Truth Without Varnish (2016)

An action research project commissioned and funded by Northeast Lincolnshire Council and Cape UK

This project was commissioned to inform future social care provision in Northeast Lincolnshire. Working in collaboration with Kate Genever, as Smith-Genever, our remit was to make contact with some of the most vulnerable young people in the region and support them to create visions of their futures. This was a challenging piece of work which revealed many uncomfortable truths. From the outset we received limited support from our partners at a strategic level, both in terms of logistics and advocacy. This necessitated a ‘fleet of foot’ approach which involved working at a grass roots level to reach two cohorts of young people; one group had been placed in local authority care and the other had been excluded from mainstream education.

The project was a steep learning curve; we discovered that with vulnerability comes an incredibly complex set of issues. Our ability to respond and adapt to situations that we couldn’t plan for, or anticipate happening, helped us to build meaningful connections, not only with the young people we worked with but the professionals who supported them. For us to co-create work that had integrity, we found that we had to develop experiences that were truly person-centred, individual, and special. Another important aspect of the project was to situate the work within an environment that was safe and familiar. Rather than expecting the young people to join us for a session in a youth club for example, we worked 1:1 with them in their homes and neighbourhoods.

The outcomes from this project were both subtle and powerful. One of our key recommendations to our commissioners was that when working with vulnerable young people we need to abandon the idea that a successful project is one which is measured through numbers engaged, or artworks produced, and that we should focus more on how we capture significant shifts in thinking and behaviour. Kate and I presented our end of project report to the Council’s head of Children’s Services wearing capes that we made in response to our experience of working on this commission; one read ‘ABANDON WHAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW’ and the other ‘THE TRURTH WITHOUT VARNISH.’ We felt that these two statements powerfully advocated on behalf of the young people we worked with in a way that our research report couldn’t do alone.

You can view a slideshow of images from this project here.