When the Roundhouse opened as an arts venue in 1966 in Camden, London, it was seen as a vital space within its community. This remains true today and the Roundhouse’s local community is a big priority for the organisation. With the latest issue of JAM — the AMA’s journal of arts marketing — focusing on community engagement, we invited Tina Ramdeen to write about the Roundhouse’s youth and community engagement work.
Since reopening in 2006, following a huge refurbishment, the Roundhouse now works with 6,500 young people each year and 44% of those are from Camden. We’re proud that the young people we work with are also reflective of the city in which we sit — 41% of the young people are BAME and 58% live in the areas ranked as the most deprived in the UK.
We find that the barriers preventing young people from engaging in organisations are multifaceted and we are working to better understand that. For instance, you cannot always expect people to come to you. One of our key priorities is going out into our local community. Our street circus programme does a huge amount of work out in local housing estates in Camden. We take the art form to them in the spaces where they feel comfortable in order to build trust with us and our staff.
We take the art form to them in the spaces where they feel comfortable in order to build trust with us and our staff.
It is important there is a level of trust between other organisations involved in a young person’s life too. That is why we run a Community Network comprising 70 local organisations including housing associations, youth services, mental health specialists, youth and community centres, and homelessness organisations. The Network comes together once a quarter to share experiences, work towards shared goals and provide referrals for young people into the Roundhouse and externally when they need additional support. It also helps to build a picture of the bigger issues facing young people in our borough. We work with these local partners to deliver taster and developer sessions for young people, providing an entry point into our projects. Working in this way provides holistic support for each young person.
We run two projects each year — one music and one spoken word — where all the referrals are made by our community partners. OnTrack and Wax Lyrical are for 16 to 25-year-olds not in education, employment or training and throughout six weeks the group develop their skills, culminating in a final showcase of their work. Many young people have gone on to further training or found a job but it is the transferable skills that are transformed because of the network of support around the programme — allowing young people to be creative in a safe and supportive environment.
Our programme of work in schools also cements us in our local community. We know resources in schools and youth organisations have reduced but we are fortunate that we have the staff, industry equipment and a unique space to support local organisations and schools in addressing the gaps. If a local school wants to do a DJ workshop, we can facilitate that, we can host them here — it’s mutually beneficially to both of us — but ultimately young people get the chance to be creative and develop their skills. We see young people who have taken part in projects with their school, continue to come here independently, long after they leave school.
We have done a lot of work to recognise what culture is to our local community, ensuring that our space and offer is reflective of what they want — and this is often in tandem with local schools and community groups. Arts organisations often discuss the need to engage communities in our spaces but we need to recognise that people are already engaging with creativity, just in different spaces.
Earlier this year we worked with Battersea Arts Centre, NoFit State and Queen’s Crescent Community Association to present ILINX — a show created with 50 young people, combining circus, hip hop, beatboxing and DJ’ing. It was a specially created show that shone a light on the power of a community coming together whilst giving young people a safe space to express themselves through creativity. It offered us a real chance to respond to the challenges young people are facing in the borough and connect with the local community at a difficult time.
It offered us a real chance to respond to the challenges young people are facing in the borough and connect with the local community at a difficult time.
Whilst the Roundhouse may not be considered more diverse than the city it sits within, through our community work we do bring young people together who reflect our society. We want to give young people the opportunity to work alongside other young people who are different to them so they can learn and share experiences. This will ultimately encourage greater understanding of one another and push creative boundaries.
Tina Ramdeen is Head of Youth Policy and Engagement at the Roundhouse.
Watch out for AMAculturehive’s Community Engagement takeover, which will be taking place in January 2020 — in the meantime read more about community engagement on AMAculturehive.
Image courtesy of Roundhouse. Performance of ILINX presented in association with Battersea Arts Centre, NoFit State and Queen’s Crescent Community Association. © Cesare De Giglio.