ARVAC and me – Jayne Humm
When did you become a member of ARVAC and why?
I became a member of ARVAC when I worked for the Community Development Foundation- that must have been about the late 1990s. I joined because there weren’t at the time- and there still isn’t- many networks involving researchers in the charity sector or voluntary and community sector. Very often in this sector there are lone researchers working on their own and I think this is growing now with funding cuts. If you’re a lone researcher in an organisation then it becomes a bit lonely, so it can be quite nice to have your peers to interact with. That’s why I joined.
What have you come across recently that you think would be of interest to ARVAC members, researchers or practitioners in the community and voluntary sector?
Something that I think is of interest is the formation of the institute for community studies which is a new venture (launching in September) that has just managed to get some funding and some new staff. It’s an interesting body that is being housed at the Young Foundation. It’s interesting because it really does give credence to the sorts of issues that communities really care about and it’ll be doing research about those very issues. I am on the advisory group and we’re just talking about how we might surface some of the issues that the institute will look at and research in the first instance. I think it’s an exciting new venture.
What do you think are the challenges or opportunities facing research in the voluntary and community sector?
I think that in the professionalised sector – in the voluntary organisations and charities that employ researchers- there’s a bit of a skills gap because there aren’t so many people… employed in research in the sector anymore. It’s quite hard to recruit, especially at a senior level. That’s a challenge. About 10 – 15 years ago, there were enough people employed in research in the sector that there was a little bit of movement and people could have a good career progression.
I think there are huge number of opportunities for people at community level to do community research, more than before, ironically (whether that is always paid is another question). I think that there is more interest now in what communities think. I don’t really want to talk about Brexit, but I think Brexit and generally people, especially politicians, feel that they don’t really understand communities and communities feel very much that politicians don’t understand them. I think there’s a renewed interest in trying to ensure that communities get a voice and research can help with that. This is why we’re having this conference in November (Uncover> Action) to look at research with and in communities and about how that brings about change.
When are you happiest?
I’m happiest when I am sitting in my little garden, having done a bit of gardening and helped to nurture these little plants. I’m sitting there with a nice captain morgans and diet coke with plenty of ice, thank you very much!
Jayne Humm is head of research and learning at Local Trust and Chair of ARVAC
40 Years on: What is different and why do we need ARVAC
Anniversaries of any kind give us the opportunity topause – look back (perhaps) and reflect. 2018 has marked the 40thbirthday of ARVAC. And it is interesting to look back and think about what haschanged and what has remained the same . On one level many things have changedbut there are moments of similarity : the Conservative Party in 1978 had awomen leader who many thought would lose the next election; the governing partyhad no overall majority in Parliament and were relying on the smaller parties(this time the Liberals) to keep them in office; the question of devolution andthe rights of the constituent parts of the UK were seen as crucial and , in thecall for the subsequent General Electionof 1979 proved to be critical ; there had been (3 years before) a referendum onEuropean membership which seemed to have settled that dispute; in the up comingUS elections an emerging candidate was a former Hollywood actor used to‘performing’ ; and, more importantly, questions of equality and rights werebeing contested ; the Far Right secured a significant number of votes in localelections that year and the Anti Nazi League was formed to counter growinglevels of racism and violence. 1978 also marked a decade on from a range ofgovernment funded initiatives (the Urban Programme) introduced (in part) inresponse to impact of a speech by Enoch Powell (a Conservative politician andrepresenting powerful anti -immigrationviews which added to a growth in racism and racist attacks ). So a verydifferent period compared to now ?
The setting up of ARVAC in 1978 represented an important step in establishing a bridge between voluntary and community organisations / activists and academics. We might now describe the latter as ‘activists ‘ too. They valued the opportunities for learning with and from each other and , more significantly, they saw that small voluntary organisations often lacked the resources (human as well as financial ) to engage with the needs of funders. Whilst small volunteer led groups lacked the physical or professional infrastructure that the larger charitable agencies had they often reflected a more responsive and localised way of campaigning or questioning decisions made.
