Handle with Care
A photography project involving young carers who use the Devon Carers service
The challenges and background
A young carer is someone aged 18 or under who provides practical or emotional support and assistance for a relative or family friend. This could be due to a number of reasons including disability, illness or a mental health condition. Young carers often live very challenging lives and the extra responsibilities that they have at home can lead to isolation, frustration and anxiety. The challenges they face can have a strong impact on their education and general wellbeing.
Devon Carers supports a large number of young carers and through conversations with them, RAMM identified a need for activities that bring young carers together in a neutral and non- judgemental environment. Together we wanted to create a programme of activities that would give the young people respite from daily pressures, allow them to work with others in similar situations, form friendships and connections, and learn new creative and practical skills.
Supported by RAMM, Exeter based photographer Brendan Barry worked with six young carers aged 13-17. Over a series of 3 workshops he taught them how to compose and capture a photograph; and how to process images in a darkroom. The workshops centred on Barry’s practice of transforming unusual objects into cameras. These are often large scale such as a shipping container, or the caravan and giant cardboard box that were used in the Handle with Care project.
Barry’s approach when working with others is to guide them towards taking ownership over the processes he explores with them, involving them in every part of image making, starting with constructing the camera. This approach really benefitted the young people by supporting them to gradually take the lead on tasks, building their confidence. The young people gained new skills and also supported one another through the process, often working together to produce the images.
The initial workshop was run as an outreach session at Westbank, where Devon Carers have their hub, and focussed on introducing Brendan Barry’s approach to photography and the basics of making an image. The remaining sessions took place at RAMM and involved constructing a large scale cardboard box camera, then using this to capture photographs of objects from RAMM’s handling collections.
During the workshops at RAMM the young carers were encouraged to reflect on their identity and place in the world and select objects that they felt a personal connection to. RAMM recorded the comments that the young people made about their reasons for selecting the objects and included these in the exhibition to give RAMM’s visitors an insight into the thought process behind the images.
This project is just one of many in RAMM’s wide reaching programme to broaden engagement with the museum and its collections. By partnering community organisations, we introduce the museum to people who wouldn’t otherwise consider coming and take the museum to those who are unable to visit. Through projects such as this RAMM continues to develop its spaces as a place for conversation, knowledge sharing and sociable activities, building on the evidence that museums can have a significant impact on people’s wellbeing.
The project culminated in an exhibition and celebration event which were timed to coincide with ‘Carers Rights Day’. The exhibition Handle with Care showed a selection of the images that the young carers had made throughout the project and was open to the public between Thu 21 Nov and Tue 3 Dec 2019.
“I thought this exhibition was just terrific. Beautifully displayed, with just the right amount of contextual info.” Katy Mcleod, Honorary Reader Fine Art, Kingston University, London
What did people say?
“What a great opportunity for young carers not only to experience building a camera and taking photographs but also to work with the RAMM and explore exhibits that they might not otherwise look at or take notice of if they were with their cared-for person. The opportunity for young carers to work with the museum as well as an artist is not something which is often available and has certainly enhanced their education and allowed some to include their work in their GCSE portfolios thus beginning to mitigate the inequality young carers are known to experience in academic achievement. Working with the RAMM has been a great experience for us as a service and we have worked well together and we would love to see more opportunities for young carers to access the arts within the county.”
Liz Smith, Devon Carers
“This project was the first piece of work I did with Devon young carers and although the number of young people was small it was clear to see from what they said and did that all the young people had a good time. All of them loved their photos and although some of them struggled with finding subjects to photograph they all wanted to be part of the process. On a personal level it was a great introduction to partnership working and I would happily be involved with the RAMM and projects like this again. I found all the adults to be helpful and considerate of the young person’s needs.”
Nicky Griffin, Devon Carers
Following the success of this initial project with Devon Carers RAMM will continue to support young carers to attend further creative workshops and events. In the near future we will be offering bursary places for young carers to take part in our Discover Arts Award Week, February 2020, during which they will work with a number of local artists and gain their Discover Arts Award. We also hope to involve them in our summer Arts Award offer through a similar bursary scheme.
We are applying for a V&A grant in order to purchase a number of the prints made by the young people for RAMM’s permanent collection.
For further information
Please contact Ellie Coleman, RAMM Engagement Officer: [email protected]