Wishes and memories, working with the Young Carers Group – Maria and Dagmara

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The title of our project, Snow Q, and of the original story that inspired our collaborative project, the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, could be misleading. Is the Snow Queen the main character? What about the two young people who lose and then find not only each other but also themselves. We’ve been talking about it as the story of a young person caring for someone else – going on a quest to rescue them – Gerda journeys to find her friend Kai who is missing in the snow – a story about selflessness and the determination of a young person in particular who meets and then overcomes obstacles that demand strength and courage beyond her age.

We’re working with different groups of people as part of the research and development of Snow Q. How do aspects of the story resonate with different people? We were keen to involve young people and we were delighted to have the opportunity of working with Brighton Young Carers Group and their Support Team from a wonderful organization at the Carers Centre in Brighton and Hove:

https://www.thecarerscentre.org/

Maria and Dagmara loved meeting them and were amazed at the response they got. The young people in the Brighton Young Carers Group all have someone in their family who needs their care whether through illness or disability. As a carer all too often you are trying to think about someone else and what their needs might be. We wanted the children and young people who came to our workshops to have the opportunity to think about themselves and explore their own creativity.

Here is a description of what we did and some images from our workshops held on a rainy Thursday at the Cornerstone Community Centre in Hove last month. The young carers, (aged 6 to late teens) were split into two groups and participated in two workshops: Creative Writing led by Maria and an Art workshop run by Dagmara. Many thanks to Tom Lambert, Brighton Young Carers’ Team Manager who welcomed us and arranged the workshops, to Ruth Sullivan and Paula Melis, Support and Outreach workers and all members of support staff but most of all to the shiny stars of that rainy and cold day – the Young Carers.

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Dagmara: In the Third Chapter ‘Of the Flower Garden’ young Gerda leaves everything that is safe and familiar and decides to go on a journey to save Kay. Quite soon into her quest, the river takes her to a house occupied by a mysterious woman who puts her under a spell. She brushes Gerda’s hair, feeds her cherries, enchants her with a smell of flowers and their exotic and peculiar stories. Although Gerda forgets about Kay, she is given an opportunity to rest, to be nurtured, to be spoiled.

In our art workshop, I asked Young Carers to imagine that they were about enter the Flower Garden and meet the Enchantress who would put them under the spell. All they knew and remembered, good and not so good, was to be forgotten, all, except what they could capture on a piece of paper or fabric. Young people used drawing, collage, transfer, sewing and printing techniques to create images representing happiest and most treasured moments in their lives they wanted to hold forever. Images of bike rides and trips to the beach were layered with pictures of pets and birthday cakes. Some children added words and objects that represented tools to help them with overcoming obstacles described in Maria’s workshop, for example a set of little keys to open all sort of locked doors.

Here are only a few examples of work by the Young Carers, however all work produced by them will become a part of our art installation at the Annex of the Regency Town House in Brighton. The Young Carers’ artwork will form a giant table cloth for a kitchen table in the spectacular kitchen which, with its glass roof, is not unlike a glass house or even the magical house of the Enchantress that put Gerda under the spell.

What better place to dedicate to the Young Carers but the magical Flower Garden where they can rest, grow and blossom.

Maria:  Every journey or quest begins with a wish, I told the young people. I asked each of them to speak and write about their wishes. We also played games speaking breakfast-speak – a language consisting solely of breakfast foods to get them into a novel kind of language. I was impressed by their perseverance and determination.  Even those for whom writing or spelling was challenging – everyone stuck with the tasks I set and responded imaginatively, in a lively way. Some of their words and recordings of their words will make their way into our installation.

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Wishes ranged from a new pet puppy/cat – or ferret for that matter – to travelling the world, a loved one getting better or someone who had died coming back ‘for a day’. The two groups also wrote and spoke about what gets in the way of us achieving our aims and what helps us –  the distractions of phones were acknowledged by all, adults and children alike, whilst other people could sometimes provide distraction as well as much vital support and encouragement.

The groups then went on a mythical journey creating their own quests, having looked at a storyboard of Gerda’s quest to find Kai.  Here all kinds of rivals, monsters, pirates – even a domestic cat who didn’t want its owner to leave – threw obstacles in their path, while all manner of friendly creatures and persons guided the intrepid travellers across oceans or to the summits of mountains and also helped them win important challenges (one involved caring for goats!) and of course to find happiness.

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