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“If anyone kicks off with me, I’m walking out.” Using the arts to engage

Guest blog by Jane Gray, Co-Director, Creative Learning North East


“If I’m bored, I’m walking out.”

“OK – that’s fine.”

“If anyone kicks off with me, I’m walking out.”

“That’s fine too.  Thanks for letting us know.”

“I’m not performing.  No way.”

“That’s ok.  We can do it however you want to do it.”

That was my first conversation with Erica* Fast forward six months, and she had never walked out.  Rather, she’d participated in sessions week in, week out, and at the end, performed a reading of the play that her and other young people leaving care had devised and written to an audience.  She absolutely beamed whilst doing it.  She was confident, she projected, and most importantly, was able to tell her story to a room full of people. 

This is why we do what we do at Creative Learning North East – relationships, confidence and transformations happen when children and young people have the opportunity to work alongside professional artists.  Erica was 20 years old and working with the leaving care team at the local authority. She hadn’t really engaged with anything for a long time, had mental health issues, didn’t like large groups, and was quite isolated.  Through the project, she was able to build relationships and trust with the artists, support worker and other young people.  Erica not only co-created and performed a play, she created unique and useful pieces of art for her own home by working with a visual artist, achieved a Level 1 qualification through Arts Award Bronze, and went on to gain employment.

Creative Learning North East is a Community Interest Company, based in Middlesbrough and working across Tees Valley and the wider North East.  We work in partnership across different sectors to deliver high-quality participatory arts programmes, working across artforms, with artists who are highly experienced in working with children and young people. 

We have particular expertise in working with children and young people in challenging circumstances, such as looked after children and young people and those leaving care, teenage mums, young carers, those at risk of or recovering from child sexual exploitation and abuse and young people not in education, employment or training.

Our aims are:

  • to support children and young people to build confidence
  • to support the development of trust and healthy relationships
  • to support awareness, access and engagement in the arts
  • for children and young people to achieve a national qualification through Arts Award
  • to support thinking around further education, employment and training

We are keen to hear from organisations and services who would be interested in a partnership approach to supporting children and young people through creativity.

If you’d like a conversation about how we might be able to work together, I’d love to hear from you.  Email me at jane@clne.org.uk


For now, we’ll leave you with the words of Erica and the other young people on the project, from an extract of their play:

Character 1:           So I’m standing in the back garden of my old placement. 

Character 2 & 3:    Placement. 

Character 1:            Not home, 

ALL:                          Not even a house, 

Character 1:           Placement. And she says -

Character 2 & 3:     Go!  

Character 1:            So I leave. I put the music on. 

Beatboxing underscores. 

Character 1:             We’re moving. Bags packed. I’m stuffed in the back of a black cab, with the taxi driver leading the way. An emergency social worker beside me and I’m silent, I’ve got nothing to say. The radio’s talking - 

Character 2 & 3:       No music  

Character 1:              just words  

ALL:                     Blah, blah, blah  

Character 1:             as I watch the scene pass by the window. The sound of the engine as we move along, just at the speed limit, like a teasing crawl  

ALL:          to who knows where?


Jane Gray
Creative Learning North East

*Names have been changed