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Exhibition about north-east punk scene inspires Youth Work students

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Published on 23 February 2024

Tyne and Wear Youth Music Collectives exhibition. Photo by Jack Mcardle, photography student, University of Sunderland
Tyne and Wear Youth Music Collectives exhibition. Photo by Jack Mcardle, photography student, University of Sunderland

Budding youth workers studying at the University of Sunderland are using a north-east punk exhibition about 1980s youth culture to learn how youth work has changed over the decades. 

The exhibition, hosted by Newcastle Contemporary Art (NCA) at their gallery on High Bridge, Newcastle, celebrated the legacy of Tyne and Wear’s youth music collective which started in the 1980s and three venues that shaped their world.

In the early ‘80s, young people in Newcastle found solace and a vibrant music scene in an old, disused warehouse venue called The Garage. This iconic location became a haven for young punks, featuring performances by bands such as Total Chaos, The Reptiles, Model Workers, and The Village Idiots. This do-it-yourself music space was run by a group of young people with minimal adult supervision and a huge amount of passion.

However, after The Garage closed in 1981, the Gateshead Music Collective breathed new life into a former police club in Gateshead, known as The Station, which became the new epicentre for punk music in the area. The Station was refurbished with help from Gateshead Council and The Millfield House Trust and became the place to be for live punk music, including an appearance by The Clash on their acoustic tour. The venue also hosted rehearsal spaces reinforcing the community spirit and fostering the development of local bands.

A similar venue, The Bunker, in Sunderland, continues to thrive today. 

Four decades later, a group of people who were part of The Garage, Station and The Bunker Collectives came together to host the exhibition in November and December last year, which paid homage to the culture and significance of these venues.

The event featured a captivating array of video footage, photographs and memorabilia, including posters and zines, that chronicle the energy and spirit of those times. Visitors had the opportunity to delve into the punk movement’s history, explore the enduring impact and legacy of the Tyne and Wear Youth Music Collectives, and gain insight into collaborative youth work that can inform current and future practice.

Among those involved in the exhibition were Dr Wendy Gill, Lecturer in Community and Youth Work at the University of Sunderland, and Dr Helen Smith, Faculty Academic Support Lead at the University’s Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries and Director and Curator of NCA.

A group of Sunderland students were recruited as co-researchers; scribes and a photographer, who captured the thoughts and opinions of visitors and how they received the exhibition.

The findings of this research, along with the students’ experience, is now being used to investigate how youth work practices have changed since the 1980s and how they can implement what they have learned from the exhibition into their own professional development.

Wendy said: “The exhibition provided the students with the space to engage in collaborative learning which is a fundamental aspect of community and youth work. They were able to discuss youth work as they experience it and from collaboration, identified how their practice can be informed and improved, ensuring young people are at the heart of what they do.

“As a lecturer, applying the principles of youth work to research and learning was very exciting as the students were able to apply their learning to their individual professional practice as well as gain first-hand experience of conducting academic research.”

Helen added: “Members of Gateshead Music Collective alongside myself and others worked together for 18 months to make their story public. Through their rich archive of photographs, zines and memorabilia the walls of the gallery came alive with the atmosphere of these 1980's punk venues.

“Dr Wendy Gill and I have worked in partnership with NCA and this community to ask how such important examples of our own local culture can become more visible in our public spaces and also how have youth work practices changed since the 1980s?”

During the exhibition, students heard from people from the 1980’s collectives alongside youth workers of the time, who recounted their experiences and learning from belonging to a collective. Visitors to the exhibition were also invited to join in with their own experiences of the ups, downs and successes of young people collective action, including a protest which stopped a planned march by the National Front.

Themes discussed included youth workers and young people having autonomy, learning skills, developing democratic relationships, the importance of young people having people who believed in them and finding their “tribe”, gaining tactic knowledge and how you can lead without being in authority.

Erin Gilbert, a Community and Youth Work student from the University of Sunderland, said: “It was good to speak people about their history and learn their stories. The whole experience has helped me with my fear of doing detached youth work. I had to go and learn how to speak to people and build a rapport with them in a short time. It was a great experience.”

Community and Youth Work student, Nina Mordecai, added: “I learned that a collective can have a strong voice and when ideas come from young people they can be more creative. I saw and heard how young people can share skills from being with and speaking to each other.”