Dean Leivers Dean Leivers


June 10th, 2024

Creative Mentoring Refelctions

I initially had a brief stint as a freelance mentor on a project run by Leicester education charity Pedestrian in 2014 after completing a Level 2 training qualification with them as part of a CPD programme. During that time I focussed mainly on working with young people who had a strong interest in photography and developing their own pathways into careers in the creative sector. Fast forward some years to 2024 and I’m currently into my second year of of involvement in The Mighty Creatives ‘Creative Mentoring’ programme which is a service that ”provides one-to-one support, empowering young people who are care-experienced, facing adversity, disadvantage or challenges to discover their sense of self, belonging, and a world of opportunities.”

Screen shot of The Mighty Creatives WebsiteALT

There are obviously a multitude of benefits that arise from the work that I carry out in this role, not just for the young people that I am paired with but it’s a very rewarding experience for me too. I mainly see confidence rise over the weeks I spend with each mentee. A large amount of the young people I’ve been involved with have lives that present very challenging circumstances and as a result display very low confidence and self esteem, in some cases this leads to an unwillingness to communicate fully in our early sessions, quite tricky when you’re trying to find out a bit more about their interests! Over a few sessions together I’ve found that the barriers come down and slowly the mentees open up a bit more, become more talkative and confident during their sessions. I try to give them space to be able to direct the way the sessions will run and the sorts of creative activities they would like to get involved with and I’ve found that this only comes when the young person is given plenty of time and space to think. Sometimes I’ve barely said anything in a two hour session and just allowed the activity to take over, choosing to simply let the young person make and do, rather than bombarding them with chat. This will usually allow them to lead the session more as I simply start to respond to things they feel comfortable talking about, and to the creative things they are making/doing rather than me coaching them through an activity.

Young person creating a drawing of a jack in the boxALT

This more autonomous approach, allowing the young person to be the decision maker, presents to me the most exciting aspect of my mentoring work. Obviously I feel most comfortable working with photographic processes (digital, analogue even stop motion animation and film) but  relative mentoring pushes me out of that comfort zone and really gets me thinking about the wide variety of activities I can do with my mentees. Sometimes through discussions or simply playing with the materials we have in a session another idea will be sparked and I’ll be forced to think about ways we can bring that idea to life. One such experience was the creation of a shadow puppet theatre with a six year old boy I work with in a primary school setting. For a few of our sessions he’d been building 3D structures using wooden blocks and some sheets of A4 card and had noticed that dependent on how the light was falling on the structures different shadow shapes would fall on the table. We developed this by using torch light to strengthen the shadows and take photographs of the results. Whilst he was shining the light on the card from different angles he noticed and became quite excited by the way he could backlight the card and see shadows coming through. This led to a discussion about whether he’d seen a shadow puppet theatre before which he hadn’t (or at least couldn’t remember) and so I showed him a quick example. This idea developed over a series of weeks culminating in the both of us making characters and a basic theatre design for him to act out stories that he’d created.

Example of shadow puppet scene showing a fox and a houseALT

Another instance saw me responding to a young person’s interest in photographing objects reflected in surfaces, so glass or mirrors in this case. This led me to recall a simple way of creating a kaleidoscope that I’d seen another practitioner use in an SEND based workshop. I thought that this would be a perfect activity, so the young person could not only construct but also use the kaleidoscope to take photographs through.

A young persons eyes multiplied when photographed through a kaleidascopeALT

His excitement in this session was infectious and really brought home to me how much we both benefit from the mentoring relationship that we have. I get to develop and push my practice in areas I’d never really considered before and for my mentees I hope they have space to play, experiment and think, away from the more difficult experiences in their lives. It’s been an absolute privilege to work with such an interesting group of young people, and to play a small, hopefully positive, part in their life journey’s so far.

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