Phil Morris introduces the new film about the devastating closure of the Rhydyfelin Youth Club, created by Sparc.
Last month, I had the privilege of observing a group of teenage Welsh artists at work in Tate Modern. With support from Sparc, an arts-based initiative under the Valleys Kids umbrella, they lovingly recreated their youth club in Rhydyfelin – which was recently closed after the “phasing out” of the Communities First Programme – reifying its warm atmosphere of playful creativity through performance and interactions with members of the public. The energy, positivity and intelligence of these young people brought into sharp focus the capacity of post-industrial economic hardship and governmental inertia to waste the talent and potential of youth across the south Wales valleys.
The closure of Rhydyfelin Youth Club is another example of state-sponsored vandalism, in which the destruction of something with enduring importance and value to its community goes unnoticed by the press and unpunished at the ballot box. People in Rhydyfelin have nowhere to go other than Labour, so to who do they turn when a Labour government turns off the funding tap and a cherished local service is terminated?
To accompany their performances at Tate Modern, Sparc’s young artists collaborated with Like an Egg Productions to make a short film, which was released during Youth Work Week at the end of June. It’s clear from the film that the loss of the club to the youth of Rhydyfelin has been devastating. It was a place where young people could escape the negative labels and misapprehensions that dogged them as they tried to establish their individual identities. It offered them a safe space in which they could simply be themselves.
Moreover, many of the club’s former members are now carers for a member of family, or suffer from mental illness, and/or have experienced some form of domestic abuse. Sparc Youth coordinator Rachel Clement recounted to me, “One of the performers told me that the club was somewhere she could come to forget.” Another Sparc artist referred to a local school as a “pressure cooker” fixated on passing exams while her own more pressing needs were ignored.
At their club in Rhydyfelin, young people had been able to escape their problems and anxieties, if only for a while, and draw strength from each other, or seek advice from the much-loved and respected youth workers who worked there. With its closure, the youth of the village are left to face their considerable challenges alone, with the hope that ‘good’ GCSE grades might give them something of a foothold in the economic foot race in which they are already at a distinct disadvantage.
Following the club’s closure, its members have started a campaign to raise awareness about the need for bespoke spaces where young people can create, share and spend time together in a safe space supported by skilled youth workers.Watch the film, then share viasocial media and comment using the hashtags – #OurSpace #LleNi
Or if you are interested in next steps, contact the Sparc Team via their website.