Introducing The GAP Youth Forum ~ "a safe space to explore, express & experiment"

by Eman Barreh (Youth Arts Leader Assistant)


The GAP Youth Forum, founded in October 2021, is the newest extension of The GAP, seeking to offer young people a creative and safe space to explore, express and experiment with their ideas of the world, turning these ideas into inspiring conversations and also creative projects based on this. Open to 15-21-year-olds, the Youth Forum is currently comprised of around 10 members of different ages, where we meet weekly and are currently working on how to work together creatively.


From our first session where we in groups made up myths on 'how the Sun came to be'


The Youth Forum was created as we felt as though there was a lack of space - in Balsall Heath particularly - for young people to express themselves creatively, and have a safe space where they can share their frustrations about the world, school, and what it means being a young person today. As most of us know, schools are not at all sufficient in hearing young people and listening to them creatively because of rigid school curriculums, meaning that there really isn’t time within the school for adults to hear what the youth have to say about important topics. Likewise, the intensity and turbulence of politics have mostly alienated young people. The rise of the pandemic, the growing fears around climate change and our government (just to name a few) have made us feel lost in the bigger scale of the world, not really knowing where we stand. Along with this, young people face an internal struggle of finding out who they are, how they connect to their own cultures and figuring out who they want to be as a person, which has meant that being a young person in the world is extremely confusing. Boldly, the Youth Forum seeks to challenge these difficult obstacles by giving the members of the Forum a voice to talk about these things where they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance - all through using different forms of art.


Exploring what 'belonging' means to us


We began our first sessions by exploring different topics that we were so used to hearing in our everyday lives - values, culture and identity - but this was the first time for most of us that we really got to discuss what they meant. In our very first session, we were asked questions like “where is there justice in the world?”, and “what does it mean to be human?” which provided insightful and inspirational conversations, and we also got to know each other on a deeper level which was important to set the foundation of creating meaningful art together. We also learnt more about what culture is, and every member of the Youth Forum brought in a cultural item where in pairs we created our own cultural exhibition to inspire us for creating our own cultural event towards the Spring. Another inspirational session we held that continued with this was looking to understand our values and cultures through drama, understanding young people through that way. Through making links and distinctions between our culture and upbringing we have developed a profound sense of understanding of ourselves and also of each other.


Some of us had the opportunity to visit the Woven Tongue exhibition in Eastside Projects where we learnt about art curating from Yas Lime


My role so far in the Youth Forum has been really rewarding. As well as being a member of the Youth Forum, I am also the Youth Arts Leader Assistant, meaning that I get the best of both worlds throughout this project. Being a member of the Youth Forum has been very insightful and inspiring. Despite being slightly older than most of the members I have learnt so much about what values are, and how we can use art to express our thoughts. In one of the sessions, we were asked “can art change the world?”. Also, it opened my eyes to the context of being in Balsall Heath and being a young person in Balsall Heath. Despite living near Balsall Heath for almost ten years, the conversations within the Youth Forum were the first time I was having these conversations on the history and impact of Balsall Heath on young people. One of my favourite sessions from the Youth Forum would have to be the first session - I found it really inspiring how before the start of the session we had not even learnt each other’s names, and yet towards the end we were all engaging in meaningful and inspiring conversations, which really opened up my eyes to how we connect with each other.


Here we were making connections between projects that The GAP has done previously with the organisation's values in order to inspire us.


Now in the Youth Forum, we are approaching the second stage of this project: creating our own collective publication and holding our first cultural event together. For many of us, this would be the first time planning, directing and holding our first event, and creating a publication. This is the main reason why we wanted to focus on the similar values we hold for the first couple of months, for the Youth Forum sessions to centralise on what young people really need today. Whilst we are still in the process of finalising our core values, they will be rooted in our work in the first half of the project.


With these values, we hope to create pieces of creative work that reflect this and inspire future members of the Youth Forum. So keep a lookout on this!