Upstart Festival 2021 Young V&A

The Young V&A learning team has been thinking about how to harness young people’s creativity and innovation. We have piloted a variety of sessions, from free play in the streets of Bethnal Green to longer-term projects with local youth organisations. Our findings will help ensure that young people’s voices come through loud and clear.

Children and young people aged 0 – 14 will be introduced to diverse, local and talented creatives. They will gain insight into a wide range of creative careers, developing collaborative, problem solving and creative skills through displays and interactive opportunities. The team have been thinking about how to introduce young people to creatives during the redevelopment and about how collaborative programmes might work in a post-pandemic world.

Engaging our ‘stretch’ audience

Upstart, a free online career festival showcasing pathways into the creative industries for young people, was the perfect opportunity for us to test how we could work with young people from a local secondary school within a virtual Q&A format.

© Rex Crowle

Our aim was to increase engagement with the 11 – 14-year-old audience – our ‘stretch’ group. Before the museum closed in March 2020, we had not specifically engaged with this age range, but working virtually has allowed us to explore new ways of connecting.

We decided to work with a designer featured in the Games room in the Play gallery, responding to our own desire to increase children’s access to play. The Games room will provide social opportunities to play and ‘hack’ games as well as introduce games designers, creators and new voices within the industry.

Screen from a computer game showing two children on bicycles with flags.
Nessa and Demelza, characters from Knights and Bikes © Foam Sword Games

BAFTA-winning games maker and co-creator of Knights and Bikes, Rex Crowle, was our first choice and – luckily – he was available to work with us! We contacted George Green’s School in Tower Hamlets, a secondary school with a strong focus on enrichment, to recruit students interested in the creative industries or considering design-based GCSE courses. The school’s enrichment team work hard to ensure that their students engage with people from different industries to gain knowledge of 21st century skills as well as more ‘traditional’ careers.

Keen to work with Young V&A, they found eight students to host a 20-minute live panel discussion and ask Rex questions about his career path and inspirations.

Going live

We kicked off with an introductory session at the school where the students met the V&A team – and Rex. When they discovered that Rex was one of the creators of Little Big Planet they became very enthusiastic. To empower and give agency to the students,  we encouraged them to chat freely with Rex – who was willing to answer everything the students threw at him. After Rex left, the students brainstormed questions they felt would be most interesting to their audience. It was useful for them to think about who would be watching the Q&A, as this was a new experience for them.

The students were interested in finding out about the games design and testing process.  They were surprised and heartened to find that you don’t need to be great at coding to design video games, or to be a brilliant artist or writer:

One student said, ‘He told us he didn’t think the first game he made was very good. We learnt you don’t have to think the first one is always good.’

Rex stressed that games are the result of collaborations with many talented people, as no one is good at everything! Collaboration is one of the creative superpowers that the Learning programme is built on, along with communication, creativity and confidence.

The live Q&A happened a week later as part of the Upstart Festival. The students were excited about being seen by a big audience as the event was sold out.

Rex opened by talking about his path from sheep farmer to game designer, and what inspires him about his career. The young people followed up with their questions – Rex hadn’t seen them as we didn’t want his answers to sound too rehearsed!

© Rex Crowle

Twenty minutes wasn’t long enough according to the students and Rex. It would have been great to have had time to take some questions from the audience, as I’m sure that there were some budding designers who would have liked to have joined the conversation.

Rex said, ‘It was really great to be part of the Upstart festival and share some thoughts on game development with potential designers of the future. The students asked such interesting questions in our session and made me think more deeply about my design practice than I would on a regular day!’

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