What IF...

“What IF…” places youth voices at the heart of a creative process to make music videos as provocations for discussion within the Oxford science and ideas Festival.

Participants are typically not looking for a music project but abandon scepticism and enjoy the process as confidence gathers pace. It involves 30-40 contact hours of youth work, bringing in artists and production specialists that fit with the interests of a small group of exceptional young people who may have been directly involved in the criminal justice system.

There is a positive change in each person, for example: 13 year-old Cameron (pseudonym), shared experiences of complex mental health difficulties that included self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Cameron began to channel his feelings into his music and developed a powerful song. Care home staff noticed a change in Cameron’s behaviour; rather than shouting, he went to his room to write when he was feeling upset and had not self-harmed since the project began.

IF Oxford creates opportunities for new voices to be part of a rich innovation landscape. This project has evolved with many partners, including Oxfordshire Youth Justice Service and a University of Oxford social scientist researching how class background influences language usage and other behaviours, prompting the question: What if socioeconomically disadvantaged could youth better express their emotions?

Watch the videos below…

…the 2021 tracks

As the pandemic continues, the exploitation of young people feeds off individuals who may have lost sight of their own inner strength and options: education and employment have become something that ‘other people’ do, whereas the organised criminals who exploit a child into running drugs appear to be the only stability in a young life.

The Youth Justice and Exploitation Service working with IF Oxford, team up with local artists to give young people a new route to a voice. This year there was a chance for some teenagers to tell a story of how things could be different. What IF…? is a side street whisper or a SnapChat exchange, amplified and given a face through creative expression and a Festival platform.

Artists involved in 2021 were Rawz, Kingsley, Easy from Inner Peace Records, Sam from DAW Media. The venues for workshops and filming was Fusion Arts.

The new young artists took a risk with the project and gave it 100% to deliver great work this year, despite really challenging times.

The videos were launched on Friday 15 October at a digital event, with the artists together at a watch party, where the artists (new and older) gave thoughts on this project and possible next steps.

…the 2020 tracks

The team began developing the 2020 version in January 2020, planning to work with up to a dozen young people to create new music and videos for release during IF Oxford in October 2020.

Recruitment was in its early stages as the COVID pandemic struck the UK, creating a situation where everyone was waiting for the crisis to subside, hoping to deliver the project in the usual way, possibly at the end of the summer holidays.

In 2020, everything ground to a halt or adapted to work in new ways, What IF chose to maintain a youth-centred project and the team adopted a one-to-one approach. New challenges prompted a whole range of ideas from conspiracy theories, to music engineering or developments in criminal activity. The wrap-around creative process allowed for individual tracks and videos to be created by working remotely and in recording studios when COVID measures were implemented.

Three new music tracks were presented at a Festival event on 9 October 2020 and were later shown to Oxford City Councillors and the Minister of State (Ministry of Justice), Lucy Frazer, QC.

Collecting feedback from the young people themselves, their parents and Youth Justice Officers, revealed positive changes in participants’ mood, outlook on life and engagement with creativity. Three of the young people have joined a mainstream community music project with In-Spire Sounds to continue their artistic development since ending their work on What IF.

With thanks to the collaborating artists: Rawz, King Boyden, Easy, Sam Mansell, Danyal Ince and Matty Bowles.

…the 2019 tracks

The project was repeated twice in 2019, first with a Channel 4 documentary producer researching County Lines, working with older teenagers. This offered the opportunity to create a posse video while creating material (later unused) for broadcast.

The second version worked with younger teenagers to reflect on community and neighbourhood themes, using photography as an ethnographic tool to inspire lyric writing.

These two very different examples of music share roots in the darker circumstances young people may experience and stimulated a third activity within the Festival. This public discussion event brought together families, two social policy researchers and two practitioner-trustees of a youth charity to explore the lived experiences of young people within their community.

…the 2018 tracks

The first project in 2018 involved several 13–16 year olds, a group of musicians and MCs, sound engineers, video making professionals and social scientists. Workshops explored aspects of youth culture, touching on crime and the question “what if?”

Youth participants co-produced their own rap-music videos and mixed-format performances. They worked with Soundworks and Inner Peace Records, developing tracks and videos with Rawz, Rodney P and Nutty P.

The videos and live performances formed events in the 2018 Oxford science and ideas Festival for an audience of 150 people which premiered in Oxford Playhouse.


What next…?

There is huge appetite to further develop this project and explore how young people can find routes into creative outlets, from filmmaking and music making to storyboarding, gaining insights into technical or creative careers.

What IF… has invested £47,000 from grants and donations (2018, £14,00; 2019, £7,000 and £9,000; 2020, £10,000; 2021, £7,500) by bringing together relatively small funding opportunities over the past few years to make professional music videos created by youth participants working with professional creative role models.

Partners working with What IF include, the British Science Association, Leys Community Development Initiative (CDI), Oxfordshire Youth Justice Service (YJS) and a donation from the Saunders family in memory of Diana Ford.

Creative organisations and freelance musicians include Urban Music Foundation, Soundworks and Inner Peace Records, who support the creative processes required to make this project work.

Other IF Oxford content

Mental health is a complex and intimidating issue for anyone, whether you are a parent, a friend, any other family member of someone suffering, or if you are experiencing trauma yourself. Here are some talks from IF Oxford that may be of interest to you.

Childhood anxiety – helping parents help their children

a discussion recorded on 19 October 2020 at IF Oxford

Problems with anxiety are common, with roots often in childhood, however support for children and their families is all too rare. In this talk, University of Oxford Professor, Cathy Creswell, explores a range of evidence-based ways for parents to help their children overcome problems with anxiety. Individuals can achieve great results, and you can help researchers find new ways to make sure everyone gets support when they first need it.

small hours

small hours, a discussion with the creative team on Sunday 25 October 2020

small hours, a new video play, explores why we need sleep and what happens when we go without it? It probes the mysteries of human circadian rhythm, the daily pattern of wakefulness and sleep, and how this can be either disrupted or adjusted.

small hours (feature film: 58 minutes)

Adolescent self-harm: what can we do about it?

a discussion recorded on 14 October 2021 at IF Oxford

Discovering a child is self-harming can be a frightening and distressing experience. It can leave friends and family feeling confused about why it has happened and what they can do to help. Consultant Clinical Psychologist Professor Paul Stallard explores why some adolescents self-harm, how parents can helpfully respond and what adolescents can do to help themselves. This event brings together research findings from a self-help app co-designed and developed with young people with the opportunity to ask your questions.