ARVAC saw its role as supporting and nurturing this layer of community activists and leaders giving practical support to their work. ARVAC’s mission – in that sense – was to be a genuine and facilitative friend to these (often) informal and reactive campaigns and groups. It is important to remind ourselves that the period from 1968-1978 was a decade of change and disruption. On one level we can book end the decade by the Powell Speech and the rise of the National Front. In between there was the Three Day Week a short lived Conservative Government followed by a minority Labour Government and three elections between 1970 and 1974.
It was , also, a decade in which the Urban Programme and a range of other initiatives (some borrowed from the US War on Poverty in the 1960s) began to fund a number of projects at the local level : from legal aid to tenant participation to promoting community consultation on housing and planning as well as health. Looking back we can see the emergence at this time of a much more professionalised voluntary and community sector. Together with policy initiatives at the centre to reframe social work and youth work we can see the growth in universities of accredited and approved degree and advanced qualifications which did lead to a sector which looked very different 10 – 20 years later never mind 40 years on.
There is another story to be told about the impact these developments had on higher education departments. And that might be for another time and place. But for those ARVAC activists who were themselves working in universities these developments often came with unintended consequences. The growth of these kinds of programmes meant they were externally regulated. The growth in the regulation and quality assurance of all programmes and HE in general is a part of these changes too. It illustrates an important political as well as policy development. The 68 – 78 decade can be seen as a period in which in many places globally as well as in the UK there was an upsurge in non-traditional political activism from the anti war movement to Equal Pay for Women to the Anti-Racist campaigns as well as trade union activism . Alongside these activities there was also a growth in community action too with local newspapers being set up and opposition to planning proposals and housing redevelopment. It is, also, a period too in which the myriad of urban focussed interventions sought to mitigate the worst effects of poverty and poor housing. Charities were set up to campaign for an end to child poverty (CPAG) or to meet the needs of the homeless (Shelter).
These local and national campaigns did result in policy changes and in the growth of a new category of public professional to work with families and children. These new professionals needed education and training. Over time we can observe that the places where these former activists or willing to be activists went to be trained became increasingly deradicalized and depoliticised. Whilst this process took place over time it is not the case that the changes in practice or the radical edge to such programmes were toned down immediately or consistently. From the late 1970s to the late 1980s even whilst the Thatcher Government was seeking to impose its values at the local level of Town Halls and universities there were forms of resistance. The promotion of an alternative approach through decentralisation and the setting up of neighbourhood city halls were common features of the response at municipal level. Often accompanied by tenant participation or equal opportunities initiatives these developments sought to connect with local community groups.
This was ( I think) ARVAC’s space. We offered (and I think still do) a different but complementary approach to other agencies or , indeed, universities. We were seeking to work with those groups that did not have access to larger pots of funding or were wanting to steer their own path. I think that ARVAC has , from the start, valued working collaboratively and in so doing tried to work in a way that understands that power (and especially professional power) does make partnership working impossible if it is not acknowledged and difficult when it is. The development of the Getting Started Tool Kit (revamped and relaunched at the 2018 AGM) was a recognition that we wanted to ensure (some how) the sustainability of the sharing of research skills and processes and in a way which was genuine and congruent with our values.
I think this approach is still valid and even more so in 2018 / 2019. The 1990s and through to 2010 saw a period of unprecedented growth in funding for the voluntary and community sector. From the setting up of the Single Regeneration Budget to City Challenge to New Deal for Communities and so many , many more developments the VCS were ‘at the table’ ! The Third Sector Research Centre too was another important development . We know that being ‘at the table’ is not the same as being ‘heard’ but funds did flow to support infra structure organisations. The significant changes especially during the New Labour years and then after 2010 in the context of austerity was the growth of the VCS as service providers. Why does this matter ? I think it reflects an important (and I appreciate at selective) step in the history of the past 40 years. When ARVAC was created the capacity of voluntary organisations and community groups to take on functions of the local state was not assumed to be a factor in the public provision of services. In 2018 we assume the opposite. We , also, assume that voluntary groups or campaigning groups when they look for funding will prepare a business case and an impact assessment. In other words as the expectation of responsibility has shifted down to local groups so has the expectation of what they must be able to demonstrate has gone up.
