Finding out what young offenders are good at and drawing it out of them can change their lives. Jane Bryant discusses Artswork’s programmes based around the Arts Award.

Image of young people with massive masks

Over the last 27 years Artswork, a national voice for youth arts, has been on a mission to place the arts and culture at the centre of its work with young people – particularly those who are most marginalised. We advocate for, share and celebrate some of the most extraordinary work taking place with young people, led by partner organisations across the UK.

As a Bridge organisation supported by Arts Council England, we identify gaps in access to the arts and connect with the hardest-to-reach young people in South East England. Recognising the genuine transformational power of the arts and culture to change lives, and aspiring to create longer-term change, we are investing in a small number of action-based research programmes to build and extend innovative practice between arts and cultural organisations and youth justice settings.

It is our job now to ensure that the strengths, challenges, outcomes and impact of the programmes are shared and disseminated

As a result of an open call for expressions of interest in such action-based research projects, we have invested in four partnership clusters comprising the arts and cultural sector, local authority youth offending teams and the youth justice sector. To encourage sustainability, all four projects hold at their core the ambition to build accredited opportunities for young people, often through the Arts Award, as well as staff development and training.

In Kent, the Integrated Youth Services Team is working with Jasmin Vardimon Company and the Gulbenkian Theatre to offer arts and cultural experiences to high-risk young people within the youth justice service. They are exploring their needs and wants, while the young people are gaining Arts Award accreditation and getting involved in the arts and cultural scene locally.

In Berkshire, a cluster including the Windsor and Maidenhead Youth Offending Team, the Bridge Trust Thames Valley, Berkshire Women’s Aid and Norden Farm Centre for the Arts are working with girls in the youth justice system to create an online radio station led by youth support worker DJ Mhlanga. As a result, all of the youth offending team and support workers will be trained as Arts Award advisers.

The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne is working with heritage organisation, the Redoubt Fortress, supporting young people involved with the East Sussex youth offending team to research good practice in outreach programmes and encourage other young people to influence the production and delivery of cultural programmes.

Finally, in Southampton, the John Hansard Gallery, Sea City Museum and Southampton City Art Gallery are partnering with Southampton’s youth offending team to bridge the gap between repeat offenders and access to arts, cultural and heritage provision in the city. This programme is supporting the professional development of youth offending service workers and arts and cultural partner staff while measuring the impact of longer-term weekly Arts Award-embedded programmes on young people known as prolific offenders. To date, the results are looking positive with six young people on track to complete an Arts Award: four at bronze level and two at silver, one of whom has become John Hansard Gallery’s first creative trainee as part of our creative traineeship programme. Excitingly, this Arts Award programme in Southampton has gained recognition from the Ministry of Justice, while the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner has set aside funding to support the programme beyond our investment.

If these programmes are to have a lasting impact on the lives of other young offenders by influencing local and national policy, it is essential that they contribute hard evidence of their success. It is our job now to ensure that the strengths, challenges, outcomes and impact of the programmes are shared and disseminated. This is our next task and we look forward to working with partners to do so.

Jane Bryant is Chief Executive at Artswork.

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