yoloOn Thursday night I had a session with some young people who were aged 11-15. I encouraged the group to draw pictures of things they thought were ‘cool’, and 12 yr old Max drew the above.

I also asked the group what words they think are ‘cool’ and important, and they decided that COURAGE was the most important word, followed by TRUTH, INSPIRE, and PERSPIRATION (Apparently without perspiration you cannot get to where you want to be in life).

Feeling pretty overwhelmed by this still, these young people are our future leaders. This is the most exciting thing ever!


Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew

Ashley Banjo is the leader of dance troupe ‘Diversity’, the group that won Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 (deservedly beating Susan Boyle) and won the opportunity to perform for the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. Since that he has been a judge on Sky 1’s ‘Got To Dance’. Diversity are Patron’s of Dance Aid (part of Hope For Children). They also helped publicise the Government’s ‘Change 4 Life’ scheme which promoted ‘Eat Well, Move More, Live Longer’.

Already I’m sure you can guess why I love these guys. They’re all young men who are in education or careers (IT Solutions, Bathroom Fitter etc) that came together to dance as a hobby. Ashley Banjo is the founder and choreographer of the Troupe and lead them to a spectacular victory at BGT.

But that’s not the only reason I love Ashley Banjo. He has a show called ‘Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew’, which effectively takes small groups of people with no dance experience and in many cases limited confidence, works with them for three weeks and gets them to do a surprise dance routine at a gathering full of their friends and family who have no clue what’s going on. He has worked with female Dinner Ladies who performed to their primary school at lunchtime, some Polo Players who performed at a Polo match meeting, and some young male action roleplayers who performed at an event designed to introduce people to role play (specifically table-top gaming.)

The reason I love this show is because you can see the personal journey his participants go on throughout the course of their time with Ashley. They typically go from being shy and having no rythmn to holding their heads high and being proud of their achievements, not only through dance but also in whatever it was they were doing before (e.g. role play or being a Dinner Lady) so the personal growth and journey is very moving!

With all the bad press young people get in our media these days I think they’re a fantastic, inspirational example of an amazing group of young people using their skills and talents to bring something really unique to British entertainment and make a positive impact on their communities. I feel proud that people like this represent my country and also my generation, and reckon that if you have a spare half an hour see if you can get the Secret Street Crew online, or check out Diversity’s amazing youtube videos!

The Digital Age (Just cos you got the power, doesn’t mean you got the right).

As someone who admits to not knowing a great deal about technology, it is something I have quite a strong opinion on, as a whole (surprise surprise…)

I have recently been due a phone upgrade, and as it ties in nicely with the release of the iphone 5 I’ve decided to go with Apple for the first time. Now, I don’t particularly like itunes, and the mac laptops I use for my youth work often utterly perplex me and leave me cross eyed muttering ‘No left click? NO LEFT CLICK?!’ however for various reasons the iphone appealed to me so I decided to go for it.

I’ve had mixed responses, some people think it’s OMG EXCITING BEST THING EVER JIZZ JIZZ and some people casually, snottily have shrugged their shoulders or shaken their heads sadly and wondered why I didn’t go for something more advanced (which ended up with me in irritated, tight-shouldered state ready to spit venom at the next person who commented on my choice. Luckily, nobody has since then.

However it’s got me thinking about technology in general, not just mobile technology, but social media in general, and in the wider scale – spaceships and aeroplanes and television and radio etc. And what social and political responsibilities come along with technological advancements.

You see, I think technology is cool, and advancements can only be a good thing. One argument may be ‘Just because you  an have an all-singing all-dancing phone doesn’t mean you should’. But I reckon that if it’s possible to do it, then why the hell not? Technology to me is a bit like magic. I can’t get my head around how you can point a bit of metal (and glass, plastic, etc) on a football game, and that bit of metal can capture the visuals, and then it can get sent through the air via other bits of metal, and then I can turn on my piece of metal in my living room and see what the football fans can see. I think that is AMAZING and I have muchos respect for those that understand how these things work.

However, with smart phones and the internet and television and all of those other things comes a responsibility. Kind of similar to religion, you know? In the right hands it’s the best thing ever, in the wrong hands it’s dangerous, tyrannical, nation controlling and damaging.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Kind of like Motorhead ‘Just Cos You Got The Power (Doesn’t Mean You Got The Right).

I can’t believe I just quoted Motorhead to argue my point. I don’t even like Motorhead.