ARVAC through its modest interventions but through its potential to mobilise good will and draw on extensive networks has a role still to play. It remains necessary that such groups and networks are able to connect with critical friends and more knowledgeable others (not in a elitist way of thinking but in the skills they can bring). Our challenge to ourselves is how to sustain , develop and support this network of critical friends who can connect with groups and agencies in order that the values of such activist groups are nurtured and developed.
On the 13th of November, ARVAC hosted it’s annual AGM. This was a special event as it represented 40 years of activity for the charity. Besides presenting the annual report, a number of presentations were given that represented different facets of our work. Please find attached to this post, both a copy of the AGM report and copies of the presentations given on the day.
Here’s to another 40 years!
10 minutes with… Colin Rochester
Colin has worked in and with the voluntary and community sector for over forty years. He has worked as a consultant, practitioner and as an academic. His most recent book, Rediscovering Voluntary Action: The Beat of a Different Drum was published in December 2013.
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
The first is “calm”, the second is “skeptical”, and the third is – I hope – “imaginative”. You have to be careful when you get a question like this – should you be modest or should you be arrogant? But no, I think that’s fairly real.
What is occupying your time at the moment?
There are two things. The first is that I am editing a book with David Billis on hybrid organisations and this is a massive task, taking much too long. It’s a big book- there are 29 chapters drawn from people all over the world and writing about a variety of hybrid organisations.
From this point of view “hybrid organisations” share the characteristics of more than one sector. One example would be third sector organisations which have become part of the market and have characteristics of the private sector or become part of the public sector under contract to government. This changes the nature of the organisation from what it originally was. There are nine different variations of this. It works on the assumption that each organisation has its roots in one sector but it may have important characteristics from one or two other sectors. There is some very interesting stuff in there, which is why I took it on. I thought I knew a little about it but there was an awful lot more to learn so it was a challenge and a new interest. The publisher is called Edward Elgar (not the composer). They are a major publisher and they publish a lot of these handbooks.
The second thing I’m working on is the development of infrastructure organisations. The Voluntary Action History Society is running a day conference on the history of infrastructure organisations and how they seem to be declining and dying, in many cases. We’re looking at what the “golden age” was like and why they are now, apparently, declining.
I don’t like the term “infrastructure organisations” but these are often called “second tier ” or “umbrella” organisations whose aim is to serve or work with other organisations rather than directly with a client group. The well-known ones are councils of voluntary service and volunteer centres, but there are a great many more specialist ones.
I’m working on this with my partner, Meta Zimmeck, but there are a lot of other people with ideas on this who are coming together for a day conference which will take place in June. We’ve got to do some work beforehand and when we get the results of the conference we will see where we go with that. It’s something I have been interested in over a few years – rather too many years, actually.
Why are infrastructure organisations on the decline?
They are on the decline for two reasons. One is they’re no longer in favour with government, especially central government but also local government. Local government is under pressure and can cut these people out and go straight to the direct service provision. The other reason is local government increasingly has its own set of mechanisms for dealing with local organisations, contracting in particular. If you’re doing the contracting, especially if it’s competitive tendering, there isn’t much use for some sort of intermediary or umbrella organisation to deal with it, in the view of the people who deal with it. That’s the simple answer- it’s probably more complicated than that.
When did you become a member of ARVAC and why?
I can’t remember exactly when it was, but it would be about 1984-85. There are three reasons why I became interested. The first reason is that it was at the point when I was shifting my career (if I can call the rag bag of things I did a “career”!) from working as a practitioner to being a researcher and an academic. At that time I was studying part time at Brunel University for a masters in voluntary sector organisation. When I completed it, I moved over into freelance work and research and eventually into academia. I was interested because things were changing.
