Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives
Young people in the Sedgefield area face a range of health challenges and have limited awareness of NHS Teen LifeCheck. Sedgefield Local Children's Board (LCB) commissioned Greenfield Community and Arts Centre to work with young people to develop a creative model addressing teenage health issues. ‘Check it Out', a large-scale arts installation, changed young people's perceptions and understanding of health and lifestyle choices and increased awareness of NHS Teen LifeCheck.
County Durham has higher than average levels of teenage pregnancies, obesity and adults who smoke. Smoking related deaths and hospital stays for self and alcohol related harm are high. Young people in the area are more frequent users of drugs, alcohol or volatile substances. Priorities for County Durham Children's Trust include supporting children and young people to develop their physical, mental, emotional and sexual health, adopt healthy lifestyles and choose not to take illegal drugs.
The LCB for Sedgefield is one of five accountable to the Children's Executive Board. It is chaired by the Head Teacher of Greenfield School Community and Arts College, which has held specialist status since 1998. The school hosts Greenfield Community and Arts Centre, which works to promote community cohesion and engagement through education and community-based arts activity.
Sedgefield LCB commissioned Greenfield Community and Arts Centre to develop a creative approach to promote NHS Teen LifeCheck, an online health quiz for 12-15-year-olds. More than 100 young people worked with artists, youth workers and health professionals to create film, graphics, sound and light pieces that together formed an interactive installation on teenage health issues. At least 800 people, mainly teenagers, experienced the installation during summer 2010 when it was taken on tour in a marquee to four sites in the area.
Who was involved?
The youth service, known as Positive Activities for Young People:
- selected 10 youth centres where the project design and development would take place
- identified and engaged young people to take part, targeting those who are seldom heard or experiencing inequalities in accessing health information
- matched youth workers, young people and artists
- programmed 10 sessions at each of the 10 sites.
Health professionals provided specialist expertise, contributed to the project concept and took part in design and development sessions.
Youth, education and health workers all volunteered as stewards for the tour.
Greenfield Community and Arts Centre managed and evaluated the project.
The Department for Health provided Sedgefield LCB with the funding through grants of £47,000 from Communities for Health and £70,000 from NHS Teen LifeCheck.
The problem and how it was tackled
Giving young people a voice
The young people needed to be given control of decisions to get them fully engaged. This meant enabling them to drive the design and development process from the start.
An artist facilitated a brainstorming process with each group so the young people could decide the issues they wanted to explore and how they wanted to explore them. The artist then helped develop ideas and kept the young people focused. Each group:
- chose the health topic they wanted to work on, which included drugs, alcohol, smoking, bullying and relationships
- decided how they wanted to create a piece exploring choices and consequences relating to their chosen topics
- decided how their piece would work as part of the installation that would bring together pieces created by all 10 groups
- took part in a week of activity to test the final installation, built at Sedgefield Sport and Community College by a professional production company before going on tour.
This process challenged young people's thinking, helping shift their perceptions and understanding of a range of health issues. It also ensured the creative pieces they produced focused on what mattered to them.
Making teenage health promotion engaging
Traditional promotional techniques such as posters and leaflets were considered unappealing to teenagers so something more innovative was needed.
The ‘Check it Out' installation offered an exciting and dramatic interactive experience combining film, graphics, sound, light and dry ice effects. It invited young people to ‘Come and play the life choices game ...'. Players selected 6 of the 10 health topics on offer, made choices when prompted by the installation and learned the consequences of those choices. Up to 25 people could play at any one time, either in groups or individually. The game lasted 20 minutes. NHS Teen LifeCheck featured throughout and free t-shirts and other promotional materials were handed out at each site.
Young people found ‘Check it Out' engaging. The style of the installation reflected youth culture and the interactive experience helped young people think about and discuss with their peers a range of teenage health issues. It also raised awareness of NHS Teen LifeCheck.
Encouraging sectors to work together in different ways
Partners involved in ‘Check it Out' had limited experience of using creativity to engage young people in health promotion and some found it daunting.
Health professionals were encouraged to take part in the artist-led sessions and contribute to the creative process. This ensured an input of health expertise throughout the design and development stage. It also built understanding of how to use a creative model to address health issues in ways that are relevant to young people.
The project challenged preconceptions about the effectiveness of arts-based health promotion and has influenced other programmes. For example, Greenfield Community and Arts Centre has since been commissioned to use a creative approach to engage young people in redesigning and reenergising public health roadshows.
Outcomes and impact
‘Check it Out' achieved changes in perception, understanding and behaviour and increased awareness of NHS Teen LifeCheck among young people.
The artists used creative techniques to gather the views of the young people involved in the project design and development. Comments included:
"This has helped me to change certain areas of my life."
"It has opened my eyes to issues I wouldn't normally have considered."
"‘Check it Out' looks professional, I'm so proud of it."
"Awesome, I can't wait to do another project like this"
Sedgefield Sport and Community College students tested the self-completion evaluation form used on tour. Around 800 people experienced the ‘Check it Out' installation and 670 completed evaluation forms. Of these:
- 93 per cent enjoyed the installation
- 89 per cent said it got them to think about the health issues it raised
- 75 per cent had not heard of NHS Teen LifeCheck before
- 87 per cent would recommend NHS Teen LifeCheck to their friends, having experienced the installation and been exposed to its messages
- 95 per cent felt using a dramatic arts installation such as ‘Check it Out' is a good way to raise young people's awareness and understanding of health and lifestyle issues.
Critical success factors to take the work further
Collaboration and cooperation between the different sectors working with young people was key to success. The agencies were open to new ways of thinking and working to promote NHS Teen LifeCheck and teenage health more generally through the arts.
Avoiding assumptions about what young people think and how they will respond is crucial. The project set out to change young people's perceptions and behaviour. This meant first understanding fully what these were.
What could have been done better?
Young people's creativity moves at a rapid pace. Sedgefield LCB steering group found matching the speed of its decision-making to the progression of the project challenging.
Strategic level commitment to the project by the various agencies was not always reflected at delivery level.
The potential of ‘Check it Out' as a valuable health resource in school, youth and community settings has yet to be fully realised. Time limited project funding has ended and the process for allocating resources changed following local government reorganisation in County Durham. The installation will tour again if the funding applications made to five of the 14 Durham County Area Action Partnerships are successful.
Katy Milne, Extended Learning Leader (Creativity and Community Arts)
Greenfield Community and Arts Centre