The theme of this year’s conference, held at the Northern College, was Being and Belonging and delegates explored that theme over two days through a number of activities, workshops and presentations.
Setting the scene, conference facilitators CLADA (Co-operative Learning and Development Associates) asked delegates to reflect on both their own identity and, through participative exercises, the shared identity of all those attending the conference.
Nichola Wood from the University of Leeds spoke about the emotional power of being and belonging. She said: “Our sense of belonging shape the way lives and lived and futures are made.
“And while there were many positives, it can create social division, prejudice and inter-group tension, with a person’s sense of being often being shaped or strengthened by unsettling or threatening events.
“Recent years have seen a marked increase in people’s interest in their own sense of being — something that is happening at the same time as the processes of globalisation could be seen to be eroding cultural differences and homogenising tastes and cultures.”
Ms Wood added: “An increase in the power of distant and anonymous global forces can make people feel uncomfortable, insecure and confused.”
She said the last few decades had witnessed a revival of nationalism with a “huge demand for smaller, more intimate political units”. With this in mind, Ms Wood conducted research at large arts events in Scotland. She said the idea of ‘Scottishness’ becomes an assumed explanation for intimate feelings of community and belonging, but in reality no such link could be proved.
That does not mean however that a person’s sense of belonging cannot be a powerful tool to create all sorts of communities — something that would be made a lot easier if people were more used to talking about their shared experiences and connections.
An international dimension was provided by Joe Walker of Street Action, an organisation that works with street children in South Africa.
He looked at how young people living on the streets in developing countries had become marginalised economically, socially and politically, before exploring how a philosophy of ‘street children consciousness’ can help to re-integrate them back into society.
One strand of workshops was led by school students, including one by three inspirational youngsters from the East Riding Youth Assembly. The organisation, formed in 2003 and which now has 250 young members, gives young people in the East Riding a voice. It includes sub-groups looking at specific issues such as mental health, sexuality and the needs of young carers.
Members of the assembly have shadowed local councillors in their work and, despite having an annual budget of just £5,000, an assembly campaign on transport issues secured an additional £10,000 to pilot a bus pass scheme for young people. The assembly has also created and published a model anti-bullying strategy for schools and a publication for young, gay men.
Members of the assembly have visited the European Parliament and one member, Tom Astell, visited Sierra Leone when aged just ten to interview former child soldiers and abuse victims for the BBC’s Comic Relief.
Other youngsters sharing their experiences and perspectives on being and belonging included students from Co-operative Trust School Sir Thomas Boughey High, Swansea Young People’s Voice and Titus Salt’s School in Bradford.
Join the Conversation