Sunday 17 July 2011

Cause For Concern

During my career I have had the pleasure of working both as a part time Youth Worker and as an artist with many young people in Corby. Although I don't live there, it's where my studio is based and I have seen the changes that have taken place since the dark days of the 1980's. It has always had and continues to have a wonderful community spirit, a generous heart, an outgoing nature and I'm delighted that the ongoing Regeneration has injected a renewed sense pride, ambition and optimism in the town, particularly amongst it's young people.

However I am worried about the fate of one of it's older buildings, the Connaughty Centre, it's not a beautiful building and it's certainly a little battered and the worse for wear, so what's so special? It's value lies within, through the work it does with young people.

Dreams, the Youth Club based there, has had many different incarnations, many young people have learnt skills, developed their passion for music, dance, sport and creativity, made friends, had crushes, fallen in and out of love, learnt about life, mixed and moved on. It has offered them a place to express themselves, to hang out and socialise under the expert eyes of some wonderful, caring, indomitable Youth Workers.

I heard recently that the Connaughty Centre is due to close in December and feel this is a serious cause for concern, there are few enough places for young people to make that transition from child to young adult and I hope that the powers that be will seriously reconsider their decision.

In the last couple of years I worked on two separate mosaic projects with young people at the Connaughty Centre. The first was a Heritage Lottery Funded project in which groups of young people researched eight decades in Corby from 1920 to 2000. They looked at landmark buildings, traditions, activities and the part Corby played in the different decades. Once the research was complete I worked with them and the Corby CIC Youth Team to encapsulate some of their findings in a series of mosaic panels.

Working on the 1960's panel

The young people involved worked over several months with drop in sessions happening at the Connaughty Centre, Lodge Park Sports Centre and structured group sessions in my studio. As I've mentioned before, mosaics take patience and staying power but each group put their all into making their particular panel.

1970's Panel - Glam Rock, Punk, platform form soles,
Porridge Oats, Westwood and the Silver Jubliee

We also had time to talk about their findings, the people they'd met during their research, the differences and similarities in the lives of people in those eight decades. The finished panels were edged in steel and hung, temporarily in the Connaughty Centre Hall. The mosaics were unveiled by the local MP at the time, Phil Hope and the young people were commended for their work and creativity.

Once the Cube opened, the mosaics were taken down to be rehung somewhere in the new building. Another group of young people were inspired by the mosaics and wanted to try their hand at making one of their own, to represent what Dreams, the Youth Club meant to them. They applied for the money and their application was successful, I was asked back to help them with their project.

I asked the group if they wanted to draw the ideas themselves or whether they wanted me to come up with a design based on their ideas, they chose the latter. They came up with a series of words : growth, the seasons, nature, music, DJs, cooking, fruit, birds, faces flowers, dreams, stars, fireworks, bonfire, trees, snowflakes, friendship, the world.....and from that I came up with a wiggly cut out design which was intended for a large rectangular space in the Coffee Bar area.

As usual time and money were tight and as I only had 10 sessions I went ahead and cut out the pieces, then found out that the mosaics were going to be hung where the previous ones had been. It's a difficult space, high up, with trunking running through the middle and on slope, but we did the best we could to make the pieces fit the space.

We met on Monday evenings for 2 hours at a time and over the course of the project lots of different young people came in and took part. Vicki, the young woman who made the initial application was a star and made sure the rest of the team kept on coming. I found their commitment encouraging and all their different personalities inspiring.

We did run out of time but thankfully J Devereux, Corby's Strategic Arts & Cultural Officer managed to find funding for the extra sessions and it was money well spent.

Not only was it a chance for the participants to learn new skills, but it also offered lots of opportunities for lively conversations and debate.

Some participants popped in for a brief time, just to have a quite moment before going back out to socialise with their friends. There was always a good atmosphere in the room and even the most unlikely characters were tempted in to take part.

During the course of the two projects the importance of all the different types of work that goes on at the Connaughty Centre became increasingly evident. If the building has to go, then some other provision must be made for the young people who use it.

During the planning meetings one young woman
came up with a slogan for the mosaic
"Dreams: together, united, we make our stand"

People are taking a stand, making their voices heard, various suggestions and options are being looked at and if you'd like to know more about the centre and what it means to the community click the link The Connaughty Centre Facebook Page for the latest updates.

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