2020 will go down in history as the year that changed all our lives due the COVID 19 pandemic. Lives were turned upside down, thousands across the world got sick and also died. Every part of family and personal life, education, travel, economic, the NHS and supply chains all felt the uncertainty, pain and fear for the future from COVID 19. Among those affected, but their story often unheard, were young people. This project tells the story of a small group of teenagers from the Waveney Youth Centre in Ballymena, Co. Antrim in N. Ireland of how COVID 19 impacted their lives during lockdown in 2020. It was felt that by expressing their story on a totem pole, their experience could be shared with future young people for years to come.
The project involved 4 face to face sessions with the group. As COVID 19 was rife, strict safety procedures had to be taken; social distancing, sanitiser, masks for adults and that the carving of the totem was carried out at my personal workshop without any young people present.
This page is more like a blog being updated throughout the process with photos, video and text. It will be shared with the senior youth leader at Waveney Youth Centre who can in turn share the blog with the group. The page will roughly include the following:
1. Meeting the young people, hearing their story, turning their story into art work and themes.
2. Sourcing the materials.
3. Fine turning the design and planning.
4. Start prepping the log.
5. Carving the pole.
6. Finishing the pole.
7. The poles new home.
Weeks of pre planning with the Senior Youth Worker, Adhamh Dolan were now a reality. Adhamh has his own story involving a different totem pole. When I was the CEO of Lurgan YMCA I ran a similar project. Adhamh was a young man back then and was involved throughout that project. You can see that project on a different page on this website. Adhamh went on the become a professional youth worker and became the full time youth worker at the Waveney Road Centre. Adhamh knew first hand how powerful this style of project could be. We were now at the point of the first meetings with the young people of the Waveney Road Youth Centre. The process started by meeting the group, doing introductions, I talked about the history and meaning of totem poles and what some traditional symbols meant, then it was time to listen to how the pandemic had and was impacting their lives. To help me put their experience into a piece of art, we converted the stories into statements, then words and finally pictures and symbols that best expressed what their experience was. The final session was about drawing these pictures up and sticking them to my paper totem pole. We prioritised where they should be on the totem, now it was down to me to carve them; easy, right? Below are our early meetings in Ballymena.
There was so much going on in the groups minds. It was clear that this was the first time they had to really think deeper of how their lives had been impacted. Global issues, the environment, Gay rights, Black lives matter issues, clearly the pandemic and the wider world was leaving it's mark on these young lives. However, many of those events, while important in there own way, they were not the key factors in this story; COVID 19 and these young people. The pictures to the left capture that journey of expression. If you take the time to click on each photo, it will enlarge and you will see the depth of thinking from a group of young teenagers. As they talked I quickly did some drawings that expressed how they felt. For example, "it felt like being in jail." Some of these symbols came from a list of Native American symbols, like the wolf. I shared my book on totems with them to help inspire.
Next was to get these young hands to create some drawings and put them on my paper totem.
Basis art work completed and inspired by these young people, it was down to me to start the work. First I needed a tree... I sourced 2 logs, one from Castlewellan Forest Part and one form Clandeboye Estate in Bangor, North Down. My friend Alan runs a Red Squirrel protection in Clandeboye Estate and knows Fergus the Estate Keeper, Alan found the tree as it got blown down just a few day earlier. In the end I went with the log from Clandeboye as it was an oak log and being a hardwood it would take better detail, albeit a lot harder to carve. Below are some photos of resource both logs.
Note: Both were already fallen timber.
Log sourced, it's time to start marking out and carving.
After carving there were 2 more elements to complete. First I had to depict a jail as that was one of the young people's feelings about Covid. I did this by welding and forging a jail set of bars and a wee guy inside of it. Finally, it was down to painting the project. The wolf took the most time as I have to work harder to make it look real. I think it turned out well and had the wow factor.
Finally, it's time to take the Totem Pole to its new home in Ballymena Waveney Youth Centre.
A truly inspiring project that will tell the story of the young people for generations to come. My thanks to them for allowing me to tell the story for them in this unique way.li
If you want to listen to the full story, click the link below.