But you know what I mean, right? I think it’s the responsibility to anyone who uses modern technology to make sure it is used responsibly (and while this all sounds very sombre I don’t mean responsibility in the same vein as ‘seriously’ – everyone loves a bit of Angry Birds from time to time). I think we need to educate our young people on the correct way to use social media. Technology can be damaging to developing social skills. Many young people would rather sit in front of their Magic Screens talking via the internet instead of hanging out together. I think that this is wrong, and something we need to stay away from.

To summarise; just because you are a 13 year old young person that can approve friend requests from strangers on the internet, doesn’t mean you should. Just because the owners of facebook can compile personal data from people’s profiles, doesn’t mean they should. Just because you can use CCTV to keep tabs on the general public, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you can tweet your abuse to celebrities on twitter, doesn’t mean you should. You catch my drift?

With technological developments comes a moral, ethical question of what is right and wrong, and while mistakes have, and are being made, I have faith that one day we’ll figure it all out and can advance into our robot-infested, flying-car future with a solid knowledge of what is the right thing to do 🙂

Facepainting tales

For the last two years I have been the resident facepainter at Youth Discovery Ventures, and I’ve done a bit of freelance facepainting here and there for other organisations, such as ‘Kate’s Craft Parties’.

I’m a real believer in young people being young people and not growing up too fast. You’ll notice that I NEVER use the word child, it’s one of my pet hates. It’s because of years of being referred to as a ‘child’ even when I was a young woman, and feeling restricted and patronised by this. I refer to girls as Ladies, and boys as Young Men. Why disrespect a person because they are 3 and I am 23? They’re still a person and I live by the ‘treat others as you wish to be treated’ motto. It’s like in restaurants when me and my fiance are referred to by the waiter or waitress as ‘guys’. I am not a guy, I am a lady, and we are adults. Even ‘folks’ is better than ‘guys’. Anyway, I digress…

You only get one chance in life to be young, so why shorten the amount of time you have to embrace that?

I see facepainting as so much more than simply getting some paint, and putting it on your face. You can break it down into so many aspects of amazing moments where you have an affinity and connection with someone else.

When young people get their face painted by me I try and make it an experience, and one of those things you’ll remember from your childhood when you grow up.

I almost always wear my septum piercing, which proves fascinating for many of the children I paint. Initially, most are wary of me because of it, but once they’re sat in front of me and I get chatting away to them most begin asking questions about whether it hurt, and if they can touch it. Often they ask me why I have ‘an earring’ in my tongue, and I make sure I always tell them about my piercings being a form of self-expression, and that it’s okay to have them if you want them, as long as you’re not upsetting anybody else by having them. That they do hurt when they’re done, and that they can seriously limit your opportunities in your career and affect the way others perceive you, because unfortunately not everybody likes them. I make sure they understand that they must wait until they’re old enough because otherwise it’s illegal, and that they must go to a body piercer who has a license and knows what they’re doing, then make sure they look after it afterwards.

I also enjoy telling stories while I’m facepainting, as not only does it make the day go faster it means the young person is more likely to sit still and listen rather than getting bored and wriggling, but also because I love storytelling and I think it’s a mode of communication that’s lessening as the years pass. I always ask the young person their name when they first sit down, and a few basic questions to make them feel important (E.g. how old are you, do you have any brothers and sisters, what are you doing for the rest of the day). Without fail, when they tell me what they have chosen to be, I will always tell them that they’ve made a very good choice and that they will be the scariest Monster/prettiest Mermaid/most fearsome Lion that there’s ever been.

And then that’s when the fun can begin.

As I’m painting I’ll ask them if they’ve heard about the little girl who lives in (insert place here, e.g. Stretford or Moss Side) that didn’t believe in fairies until she found a purple one stuck in a spiders web, or the little boy (who looked just like you do!) who was scared of monsters until he realised that his biggest monster was his fear and if he stopped being scared then he would be the most powerful superhero in the world. Sometimes they believe me, and sometimes they don’t. But they always go along with the story. This is real life magic.

Facepainting is exciting for a young person. They get a few minutes to be fussed over and pampered, and that glorious moment (which I will never stop loving) when they look in the mirror for the first time and the reaction they have. Having your face painted is a way of encouraging creativity and imagination, because after all, what better way of being a convincing tiger than not only acting like one, but looking like one too? It’s the best feeling in the world to be packing up my brushes after an event, and noticing for example that the family sitting on the floor drawing pictures that before was a mother, father, their daughter and two sons, is now two nurturing leaders hanging out with a butterfly, Spiderman and a soldier embarking on an epic imaginative roleplay?

