Firth Park and Southey Wards Community, North East Sheffield

Back in January we were awarded some funding to learn from teenagers what activities they want to see over the summer holidays and make it happen. The original plan was to create a youth board, festival, and programme of summer activities all led by young people, but then… COVID. It’s an all too familiar story right now. Venues are closing, people are isolating, projects are put on hold.

It’s tempting to apply for deadline extension after deadline extension and hope that normality will return at some point in the not too distant future. But what happens to communities in the meantime? What about physical and mental health? What about young people just leaving school and their hopes for college, university… work?

It’s easy to see why youth work has been given an amber light as an essential service during all of this madness. Young people’s futures are at stake. And it’s underserved and working class communities who suffer the most. It was clear to us that our original plan couldn’t work right now. It’s just not safe. But we’re lucky to work with funders who understand all of this and trust us to spend our funding on alternative activities that are safe… and still have impact.

But what to do? And where to do it? We started by instantly pivoting to ‘making-at-home boxes’ which went down a storm and took care of part of the project. But we needed more ideas. We contacted our network of youth workers. What were they doing right now? Were they meeting with young people? What were they hearing from them?

We tagged along to a walking group in Parson Cross organised by PXI – Parson Cross Initiatives to meet a group of young people between the ages of 16-20. They’d been meeting once a week over the summer to walk down to Costa, get a takeaway coffee and just chat outside in the sun. But the days were getting shorter and colder and we got caught in a downpour on the day we visited. This wasn’t going to be as much fun come Autumn.

We found out this group was also meeting on a Saturday at a community allotment in Firth Park. We tagged along again to help out and to listen. And that’s when we realised this was the perfect setting for COVID-safe youth projects.

Outside environment ✔️

Shelter for if it rains ✔️

Lots of potential for maker-based projects ✔️

We’d found our WHERE.

As for the WHAT, who better to answer that question than the young people themselves? They want a workshop, a kitchen, a pizza oven…. a pizza oven. That was something we could work with them on. Not only does it tick lots of boxes in terms of making and design and materials and all that, but also… PIZZA!

So for three weeks, a group of six young people from working class backgrounds have been meeting at Norwood Allotments to design, build and decorate their very own pizza oven from the foundations up.

One of our aims for this project was to increase work prospects for the young people we work with. Through our sessions and conversations, we’ve discovered a wide range of ambitions from Adam (20) who studies catering at college and wants to own his own restaurant one day to Kieran who’s in his last year of school, has thrown himself into the build, and wants to go into joinery.

We’ve got two weeks left to go – one week of build and the final week of cooking and eating pizza. True to Bright Box style, we’ve taken considerable care to gather feedback and listen closely to the group to assess their needs. All our data point conclusively to a strong desire for pepperoni and some considerable dissent over the appropriateness of pineapple as a pizza topping. We’ll let you know how that works out.

Special thanks to Mike Scown from Art House Sheffield for facilitating our build.

And thank you to our funders…

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