Thank you for watching my blog. In addition to how this work has inspired me and helped me grown as a practitioner, I also wanted to share with you the learning that we have made in making the space that we have created as safe and as inclusive as we can.
I know that depending on where you are based “difference” can mean a lot of things. I emigrated to the UK and I have a different accent. At 5Ft 10”, I am very tall “for a woman”. These differences to those around me can create a perception about me. The important word in that sentence is perception. What we work to do in Youth Handy Voices (YHV) is to remove this perception. We are all different, but that does not mean that we are not equal. At YHV we encourage individual voice and preferred ways of communicating. We do this in several ways:
Come As You Are: It is very important that we arrive into the space and be open to what other’s experience is AT THAT MOMENT. One YP commented that “We all come into the space as we are, whether we are feeling good, not so good, whatever, it is ok”. We value each person that comes in and we have a semi- anonymous check in on how we are feeling, and each person can share further if they want.
Supportive sharing: In addition to the check in we have a space in each session asking if anyone has anything that they want to share about the day/week/ what is happening with them. This is not a therapy session, but we use this time to support each other’s concerns and celebrate achievements.
Joint Agreement: We have a group contract on how we will communicate and learn with each other. This includes how we address each other. If we have new people in the room, we introduce ourselves stating our name and preferred pronoun (he, she, they, etc).
Focus on the “Can”: Many of our members are disabled. This does not mean that we change the learning goal, but it does mean that you may need to be flexible on the timing of it, and the method of how you get there. Everyone works to what they can do, often challenging themselves to go beyond their own expectations. No one is ever excluded.
Create leadership opportunities in the session: I have designed the sessions so that in almost every session a YP leads on part of the session. This means that everyone has a chance to share their talent and their way of learning. This is very important to help build with team confidence as well as personal resilience. This opportunity may be the only time that this YP has the chance to shine. It can be invaluable in outreach with this YP and their peers.
Time: All of this takes time, so I make sure that each session has it planned in. What you find out is that connection time and promotion of voice is the most precious of the session and is often the most valued because the learning is set up on this basis of trust and knowledge that each person is valued and important to the team.
Get It Wrong: Doing all the above and being aware doesn’t mean we always get it right. We are human and sometimes get it wrong. But it is also part of life and learning to be wrong. Recognising that and making it right actually builds more trust in the long term. In the session there are goals to be achieved, however patience and learning patience from each other is also one of them. When we do get it wrong we fix it by talking about what happened and work on the best ways to make sure that trust and communication is bridged again.
The above are what have worked for my group as perhaps they may seem too simple to work. The main learning that I have taken is that it does not take much effort to make your sessions more inclusive, but the difference it makes to the YP is that you have created a safe space to learn, grow and have fun. And remember, your perceptions might be the only thing that is standing in your way
Youth Handy Voices Signing Choir is a part of the My Normal Music Project at the Ark-T Centre