99% of the events I work at offer free facepainting as we will make sure the organisers pay us, so we can offer our services to participants for free. I think this is also important, because we often work in deprived areas where there is little provision for the creative learning of young people. The 2 minutes of painting a face is an investment in the rest of the day’s experience for a young person where they can be whoever or whatever they have chosen to be, and nobody is there to tell them they can’t.

Anyone can facepaint. I can’t draw to save my life and have always scraped by in Art at school. But I can copy a design easily enough, one that’s effectively just made up of different shapes that you have to do in order. Anyone can do it, I’ve trained enough people to be sure of that. It’s all about practice, confidence, and fixing your mistakes under pressure. (In two years I’ve only ever done 1 person’s face that I thought ‘Oh dear, that looks awful’ – but the girl’s mother still made a big fuss and took loads of photos, so it wasn’t all bad.)

Facepainting is interactive, modern-day, real life magic. It’s an example of taking something pretty standard and using words to make it something special.

Manchester Riots

In August 2011 I was a a participant on a project run by Blue Sky youth organisation in Macedonia, called ‘The Road to Gender Equality’, which explored issues of gender affecting those in the EU, and there were other participants from Macedonia, Albania, and Holland. I spent a week learning, laughing, loving talking about my nationality and culture and what it means to me.

On the train home from Luton Airport on Tuesday late afternoon, we got word via mobiles/mobile internet that the rioting had spread and Manchester, my city, was about to suffer. I live very centrally in Manchester, so arrived back very concerned and scared.

Throughout that fateful eveing we saw many people, mostly young, on bikes come past outside, hoods over their heads and weapons/stolen items in their hands. The huge music shop Dawsons in Piccadilly Gardens (the dead centre of Manchester) had been smashed in and items stolen, and we watched many young people pass our pub holding guitars as well as stolen alcohol, clothes and shoes etc.

At one point, the riot was pushing right past our front door by mounted police, which was really scary for me, however I felt protected as there were some big tough people in my home and nearby ready to defend themselves! I was definitely concerned for the safety of my home at various points that night, and I have never felt in that way before.

The next morning I woke early after a bad nights sleep, and made it to the centre of Manchester by 8:30am wearing a tshirt and hoodie from Youth Discovery Ventures, and armed with a dustpan and brush, and my facepaints! While I was on the Momentum Leadership Course a few weeks ago I discovered my ability and enthusiasm for using facepaint as a way of connecting with people, so I saw an opportunity to see if it worked.

I looked around my city and cried at what I saw.

I felt a strong sense of loyalty for not only my Manchester but also my country against what I would describe as an internal threat. I walked around the city and cleared up a bit of glass, however Manchester City Council had been amazing during the night and managed to sweep away most mess from the streets. Shop workers were dazed and crying in their shops, trying to make sense of their half stolen stock, their broken windows, their damaged property.

Throughout that day I estimate that I painted over 75 faces, with messages such as ‘I LOVE MCR’, English flags and other symbols of pride, and to almost every person I painted I spoke about the sadness of what had happened, but also the amazing morale and community spirit that was crackling in the air. My intention was to remind people that these young people rioting were a minority, and many more young people were present during the day with brooms and rubbish bags to help clean up. I refused to paint any negative or confrontational messages even though I was asked a few times.

I’m no matyr, and I’m not writing this to boast or to seek approval or praise. I was among almost 1,000 other citizens who turned up for the same reason, to try and claw back our city.

In light of these events, it’s more important than ever to be proud of your city, your country, or even other people in the world making a stand for all that is right. There are so many news reports on tv, in newspapers etc at the moment focusing on the negativity of this generation we are losing to disillusionment, laziness and greed, so I wrote this article as positive force to counteract this. I’m now reposting this on Casting a Hero, because it is still as important and relevant now as it is then.

Youth Discovery Ventures, the organisation I am a Director of, is all about creating, learning, understanding and growing, and it’s a cause I believe in. We need more organisations to get involved in positively tackling the issues that affect young people or things are very bleak for the future of our communities. I feel too unequipped and unresearched to comment on the influence other complicated issues such as criminal justice, discipline, and poverty has had on recent events, but I think these are also important factors to consider in an attempt to understand – not excuse, what has happened, and to learn from it.

In my opinion, people are inherently good, but there are various reasons that cause them to do things that are not so good. We need provision for young people in deprived areas. We need focus on bringing citizenship, access to work and lifeskills into the curriculum in a innovative and interactive way. We need faith and respect in our young generation as they are the leaders of the future, and we will one day be putting not only our future, but the entire future of humanity in their hands. This shouldn’t be scary, this should be exciting. The only way we can do this is through being less apathetic and finding out what part we can play, however big, in making our world more beautiful.

What do you think?