Susie Batey

Creativity and the fear of failure

Susie Batey, Area Manager at Culture Bridge North East, shares how creativity can help overcome young people’s fear of failure.

About me

My name is Susie Batey, and I work for Culture Bridge North East. I help to connect schools and cultural organisations together through partnerships, collaborative working and information sharing. My background is in senior leadership in primary education, and more recently production and strategy roles in the cultural sector.

“A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”
― John A. Shedd

Creativity and the fear of failure

Over the past year, many of my conversations with teachers across the North East have involved discussion of risk-taking, and a sense of paralysis that schools are perceiving in their children and young people. Across mainstream education, specialist and alternative provision, staff are flagging that their children and young people are frightened of making mistakes that feel permanent, finding it too difficult to take risks in their learning and development. This makes complete sense, given that for nearly three years we were telling them all to be extremely risk averse. It’s no wonder that, following this, children and young people are experiencing a fear of failure, and an acute loss of control.

We know that creativity has an extensively proven impact on health and wellbeing, and can act as a mechanism to address this fear. Some of the most recent research can be seen in UCL’s ‘The Impact of Arts and Cultural Engagement on Population Health’ (The Social Biobehavioural Research Group, UCL, 2023). Creative activities provide a safe space to explore what our own failure feels like, and to understand that risk and failure are central to our development, invention and growth. Failure is important.

Blue Cabin has a nuanced understanding of how to foster safe creative spaces, and how to explore our feelings of failure. Creativity is at the heart of all that they do, because they understand that it helps children and young people gain a better understanding of their own experiences and form stronger relationships. The fear of risk that is currently being felt across the wider education sector is something they know very well, because it is so central in the lives of care-experienced individuals.

Building creative activity into work supporting these young people (such Blue Cabin’s Creative Life Story Work, and developing Arts Award delivery with virtual schools), provides a mechanism for young people to explore, make mistakes, talk about things going wrong, and find joy in what they are doing.

The artists working alongside the young people understand that to maintain this environment, flexibility is vital. The worlds of care experienced individuals are full of multiple and complex trauma responses. Understanding this, keeping creative practice flexible and responsive, creates an environment for the first steps towards risk. Exploring creativity together can help us focus on the present moment, how we feel, and what we might do next.

This creative space nurtures meaningful relationships between care-experienced individuals, and the people and organisations who are part of their lives. As teachers, social workers, carers, we can often fall into routines of care, maintaining structures that keep the education and care system functioning. Stepping out of this routine and into a more flexible, creative space allows us to explore and build connections with the young people we work with. There is a wealth of information about our young people that we do not know. Sitting together in a creative space, exploring what we could do next, leads to much more in-depth and meaningful connection.

The fear of failure doesn’t only sit with children and young people; it’s also very real for some of the adults in their lives. Many adults who work in the care system don’t identify as being creative, and some have negative experiences from their own education, being told that art wasn’t for them. By working in partnership with artists, we can explore this for ourselves, take risks, and find joy in our own developing skills. One teacher I worked with this year commented, ‘It’s really important that children see that adults fail. Only thinking that children fail is one of the worst things a child can feel. They need to see that you dust yourself off and get back up again’.

In our current socio-economic climate, teachers, social workers and carers are fully committed, and they’re running on empty. We cannot (and should not) rely on the seemingly never-ending resilience and dedication of individuals. If we want to develop thriving creative spaces for care experienced children and young people, we must also nurture the creativity of the adults in their lives.

About Culture Bridge North East

From April 2023, Culture Bridge North East is changing. The national Bridge programme, of which we have been a proud part, concludes. However, our work co-ordinating cultural learning across the North East will continue. Culture Bridge North East has been managed by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, which will continue to deliver the regional work going forward. We will be focusing on supporting the region’s network of eight Local Cultural Education Partnerships (LCEPs) and providing overarching communications.

Find out more about the different ways Blue Cabin uses creativity to improve the lives of care-experienced children and young people.