Monday, 11 April 2011

NEET and tidy

Last Friday I spent a happy 5 hours in King's Lynn with a group of young people who fall into the bracket the Government calls N.E.E.T (Not in Employment, Education or Training). Working with Marie Kennedy, Norfolk Museums' excellent Youth Engagement Officer, we made one of a series of short films featuring their chosen theme: Women In History.

Unsurprisingly, I was asked to be Queen Elizabeth I. After a most enjoyable standard costume session we had a very interesting discussion on being in line to the throne (or rather, not being in line to the throne, as the case may be), religious reform, Elizabeth's habit of 'claiming' jewellery for the good of the Nation, and of course, why she stayed unmarried. This informal discussion of women's status created quite a heated response from both the young women and the young men in the group. Then on to the filming.

The group has used the style of a different popular TV programme for each film. They've 'done' Jeremy Kyle, Eastenders and CSI in previous weeks, and it happened that in my week, it was Big Brother. So, Queenie became a Housemate, stealing others' jewellery, refusing to tidy up and generally being regally obnoxious. We had a diary room, which allowed the shyer members to shine in front of the camera for a moment or two, and Marie played a brilliant Davina (please don't swear, you're live on TV) McCall.

The group members discussed, wrote, directed and filmed all the scenes themselves, using their observations from watching the series to look for stereotypical characters and behaviour to include. They also found innovative yet relevant ways to incorporate a 16th century monarch into the format- I'm not sure if Queenie has ever been asked, "so, are you single, then?" in quite that way before!!

Working with these young people was incredibly satisfying. They were totally engaged in the project, open to learning new things, and keen to make connections between the historical facts and their own experiences of life today.

The funding for so many of these fantastic projects is being cut as part of today's drive for austerity. Many of the groups Marie has worked so hard to form partnerships with over the last two years, in order to keep such worthwhile youth projects flourishing, have already disappeared.

Queen Elizabeth I was renowned for her reluctance to authorise executions; if only the current Government showed similar restraint when wielding the axe.

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