The Conference

Thames Valley Partnership heads upstream

The LifeCrafts Conference
held on Friday 14 March 2008 at the River and Rowing Museum, Henley

‘Will be more brave and daring – loved the hands-on workshops’

comment from a conference evaluation form

The LifeCrafts conference was well named, conveying both the core mission of Thames Valley Partnership – launching projects to succour those in peril – and its focus on equipping those vulnerable people with skills they can then use to move forward positively in their lives.

The day’s activities ranged from presentations about the values and the challenges of this kind of commitment to a choice of practical workshops on photography, writing and textile-printing, giving conference delegates a satisfying mixture of theory and practice and providing both material for thought and a chance to experience the creative process itself – a process that lies at the heart of Thames Valley Partnership’s own practice.

The conference was aimed at a diverse audience of artists and practitioners, including workers from Youth Offending Teams and teachers from Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), arts officers and youth workers, social workers and probation officers. Over 70 people attended from around the region, reflecting how important an area of development this has become for many professionals across a wide number of services and sectors – and confirming just how timely this conference was.

There is no avoiding the fact that embarking on a creative project for the first time can be a scary business and Jan Paine, Head of Young People & Access to Education at Oxfordshire County Council, tackled the ‘fear factor’ head on in her morning presentation to the conference. The notion of being brave became a central theme during the day, perhaps most tangibly in the arts workshops, where delegates realised just how closely creativity – and the deep satisfaction it brings – is linked to taking risks.

The afternoon screening of Everything Stopped, a remarkable short film about a recent dance project in a PRU, brought home to delegates the extraordinary benefits that such arts interventions can have for people, even for those who seem quite beyond our reach. The film’s honesty about the very real risks and challenges that both the artists and the teaching staff (not to mention the young people themselves) took on the way is refreshing. As the conference itself proved, it is such advocacy, tempered by a strong sense of realism that will ultimately persuade professionals from different sectors to take seriously the idea of using the arts to engage with their communities and with families and young people at risk.

In opening the conference – and in her final appearance as Chief Executive – Sue Raikes remarked that the metaphorical potential of its title – LifeCrafts – was strengthened by the fact that it was being held at the fine River and Rowing Museum in Henley. It was a nice point, given that Thames Valley Partnership has always forged upstream and now (to mix watery analogies) the tide seems to have turned decisively in its favour, judging not least from the glowing comments from departing delegates: enthused, ready to apply what they had learned – for one this included ‘new insight, openness in spirit, out-of-box thinking’ – and to spread the word.

Richard Ings

Further information from Judy Munday at judy@thamesvalleypartnership.org.uk