. The words they’d crafted spoke of love and loss, emotional turmoil, of past pain and future hope. The pull of old habits and strong desires for change was a central theme in their group rap song: “The past tries to trip me up, but I won’t be swayed… The past wasn’t right – but then I couldn’t see, So I’ll remind myself to be a better me.”
After a lunch break, which some of the group spent outside on a shady bench chatting with someone practicing Parkour moves on the Guildhall steps, they had a really interesting session with Carl Sonnen from Invictus Training about anger, self-management and defusing difficult situations involving others. Carl is a bouncer and body guard who works in the creative and cultural sector, with a wealth of experience to share about the signs that tension is building and how you can stay in control and stay safe. The group shared experiences of anger, both their own and other peoples’; Carl helped them to understand what’s going on in our bodies and brains at that point and explored some helpful ways to respond. He skilfully managed some tensions that bubbled up within the group itself at times, and led what felt like a very practical, relevant session.
All the time, Judith, Ben and Naomi were checking in, giving support in the wings to those who needed it, boosting confidence and sorting out practical details that could make a real difference. One participant who makes amazingly detailed and creative fantasy models was put in touch with Ben Calvert-Lee from Mastercrafted, a professional artist who makes a living from creating custom fantasy figures. They are meeting this week, which may open up to that talented young person the possibility of creating their own business as a successful maker, doing something they really enjoy as a profession.
I was so impressed, and proud that Artswork is delivering this programme that is clearly making a huge difference. I’ll leave the final words to Judith, who’s run Portsmouth Creative Skills since she set it up. “Children grow up with the impression that if you fail at school then you fail at life. The young people I work with face huge barriers to succeeding at school and yet their lives are still before them. Working with cultural partners from Portsmouth and beyond, this project gives me the privilege of seeing young people gain confidence and skills and begin to discover possibilities that they never knew existed.
It is not a one-way process; these young people know so much; their enthusiastic participation and creativity is valued not just by me but also by all those that they meet and work with over the summer. I love my job.”
Thank you Judith, and Ben, Naomi, the artists and most of all the young people who are Portsmouth Creative Skills. It was wonderful to spend time with you all; here’s to a bright, creative and positive future where you are all in charge of crafting the lives that you want.
Louise Govier, CEO Artswork, August 2022