Looking back, moving forward

January 31, 2022
Child play with materials developed by designer-makers and play experts Play-Build-Play.

The start of a new year is a great time to look back at what has been achieved in the past 12 months, and to look ahead to the opportunities that will help us achieve our ambitions in the year to come. 2022 is perfect for this because the V&A will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its museum in Bethnal Green this summer. While our exciting vision for the future is in direct response to the needs of children, young people and communities now and in the future, it is also built on a century-and-a-half of community relationships, learning programmes and exhibitions exploring the V&A’s collections in East London. The past and the present converge in Young V&A, through a strong legacy that that will educate and inspire future generations of children and young people.

Pop-up exhibition at Globe School in Tower Hamlets, created during an ‘inside out takeover day’ when every class worked with the Young V&A Team to explore collections

Looking back on the past year

As for so many people, 2021 was a year of transition for the team at Young V&A. The impact of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic required fresh thinking as we searched for ways to safely connect with our stakeholders and learners, and to negotiate our journey of transformation from being the V&A’s Museum of Childhood, to being Young V&A.

Our learning programme aims for 2021 were to:

  • Re-ignite and sustain partnerships, for example through our collaboration with the Creative Youth Space, Spotlight, with whom we are developing the Young V&A Collective, a group of 11-14 year olds who work with us to develop creative skills and make new art, design and performances, and who provide us with young voices to inform our thinking.
  • Contribute visibly to East London communities by offering free activity that met needs and gave first-hand experience of the new focus for Young V&A – we did this through activities such as our summer of play where we took large scale play equipment to playgrounds, schools, parks, play streets and public festivals, inviting children and their families to create and play with us.
  • Pilot activity to inform the developing museum – carried out to an extreme during an ‘inside out takeover’ of Globe primary school in Bethnal Green, where every single class, from the nursery to Year 6 got involved in testing and developing ideas with us.
  • And to build our evidence base through research, internal reflection, and consultation and evaluation with our audiences.
A child shares feedback during the Young V&A Summer of Play programme in August 2021

Through 2021, around 6000 children and young people contributed to shaping Young V&A by learning, playing and co-creating with us. We learned so much from our partners and young collaborators, including:

  • the importance of taking up space for play, culture and creativity in the public realm – it was a really effective way to become visible in our community and to playfully advocate for the new things Young V&A will stand for (thank you Sustrans who welcomed us to their play streets in Tower Hamlets through the summer).
  • that developing activities that worked in schools, in holiday schemes and for families helped us to think more holistically about a child’s life and about opportunities to use museum learning to connect social and academic learning.
  • that collaboration with artists and designers helped to give us and our learners new perspectives and prompted thinking about materials, approaches to play and ways to access to the museum’s inspiring collections.
Young Collective Sharing Event at Spotlight Creative youth space, December 2021

Looking ahead to 2022

In the year to come, we will build on our learning, to involve even more children, young people, families, communities, and schools in our growing programme. We want to hear as many voices as possible, as we strive to broaden diversity and inclusion in our work and engage with new audiences.

We look forward to a celebrating the V&A’s 150 years in Bethnal Green through a varied and lively programme that will be delivered in East London and beyond. I’m excited to welcome Maraid Mcewan as Young V&A’s Designer in Residence. Maraid will explore wellbeing and design, developing her practice and collaborating with our audiences. We will also will explore co-creation and co-design in a variety of projects including with special educational needs schools in Tower Hamlets. Finally, look out for us, as we will be popping up at festivals, in parks, schools, play streets and playgrounds around East London, with playful, creative learning activities that will build confidence and skills, and continue to shape our evolving programmes as we progress towards our new museum opening in 2023.

1 comment so far, view or add yours


Dear Catherine,
My name is Vicky Ireland, and I am Chair of Action for Children’s Arts http://www.childrensarts.org.uk Might it be possible to ask you to send us a short article for our monthly newsletter about the creation and purpose of the new Young V&A. I’m not sure if we have permission to copy and paste from the blog above, but it would be lovely if there was a personal statement too. If you’d like to discuss please do ring. We’re also interested to know if this work spreads across the UK .
A Thousand thanks, – Vicky
Vicky Ireland MBE FRSA

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