Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time, but is often the most difficult to communicate and to engage people with. Furthermore, whilst there is a high recognition of climate change by young people in European countries they remain an under researched group with regards to climate change. FutureCoast Youth is a collaborative research project that seeks to address this problem by using creativity and play to explore young people’s perceptions of, and engagement with, climate change. Funded by the University of Brighton’s CUPP (Community University Partnership Programme), the project is a collaboration between media researchers, Professor Julie Doyle and Helen Kennedy, ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology (led by Co-Director, Persephone Pearl) and Dorothy Stringer High School (Brighton, UK).
FutureCoast Youth extends the FutureCoast storytelling project developed by US games designer, Ken Eklund, in collaboration with the PoLAR Institute at Columbia University: an international online digital storytelling project which asks audiences to imagine and create voicemails from a range of possible climatically changed futures.
FutureCoast Youth builds on this participatory imaginative premise to bring climate change to young people in Brighton. Through a series of workshops that used play and storytelling, Doyle and ONCA worked with twelve Environmental Science GCSE students (14-15 years old) from Dorothy Stringer School to explore their responses to climate change. FutureCoast Youth culminated in a Young People’s Climate Conference at ONCA, where students presented their creative work on climate change in role as a conference delegation from the future, to coincide with the UN Climate Convention, COP21 (Paris, December 2015).
The project ran from September 2015 - January 2016
FutureCoast Youth aims to empower young people – the generation who will be most affected by climate change, but who are often given the least voice – to imagine and explore their responses to climate change, through participatory storytelling, play and performance.Two research questions guided the project:
1 How can creative processes such as participatory play be used to explore young people’s perceptions of climate change?
2 How can these creative participatory processes help to empower young people about climate change?
The project used different elements of play to engage the young people, including immersive fictional play and ‘play for play’s sake’. Immersive play and fiction was created through the students being addressed as the FutureCoast Youth team dedicated to addressing climate change. From the outset students were told the rules of play: that when they entered the workshop they were members of the FutureCoast Youth team and that for the following hour they would be focused solely on the issue of climate change; exploring their feelings and finding forms of positive action and solutions to this issue. This fictional narrative was also introduced to the students’ through an immersive play experience at the beginning of the project, hosted at ONCA gallery. Students were addressed as members (or FutureCoast Agents) of a fictitious network of groups dedicated to addressing climate change. Through this immersive play, the students were introduced to the concept of voicemails from the future, and then created their own voicemails.
The other element of play was the use of playful games in the workshops to build students confidence: some of this was ‘play for play’s sake’, and some was oriented towards play about climate change. The goal of the workshops was to help the students move towards producing their own creative work on climate change to be shared online and at the end of project through a Young People’s (Future) Climate Conference at ONCA.
At the start of the project, many of the students believed in technological solutions to addressing climate change and invested power in governmental responsibility and action. They did not see themselves as part of a political system or having agency outside of this system.
By the end of the project the students views had changed in different ways:
Other findings – reflections from project leaders
Some of the students involved in the project have been inspired to work with ONCA on other climate change arts projects
Dorothy Stringer Tutors identified the rapid growth in group and individual confidence over the course of the project, enabling the GCSE group to form bonds quicker than in previous years.
FutureCoast immersive play public engagement event, 26 September 2015. Twenty members of the public participated in the immersive play of FutureCoast, leading to a discussion about climate change engagement and the production of a number of voicemails from the future.
Participant responses to FutureCoast immersive play event:
"I am highly aware of climate change, but it was great to hear/see a new angle" (white female, 53.)
"Excellent. Humanises the idea of climate change" (male, 37)
"I really enjoyed the mixture of seriousness and fun…It makes you part of the process, involves you, as it is quite easy to think of climate change as other people’s problem" (white male, 53)
"It was very interesting and also made a serious subject humorous" (non specified, 36)
Persephone Pearl, Co-Director ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology
FutureCoast Youth website, documenting the project and disseminating the students creative outputs
Student ‘Voicemails from the Future’
Two academic journal articles in process, exploring:
1 Participatory play as a means of engaging young people with climate change;
2 Collaborative opportunities for climate engagement
ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology, Brighton – Persephone Pearl (Co-Director ONCA)
Dorothy Stringer High School - Mr Rob Sandercock (Environmental Science Tutor) and Dr Dan Danahar (Biodiversity Co-ordinator)
Keith Ellis, Independent Workshop Facilitator
Jack Darach, Independent Workshop Facilitator
CUPP (Community University Partnership Programme), Seed Fund Award, University of Brighton