Man with spray paint in front of mural
Void One at work (credit: Void One)

It is important for young people to have an equal voice in matters that shape their world. Too often, young people don’t have a say in the pressing issues that impact their lives. Dr Sophie King-Hill hopes to raise awareness of this challenge by planning a piece of graffiti with young people for a BMX track or skate park, working alongside graffiti artist Void One.  She has received seed funding from the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to explore this issue further, and plans to work alongside young people using a participatory research approach. 

What is participatory research?

Participatory approaches can offer young people an equal footing in research. By working with them, rather than imposing research on them, the balance of power is shifted from that of hierarchy to a collaborative endeavour, resulting in co-design.  Research into issues affecting younger generations is often carried out by members of older generations. This can lead to young people feeling disconnected and disenfranchised, making research and work for young people seem elitist, inaccessible, and something that is imposed upon them instead of something they can own.  “Throughout my work, I find that young people are eager to discuss the issues that affect them,” says Dr King-Hill. “Their voices are vital in designing and carrying out research. They are the experts on themselves. Approaches must be equal and inclusive—not tokenistic.” 

Graffiti mural of multi-coloured girl in round glasses
Mural by Void One (credit: Void One)

Why use graffiti?

“There are a number of reasons why I’ve chosen to work with graffiti,” says Dr King-Hill. “Historically, graffiti has been a means for those who feel that they don’t have a voice to express their emotions about a conformist society, whether through tagging or creating detailed murals. As an art form, graffiti has a high level of accessibility.” This is a premise with which Void One agrees. Graffiti, in whatever form, can give a voice to the voiceless.

Where could the project take place?

Dr King-Hill and Void One hope to secure a BMX track or skate park to host the project. These spaces foster a sense of belonging, and are often a result of a local community endeavour. They provide free and accessible recreation for those that may not be able to use paid-for activities. Successful examples of these parks can be seen in projects like the Solihull Pump Track and Bournbrook Skate Park. Positioning the graffiti project at a location like this highlights the importance of safe, legitimate public spaces for youth to express themselves and fulfil their recreational needs. Many skate parks and tracks are also flanked by parks for children; this will ensure that the piece of graffiti will be seen widely by different generations.

“As a society, we acknowledge that children need to play, but we have few options for older youth,” Dr King-Hill points out. “I want to highlight these spaces and how vitally important they are to young people.” This was evidenced by the Institute of Health Inequalities Marmot Review which states that “effective participatory decision-making at local level […]can only happen by empowering individuals and local communities.”

To find out more, you can contact Dr Sophie King-Hill via email.