Every story, every person is different. I guess society as a whole has trouble understanding what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.
It was Nick, a young carer from Redbridge, who told us this. It’s a sentiment that, sadly, serves as a poignant snapshot of the disappointment shared by many who feel under-supported, unheard, or marginalised within society today.
Nick is one of four brothers, three of whom have disabilities. As a young carer, much of his time is spent supporting his siblings and helping his parents with work around the house. It’s fair to say that the daily responsibility of putting his brothers’ needs first is not one shared by most 14 year olds. As Nick puts it, “[young carers are] quite different to other young people”.
The responsibility of caring for family, especially at a young age, inevitably comes with pressures. Nick says: “Sometimes I get stressed about my siblings’ health and worry about them. [Caring for my brothers] usually adds quite a bit of anxiety to everyday life”. It’s a concern echoed in results from a national survey undertaken by The Children’s Society: more than two-thirds (67%) of young carers stated that their caring role made them feel stressed. Isolation is also an issue, with many feeling unsupported and unrecognised within society.
It can be easy to assume that young carers’ 'difference', as Nick describes it, is solely burdening, but the role of an unpaid carer is often founded on positive experience. The invaluable characteristics of sensitivity, empathy and reliance are all nurtured through the development of close, personal bonds between the carer and those they care for. As Nick explains, “Being a young carer is something special”.
After working with young carers since 2008, Create’s inspired:arts programme was developed in 2012 to reach carers aged 13-25. We provide creative workshops that offer young carers respite, a chance to meet and share experiences with others in similar situations, and the opportunity to develop creative skills, something that - due to the often stressful and time-intensive nature of caring - they often miss out on. Working closely with carer services across the country, we’re able to create spaces and sessions that are supportive and flexible to the needs of each carer.
Over the last four years, through 11,526 contact hours, inspired:arts has enabled 803 young carers across London, the south and the Midlands to take part in a range of cross-artform projects, producing an array of inspiring work. We’ve arranged high profile photography and art exhibitions, seen them call the shots in animated films, showcase drama performances and take centre stage at two sold out Sadler’s Wells performances, amongst so much more.
Thanks to our first grant from Arts Council England, we’re delivering inspired:arts projects with younger carers in Merton, Richmond and Sutton until March 2017, enabling children from as young as five to explore a range of exciting artforms and build connections and skills.
Let’s use arts and culture as a social tool, through which we can pool experience and identity to help bring people together
Offering a positive space in which collaboration is readily accessible is integral to the inspired:arts programme. In the words of Maria, a young carer from Milton Keynes: “Getting to work as a team was the best thing about the project because you’re not just one person, you get to hear everybody else’s point of view”. This is the kind of interaction Create’s projects are designed to facilitate. In utilising the arts as a catalyst for communication and sharing, individuals are able to – as inspired:arts participant Suganthi puts it – “learn people’s personalities, strengths and weaknesses and help [each other] out”.
This is why, to me, art and culture matter: for their capacity for collaboration, their unifying ability, the opportunity for interaction and communication, and the exchange of ideas. We feel this not only as active makers of art, but equally as the recipients of others’ work. It’s also important to stress the benefits to wellbeing that come with engaging with culture and the arts. There has recently been a shift towards a prominent discourse of socially engaged practice, an awareness of the civic role that arts organisations should play, and the call for more ‘useful art’ by public cultural institutions. This emphasis on the importance and relevance of the arts engaging directly with people and the community should be encouraged and opened up to ensure the diversity of contributors reflects that of the UK’s population. At a time where Britain stands at a point of increasing division and uncertainty, culture can help break down the barriers that stand between people.
So let’s take on board Nick’s comment about our inability to step into one another’s shoes. Let’s use arts and culture as a social tool, through which we can pool experience and identity to help bring people together, building shared understanding, giving people a voice. Let’s listen to one another, open up conversation. Let’s use the arts to help create environments in which people feel valued and supported, working to make a difference for positive change.
Find out more
To learn more about the work that Create do to transform the lives of society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, visit their website
Dig a little deeper
Post Brexit, Mahtab Hussain and Skinder Hundal blog about how art makes space for empathyFind out more