We want to be part of the conversation
Felix Stochaj, Artist and Specialist Youth Worker at Project Future, explores how creative projects and art can provide innovative therapy for young people fleeing homelessness, violence and crime.
“You don’t know what it’s really like unless you have been there”. This is the experience of young people accessing housing services after fleeing violence and crime.
Recently, at Commonweal Housing’s Partnership Celebration, Project Future and Gateway, specialist young people’s wellbeing services, presented a unique exhibition portraying young people’s experiences of homelessness and housing services after fleeing violence and crime. The artwork was created by young adults accessing Project Future and Gateway in response to issues they face as they struggle to receive appropriate housing support.
The exhibition depicts the unseen barriers, challenges and biases faced by young people accessing homelessness services and the relationship between trauma, homelessness and mental health. Created over the last year, the display features a range of multi-disciplinary works that present real-life experiences through the medium of visual art, video, spoken word and performance art.
Artists invite the viewer to see, hear and feel the reality of their experiences accessing housing services because “you don’t know what it’s really like unless you have been there”. Only by truly understanding what young people go through and being open to hearing from them directly about the type of support and services they need can we find ways to make things better.
As expressed by youth consultants at Gateway and Project Future: “We wanted to showcase the ingenuity, resourcefulness and resilience of young people who have experienced homelessness, and provide opportunities for others to witness their skill and creativity.”
The ‘true cost of living’ artwork and associated poem created by Miss Jayda Smith Jackson – artist, poet, and Haringey council employee.
Miss Jayda Smith Jackson, who attended the event to discuss her piece titled the ‘true cost of living’ said: “I could tell people liked my artwork which is always such an interesting experience for me, seeing how others view it.”
Commonweal invited several social investors they hope to secure funding to acquire properties for housing-based pilot projects. This offered young people a chance to directly connect with social investors and share how their experiences and ideas could impact services. As noted by another youth consultant who supported the event: “I really enjoyed today and feel like I really connected with the investors. It was really nice.”
‘Swept under the carpet’ created by Mr Mohammed Assam – artist and specialist youth consultant with Gateway.
The exhibition was created in support of our “A Base of Success” housing model developed through Call for New Ideas 2021 – Commonweal’s partnership programme calling organisations to apply for funding to conduct a feasibility study to test innovative housing initiatives.
Designed alongside young men affected by homelessness, serious youth violence and the criminal justice system, “A Base for Success” seeks to pilot youth-led, trauma-informed supported housing for young men aged 22-30 affected by violence and offending.
By piloting our housing model with Commonweal, we hope to raise awareness around multiple systematic challenges young people face. And the exhibition is part of our aim to challenge professionals to think beyond assumptions they may hold about young adults involved in violence or offending.
Art, creativity and innovation as therapy
The exhibition stemmed from the many formal and informal youth-led supportive conservations Gateway and Project Future have carried out across London.
These creative conversations can touch on many things, including wellbeing support. By ensuring these types of conversations take place, services like Project Future and Gateway are able to offer a space of difference, freedom of expression, pro-social empowerment and a space for young people to reclaim their identity.
In the context of youth offending, many young people benefit from engaging in creative projects that develop their practical skills while providing meaningful exchanges. Often those who have experienced trauma find talking therapies overwhelming and unsafe and hence can be ineffective. Therefore, opportunities for shared creativity offer young people new ways of viewing themselves and opportunities to tell their stories.
When embedded into a holistic therapeutic approach, there is a strong argument for this type of practice as a positive and effective intervention strategy for people caught up in the criminal justice system. While these are often deeply personal processes, through such creative projects, young people can share the factors, stereotypes and social narratives that impact their lives. Through this, they can broaden public awareness and spark social action within local communities.
The exhibition shows the depth of creative skill and expression within each young person. But few are offered these opportunities with mainstream services. Grants and funding are crucial to maintaining this work, although, like many other wellbeing practices, it is almost totally absent in budgeting allowances.
When offered opportunities to act as expert consultants and share their views, young people can bring their unique voices and perspectives to all aspects of service design, development and evaluation. Therefore, the responsibility lies with organisations and professionals to find innovative ways to ensure these valuable contributions and art is one effective way people can, safely or anonymously, share their stories and ideas.
We hope to be able to develop and share this and other exhibitions in the future so more young people can share their experiences and take part in creative wellbeing interventions and social action to enable systemic changes in services.
Art is a valuable outlet and a useful medium to tell stories where words are not enough. Sometimes you want to immerse someone in an experience, to make them truly see, hear and feel the message you are trying to convey.
* Project Future is part of a partnership between Mind in Haringey, Barnet, Enfield and Haringey NHS Mental Health Trust, and Haringey Council