Covid, Black Lives Matter and mental health: the Battersea festival giving young people a voice

Creative responses to Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement and mental health will set the agenda for a one-day arts festival in Battersea this Sunday.

Free Up Festival promises to showcase Wandsworth’s young talent with a line-up of performances, workshops and discussions as part of Battersea Arts Centre’s Wild Times Season.

The project is the brainchild of the Inside Out Collective, a group of five women who hope to bring the Battersea community together and to highlight issues faced by young people.

Sydney Sylvah, Teasha Louis, Jessica Nelson, Danielle Honger and Isatou Ceesay first connected through BAC’s The Agency programme, a scheme which helps agents develop research and networking skills.

Louis, 30, born in Battersea, said: “We didn’t want to stop our work when Covid hit so we turned our efforts into responding to it and thinking about how we could help the community respond to it.

“We’re going to be trying to grasp the ideas of what people did to cope with the lockdown and share these ideas amongst the crowd.”

INSIDE OUT COLLECTIVE: Teasha Louis stresses the importance of bringing young people to the arts. Credit: ShezCanSnap

Sylvah, 24, from Battersea, added: “During lockdown, we were having a lot of conversations with people in the community and seeing what the best thing was to do.

“We wanted to reimagine the world again after lockdown and celebrate the talent that we have in the area and have those discussions on important topics.”

Audiences can expect dancing, singing, rapping, and poetry readings from performing young creatives as well as panels with speakers discussing the issues of the day. 

Interactive activities planned include a painting class and a sports session run by local youth club members.  

There will also be a crime prevention board game, designed by 20-year-old Osmond Gordon Vernon, which educates young people on gang culture and crime.  

Connecting the community is at the heart of what the group aims to achieve so the festival will be free to attend.

Sylvah, who now supports agents through BAC’s programme, said: “Just having the option to do things for free is so important in being accessible.

“There’s been a rise in young people feeling depressed and I feel the arts have been a way for us to help ease the weight of what was going on during the lockdowns.

“It’s so important for people to be able to access arts and culture and so putting on community events keeps the community alive and engaged.

“There has been a decline over the years so our aim is to have that regular thing that people can be a part of to feel like they’re connected to people in the area.”

FREE UP FESTIVAL: Sydney Sylvah wants the event to be accessible. Credit: Christian Gordon

Before the first lockdown, the group hosted events in houses to bring culture to spaces which the community would find more comfortable.

It plans to continue its work by organising more events in response to the needs of the community.

Free Up Festival kicks off at 1pm on Sunday 11 July on Town Hall Road next to Battersea Arts Centre.

Tickets will be available on the door or can be bought for free here.

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