I was interested secondly because there wasn’t anywhere else for people who were interested in research on the voluntary sector to go to back then. That was the pioneering aspect of it. There weren’t very many people involved in research. That’s how I got involved and I’ve stayed involved in one way or another ever since.
The third reason why I stayed involved – because I have also been involved in other research organisations- is that ARVAC has always combined an interest in practitioners and interest in researchers. It’s not pure researchers talking to other researchers – it’s researchers having to talk to the real world. I thought that was important and still think that’s important. That’s why I’m still along for the ride.
What have you come across recently that would be of interest to ARVAC members, researchers and practitioners?
I’ve come across a couple of things. One is Local Trust’s own publication – Julian Dobson’s piece (New seeds beneath the snow?). I read his material and thought that it was well worth a wider audience, and I’ll tell you why. The first part of the book is a very good resume of how important and useful local leadership can be in these areas where it’s needed. But that’s not new – that sort of thing has been coming out every five or ten years. It was very nicely done, but it wasn’t new. What is new about it is that he then said “But this is not enough. If we’re going to do something about what’s needed for life and living in those areas, we actually need some decent public services, and the combination will give us something that’s important”. Now I don’t think anyone has said that loudly or clear enough before now, so I think that’s an important thing to know about. That encouraged me.
The other thing is actually a chapter in the book about hybrid organisations, which is written by David Billis. I have talked about three sectors: the voluntary, public and private sectors. What he has suggested is there is another area which is the private world, the world of family and friends, who also get involved in voluntary action. There is a very interesting territory of organisations which seem to be partly family and friends, and partly more organised and voluntary sector. These have been talked about for a long time but I don’t think anybody has tried to pin it down quite yet.
This is seen as the boundary of the voluntary sector. The voluntary sector has a boundary with the personal world and it’s not difficult to spot that anywhere. The ways in which people behave in formal organisations are very much like a group of friends, rather than an organisation. But on the other hand, they have to be organised to a certain extent, so how do you draw the line? How do you navigate the line between those two? I think that’s a very interesting area which hasn’t been looked at as much as it might have been.
What do you think are the challenges and opportunities facing research in the voluntary and community sector?
This is a harder question because I must avoid having a rant. I talked about joining ARVAC in 1985-ish when there was hardly anyone doing anything about the voluntary sector. Since then there was quite a period of expansion of work on the voluntary sector – universities became interested, there was a journal or two published. It all looked as though it was booming and there was something important going on there. I think that period of boom and expansion has ended. Getting people really interested in the area again is quite a struggle and that is reflected in the fact if you want to get any money to do any research, even small-scale piece of research, it’s very difficult. So the first challenge is that the bubble has burst.
The second problem is when we started in that period of growth there was a lot of really interesting ideas about theories of the voluntary sector – how it worked and how people behaved in those organisations.That was important. It seems to me that that period of building theories or interrogating theories has largely come to an end. If there is any money around for that research, no one wants to do that – they’re all involved in evaluating a programme. I’m not saying you shouldn’t evaluate programmes at all, but it’s a very limited part of what you want. And again, the way that you evaluate a programme can be narrow or wide. You can actually draw wide conclusions from it or can just say it was “good”, “bad” or “indifferent”. That’s the concern I have about it and I’m not aware of people who are working on anything interesting on that theoretical, conceptual level.
Why do you think that engagement in theory has declined?
There are a number of reasons for it. If you’re looking in terms of universities, I think that it’s the way that universities operate these days. You want quick gains, you want people to get things published. It’s all about volume. There are lots and lots of articles being published, which are all right, but people are under pressure to publish them and then move on. Whereas what you need for theory is people who are prepared to stick with it. When you’ve done one piece, move on and see where the next piece takes us rather than starting as if you’re starting from scratch. I think that’s one of the big problems. And that’s been exacerbated by the way in which central government has treated research on the voluntary sector (when they were doing it). The fact that they stopped doing it hasn’t been as big a setback as you might have thought, because I think what they have been encouraging has been largely the wrong kind of research. The whole area of voluntary action is incredibly complicated and complex and that needs teasing out, and there are very few people willing to engage with that.
