For young people who have experienced or are at risk of sexual exploitation; defining, explaining and talking about their experiences are extremely challenging. The National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People approached PhotoVoice in 2010 to develop a project for young people to gain new skills, whilst also providing a safe space for them to reflect on and articulate their views, experiences and identity. That project progressed into two further programmes and our Projects Manager Becky Warnock shares her thoughts on the delivery of the final phase of the ‘Having our Say 3’ project.
Where did the Having Our Say project begin?
Having Our Say started out as a pilot project back in 2010 and grew into the very successful Having Our Say Too. After the evaluation of the project, we identified some key areas that we wanted to explore more, and we successfully applied to Comic Relief to fund the project further – which became Having Our Say 3!
Tell us a bit about Having Our Say 3
For the Having Our Say projects, PhotoVoice has partnered with the National Working Group network for Sexually Exploited Children and young people to run participatory photography projects across the UK. All of these projects have run in partnership with specialist support providers that work directly with young people who have experienced sexual exploitation or who have been identified to be at risk.
The young people participate in a 3-month photography workshop series exploring different themes which can offer a context to sexual exploitation, including gender, power and relationships. They also work to develop their understanding of visual literacy, photography and story telling techniques. The work created on the projects represents their thoughts, responses and experiences through photography and text, and through creating their own digital stories. This process has enabled them to both make sense of their experiences and share their perspectives on the issues.
Having Our Say 3 focuses on areas that were previously underrepresented in the sector – specifically, working with male victims, exploring past experiences and the impact on future life choices, online relationships and grooming, as well as communicating with adults. These themes were identified by young people and the professionals that work with them.
Is HOS3 different from other PhotoVoice projects?
My favourite part of Having Our Say is the use of the participant stories in the development of the resource. After the workshops are completed, we work with young people, professionals and others in focus groups to develop a resource based on the images and digital stories that the young people have created. This resource is designed to ensure that young people’s voices directly inform sector workers’ and policy professionals’ future practices. The resource is sent out to organisations and individuals, and is used both in staff training and practical work with other young people affected by the issues. For me, this is a really exciting and innovative way of applying participatory photography techniques to directly impact social change.
What do the workshops look like and what are the participants working towards?
The workshops are a combination of photographic skill building activities and discussion based work, where we explore key themes related to young people’s experiences. Themes such as gender, power and relationships are key – and I’m always so impressed with the young people’s maturity and insight into such complex issues. I definitely learn as much as they do! The participants also work towards achieving a BTEC Level 1 certificate as part of their work, which is important for their future college and university applications, and I also think it’s important to formally accredit all their hard work in this way.
You are facilitating the final round of workshops, in partnership with the Barnado’s team in Middlesbrough. What are the themes/ topics that have been coming through these digital stories?
We’ve just finished the final workshops up in Middlesbrough yes, and it’s been a great project. Seven young people completed the series, and they have all put together great digital stories and portfolios. The overall theme for this section was ‘Online relationships and grooming’, and the participants have all taken this in their own direction. One participant considered how social media increased her experiences of being bullied because of her disability, how she felt like she couldn’t get away from the abuse she suffered – and wanted to think about advice for other young people around keeping themselves safe online. Another participant thought about how accessing support online made it easier for her to come forward after experiencing abuse, and how this is key for professionals working with other young people at risk of exploitation.
Have these topics differed from previous HOS3 workshops?
The other workshops have explored slightly different areas, with the Men’s Room in Manchester the participants considered how their past experiences had affected their future life choices, and more specifically how they had made them vulnerable. The young women at NSPCC Croydon wanted to think about how to make it easier for young people to communicate with adults – their parents, police or social workers. One of the things that has united all of the young people has been a desire to make a change and help others learn from their experiences; so that other young people don’t have to go through what they’ve been through. It’s been an incredibly humbling experience for me in that way, and I’m very proud of every single one of them and have a huge amount of respect for their courage to turn a negative into a positive.
The final digital stories will make up an online resource. What will this look like and who will it be used by?
Well, at the moment some of those decisions are yet to be made – we will consult with other young people, practitioners and policy makers to make sure that the resource is the most effective it can be. However, we are likely to build on the great work in Having Our Say Too so it will be in some way reminiscent of that in appearance. But we want to update it and include all of our learnings from the evaluation of that work to make it as useful as possible. Once developed, the resource will be available publically and anyone who is working within the sector, or related professions, will have access to it. So for examples, that could be teachers, social workers, counsellors, youth workers etc.
How have the HOS3 workshops helped support the young people?
I think the best way to answer that question is to ask the young people themselves! We’ve had really positive feedback from both participants, their families and staff about their involvement in the project. But you can also read a blog from one of the young people here Avlon will say it much better than me I’m sure!
Do you have any advice for facilitators working in a similar topic area?
I think it’s more important than ever to be open and receptacle to participants’ needs on project like this. I have found that many of my preconceptions about what activities would work, themes that I thought young people might find more difficult to talk about, were misplaced. Whilst I obviously brought activities and ideas to each of the workshops, most of the time the participants were really driving forward the direction of their own work, and what they felt was important to explore. It was brilliant to be surprised and inspired by them each week, so make sure you are open to that.
Also, making sure that facilitators allocate time to looking after themselves whilst delivering this kind of work. The project was completely designed to make sure that the participants were safe and were getting the specialist support that they need from our brilliant partners; but work like this can be incredibly draining, both physically and emotionally, for practitioners too – so it’s crucial to account for that and make sure you are at your best for the young people. For me that meant letting the alarm snooze a little bit longer, or a little treat on my way home after a long day – a chocolate or glass of wine went a long way!
You can find out more about the Having Our Say project here
Feature image: “I was a very trusting and gullible person at that time and I thought all people were nice like me. ” © MMCC 2015 | PhotoVoice | NWG | Having Our Say 3 | UK