European Youth Event!


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European Youth Event!

Strasbourg, France June 8 – 11 2023

What is EYE?

8500 people between the ages of 16 and 30 travel to Strasbourg to spend 2 days taking over the city, the buses and trams, the European Parliament building and temporary village surrounding it. Almost unimaginable till you get there and see the queues. And getting there is a problem because someone doesn’t tell the airlines, the national train companies, who are failing anyway and most of their trains are late, in particular Eurostar, nor the Europe wide buses, that there will be this number of young people travelling to and from 92 countries on a couple of days in June. The corporations certainly take advantage of this by raising the prices through the iniquity of so called “market forces”…..and when you only hear about your successful application to participate in mid-April, then the prices are already at their highest and most of the accommodation has gone. This is not for the faint hearted.

Strasbourg is also quite a small city and where all the young people stay, I have no idea. We were lucky in finding a good hotel at a reasonable price, and lucky to have the reserve funding from previous TCFT projects + some Gift Aid from multiple crowdfunding campaigns and generous donors, to pay for it + of course the EYE funding we applied for which worked out at about 50% of the cost. As always with EU funding their travel and accommodation allowances do not keep pace with inflation, yet alone excessive profiteering.

“8500 participants in Strasbourg and more online. 400 speakers, moderators, and facilitators. 300+ activities, both inside the European Parliament and in the EYE Village, co-created with young people. 31 MEPs, 3 EP Vice- Presidents and EP President Roberta Metsola. 22 artistic performances and 8 hybrid activities. This was #EYE2023.”

You can read much about the EYE on their web site, the list of activities is endless, democracy discussions, LGBTQI conversations, Climate Change activism, Mental Health and Young people post Covid, Empowerment, Ukrainian Resistance, Ideas for Projects, Music, Food, quiet rooms, etc., It’s a very large and complicated event, inside an enormous building, and in 2 days you can barely scratch the service, no matter how much you plan in advance.

So what is TCFT?

TCFT, (The Complete Freedom of Truth ) is the long term international youth arts programme that was founded by Opera Circus in 2008. The idea grew from years of running residencies and workshops whilst we toured with the company’s many productions in particular in Lithuania, Romania, Peru, France and the UK. We were strongly influenced, and still are, from the many years of working with Emeritus Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, Nigel Osborne, MBE (see his Ukrainian blog). We were introduced to Nigel in 2003 by Ian Ritchie, then a board member, to work on a new commission which became Nigel’s beautiful Bosnian chamber opera, Differences in Demolition.
All those who work with Nigel know that if you are creating art with him, you also will work with children, in particular those with trauma and disability; so whilst we researched and developed Differences and the Bosnian art music of Sevdah, we learnt how to work with these children and young people with music and theatre.

Whilst we were touring Differences in Bosnia in 2007, I was invited to visit some young artists in Srebrenica to talk about their passion to work with more artists, so they could work with children, and so the seeds of The Complete Freedom of Truth began, the journey of which still continues in many different forms. (See the celebrations of the International Day of Democracy 15th – 17th September 2023.

11 minute of Candles

An extract of the documentary Candles against the Night edited for Davos and a seminar on Music and Social Justice presented by Emeritus Professor Nigel Osborne MBE.

Who’s involved - past and present?

One day we would love to find a way to see where the hundreds of young people are with whom we have worked. We are still connected to a large number, but the energy, talents, brilliance and goodness of so many must be lighting up the world everywhere and give us hope.
5 zoe and George v2 dancing

Zoe and George choregraphing, Srebrenica 2022

They are matched by the exuberance and superb talents of so many of the artists with whom we’ve worked. Personalities sometimes don’t get on, but nothing can take away what was given and shared with such openness and generosity. We plan this year to begin to present the work of some of the artists who have been part of TCFT almost since the beginning and others who have been with us for a shorter time, but whose gifts and kindness are now part of the web of our journey.
a group meeting in the YC yard col
The old youth centre, Srebrenica 2015, which no longer exists.
There is also an ever-growing list of those who started as participants and became leaders, contributors, developing their own organisations, project managers, professional artists and even policy makers, bureaucrats and producers in their own right; as well as others who turned their lives around, found what they really wanted to do and woke up to activism, creativity and the understanding of a bigger world and how to change it for all species.
TCFT workshop Bridport 2018


Many thanks to the partnership support of Mike Bennet and Lilly Markwell of the Dorset Youth Association, the online help of Molly Scarborough and to the youth worker wisdom from Lisa Osborn of the Drop In Centre, Portland, Dorset. Thanks also to Adam Teasdale of Sir John Colfox School Bridport and Ian Bark, now Deputy Mayor of Bridport Town Council, Dorset.
Thanks to all the staff at EYE, those who are never mentioned, the cooks, bar staff, cleaners, security guards and even the volunteers, many just as confused as we were by the complexity of the parliament building and all those who helped us, on line.
Huge thanks to Zangi and Rosie Russell for their close collaboration and creative compassion…just the best of concerned caring, holding space, relationship building, inspiring conversation and intense involvement.

A Highlight in Paris:

We had a few hours to spend in Paris transferring from Eurostar to SNCF on our train route to Paris – train and coach chosen rather than flying because of climate concerns.
Thanks to a recommendation we found La Residence at Ground Control (web site here, on the roof of the old Gare de Lyon building, turned into an activist and cultural centre. La Residence is run by refugee chefs for refugee chefs and is a restaurant + project centre. Wonderful food, incredibly kind people who also took time to talk to a budding young caterer travelling with us. Highly recommended if you are travelling to Paris and we will keep in touch.