This might be controversial but it seems to me that the people I know who are involved in ARVAC tend to be people like me who have got grey hair! I don’t think there’s that much engagement with the younger generation of people who are members. I’m not blaming them, because when we started it was new and interesting and you wanted to get to grips with it. Somehow it isn’t there at the moment. You publish that and get ARVAC to respond and say “But we’re doing it all the time!” I would be delighted!
Of all the pieces of research that you have been involved in, which one are you most proud of and why?
The first one has to be the work I did for the book I wrote on rediscovering voluntary action. Although in part it was reflecting what I had done for years, I also did some more thinking and some more desk research to build that up, so it’s quite a major piece of work. I think what I produced was the thing I am proud of.
At the same time, years ago in 1999 I did a piece of work funded by the Lloyds TSB Foundation on small voluntary agencies. We looked specifically at the voluntary agencies which had no more than four full time, paid members of staff. Sometimes people call them the “micro agencies”. It seemed to me they were a very special or specific kind of organisation. Partway through the research we talked to a group of people from these organisations and said “This is what you have told us. This is how it looks” and somebody said “Yes, that’s fine. Very good. You’ve listened to us, you’ve told us what we said- what are you going to do about it?” I went away and thought, well they’re right. It’s no good just saying we know how it is, we ought to think how it should be. So I ended up writing a handbook for those small agencies which we called “Juggling on a unicycle”, because somebody involved in running or leading a small organisation like that was juggling all sorts of pressures and they didn’t have a lot of resource. It’s a good title and I also think it’s a good piece of work. It never really caught on. I think a problem was actually getting it to the people who might want to read it, who are the people running those organisations who are not really well connected into other organisations. I don’t think it’s dated very much at all. People should get it out and read it. It’s designed to be very easy to read, because if you’re in that kind of organisation you don’t have the time to read anything at great length.
What’s the best advice you have been given in life?
This is impossible to answer. I think it’s broadly along the lines of “Do what you want to do that gives you some pleasure, rather than kill yourself out of some sense of duty or trying to make money”. Pursuing your own interest and pleasure is the best way forward, and that’s what I have tried to do – not always successfully, but I’ve tried. I’ve given it a good go.
Raymond Williams Foundation 2018 Residential event: 18-20 May 2018, The Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool
‘The long revolution today: education, culture and politics for all’
30 years after Raymond Williams’ death, the Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF) invites people for a weekend of discussion about how we can loosen the stranglehold the elite still largely retains on our educational, political and cultural life. Bringing together a wonderful line-up of speakers and the chance for collective participatory discussion, the aim is to generate ideas and proposals and help navigate ways ahead.
The mission of the Raymond Williams Foundation (RWF) is to support ‘an educated and participating democracy’. This weekend will build on a three-decade-long tradition of the RWF convening a mix of people-centred discussions and innovative and progressive forms of participatory action on the ground.
TO BOOK FOR THIS EVENT ONLINE PLEASE GO TO THE RAYMOND WILLIAMS FOUNDATION WEBSITE http://www.raymondwilliamsfoundation.org.uk – Events section
Addressing the problem of the Crocodile in the Thames …. Using research to inform democracy and engagement
Addressing the problem of the Crocodile in the Thames …. Using research to inform democracy and engagement
Our ARVAC conference this year is focussed on research to inform democracy and engagement. ARVAC, is the Association for Research with Voluntary and Community Organisations. The conference presentations are set against the backdrop of ever-hardening austerity and a growing wave of popularism and will highlight the key issues that all those looking to help progressively renovate the public realm will need to address and negotiate in the months and years ahead. Participatory democracy, engaging public reflection in an ethical and timely way is essential to inform democracy. The rise of popularism, instant opinion and outrange in 140 characters has re-defined media engagement creating instant binary reactions stemming from opinion, sometimes prejudice and often mis-information.
