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Helium’s Youth Advisory Group: Making Young People’s Voices Heard

Throughout the past year, Helium artists Ciara Harrison and Rachel Tynan have had the pleasure of working with the seven young people who make up our new Youth Advisory Group. Last summer, we put out a call for young people, aged 15-23, with long-term health conditions to join our Youth Advisory Group. The group was created so the young people help influence decision making about their own creative wellbeing, within and beyond participation in Helium’s programmes. Meeting at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and more recently online, the group has met five times over the past year to engage in creative activities, share their experiences, and make their voices heard.

Over the past year, we've watched the Youth Advisory Group grow and floruish.

What is a Youth Advisory Group?

The members came together for the first meeting in September 2019, facilitated by artist Rachel Tynan. They started the session off with a discussion of why they were all there, before launching into a game that helped them establish and explore their connections. They made a visual map of the ways they were all connected to one another, allowing them to get to know each other and become more comfortable as a group. This new found familiarity allowed them to feel more confident and open as they discussed what a youth advisory group is, and what the goals of the group should be. There were several common threads in their responses to these questions: They wanted to help other young people, to gain more confidence, to be creative, and to meet people and make friends. 

After their discussions, the group explored the Janet Mullarney exhibition at IMMA. Drawing inspiration from the exhibit, they broke into groups to creatively respond to the artwork they had seen and the thoughts and ideas it invoked in them. Before wrapping up and giving their final reflections, they gave each other feedback on their creative responses, using the tell, ask, give method. First you tell the creator something you like about their piece, then you ask a question about it, before finally giving a positive suggestion for how they could change, improve, or adapt their work. They found this a bit tricky at first, commenting that it was much easier to give their opinions about a piece of artwork when they didn’t know the artist, but harder when they were giving their opinions to each other. The group decided this was a key thing that they could work to improve, as being able to give constructive criticism is an important part of using their voices to make their opinions and ideas heard. Overall, the first meeting was very successful, and extremely positive, resulting in lots of great ideas for future meetings.

‘’This is the most exciting thing that’s happened in a while.’’- Participant

Planting bulbs is a fun and creative way to express what we need to grow as groups and individuals.

What do we need in order to grow?

The group met again a few months later in November. To start the session, the four members in attendance, as well as artists Rachel Tynan and Ciara Harrison, planted bulbs that would grow over the next few months. This inspired a discussion around what they themselves needed to grow and flourish, as well as what the youth advisory group needed to help it grow and develop. It was quite a calming activity that allowed new members to get acquainted and become comfortable with the group. Before moving on to the main creative activity, the participants did some brainstorming and designing for a group logo. The creative group activity for this session centered around creating a banner for the youth advisory group. This got everyone thinking about how they would want the group to be represented publicly. They all came up with some great ideas that they wanted to explore further in the next meeting, and decided that they would continue to work on their banner when they met again in January for the third session.

What spaces do you treasure?

Make Your Voice Heard

Over the Christmas break the participants had each received a Fireflies Toolkit, which was designed by Helium Arts to give young people transitioning from pediatric to health care a creative outlet to express and explore their thoughts and feelings surrounding the transition. The third session began with a discussion, led by project manager Monica Flynn, about the different activities in the toolkit and what they liked about them and what could be improved. The activities included things like making a time capsule to remember all of your healthcare experiences, creating a visual representation of your goals in the form of a football pitch, and designing your own mug to help you relax with a cup of tea when transitioning gets stressful. The young people all offered some great advice about what parts of the activities they found helpful and how they might change them to make them better. This led to an emotive but insightful discussion about the young people’s own experiences with the transition process. The group was very open and honest, sharing their own stories, and reassuring and comforting each other when things got emotional. The young people agreed that this was a breakthrough, allowing the group to truly come together for the first time. One participant identified that this is what the group was all about, young people making their voices heard about their own experiences.

After these discussions, the group visited the Derek Jarman PROTEST! exhibition at IMMA. This particular exhibition featured several different art forms including film, paintings, and costume. It served as a bit of inspiration for the rest of the session, where the group continued creating the banner that they had started in their previous meeting. The group also reflected on some important questions including what is your hope for the youth advisory group? What do you want to get from the group? What do you want to give to the group? Overall it was a hugely important session that not only brought the young people closer together, but helped the artists better understand how they can support the young people and help them present their thoughts and ideas in a more public and creative way.

“I like how open this group has become. We’ve known each other maybe six hours between us. This is fine and this is what this is about.” – Participant

The Fireflies Toolkit is full of activities like these to help young people transition from pediatric to adult healthcare.

Creative Adaptation

With the fourth meeting scheduled for late March, the group found themselves having to adapt and get creative due to Covid-19. As such, they had their first online session so the young people could attend from the safety of their own homes. Six members joined this virtual session, hosted by Helium’s partner An Cosán Virtual Community College. To start off, artist Ciara Harrison addressed Covid-19, asking members of the group to give some of their insights on their own experience with their current circumstances including self-isolation and the need to socially distance. The young people chatted about what life was like for them as teens and shared some of their strategies and advice for coping and keeping their spirits up. Before the meeting, Ciara had suggested all the participants bring an object with them that helps to bring them comfort. Their objects included flowers, various toys, and pets. As a creative activity, they developed ‘Ransom Poems.’ Ciara had put together a somewhat random set of questions, after writing down their answers to all of these questions, participants were invited to scramble all the words to create a poem. They were encouraged to make it as nonsensical as they wanted, finding the beauty in nonsense. While the virtual format was not without its challenges, the bonding that the young people had experienced in previous sessions helped them still feel a sense of connection even while being apart.

The group met for their last session before the summer break in June 2020. In this online session the group once again picked up on the topic of Transition and gathered all the hopes, fears, memories and experiences that each member hopes to bring from children’s hospital. These were expressed through photos and writing, making the process both fun and creative.  They are all looking forward to coming together again and welcoming new members in Sept 2020 to do more work on this topic. The Youth Advisory Group are excited to work together and explore storytelling and the creation of characters as a way of sharing their Transition insights with the aim of supporting other young people as they go through transition and also to inform medical staff and policy makers about how it is to be a young person in Transition.

The Youth Advisory Group has provided a huge amount of advice and insight to Helium Arts in just five sessions. We look forward to all of the thoughtful discussions and creative outcomes that this group will undoubtedly continue to bring as they grow and flourish.

Members shared their reflections on Transition with each other in a virtual space.

Helium’s Youth Advisory Group is supported by The Arts Council of Ireland.

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