Research commissioned as part of a Creative Scotland programme for young people who have experienced additional challenges stressed participants must direct their own development.

Photo of dancers
Connections, a YDance project funded through CashBack for Creativity


Arts projects with young people that have experienced additional challenges don’t work if they are just a cover for youth work, a new report has concluded.

It stresses that progression and success in creative projects must be made on the terms of individual participants, and that non-creative benefits – such as critical thinking skills, which are attractive to employers – should be considered a “bonus”.

“Developing self-identity is a core part of life throughout childhood and adolescence, but these projects can really move things up a gear and help young people to explore their creative selves in a safe and supportive environment,” the report authors write.

“Being encouraged to explore these identities can have a lasting effect on their health and wellbeing, as well as help them to think about future learning or career paths.”


The BOP Consulting study aimed to uncover how creative development is linked to other elements of personal or social development. It was based on over 50 in-depth interviews with participants and practitioners involved in creative projects, most of which were supported through Creative Scotland’s CashBack for Creativity programme, which has invested £3m over the past three years in arts and creative projects for young people aged 10-24.

“The core aim of the research is not to isolate specific creative practices that are linked to reducing, solving or ‘curing’ challenges experienced by young people, but instead to explore and identify the links and synergies within creative practice across those challenges, and across art forms,” the authors write.

One project, for instance, delivered weekly dance and art activities for young men in areas of deprivation, with sessions themed around extreme sports, football and basketball.

Such creative projects were found to have a lasting positive impact on health and wellbeing, by helping young people develop their creativity in a safe and supportive environment.

But the report warns interventions are only successful when delivered by highly-skilled and emotionally intelligent staff, who are capable of motivating, encouraging and challenging participants in an appropriate way.

It also stresses the need to recognise structural barriers facing young people involved in projects, and to tailor activities to their needs.

“Whether this is the multiple challenges posed by acute poverty and inequality of access, or whether it is an alternative pace or level of support that may be required, it is important to remember that progression and attainment can only be negotiated and set at an individual level,” the authors write.


The report found CashBack for Creativity projects helped prepare people for employment by developing their group working skills, and giving them experience with self-directed learning, critical thinking and creative problem solving.

The projects also helped participants specialise in different roles and learn about the specific challenges of working in the creative sector, such as grappling with portfolio careers and financial insecurity.

Crucially, the projects were celebrated for supporting young people’s development on their journey towards employment, rather than for helping young people gain employment, which was not a core project aim.

Writing in the foreword, Joan Parr, Head of Creative Learning at Creative Scotland, added: “Commissioning this research has provided an opportunity to hear the voices of practitioners, stakeholders and young people who have been involved in the delivery of CashBack projects; to explore the components of effective good practice in delivering creative projects to young people experiencing additional challenges or barriers to access and to share that knowledge and experience.”

Phase four of the CashBack for Creativity programme was launched in April 2017 and will run until March 2020, with £2.6m available via a Targeted and Open Project Fund. 

Update 14/11/17: This article was updated to clarify that the  report was not an evaluation of the CashBack for Creativity programme.