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In 2016, five young people with firsthand experience of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) curated and produced an audio-visual gallery installation to raise the profile of CSE and help redesign the services that could have helped them.

Commissioned by Plymouth City Council, this project sought to meaningfully involve young people in redesigning the services they could have benefitted from, while increasing public awareness of CSE and encouraging more dialogue.

Hearing the facts has nothing like the power of firsthand emotional experience; empathy beats sympathy.

So, working from personal experience and desk-based research, we trained five young curators in artistic and curatorial practice, giving them a safe space in which to explore and communicate their experiences on their own terms through creative collaboration. No focus groups, No post-it notes. No interrogations.

The outcome was a “profoundly moving” visual and sound-based installation that took visitors into the emotional reality of a child experiencing CSE, centred on a mausoleum of ice- and glass-cast shoes that slowly disintegrated over the course of the day. Headphones playing a commissioned score heightened the feeling of isolation and vulnerability in gallery visitors, creating an experience of ‘feeling with’, rather than ‘feeling sorry for’ the young people affected.

46% increase in 'protective factors'

The experience positively impacted the wellbeing of every young person involved, notably boosting their confidence and ability to communicate complex emotions.

Influence on local policy and practice

Findings from The Cold Truth campaign directly shaped the “Voice of the Child” agenda on Plymouth’s Multi Agency Child Sexual Exploitation (MACSE) working group. In collaboration with Barnardo’s, we hosted a scoping exercise with relevant commissioning partners.

Local engagement, national recognition

The show drew a high number of visitors and got people talking. The project was nominated for a National Lottery Award and the show was a headline presentation at an international symposium on best and next practice in socially engaged art.

“ This project has profoundly changed our approach to service design for the future and uncovered a need to evaluate the impact of the arts process in therapeutic recovery from type two trauma. ”

Kerstin Neason, Assistant Director, Barnardo’s.