The South West Coastal Hub Alliance are part way through our shared Youth Voice project, as part of the Music Education Hub Development Fund.
Each of our regions — Southampton, Isle of Wight, Dorset, Portsmouth, as well as Bournenouth, Christchurch and Poole — has recruited a Youth Voice Engagement Worker to design and deliver an action research project that will engage children and young people in challenging circumstances.
The team have been meeting regularly to help share best practice, and creatively solve barriers and challenges we're facing. Today, at one of our meetings, an important theme emerged that we wanted to share.
Relationship is key
Across all the projects, and across the team, we have been building an increased sense of how important building relationships is to better understanding and responding to the voices of young people.
In one project — an online Discord community — the recruitment had been difficult at first, but has now been growing, thanks to a programme of visits to youth centres, where face-to-face meetings and engagement has helped increase sign ups and participation online.
In other projects, we have seen the importance of meeting young people where they are at, and getting to know more about what they are interested in, what they want to achieve and what is holding them back, before jumping into music-making.
Across the team, we have been recognising that relationships can take time to build, and that we must give ourselves permission to create space, without expectations, to engage authentically. This may mean allowing conversations to happen, or having young people share music and playlists, or it may be allowing them to have time for quiet exploration using music equipment. This also requires us to be sensitive to when we should ask questions and when it may be better to sit back and observe.
This approach can feel hard to justify, as our inner critic can make us feel guilty for "wasting" time on these things, however, by keeping our eyes on the longer-term goal of building meaningful relationships, we can help to silence this inner critic and give ourselves permission to do what is needed. It can also be important to communicate this value with setting staff too, so they don’t interrupt that space, and it can be very different from the approach taken in more formal learning environments.
But, importantly, we are seeing that this relationship-based approach can help to break down a barrier which is there for some young people. As music hubs, it can be easy to engage with those who quickly or easily engage with us, but by investing in a relationship-building approach, we can also engage with those who need a little extra care to come on board.
Finally, we are observing how critical it is to give young people the choice to engage. This willingness to take part is really important as it establishes the principle of personal agency in the music-making process, and helps set them up to take on challenges willingly.
We hope to share more of our learning in the future.