Creative Mentoring: A perspective from Claire Parker

We are so excited that TMC are embracing ‘creative mentoring’, taking it further and wider into more communities. Derbyshire County council’s Creative mentoring success story is one that I am so proud to be part of.

Who are creative mentors?
Creative mentors support children and young people living in care, care leavers and also unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We support individuals to participate and engage creatively through the arts, and through cultural opportunities, learning new skills and sharing positive experiences. Trusting relationships between the mentor and young person develop over time during the shared creative journey, exploring new experiences and planning personalised creative projects.

Creative mentors come from a wide range of creative and artistic backgrounds. Collectively we are performance artists and musicians, storytellers, poets, rap artists, potters, photographers and film makers, textile artists and theatre practitioners, painters, woodworkers, metal workers and mess makers. We have circus skills and magic tricks, crazy ideas and ambitious enterprises up our sleeve, and we all share a passion to help the most vulnerable children and young people in our communities to find their potential. We aim to build positive and memorable experiences and ultimately, help our young people back into education, training or employment.

How does creative mentoring work? Let me tell you a little bit about how it works and the impact our work might have on a young person. It is important however to remember that each creative journey is unique, reflecting the various skills and experiences of the creative mentors and the unique circumstances of each young person….

What difference does it make to young people?
One young man I have worked with for 2 years has during our time together found creative ways to gain some control over his life, he is now more expressive and has a greater understanding of his likes and dislikes. He tells me that he is better able to make choices about the things that affect him and appears to be more confident about himself and what he is good at. I have seen a small shift in how he has become more ambitious, motivated and positive about his future. I believe it is through the development of the trusting relationship, the shared positive experiences and the creative opportunities that have helped him explore ideas about himself and the world around him. Working together on a project means that you both have to negotiate and challenge each other- testing the limits of each other’s skills and working together to solve problems.

Together we planned and made a piece of furniture for his room. About half way through the project we had some difficulties with one aspect of it- we had to go back to the drawing board and redesign it. This became a real test for this young person and he wanted to give up because he felt that it had failed. With support and encouragement the project continued and with some hard work and determination we solved the problems and made it even better. It turned out brilliant and he was so pleased with the results. Rising to the challenge with support and encouragement helped to transform those feelings of failure and difficulty, tackling them head on with positive creative energy. The creative project provided an opportunity to approach an old problem in a new way, we had to work it out together and we succeeded, it wasn’t easy but we changed the paradigm of how to deal with a situation that doesn’t go well or feels like failure.

Life can be really tough for a child living through difficulty and uncertainty, and I have seen how creative mentor support can help refocus a young person’s belief in themselves, in their own creative brilliance, imagination and power. As mentors, we go on a journey with the young people as they learn new creative or artistic skills.

Many of us have been lucky enough to grow up experiencing how the arts and other imaginative and creative opportunities go a long way to support enjoyment, opportunities and fulfilment in life. Our work as creative mentors support young people who haven’t had these opportunities, we help them discover a new world of possibilities.

For a more detailed exploration of the creative mentor role please follow the link here to a practice paper submitted to the International Journal of Social pedagogy and published in March this year. It describes in more detail the development of our community of learning around Creative mentor work, the theories and processes that have shaped it, and what the work looks like in practice.