On Line Bureaucracy:

Participants have to be very adept at understanding complex on line booking systems for their activities and some were working very hard at the time, exams, study and employment, email isn’t the normal mode of communication for some and emails were lost. It seemed like most of the activities were booked up in advance but when we were actually there, there were always spaces available. The gate keepers made it very difficult for people to have access, so they were turned away and many rooms were half empty. Everyone also thought that the big hemicycle space was open access, but there was a lot of disappointment when we couldn’t get in, which was usually.
Talking about getting in, the queues on the first day were appalling. People had to wait for several hours in the boiling sun whilst we all went through registration, security etc. This is unacceptable and it happens every time. They either need to employ more people and have more entrances or fewer participants. On both EYE days we were also told half way through the day to leave as there was no space and other young people wanted to come in. Something in the system has to change.
Another change is the need for artists to be central to curating the art and music, as well as the design and access to the spaces used. It requires much more participation and collaborative work, a higher quality of artist/musician and organisation, better use of spaces, more understanding of how to engage with the audiences and a creation of events, where cross cultural and country activities can bring musicians and artists together with the audience. It was very obvious that whoever was involved in the creative choices for EYE was not an artist nor a creative producer. We will be writing suggesting a way to make some positive creative changes and would love to help.

But was it worth going? 

Absolutely. We took 19 people. This included 3 artist/project leaders, Zangi, Rosie Russell and Tina Ellen Lee (Group Head), 3 youth worker/participants Lilly Markwell from Dorset Youth Association, Beth Brewster from Space, the LGBTQI organisation in Bournemouth and Gina Bolt from The Drop In Centre and Island Community Action, on the Island of Portland, Dorset. The young people were a wonderful combination of carers, LGBTQ activists, artists, including a musician/music therapist, dancer, a clown/creative producer, actor, students studying catering and politics, people who had been with TCFT for years and some just starting to see what life might have to offer.

“………… has been really interesting and inspiring and given me some more energy to try and do more in the ways of activism…..” Z

“ Strasbourg was an amazing opportunity! I never thought I’d be lucky enough to travel to visit the European Parliament with an organisation let alone get involved in the learning and change making! The whole trip was totally enjoyable learning experience and the first time I’ve been able to leave the UK since July 2019. Thank you so much for inviting me and looking forward to working with you in the future! Particularly memorable was being able to sit in on a talk about fighting the climate catastrophe. As a young activist Dominika Lasota really inspired me, finishing the talk with us all chanting to demand action on climate policy” G

Over the years we have always knocked on the doors of UK diplomats, ambassadors, British Council and others, just to say why we’re there, who we’re with, what we’re trying to achieve and also to see what encouragement is available. Through years of networking, this becomes easier as friends and colleagues rise up to be heads of organisations, and so we were introduced to UK’s High Representative at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Sandy Moss, Ambassador. 12 of the group went to Sandy’s residence for a conversation and drinks and learnt about the life of a diplomat, how he came to his role with his small team in Strasbourg and his very wise advice which included never say you can’t achieve something.

“Being given the opportunity on the trip to the EYE in Strasbourg has been an eye opening experience for me. I went with an open mind thinking I knew very little and I discovered I knew more than I realised and I have a say just like all the other young people around the world in which I got to meet during this experience. I thought it was extraordinary that so many young people from so many countries came together for this and the issues they wanted to voice are actually quite similar to others. We had the chance to make a change and be heard by people who can help us do that and they wanted to hear what we had to say! I’ve taken this experience back with me and I know I want to have an impact for my community and put that into action for others to see as well.” A

EU membership and some of what we’ve lost:

Successive UK governments have ensured that the public of our 4 small island countries had been left uneducated as to what being a member of Europe means, or meant. They made sure very few knew the value of their EU citizenship, so when it came to voting us out, we left, admittedly by a very small margin.

EU Funding:

What most people didn’t know, and still have no idea, that leaving would remove us from all EU funding, or even that we had access to so much in the first place. 

The EYE is funded by EU funding managed by the European Parliament and co-organised by the European Parliament and young people. Council of Europe has nothing to do with the funding for the EYE. Council of Europe is an international organisation, the leading human rights organisation in Europe, having 46 participating countries in it. It is a different entity from the EU institutions. I know it is confusing, especially because the building of the Council of Europe is right next to the building of the building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The EYE was organised on the premises of the European Parliament and in a set-up special village next to it. The administration of the town of Strasbourg has been involved in numerous ways in this organisation. The raising of the awareness about the EYE had already started in 2022, including by the Calls for co-organisers of the event, so many people, including economic operators, across Europe had already known that this huge event was going to happen in June 2023. In a previous edition of the EYE we have had more than 12,000 participants and so far the event has been taking place every 2 years since 2014.

Erasmus + €26,2 billion
Creative Europe €2.44 billion
New European Bauhaus €85 million but growing
Perform Europe €1.5 million
Horizon Research Funding €95.5 billion
And many other cultural funds to which we can no longer apply.

Opera Circus raised over €550,000 from 2012 to 2020 which enabled thousands of UK young people, and others from across wider Europe, to take part in arts residences, have access to other cultures, languages, opportunities including universities, and create a network of friends and relationships that would last them for years to come. It helped us to raise much more from UK funds enabling us to pay many artists and project managers in the process.
Erasmus + is the greatest loss for young people and their informal arts and broader education, as well as the access to 28 different countries without visas or restrictions – this is particularly dreadful for young artists.
We are developing and participating in one off events with partners in the UK as and when funding is available.

September 15th – 17th International Weekend of Democracy
(further information shortly – Sunday 17th, Bridport Arts Centre, 3pm the film screening of Belonging/Becoming – see poster above)

More information soon.