A year on from the summer riots, Alison Jones finds out a local project is helping to engage young people.
A year ago this week the country watched in shock as London burned.
A police incident which left one man dead boiled over from peaceful protest to wanton destruction to a mania of materialism and blatant smash and grab.
Most shocking was that it was not confined to the area where the man, Mark Duggan, had lived and died. It spread to other cities and towns with incidents of copycat violence. Here in Birmingham it resulted in the deaths of three men.
With the average age of the rioters/looters put at 24 and the chaos organised via social networks and mobile phones, the riots also had a devastating impact on the public perception of young people.
A photographic exhibition launched at the Custard Factory and now on tour to venues throughout the city hopes to try and alter that negative image.
“...not just an iPod generation” was created as part of The Co-operative Foundation’s Truth about Youth programme.
The idea was to disprove the perception that youngsters are detached from society and wider issues, switched off from what is going on around them because their focus is on whatever technology they have in their hands or their ears.
The concept of an “iPod Generation” sprang from a Government report in 2007 which said today’s youth was “insecure, pressurised, over-taxed and debt-ridden”.
The exhibition was organised by Envision, a charity established in 2000 by four young people who wanted to challenge the stereotype that young people are apathetic and disengaged.
Envision now supports 16-19 year olds from schools and colleges in Greater London, Birmingham, Leeds and Bristol, helping more than 3000 young people every year to design their own local community projects tackling issues ranging from street crime to climate change.
The curator of the exhibition Tim Knappett, an Envsion co-ordinator, said: “Studies have shown that using negative and demeaning language when applied to a whole generation of people can have an adverse effect.
“Britain’s young people need to be encouraged to take positive action and act as role models, not be offended on a wide scale by terms such as the ‘iPod Generation’.
“With the anniversary of the riots upon us, these young people have shown that it is important to see the bigger picture and not tar all young people with the same brush. Their energy and enthusiasm can be seen through the photos.”
Eighteen-year-old Kelly Potter, is among those whose photograph is on display. She became involved with Envision after they came to her school, Cockshut Hill Technology College, inviting students to take a part in projects within in the community.
After completing an A-level in photography, as well as ones in psychology and media, she was keen to take part in the poster campaign to tell “the truth about youth”.
In a spin on their being summed up as an “iPod Generation”, the participants used the “i” to show there was much more to them.
“I chose iCreate,” said Kelly, who lives in Sheldon. “I want to go into film and I want to make stories for people to see in the future, to share my imagination and creativity. I am going to UCB later this year to do film technology and production. I want to be behind the camera.”
The young people involved took pictures of each other in stereotypical “youth” areas around the Custard Factory, against graffitied walls or under darkened bridges.
“Places where you would think kids might go to smoke weed or hang out,” explained Kelly. “We juxtaposed the good and the bad. Me with my quite nice clothes and my hair all proper and a smile on my face, showing that just because the area is bad it doesn’t mean we are what you think we are.
“It winds me up when I hear older people say ‘all youths are bad’, that we never stand up for older people on the bus, that we never do this or we never do that. Maybe that does cover a lot of young people but the majority aren’t like that. They are polite and generous and they help out.”
Although Kelly heard about the riots in Birmingham as they were happening, through images being posted on Facebook and phone calls from friends, she stayed away from the trouble spots.
“I live with my dad and he wouldn’t allow me to go up town for fear of my safety.
“It frustrating to know that so many young people did get involved, through social networks or being pressured into it, doing things they wouldn’t normally do.
“It’s given us a bad image.
“I understand the majority of people involved in the riots were young people, but the majority of young people weren’t in the riots.
“It had a big impact on all parents because they suddenly got a new look on how they were bringing up their children with so many going out and doing this kind of thing. They were questioning their own parenting skills and worried about influences on them when they are not around, at school and in peer groups.
“My dad is pretty happy with my group if friends. He doesn’t really know them that well but I think he has trust in me not to be with silly people.”
* The exhibition will be on show at Urban Coffee in Church Street, Birmingham, from Sunday, and on the BBC Big Screen after the Olympics coverage. For updates on where and when the photos will next be seen look up www.envision.org.uk/truthaboutyouth or follow @envisionuk and www.facebook.com/truthaboutyouth