The recent news reported in the Mirror, Daily Mail & The Sun of a crocodile supposedly swimming in the Thames (9th October 2017) is a an amusing example of a more malignant problem. Before you worry about the Newspaper Article, it turned out to be a pond ornament, but it reminds us of the need for evidence based research. Using participatory research, working with groups at the coal face of welfare reform empowers those with experience to build voice, it builds expert evidence to inform democracy through ethical engagement. The approach of the Poverty Truth Commissions is one example of this work, using the Nothing About Us without Us approach can enliven democracy, empower voice and promote democratic accountability. Our key note speaker, Nick Mahony is a Researcher, Public Engagement Advisor, Compass Associate and the Administrator (coordinator) of the Raymond Williams Foundation. His expertise is in public engagement and participatory democracy. Nick seeks to combine scholarship, consciousness-raising and practice-based activities where-ever this is possible. He is currently working with Compass and others to address the politics of the contemporary participatory democracy and public engagement, with the aim of supporting the progressive development of this landscape, to further the aims of social justice, equality and democracy.
The ARVAC conference will spend time considering a range of examples through lectures and break out workshops, the event on the 6th February at CAN Mezzanine, 7-14 Great Dover Street, London is free to attend and you can book your place here www.arvac.org.uk/events/
The Taking Yourself Seriously Project set out to explore the relationship between community arts and social cohesion with particular reference to sustainability of projects – beyond the immediate context. The Taking Yourself Seriously project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities Programme. This programme seeks to encourage community co-produced living knowledge that directly works with, not on communities. The funding aimed to explore the role of artists in social cohesion projects in partnership with ARVAC, the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sectors.
At the end of the project, the project team gathered together in Sheffield to reflect on the findings and to consider what we learned. We were joined by a Trustee, from ARVAC. We came together as one group, enacting social cohesion in practice. You can see the visual record of the writing retreat on the ARVAC project pages. The purpose of the writing retreat was to explore what everyone had been working on and how it all fits together. It was an opportunity to listen to each other and to hopefully learn more together about the ways in which artistic methodologies can inform social cohesion.
Towards the end of the retreat we developed reflective ques that we felt would be helpful to others who might want to develop their arts based practice to encourage social cohesion. These reflective ques, in the collaborative and discursive manner in which the Taking Yourselves Seriously Project is themed were developed as a group and reflect the collective thoughts of the Taking Yourselves Seriously writing retreat team.
- A CREATIVE PALETTE … Use a palette of different types of art practices, that values all kinds of art’ community art, poetry, music
- LOCAL TALENT … working with artists who are based in the communities in which you are working adds an extra depth to the work. These artists know the area as this is where they live, living and working in the same space offers a commitment and accountability to communities.
- SHARING UNDERSTANDINGS … Artists should be involved in the project from the outset, they then understand the nuances of the project and can fully engage and collaborate
- PROCESS OR PRODUCT …. Be Clear … if Art is a Process or a Product. There is a moral obligation, that if communities give time, reflections and interviews that that is a gift which should be reciprocated in some-way
The Taking Yourself Seriously Project set out to explore the relationship between
community arts and social cohesion with particular reference to sustainability of projects
– beyond the immediate context.
The Taking Yourself Seriously project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research
Council’s Connected Communities Programme. This programme seeks to encourage
community co-produced living knowledge that directly works with, not on communities.
The funding aimed to explore the role of artists in social cohesion projects in partnership
with ARVAC, the Association for Research in the Voluntary and Community Sectors. At
the end of the project, the project team gathered together in Sheffield to reflect on the
findings and to consider what we learned. We were joined by Sharon Hutchings, from
We came together as one group, enacting social cohesion in practice. The purpose of
the writing retreat was to explore what everyone had been working on and how it all
fits together. It was an opportunity to listen to each other and to hopefully learn more
together about the ways in which artistic methodologies can inform social cohesion.
