Interactive documentary to support Lewisham’s youth

Newcastle based former youth worker and Trylife creator Paul Urwin. Photo: Trylife

Newcastle based former youth worker and Trylife creator Paul Urwin. Photo: Trylife

Trylife is a just that. It’s a way to try out life’s difficult choices without getting hurt. Working with former youth worker now film maker Paul Urwin, Lewisham council is hatching a plan to deal with the big issues facing young people.

With more budget cuts imminent alongside plummeting opportunities for support for the young, this “trans-media” interactive documentary allows viewers to take control of the story’s main character, and explore the different effects that good and bad life choices can have on their lives and the lives of others.

The videos will be used as a learning resource in Lewisham schools, and there are plans in place for the cast and crew will also take part in a series of roadshows.

Premiered at the BFI Southbank on the weekend, the initiative is designed as a tool that allows the borough’s youth to experiment safely with the choices they face on issues such as drugs, violence and sex. Its stars have been cast from the borough, and production staff such as make up artists have come from local colleges.

Speaking to EastLondonLines, Urwin said the project seeks to replicate the realities young people face. He said: “Some decisions are made for you because of where you are in life. That could be where you are mentally, where you are in yourself or just your situation. I come from a deprived area, I know what it’s like to grow up with absolutely nothing.

“With Trylife it’s not all yes or no, it’s not all black and white. Sometimes another character will make a decision which has an impact on you and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Urwin said that the project is about addressing these issues and is trying to push the boundaries of interactivity online: “We can tell a story a number of ways and show the impact. For example, if someone gets stabbed, then the person who’s trying to rescue them in the hospital has then got to go home to their partner and family. It’s about the impact that one event can have.”

He suggested that today’s youth face many difficulties and that cutbacks are adding to the pressures they encounter. He said: “More and more youth services are being stripped away whilst the issues that young people face today are, if anything, amplified.

“More and more young people are unemployed, there’s less support available and the councils, the NHS and the police must be rethinking the way that they are going to address these issues.”

This second episode revolves around the story of Aaliyah, who is played by Simone Richardson, for whom this is her first professional acting role. She said “Trylife is definitely a reflection of what goes on; more of the hidden part that people are a bit scared of publicising.”

Richardson said it was brave of the council to expose these issues in this way. She added: “Young people don’t want to get told what to do. They’d rather have a choice, and this gives young people the chance to choose and know the repercussions of those choices.”

Having commissioned the project, Danny Ruta, director for public health at Lewisham Council said that the initiative could be a cost effective way of doing youth work, if councils can prove the impact it has. He said “The episode cost around £70,000 which includes all of the roadshows the team will be doing at schools and colleges. It will be interesting to know how much change you can affect on this compared to say a year of youth work.”

Ruta sees the project as an intervention to support young people early on in life. He added “Most of the choices we make, we make them subconsciously and they are shaped by circumstances — our upbringing, our childhood experiences, personality — and we make them without thinking. Some of those choices have very bad outcomes for us. If you looked at it rationally, you’d ask why you’d ever make that choice, because it’s doing you so much harm. The thing about Trylife is it’s trying to interrupt that process.”

Trylife engaged with over 1000 young people and Ruta sees this as a project from which other local authorities could follow Lewisham’s lead.

If they are to do so, putting young people at the centre should be paramount, he suggests: “The professionals gave them the issues and the evidence based outcomes, but the young people shaped the stories. I would say to other councils: if you want to affect social change then you have to do real community engagement and real co-production. Trylife is working up a methodology, a practical tool that can be used.”

Log on to Trylife online to play the interactive game and get involved.

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