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The combination of the pandemic and impending climate change means the world we have known is about to change. As young people work out what matters to them – and what they can do about it – collective making can help, says Deirdre Buckley.

Photo of Craftspace. Two young people doing craftwork
Craftspace: young people ‘making for change’

The collectively authored Craftivism Manifesto defines a craftivist as “anyone who uses their craft for social good”. It talks about craftivism (a term first used by the American maker Betsy Greer in 2001) in terms of raising consciousness and creating a better world through making by hand. Since 2015, Craftspace’s ‘Making for Change’ programme has been using this idea as a starting point to work with young people in Birmingham.

As a craft organisation that believes in the fundamental power of making – particularly collective making – craftivism sits well with us. It’s a gentle (rather than shouty or aggressive) way to bring about change. We have found it to be particularly effective in engaging young people who care about issues and want to do something about them.

‘Making for Change’ combines making sessions, data visualisation, speakers, exhibition visits and discussions, working alongside makers and activists. In this way it supports participants to identify the things that matter to them and translate them into a making-based campaign of their own. Some young people in the programme are concerned about their city experience: knife crime, stop and search policies, the closure of youth services and community cohesion. Others are more focused on global concerns such as the declining bee population, plastic in the oceans and the impact of the stigma associated with mental health.

Young people can really examine what matters to them and make a statement to the wider world

By making collectively with focus and intent, young people can really examine what matters to them and make a statement to the wider world. This is empowering in a physically active way at a time in their lives when many things can seem hopeless or out of their control.

Changing behaviour

One participant, Anna, was passionate about plastic pollution and its impact on animals. After researching the topic, she created a zine including instructions on how to make a greenhouse from reused plastic bottles. At Simmerdown, a local festival, she asked people to hand in bottles in exchange for a zine and to help her make a greenhouse. She made contact with the Clean Kilo – Birmingham’s first plastic free supermarket, which had just opened. They agreed to give people a discount if they brought the zine with them.

“A lot of people were already aware of the growing problem of plastic waste but I think they benefited from me actually telling them how to make a change,” says Anna. At least one person fed back that they had changed their behaviour around buying plastic water bottles in response to Anna’s campaign.
Sarah was worried about the declining bee population. Her campaign focused on getting families to think differently about bees. She created bee making craft kits packaged alongside facts relating to bees and a packet of lavender seeds which she used to engage people in doing something positive to support the bee population.

New conversations

Finally, Mahnaz was interested in community cohesion and how you can prevent isolation by engaging people from different communities in conversation.  She devised a ‘Tea 4 Change’ campaign where people shared conversations while stitching a decorative tea bag. She chose tea because it is a universal drink shared by many cultures and communities, as well as being a very British custom. Following her initial campaign, Mahnaz worked with a mentor who supported her to run a pop-up tea party in a busy space in Birmingham City Centre. Many participants remarked on how enjoyable it was to stop and sit alongside others for tea, cake and stitching.

Despite Birmingham being a very busy city, many of its residents are isolated and feel lonely. As well as engaging a drop-in audience, Mahnaz invited local decision makers, which led to the then Mayor of Birmingham and a homeless person sitting down at a table together. They were able to exchange thoughts about issues for people in the city in way that would not otherwise have been possible.

For Mahnaz personally, engagement in the programme had a significant impact. It stopped her from dropping out of a college during a difficult period and provided her with lots of development opportunities. She gained a place on a campaigning course at the Eden Project in Cornwall and travelled to Slovenia with Craftspace as part of a European exchange programme. She adapted her campaign for a variety of different contexts and we continue to have a relationship with her.

Through ‘Making for Change’, Craftspace has worked with around 30 diverse young people from across Birmingham as core participants and many more as audiences and workshop attendees. A blog charts the development of the programme from its beginnings and we are currently working with two young people to curate and document the campaigns for an exhibition and events programme. This will then act as a springboard to engage other young people in activism.

Deirdre Buckley is Learning and Engagement Manager at Craftspace.
 @tweetcraftspace | @craftspaceyouth

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Photto of Deirdre Buckley