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Speak Up Year 1: The Story So Far

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A group of young people wearing pink t-shirts with the words 'Speak Up' written on them - they are speaking British sign language

The past year on Speak Up has been full of creativity, innovation and bravery.

Read on to hear about just some of the highlights from the past year and the powerful work being made by young people in 55 schools across England.

Watch our short film: Speak Up: Volume 1

National Speak Up Council Reps meet in London

The Speak Up Council is formed of 16 student representatives from Doncaster, Greater Manchester (Salford, Wigan and Rochdale), Leicester, Outer East London and South Essex, Sunderland, Wakefield and Wolverhampton.

In November, we brought 13 of our representatives to London to meet in person for the first time. During their visit they explored the National Theatre with a backstage tour and a river boat cruise on the Thames, and bonded as a Council through workshops.

The representatives were tasked with creating a piece to be shared at The Big Speak Up Get Together event where artists and teachers were coming to the National Theatre to take part in their own event. The students performed their piece using BSL and spoken word to share their messages with the audience: ‘I speak up for those who can’t’. As the National Theatre’s first youth council, it was a poignant moment to have young people set the tone for that event.

We look forward to working with the Council to plan our next large-scale event at the National Theatre in Spring 2025.

A young person holding a microphone amidst a circle of other people

Photo by Matthew Kaltenborn

Jacob V Joyce at The Big Speak Up Get Together

During the second day of The Big Speak Up Get Together, we were joined by multidisciplinary artist Jacob V Joyce. Joyce is an artist, researcher and educator whose work focuses on community from mural painting, illustration, workshops poetry and punk music.

To inspire our teachers and artists Jacob led a workshop looking at the barriers in the education system in England –  and where these barriers hold back creativity. The participants were invited to make a huge sculpture out of recycled cardboard and other materials. Each group made a limb of the structure and came together to build the sculpture. The sculpture represented the challenges teachers, artists and young people face in schools and how the arts can be used as a tool to make change.

A group of people pose for a group shot with a sculpture made of cardboard and paper in the middle

Photo by Matthew Kaltenborn

Raising money for a Wolverhampton foodbank

The Tettenhall Wood School and the Charlton School worked with Speak Up Rep, collage artist Caris Jackson, to create a line of merchandise. Both groups designed artwork which spread messages of hope and represented their unique personalities.

The students printed their artwork into A5 prints, and onto tote bags and coasters, and sold them at various local events. Money raised went towards the students’ chosen charity, The Well Wolverhampton Foodbank.

Due to the high demand of the artwork, a range of prints have been put on display on the Main Street at New Cross Hospital for patients and visitors to admire.

A group of four students and an adult hold up artwork they have created, covering their faces

Students from the Charlton School in Wolverhampton with their artwork

Augmented reality in Wakefield

At Outwood Academy Hemsworth, students created an imaginary town named ‘Hemworth’. They designed their town with designer and maker Matthew Tully and Speak Up Rep, Carla Addyman. Using augmented reality AR from writing and sketches in Speak Up sessions, they built a model version of their designed town from found materials. A mixture of 3D scanning and 3D modelling placed them within the digital landscape.

Inspired by their home, Hemsworth, the students thought about their real town during the design. They discussed how they can make where they live better, not just for themselves but for generations to come. They wanted to build a place where their friends would be excited to go. The students felt their town is currently lacking in things to do for young people.

The town ‘Hemworth’ included:

  • A Speak Up Centre that is open 24/7, as they love coming to the Speak Up sessions and want other young people to have the same experience.
  • A library, because Hemsworth has a library and they feel having access to education is important. However, the current library doesn’t feel like a place the young people currently want to go so they would make their library more appealing for young people.
  • A school, but in this school the curriculum is creative and designed for young people to be happy, not to ‘churn out exam results’. They want their school to be a safer place, where homophobia doesn’t exist.

For the group’s celebration in the summer, they invited guests to come and explore their town through AR technology. Each student took on a role to guide guests around the space and shared their ideas with an invited audience. This was a crucial step as it offered a chance for designers to see a prototype and try out their ideas.

The students are hoping to develop their town further in Year 2 of Speak Up.

