Young people from Birmingham share their voices through graffiti art project

A University of Birmingham expert has joined a celebrated artist to give young people from Birmingham the opportunity to express their voices through graffiti.

Finished graffiti artwork on University of Birmingham campus, featuring 'Silence' and 'Listen' in large letters.

Finished artwork by Void One and the students from Blackwater Academy.

Students from two local schools, University of Birmingham School and Blackwater Academy, shared their experiences of education and talked about the issues that matter to them in a series of workshops.

This work culminated in the students working with artist Void One and Dr Sophie King-Hill, Associate Professor in the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham who led the project, to create a large piece of graffiti art on the University of Birmingham campus. The massive artwork reflects their frustrations of not being listened to and silenced.

This participatory research project has given students, some of whom have become disaffected with the mainstream education system, a chance to express themselves in a positive and creative way.

Dr Sophie King-Hill, University of Birmingham

Dr Sophie King-Hill, said: “Too often, young people don’t have a say in the pressing issues that impact their lives and it is important that they have an equal voice in these matters. This participatory research project has given students, some of whom have become disaffected with the mainstream education system, a chance to express themselves in a positive and creative way. ”

Two large 7.5 metre billboards were designed and created by the students under the mentorship and guidance of Dr King-Hill and Void One. These boards will be donated to the schools for them to use and display. Both billboards are based on the theme of young people being silenced, featuring large hands and the words ‘listen‘ and ‘silence‘.

Headteacher Kyle Morrison, from Blackwater Academy, said: “The young men of Blackwater Academy that have taken part in the project have grown in confidence and developed new skill sets whilst working alongside Void One and Dr Sophie King-Hill from the University of Birmingham. The graffiti wall has posed such a high level of significance in helping the young people realise that they have a voice and that their opinion is vital towards shaping our future. This has also given our students a great sense of achievement and a piece of powerful art that will always remind them of how positive results come from positive attitude.”

Head of School Rebecca Tigue, from the University of Birmingham School, said: “Our young people who have participated in this project have moved from a place where they felt their voices had little impact and were too often silenced, to feeling empowered and listened to. Working with Void One and Dr Sophie King-Hill creating their graffiti wall has given them something tangible to be proud of. It has also given them hope that there are ways of being heard and that their voices do matter – we just need to make sure we listen to them.”

The initial planning part of this participatory research project was funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, and the workshops and final murals were funded through the School of Social Policy Impact Fund. Using a participatory approach to the project means there is more of a balance between the academic leading the research and the participants.

Dr King-Hill concluded: “Throughout my work, I find that young people are eager to discuss the issues that affect them. Their voices are vital in designing and carrying out research. They are the experts on themselves. They are not passive but have so much agency. Approaches must be equal and inclusive—not tokenistic.

“It has been a pleasure working with the students from University of Birmingham School and Blackwater Academy, getting to see them learn new skills and express themselves through art. The resulting artwork is really stunning and I hope they are incredibly proud of what they created. Hopefully, these boards will help them feel empowered to speak up and remind the rest of us to listen.”

Notes for editors

  • For media inquiries please contact Ellie Hail, Communications Officer, University of Birmingham on +44 (0)7966 311 409. Out-of-hours, please call +44 (0) 121 414 2772.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 8,000 international students from over 150 countries.