iceandfire’s “Our Safe Space” Audiovisual Project, Sheffield.
“Giving voice, providing a platform, skills development, social bonding, confidence building, breaking down barriers, community cohesion, racial equality” … the list of terms clogging funding applications for participation work is endless. So what does it all actually mean for the people that are supposed to benefit from this participation? Coming towards the end of a ‘participation project’ such as “Our Safe Space”, this is the nagging question. With the best of intentions, the expected (and unexpected) obstacles, and never enough time or resources, what’s the end result and is the end result the point?
The end result in this case is a photo book and audio slideshow of images and interviews collected by the participants, all of whom are refugee and asylum seeking young people. The end result, for a group who had little or no experience with creative media, shows an innate talent and intuitive skill for image and sound production. As a tool for giving voice these images and text provide an insight into ideas of safe spaces that should (and hopefully will) inform decision makers in services that affect them. In terms of this group having successfully produced a creative media production, yes, it seems a success. But, the nagging questions beckons, has the process supported them to participate? And participate in what?
For refugee and asylum seeking young people, participation is hindered by many barriers far greater than they should face at their age. Not many other young people can say they missed a workshop because they had to report to the police. Bearing in mind, these young people have committed no crimes. Not many young people are late to workshops because they’ve spent two
hours arguing with school administration staff to get their younger siblings a school placement. Not many young people must leave a workshop early because they have to translate for friends at asylum interviews. In this case, lack of participation was not a reflection of motivation or interest.
As with any participants who face such barriers, the process calls for flexibility, to work around their needs, and to be willing to put in the extra time that your plans will inevitably not account for. With the help of staff at the Embrace Youth Project and Sheffield Live Radio and the time and dedication of this group of young people, we’ve created a media production they’re proud of, and an experience we were lucky to have shared, and just hopefully, a chance to participate, a little more fully, in life.
By Clea Langton, Regional Co-ordinator, Actors for Human Rights