You can download this here TYS Writing Retreat
This review considers the use of arts based approaches for social cohesion. It makes up part of a more extensive literature review that has been created to support the artistic projects that emerge from the Taking Yourself Seriously project. The Taking Yourself Seriously project is working in partnership with the Association for Research with the Voluntary and Community Sector (ARVAC) to share the knowledge developed through our work with other voluntary and community groups. This review is intended to be used as a resource for Community and Voluntary Sector members of ARVAC who are interested in developing similar projects. ARVAC key findings
The Taking Yourself Seriously Project (TYS) explores how arts methologies can facilitate social cohesion within communities. TYS is situated into three situation specific community spaces, one of which is a secondary school in an area where there have been issues of social cohesion.
Co-production, ethics and prioritising young people’s voices, alongside a relinquishing of ‘adults’ as the knowledge experts has been key to this exploration, and to the generation of different understandings of social cohesion within the school context.
The research team within the school is composed of three TYS project staff and 4 Year 8 pupils. The aim is to coproduce the research by enabling young people to explore what social cohesion means to them, and how they and other young people in the school understand and recognise cohesion in action.
The young people are using creative tools such as photography, filmmaking and audio recording as they undertake their research. In one particular session, the young people spent some time showing us around the school whilst photographing their favourite spaces/places. We asked them what they thought social cohesion was within the school; they said it was making friends, having safe and favourite places where they could be together and being able to be themselves.
Looking through the photos they’d taken, the young people explained why they had taken the pictures that they did, and talked through what the different spaces in the school meant to them.
For one young woman the library was an unsafe space. She told us that when she was in Year 7 she had overheard other young people saying not very nice things about her and now she doesn’t like going into the library. One of the young men explained that he didn’t like the library as it meant he had to read. He also said that the library was a safe place because it was quiet and calm.
The canteen was a safe and unsafe place. It was safe because there were counters, and lots of teachers and dinner ladies about so it was watched. It was unsafe as lots of fights happen there and it can be very busy and loud.
The school is very good at recognising success. Around the school several walls are covered in framed photographs, letters and artifacts that celebrate pupil achievement, as well as former students who have achieved myriad goals. Two of our young researchers stated that they liked this space as they could look at the photos and think about the things they want to achieve.
All of the young people liked the music room. Our young female researcher plays piano, two of the young men also played instruments and one of them explained that he plays the drums as this helps him when he is frustrated and angry. Making a rhythm helps him to calm down and get into a different headspace. Another young researcher said that he likes it when everyone plays their instruments together and is part of a band making lots of noise. Each of them said that music was a way of communicating, of using a different language to work together.
We asked the children to choose their favourite photo and to use this as inspiration to create something on a large piece of paper that reflected what social cohesion in the school meant to them. Whilst we were making, one of the team asked them what they didn’t like about school and they shared some of the things they found difficult. They felt that some young people were treated differently than them, and that these young people can get away with things that they cant, like wearing trainers and being given more time to complete activities set in class. They felt that they were treated ‘less better’ than these young people.
Another young person then disclosed how his experience of a family trauma meant that he got frustrated and didn’t always want to behave in school, and when his friends had been unsupportive, he struggled to not misbehave due to his anger.
All of the young people made something different to contribute to the collage. They all returned to the significance of music, and how this brings everyone together; even if you speak different languages you can still communicate with others through the notes and rhythms, as you know what the next person is doing when they play their instruments. Their reflections on the importance of music lead them to add a plasticine circle to their collage. The young people each made a plasticine sausage that were joined together to make a circle. They said that the circle is because music brings people together. They wrote inside their circle “ Our music community that brings us together”.
In creating space for young people to be the ‘expert’ and self-define their understanding and experiences of social cohesion what became clear is that they negotiate a lived-experience of social cohesion daily. This negotiation involves wrestling with ‘othering’ and ‘being othered’, living with the nitty-gritty issues of real-life and the struggles of juggling these within school life; they are also acutely aware of the juxtaposition of different spaces being both safe and unsafe inside and outside of school.