An update from Aoibheann Kelly, Project Director

spark project logoLast time I wrote, we were just about to begin our SPARK social justice journey – since then, we have delivered workshops to almost 300 young people within the Diocese and are coming to the end of our first phase. We have explored a number of pertinent issues with young people through the medium of drama, storytelling and theatre. We have realised that this is such a powerful tool to enable young people to gain a deeper and more meaningful understanding of quite complex issues  and also a profound and impactful appreciation of the challenges and unexpected struggles many people face in the UK on a daily basis. Creativity and, in particular, drama has a sense of urgency about it – it makes the unreal feel real and it enables profound connection to take place when there was detachment before and an aspect of common ground.

All of the activities and games of the workshops we have done have been rooted in truth, inspired by true testimonials and stories of people who have experienced poverty of any kind in their lives and through this, explore a number of feelings and emotions. In relation to this project, drama and games enabled us to discuss status and identify with feelings of powerlessness, disempowerment and lack of control. However, on the flip side, we also looked at examples of empowerment, resilience and strength – even in the deepest midst of despair or chaos – we discussed how people who have found themselves in great difficulty but found the tenacity and strength to stand up and keep moving.
Forum theatre was particularly effective at allowing the young people to watch scenarios playout where they see an injustice occur. The participants are encouraged and empowered to take positive action there and then to try to resolve or find a positive solution to a difficult situation.

students in a workshop
Students at St Mary’s Menston in a SPARK workshop

We considered what in our lives makes us feel secure, safe and truly valued as a human being and then what happens when those things that are truly valuable are taken away from us – what are we left with? How can we be someone’s safety net when they need us most?
One Year 12 student said:
Many organisations simply ask for aid and charity for those less fortunate. But the session on poverty gave us a real comprehension of those who live in need and really taught us to consider the saddening situations of others. They also provided much needed education into the specifics of poverty and the ways to access help if you ever fall into such an unfortunate situation. Lou-Anna Barber (year 12 student)
SPARK has also provided an incredible opportunity to collaborate with some excellent organisations and people including with Pax Christi, The Columbans, Young Christian Workers, Leeds Citizens and experienced local freelance actors.
Mia McHugh, LTU Coordinating Lay Chaplain, commented about the workshops held at LTU. “The workshops were unique in that the students had to be active and engage in drama inspired activities, which was a real change of pace after a day of lectures. Aoibheann led the students and got them to reflect on difficult issues, issues that some of them had actually experienced and were happy to share in a safe, loving environment. The Spark evenings made up part of our Chaplaincy social calendar and allowed for something different and unlike what we usually do. All of the students who attended were from different backgrounds and religions, but it was powerful to see them all gaining an understanding of what it really means when Catholics talk about ‘Faith in Action’. The students now have plans to set up their own social justice group and are thinking of ways that they can make a positive change to issues faced.”

Now we have sparked awareness, we will turn our focus on phase two where we will help to support young people in each setting to begin to develop their own unique social justice action groups. We are very much looking forward to supporting the young social justice advocates of the here and now!