Democracy and Belonging: A weekend of change


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Drawing Democracy 1

Democracy and Belonging: A weekend of change

The Complete Freedom of Truth, TCFT, founded in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2008 is in its 15th year. Founded by Opera Circus after an invitation to meet young artists in that town, this international youth arts programme has hosted over 2000 participants, 30 artists, 18 partners, many volunteers and communities who have made the work possible in Italy, Bosnia, Serbia, Brussels, Strasbourg, Portugal and the UK. Principally funded by Youth in Action and Erasmus + with additional funding from Awards for All, Arts Council England, Dorset Council, British Council other smaller UK funds, some donors, oru crowdfunding family, help in kind and volunteers.
It’s been over a year since the last UK Erasmus funded residency ended. Another Brexit devastation, no more access to the wonderful fund of over €1.7 billion that has fed our work since 2010. Bosnia, Kosovo and Dorset, UK, all pushed into one year creating huge energy and new ideas but with a sense of loss and anger. It wasn’t necessary but the politicians couldn’t be bothered.

We still have the Council of Europe, ( the guardian of our Human Rights in Wider Europe, including the UK. We are still members and have a very accessible and inclusive Ambassador, Sandy Moss, based in Strasbourg. There are many opportunities for young people to participate as Youth Ambassadors and on youth advisory committees, in their own right. Opera Circus has been a member of the European Youth Foundation, part of CoE for many years and there is a small amount of funding available.

Jack Wightman, Dorset young film maker and photographer, came to the European Youth Event with us, 19 young people and artists, in June, alongside 8500 young people from 92 countries. He made this short film as an impression of what it’s like to be in Strasbourg, taking over the parliament and the effect it had on some of the young people who went with Opera Circus/TCFT. 

So perhaps we can do small residencies, one off events, meetings, conversations on line – not great but better than nothing, encouraging activism and change, networks and keep fighting to open up opportunities for young people particularly in rural areas. There are so many possibilities both in the UK, wider Europe and globally, and most institutions and organisations know nothing about them. Hopefully we can work with Dorset Youth Association and others to spread the word about what’s out there in the world that can improve and enrichen lives.
The UK doesn’t celebrate the UN International Days of….. There is a day celebrated for practically everything, equal pay, woman, migrants rights, young people, food, charity, elimination of nuclear weapons. A great way to highlight an issue and to build a project around the title.
We chose the International Day of Democracy and then spread it over two and a half days. 15th September 2023. We managed to find enough funding from Dorset Council, Bridport Town Council, the RSA, Bridport Film Society, Awards for All and Alice Ellen Cooper Dean Charitable Foundation + help in kind from Peter Hitchin at Symondsbury Manor, Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport Youth and Community Centre and The Lyric Theatre + others and volunteers. I wrote elsewhere that it would be very difficult to manage this kind of explosive and inclusive weekend without the support of such a community as Bridport in West Dorset. Particular thanks to Ian Bark, Bridport’s Deputy Mayor.

Cedoux Kadima leads a process of words and images about Democracy.

Prodigal UPG in ZooHumans at Bridport’s Youth Centre
There was joyous music making, folk dancing, exceptional Parkour workshops and a performance of Prodigal/UPG’s powerful Zoohumans, song writing, theatre workshops, conversations and considerations of what democracy actually means, the voice of the peoples, meaning all species in the world.
A short film by Robert Golden of the music making and folk dance during the weekend.
Darren Abrahams, Zangi and Cedoux at the Lyric Theatre, Bridport
We were so delighted to see the team from the Drop in Youth Centre on Portland, thank you for coming and for this poem from Isy and Chloe (12 and 13)

“Unkowning of what was to come, I didn’t realise it would be such fun!
Overwhelmed by all the names, what is it with these games?

“Harmonious teamwork, glorious singing, topic democrat, new beginning.
A new experience using our voices, hoping to sway people’s choices”.

Heather Haddow with b-side, invited us to participate in Let Music Unite on the Island of Portland, to support both the community and the asylum seekers threatened with the inhumane barge that is the Bibby Stockholm.

Natasha Nixon and Zoe Cochrane led movement and dance workshops at the youth centre
Bridport Arts Centre screened two films on the Sunday afternoon, the award winning short documentary A Snapshot starring the local young actor Josh Ward, and Robert Golden’s new documentary Belonging/Becoming, the trailer 29 young people interviewed from 14 different countries between March and October 2023 about their lives, their future, their love of life and the climate emergency. Nine of the young people who were in the film attended the screening of Belonging and sat on the stage afterwards talking with the audience about their impressions, their challenges and purpose.
Josh Ward, Shaniqua Benjamin, Jacob Slaatto
Once a year we aim to host an intergenerational community supper at Bridport’s historic town hall and this was the chance. Round Belly Rice, a local company, provided delicious poke bowls and we shared some of the music and films from the weekend. Robert Golden had put together an impression through stills and film of the years of TCFT between 2014 and 2016. Film here.

Next Steps:

There are many thoughts and conversations about what next, with or without Erasmus +.

The European Youth Event surveyed the young people who attended in June and have published this Youth Ideas Report. Perhaps there is hope for the future once these generations are in the lead.



Thanks to the TCFT team some of whom have worked on this international youth arts programme since 2012 and whose skills, values and incredible commitment make the work so profound and long lasting. Darren Abrahams, Susan Bisatt, Amanda Downes, Robert Golden, Miranda Henderson, Cedoux Kadima, Alister O’Loughlin, Ricky Romain, Rosie Russell, Jonathan Scott, Zangi and Rory Newbery, Francesco Pipparelli, Shaniqua Benjamin, Zoe Cochrane, Josh Ward…there are many others from past projects, far too many to list but all thanks are also extended to you.