A model village

A representation of Hemworth town, made with artist Matthew Tully

Self-portraits exhibition in Doncaster 

In June, students from Hall Cross School, Don Valley Academy, De Warenne Academy, McAuley Catholic High School and Doncaster School for the Deaf performed on
Cast’s stage celebrating the work made during Speak Up.

The showcase featured an exhibition of self-portraits made by Year 7-9 female pupils at Hall Cross. Each portrait explored what it means to be a woman, their experiences of being a teen girl, and how they navigate school and life. The pieces also touched on wider issues regarding mental health and wellbeing. Each portrait is a reflection of each young person, capturing their personality whilst highlight concepts they want to speak up about.

Over the past year they have been working with Speak Up Rep, artist Natasha Clarke. Natasha says:

A lot of the girls in those sessions didn’t know each other prior to Speak Up, so they’ve only met through Speak Up and now they have really close friendships and bonds. They support each other, and they talk about all sorts: mental health, relationships […] it’s so nice to see those genuine connections.

People looking at artwork on a wall

Exhibition of self-portraits in Doncaster, photo by Smart Banda

We Are Not Objects podcast

At Sanders Drapers School in Havering, the Speak Up group worked with Speak Up Rep, Grace Duggan, and poet and podcaster Talia Randall to make their own podcast called We Are Not Objects. The podcast explores how creative work like writing and preforming can bring about change, and change for the good.

Students say: ‘we hope it will make you think about the world in a new way.’ The podcast features several poems from the perspective of objects for example handcuffs, a knife, a chair and a Black Lives Matter banner.

Platforming Culture, Pride and Diversity Day in Rochdale

At St Anne’s Academy the Speak Up group have been working with Speak Up Rep, Sam Danson. As part of their summer celebration they hosted a Culture, Pride and Diversity Day in school. The takeover involved inviting the whole of the lower school to attend an electric day of performances, activities and talks by local organisations, including Manchester Pride. The event ended with a fashion show representing the diverse cultures in the school.

The Speak Up group designed the logo for their t-shirts to brand the event and set up the activities to encourage people to find out more about the history of Pride Festival. St Anne’s Academy said it was:

[…] a huge success learning about the value that different cultures bring to our lives and celebrating our differences.

Two t-shirt designs - one says 'Culture, Pride & Diversity Day' in a rainbow heart in the right-hand corner and the other has a multi-coloured circle with the worlds 'Pride Club' in the middle

T-shirt designs by St Anne’s Academy, made with artist James Bull. In partnership with The Lowry.

Performance parkour at Landmark Theatre

Students from Ilfracombe Academy and Lampard Community School took part in a week-long intensive at Landmark Theatre called Speak Up: The Mix. Over the week, students were introduced to performance parkour working with multi-award winning physical theatre and performance parkour (2pk) artists The Urban Playground.

100% of the young people said their collaboration skills had improved over the week. A participant said:

I enjoyed parkour because I never tried it before and it was a great experience.

As part of The Mix, the group also created a collaborative graffiti board with urban artist and designer Jess Campbell-Plover. They shared messages on the change they want to see in the world.

A wall with multi-coloured graffiti art

Collaborative graffiti board

Evaluating Speak Up in Sunderland with graffiti art

Students across Sunderland worked with mural and graffiti artist Mark Shields to create evaluation artwork to share their experience of Speak Up in their school. Each group got to make their own graffiti board to display in their school during a celebration event at Washington Arts Centre in July.

As Speak Up is a co-created programme, young people are involved in the way we evaluate the impact. By asking the students to share their words to describe Speak Up we can visually see how students feel being part of it. Students used words such as ‘fun’, ‘poetic’, ‘unique’, ‘good laugh’, ‘loved doing the crazy artwork it calmed me down’ and ‘confidence’ to describe their Speak Up experience.

A graffiti artwork mostly in yellow and blue with the words Speak Up Hetton School in the middle in white text

Hetton School artwork, made with Mark Shields, in partnership with Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire.

A graffiti artwork in red, purple and black with the words Speak Up Oxclose Academy in white text in the middle

Oxclose Community Academy artwork, made with Mark Shields, in partnership with Sunderland Culture and Sunderland Empire.

Want more? Visit our Listen Up! page to look, watch and listen to the work being created by young people on Speak Up.

Take me to Listen Up!