When my son started secondary school in Sheffield he found his first year very difficult. Like most kids in that situation he was suddenly a small kid in a big school again, as opposed to being the biggest kid in a small primary school. He had bullying issues and generally low self esteem and confidence. It’s heart breaking as a parent to see and you just want to do something to help. however, you cannot be there all day with them. They need to build their self esteem themselves and mature on their own to deal with problems and feelings that are sometimes overwhelming for them.
Luckily Finn’s school, High Storrs School, Sheffield , is lucky enough to have an initiative run by the incredible Nicola Walker called R.A.T.S
R.A.T.S stands for Raising – Aspirations – Targeting – Self Esteem.
The idea for RATS was founded by Nicola Walker when her first born went to Nursery in 2002 and hated it! Understanding that all children are individuals and one size doesn’t fit all, she realised there was a gap in the market for pastoral care that could be tailored to meet the needs of children and young people.
R.A.T.S at High Storrs runs alongside the main curriculum as a 12 week short term, solution focused activity programme to help young people in year 7 (age11/12) realise their potential and raise their aspirations. This group helps break down barriers to learning and eases anxieties and difficulties throughout the transition process to ‘big school’ by boosting self-esteem and confidence. In addition to the ‘year 7 RATS’ there is a long-term Youth Club RATS group . These amazing young people aged between 12 – 16 years old meet weekly (and indefinitely!) and have been involved in numerous self-esteem workshops and projects.
Finn was in the programme for 12 weeks and the difference it made to him was astounding. He was confident. had more friends, able to work harder and not feel as self conscious. All through his involvement with R.A.T.S.
One evening in 2014 My wife and I attended a silent auction to raise money for the group and I offered a photoshoot as a prize. I was so blown away by the work Nicola did and the help she had given Finn that I also offered to come in and embark on a project with the kids to create a series of photos that would show some of the issue they were dealing with as well as allowing them to have some fun and also take some great photos of them. As these children have quite low self esteem, often based on problems they face personally, I thought they might not want to have their photographs taken however the feedback was overwhelming from them and so Nicola and I put our heads together to arrange the shoot and ideas for the project.
“Life’s not black and white, it’s black and white & a little bit blue.”
The collaboration started to produce a collection of still images that highlight the difficulties and hurdles young people face, but also capturing humour and sensitivity at the same time. R.A.T.S have another motto that “Life’s not black and white, it’s black and white & a little bit blue.” We had the idea to take the shots to signify a specific problem, for instance “ADHD” (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) being represented by multiple over laying portraits to represent the different directions the mind goes in for someone with the disorder. We would then use a blue colour to overlay graphics (in this case a scribble to signify the brains confusion at times) and the # hashtag “ADHD” to further symbolise the “TAG” or “LABEL” people with differences are given. Nicola worked hard with the group to focus on issues they thought were important to highlight, many of which individuals in the group live with every day – and secure their inclusion in R.A.T.S. Everything from Eating disorders, O.C.D (Obsessive compulsive disorder), self harm and Gender dysphoria. Nicola came up with the title “Still Staring?” Perfect!
The shoot was planned for an evening after school R.A.T.S session and working with the group was amazing. They were all so creative, attentive and caring about each other. Respectful and honest and just a joy to work with. I thought some of them might be quite static or uncomfortable in front of the camera but nothing could have been further from the truth. They all had their ideas and knew what they wanted to capture. We sped through the list of shots easily and it felt very simple and creative to work with these kids. I was also worried that they might look at the shots as they were being taken (on the back of the camera) and worry about their faces, bodies and the way this whole project was perceiving them. Again I was surprised. We are told all the time how young adults are mortified by the portrayal of models in advertising and the media. How they all hate their bodies and only will feel good if they are edited and photo shopped into the same size and shape as everyone else… The reactions of the group could not have been further from this. They seemed pleased with just looking good in the images. We deleted any that were the usual unflattering shots there and then (eyes shut, mid yawn, hair in face) Even when it DID come to the editing stage, the odd spot removal (instant clearasil) was really all I had to do. More time was needed tidying up the backgrounds that the models! There was one moment of irony when showing the shots to a young lad with OCD, where everything had to be perfect… we re-shot a series of times as he just wasn’t quite “straight” enough… fantastic and it proved the point to me too of the whole project. A picture highlighting OCD with a model who has OCD trying to take the perfect picture of OCD… 🙂
With the shots taken and editing proccess underway the thought turned to what was going to happen next? The obvious thought was to create an exhibition to showcase the portraits and in doing so the work that Nicola and R.A.T.S does. Although the exhibition would ultimately be shown in the school, we also wanted to show it in a public forum, somewhere in the local area that parents and the group could go to visit and look at the pictures. I also wanted somewhere that was more relaxed than an art gallery.
“Somewhere Else” is a coffee shop and small art space in Ecclesall Road south, Sheffield. It is local to where I live and also the school. They also happen to sell THE best coffee in Sheffield (imo). They also wrap your take out sandwiches and cakes in brown paper and string! Run by amazing Mother and Daughter duo Carrie & Katie the place is fantastic and as well as scrummy food and drink they feature art by local artists in the upstairs area of the cafe. – Where better?
Carrie &Katie have been incredibly supportive of the project (as well as supportive of me by feeding me fantastic scrambled eggs and coffee – Paradise bars (their take on bounty…but nicer) and peanut butter slabs!
I really wanted to support their lovely venue and keep everything local to the community the groups all belong to. Myself, the RATS and Somewhere Else Coffee House
As I write this in mid January there is lots to do. Editing, some final shots to produce plus all the printing and framing. Publicity and general organisation. The exhibition is set for a private opening with the RATS and parents in attendance and then on display in the art room at Somewhere Else.
#still_staring will be exhibited from Tuesday 24th February – March 15th 2015 at Somewhere Else Coffee Shop & Bake House.
965 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.
More information about R.A.T.S
More about Somewhere Elsehttps://www.facebook.com/somewhereelsecoffee