As we find ourselves at the start of another year it gives us a chance to look back on what’s taken place over the last and make new plans and resolutions for the next.

It’s certainly given me the chance to think about all of the amazing work the Creative Youth Network has done, all of the young people we’ve engaged with and the artistic projects that helped young people figure out who they want to be and identify a pathway forwards in life.

There is without doubt one project that jumps out at me which we did last year, which I feel represents why we do what we do as a charity and left me feeling immensely proud as 2016 came to a close. That project was our in-house Christmas theatre production, The Christmas Turkey.

During the Christmas period we see an increase in support needs from young people suffering with loneliness, poverty, homelessness and mental health issues. The Christmas Turkey was an opportunity for us to share their stories, real life experiences of what Christmas means to communities of Bristol, whilst giving young people aged 16 to 25 years old the opportunity to get involved in a high quality cultural activity during the winter.

Two months, over 60 young people, one production

The project began in October with workers throughout our youth club networks asking those they were working with ‘What does Christmas mean to you?’. The groups we worked with included our Creative Careers programme of those who are young and out of education or employment, right through our Welcome Wednesday sessions for refugees and asylum seekers.

We also partnered with Bristol Nightstop, WECIL Listening Partnership and 1625 Independent People to enable us to have as diverse a conversation as possible. These conversations opened up ways for young people to then get involved as cast members, technicians and assistants on the project helping on everything from designing the set to writing the script. They also informed the script itself with nearly all of the conversations being used so that the voices you heard in the play were those of real people.

Overall the project engaged with over 50 young people through youth provision in Bristol, with a further 7 who went onto shadow the professional theatre practitioners on the project, and 4 who volunteered as Front of House staff.

The show was a huge success and we sold out all five performances.

Audiences came from all over Bristol and further afield, and included members of the general public and those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a theatre show at Christmas. By offering a ‘pay what you can’ system it made attending affordable and welcomed in groups from youth clubs and other charities.

One of the most amazing journeys to watch though was that of the engagement of the cast.

10 young people from incredibly diverse and complex backgrounds that we’ve ever worked with on an in-house production. Members of the cast included young people who suffer from mental health issues, disabilities, are LGBT, find themselves out of work and even homelessness, but to look at them and to have seen their beautiful performances you’d have had no idea.

For me the part that left me speechless on the opening night and bursting with pride was how the cast and crew worked as a group coming together from different walks of life. Our sessions with them started in November and brought them together as a company of young actors and creatives at least three times a week. Not once was there judgement or lack of equality amongst them.

They were sensitive and understanding and when faced with the challenge of the stories we were telling, some of which were dark and upsetting, they handled them with care and consideration for those who they’d originally come from. This for me was the success and showed that we could work with young people from all backgrounds and provide access to provision that they’d not otherwise be given to create something meaningful, heart-warming and provide a platform for otherwise unheard voices to be shared.

To finish this blog I’d rather you read and hear the words from those who we worked with: