Two very different schools breaking down barriers

By Steve Stanier, Birmingham

“How do you change the world?  How do you know your path in life or guide others to theirs?  Do young people really understand what divides and unites them?”

If you are going to make a difference in this life, you have to be committed to doing your part no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is.  Let me illustrate.

The Feast works with lots of very different young people.

Moseley School is an inner city secondary comprehensive, which reflects the demographics of the diverse area it is based in and serves as their catchment area.  Elmhurst Ballet School is a boarding school in Edgbaston and also has a diverse population with some international students and many from all over the UK.  It is an exclusive school serving a very intentional purpose – dance.  For the students from Moseley, they may have never heard of Elmhurst or that it is the home to future stars of the classical world, yet it’s right on their doorstep.  For Elmhurst where the students don’t really leave the school campus and explore the local area, meeting the students from Moseley was like travelling to a new city!

Elmhurst has been exploring spirituality through dance.  They were not trying to represent any one faith specifically, most of them didn’t actually identify with any faith at all.  However for nearly all the students from Moseley School this would be the first time they’d ever seen a ballet performance.  They reflected that ballet probably wasn’t for them or that they didn’t think they’d enjoy it.

So when we came together this week the young people from Elmhurst, a group of around 20 students, performed their sensational piece of dance.  And their audience were very different to normal, with all the Moseley students having the chance for a new experience and seeing something for the first time.  The dance performance was incredible to watch and did what they had intended, touching and inspiring their audience spiritually.

After the Elmhurst students finished, we mixed up the two groups of young people and began to unpack what they felt about the dance piece.  We explored how faith affects them in their own lives; how they felt about meeting people they didn’t normally meet.  We spoke openly about aspirations and ambitions.  The students shared things about their lives at school and at home.  They played human bingo and learnt they had a lot in common with each other and finished it off with a game exploring their experiences of racism, religion and thoughts around world peace. All this was inspired from a dance piece?!!

There was a time not too long ago when knowing your neighbor was an integral part of community life.  It was a way of being supported, having familiarity, developing trust and feeling a sense of belonging in the area you lived.  As time has gone on, this sense of community has slowly been eroded and now it is more common for people to live side by side in ‘parallel lives’ yet never actually meet one another.  Our work at The Feast is to bridge these gaps, and help young people to experience the culture, faiths, and lives of those who are similar to them.  It isn’t easy but we work hard to bring them together and help them to talk, share, laugh, debate and inspire them to see that although they have these differences, there is so much that binds and brings them together.

As I think back on this amazing youth encounter, and watch these young people interacting, it all reminds ME why I do this.  It is very easy to lose the essence of our work and it is times like this when I’m gratefully reminded of how much this work means to young people, teachers, families, our future and to me.

Both schools were so excited after the performance, sharing their ideas for future work with The Feast, mentoring students at Moseley school, a future joint school performance, the students explored further their experiences of racism and prejudice and there was a genuine sense of sharing within the group.

I needed this session.  I really did.  It centered me, it gave me some focus, it reminded me that this is more than a job, it’s a way of life, it’s a belief that transcends 9-5 working hour, I take it home, I think about it when I’m sitting down and writing my blogs, when I observe the interaction between random people.

I am The Feast.