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Image made on Canva, photography courtesy of FBB

‘Beyond Bars’: Turning young people’s experiences of lockdown into a legacy

We’re endlessly excited by the work of Football Beyond Borders, the football-for-education charity which has rewritten the rule book for working with young people, putting youth front and centre in everything they do. As an organisation which is based on building in person relationships with young people, COVID-19 lockdowns presented a distinct challenge – compounded by the fact that school-age people were one of the groups most impacted by the isolation caused by the pandemic. However, FBB shook off and stood up, swiftly transitioning and delivering a range of projects online to ensure young people were being supported outside of school and their voices were being heard far and wide.   

One of these projects was Beyond Bars, a series of spoken word workshops run by FBB practitioners, creatives and artists, for young people during the first lockdown. 

They told us that, “At a time when support for the most vulnerable young people in the UK has been seriously lacking, the Beyond Bars campaign illustrates the immense potential young people possess, and how with the right support they can flourish.” 

This project unlocked a treasure trove of talent. We were lucky enough to talk to the two winners, 16 year old Abi and 13 year old Yassin, whose spoken word pieces were turned into short films with the help of creative professionals. While both interweave a range of themes, from family role models to the public perception of Black youth, both Abi and Yassin’s videos will stand alone, memorialising the individual youth experience of COVID-19.

Abi’s video speaks to the breadth of her talent. From playing Stormzy’s piano interludes to crafting new lines of spoken word, its free flowing format and beautiful imagery are testaments to her innate creativity. However, this doesn’t mean making it wasn’t a challenge. Abi describes her process as “full of thoughts, frustration and mixed emotions”. Despite the confidence she felt when she first began to brainstorm ideas, explaining: “a lot of them were banging, I can’t lie,” she notes that “most of them didn’t even make the cut” and it took her over two weeks to get past her writer’s block. It was only after a lot of contemplation and age-old advice from her dad to “try again tomorrow”, that she came up with the core concept of the poem: ‘Being Black and 6teen’, spelt that way specifically, “just to annoy my dad”, she explains. 

Despite this initial struggle, Abi’s proud of the final product, telling us that the five minute video in its completion “hits home differently”. She makes it clear however, that she didn’t produce the video in isolation, mentioning the invaluable input from her dad at multiple stages. He also comes up when she starts talking about her role models. “My biggest influence is my dad,” she tells us. “He doesn’t know that I’m mentioning him, but he raised me on his own and taught me how to remove my resentment”. Aside from her dad, Abi has multiple other role models. “There’s a few people I look up to,” she explains, “Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Dave, Stormzy… they’ve all made a big contribution to my history and have helped change things for people who look like me.” The last figure on the list seems to be the most important, as Abi details that her journey with Stormzy’s music massively impacted her creative output and therefore the video’s end result. Abi says that her dad used to joke that she should “know my maths formulas as well as I know his lyrics”. However, the lessons Abi learned from Stormzy were just as important as anything she’d take away from a classroom. For Abi, the artist’s music allowed her to “fall in love with being Black all over again.” She explains how, in Stormzy’s Superheroes: “He called us young Black Kings and young Black Queens and I felt honoured as I should, as we all should.” This is the lesson Abi hopes that her video, and all her future accomplishments, will teach other young people. “They’ve [Stormzy and Dave] proved that if they can do it, so can I. So, I feel like it’s my turn to turn around and show the youngers, I did this, so it’s now your turn to do so – you can too.”

“Soon it will be me doing projects just like my idols – I’m calling it from now, for the next generation, or maybe even for the students that I mentor at Football Beyond Borders, who knows but it’s going to happen.” – Abi

For Yassin, who created ‘It Really Goes This Deep’, his biggest role model is his mum. “She came here when she was 18, persevering through a very tough time all on her own and now she’s got us to where we are now”. He continues: “Her whole story is very inspirational and, in my opinion, it shows young people that what we call tough is actually nothing compared to what other people can go through, or have gone through.”

In fact, spending time with his mum was one of the unexpected perks of Yassin’s lockdown. While it was “extremely challenging” being inside all day, he talked to us about the “precious” family time he was able to experience. In normal times, his parents work: “and not just 9-5, [his] mum works from six in the morning to seven at night”, so he cherished the time spent with her watching films on the sofa. However, while he acknowledges that the prospect of “watching Netflix and playing PS4 all day is a child’s dream” and “the first two weeks were chillaxed”, doing nothing soon lost its appeal. So, he decided to try something new with his imposed time indoors.   

It turned out that this renewed energy was a springboard for Yassin’s creativity. “It was very inspirational for me to see that I could actually do something over an extended period of time, instead of lying around all day and doing pretty much nothing,” he explains. Despite never having attempted anything of its sort before, Yassin, like Abi, took to spoken word extremely easily.

“I totally enjoy the process of turning my feelings into words. It was a very powerful and quite emotional experience. I was able to express myself in a different way, in a way I would never have thought I’d be able to.”

The release that Yassin experienced through the process is something which he hopes can be inspired in young people. “Personally, what I want young people to take away from my video and its message, is that things do get better.”

Find out more about the work of Football Beyond Borders on their website and instagram

Donate to FBB HERE

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