Led by 40 young people working across five local authorities in the North West, the Festival of Hope demonstrated the power of handing the keys of heritage to the next generation. From August to October 2020, over 40 unique events were created and commissioned by teams of young producers working with five heritage partners: Bolton Museum, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery (Carlisle), West Cheshire Museums (Cheshire West and Chester), Lancashire Museums and The Atkinson (Sefton). Amidst an international crisis, with museums and cultural organisations forced to close their doors, this youth-led project flexed and adapted – driven by exceptional young leaders – ensuring hope was found and new light was cast on interpretations of heritage. With central co-ordination from Curious Minds and Blaze Arts, and collaboration with arts and youth organisations and freelance artists, the Festival was a truly collective effort to raise the voices of young people across the region.
The Festival of Hope is a key part of Hope Streets, a 5-year programme which is regional in scope and game-changing in ambition. Supported by National Lottery Heritage Fund it brings together the youth, arts and heritage sectors to explore what it takes to authentically embed youth voice in museums.
The major beneficiaries of the project were the young people themselves who regularly met online to plan the Festival and share their experiences of living through the pandemic. The young people have told of how this regular connection with others gave them a sense of purpose and rescued their wellbeing in the context of school and college closures. One of the highlights of the festival was a short film, ‘We are Winsford’, that featured some of the young people talking to people they had not met before in a local café. The Young Producers from both Chester and Winsford were resolute in their decision to bring something new and exciting to their hometowns, which showcased the voices of young people, but more importantly offered hope and brought people together. Most of the content created for the Festival was hosted online, with some physical, socially distanced installations in Carlisle, Southport and Winsford. Hosting content online meant being able to reach a large, national audience, while the physical installations ensured people in the local community who may have been unaware of the Festival online saw and engaged with the work produced.
It is rare that young people are given the opportunity to work with museums to run their own ambitious heritage projects, producing bold, challenging events that cross museum boundaries and spill out into the community. The young producers who led the Festival were given a genuine leadership opportunity: they were involved in every aspect of the project, including managing the budget, commissioning artists and other professionals, project development from concept to delivery, and marketing and communications. Some used the project as a springboard to go on to higher education or other work opportunities in the cultural and heritage sector. They reported increased skills and confidence, and that the project supported wellbeing and gave them something meaningful to work on during a period of time where anxiety levels rose.