Making change through art at TCFT Croydon

By - Wednesday 20th June, 2018

How the power of creative thinking can bring us together

Photo author’s own.

Throughout life, there are instances that change our lives by having a significant impact. Being invited to Bosnia in 2015 to participate in The Complete Freedom of Truth (TCFT) was certainly one of mine.

TCFT is defined as “an international youth-led community of artists, activists, students and professional facilitators with a collective ambition to develop global youth citizenship through culture and the arts”. However, it is so much more than that.

The experience is different for everyone, but for me, it was a major turning point in my journey, enabling me to grow in confidence, as a creative and as a leader. A year later, in Bournemouth 2016, it gave me the opportunity to grieve and put on a poetry night for the first time. Then in Sarteano, Italy, in 2017, it allowed me to realise that I had finally grown enough to bring this wonderful initiative to my hometown, Croydon.

Shaniqua during TCFT 2017 in Sarteano, Italy.
Photo by Robert Golden, used with permission.

Being part of TCFT is a surreal and unique experience that cannot be fully explained through the use of words – you need to see it and most importantly, live it. I wanted young people in Croydon to get a taste of the amazing programme that I was fortunate enough to be part of, bringing them into the larger TCFT community in the process. I knew there was a need, but I was not entirely sure if there was a want.

On 20th August 2017, I put on the TCFT Croydon Pilot, along with a fellow Croydon TCFT participant, Naomi Gabriel. The theme for the day was unity, because we wanted to bring people together and focus on creating a more unified community within Croydon.

Beginning with the traditional TCFT morning warm up, volunteers and young participants then took part in a creative workshop of their choice – drama, music, poetry, photography or visual art – spread across Matthews Yard, Project B and Turf Projects. We were joined by the former mayor of Croydon, Toni Letts, during the first half of the day, who enjoyed attending and participating in the photography workshop, describing it as “a truly engaging and learning experience”.

TCFT Croydon Pilot.
Photo by Robert Golden, used with permission.

Following an afternoon discussion, the work created during the day was shared together at Braithwaite Hall. I was blown away by the quality of what was created by each workshop group, particularly music, as they were able to write, compose and perform a really good song in less than a day. A participant in the music workshop most enjoyed performing the song, saying “it still amazes me that we finished it and got it on stage”.

The pilot was well received by all involved and there were requests to see more TCFT events taking place in Croydon, proving to me that there was a want as well as a need. It was always my intention to build on it and continue developing TCFT’s presence within the borough, so after a time of reflection, I made the decision to bring back TCFT Croydon over the course of three Sundays this year.

I took a very different direction, doing something that TCFT had never done before, which was splitting the process up over a course of three months, rather than a having a one-week or two-week intensive residency. My thinking was that it would give the participants the opportunity to process their thoughts and broaden their creative thinking between each Sunday, leading to more in-depth work with a greater time for their own personal research and reflections.

TCFT Croydon Pilot.
Photo by Robert Golden, used with permission.

With all that is happening in the world and the impact that art can have, I decided on a theme of change for TCFT Croydon 2018, particularly encouraging young people to think about how they can spark change through the arts. On 27th May a group of young participants, volunteers and facilitators came together in Turf Projects to take part in a series of discussions centred on change, as well as some creative activities to get their artistic juices flowing.

When we first broke into groups to discuss what we wanted to change, there were many ideas thrown out, showing that young people really do care about the world they live in and want to change things. They included violent crime, prison sentences, spaces for young people, eradicating homelessness and a lot more. However, we were then asked to focus on three items from the list that we wanted to home in on – we chose mental health, spaces and activities for young people, and bridging gaps between the generations.

We came up with actions that we would like to carry out to make changes

After choosing the three focus points, new groups then came up with ways that change could be made in those areas, followed by us as individuals coming up with actions that we would like to carry out to make these changes, particularly through our art forms. Everyone in attendance had a number of actions that they wanted to undertake, which was great to see and provided us with a lot to build on.

The conversations held throughout the day were insightful and brilliant, even the ones had over the delicious lunch provided by Curry on Naan Stop. It made me excited to see how the process will develop over the next two months, especially during the next Sunday on 24th June, which is when the creative workshops – music, poetry, theatre and visual art – will begin.

I hope that TCFT’s presence in Croydon will make changes and have a lasting impact on the lives of young people, just like it did for me.

With participants wanting to focus on bridging the gap between generations, I am extending the invitation to individuals over the age of 25 to participate in TCFT Croydon 2018 with us, as TCFT is about equality across all spectrums and the cross-generational aspect works extremely well in Croydon. If you would like to participate in TCFT Croydon 2018, please sign up here or  for more information.

Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua Benjamin

Shaniqua is a writer and poet, born and raised in Thornton Heath, which she is proud to call her home. She has used her passion for making a difference to found a platform, Young People Insight, which empowers the voices of young people and encourages community engagement. When she’s not writing or trying to cause change, she loves reading, scrapbooking, watching films and listening to music.

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