Visualising VOICES, On the Road 

Between October 2020 and July 2022, Children North East and Newcastle University joined forces to deliver VOICES Project, a consultation with almost 2,000 children and young people living in the North East, in particular is areas of high deprivation. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, VOICES used coproduction methods, such as drawing, writing, comic book making and video creation to explore how their lives had changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. A final report was produced, sharing findings and learnings.  

Yet the question remained, what was to be done with the thousands of artworks created by children and young people that captured first-hand their experiences of living through the pandemic? How they felt, what they got up to, how it changed their relationships. In our latest blog, VOICES Project contributor Kat Bevan explains what makes this cultural archive so important and what it was like taking such a unique piece of history on the road, touring an exhibition across space in the North East connected to children and young people. 

The VOICES exhibition is a testament to the resilience and creativity of children and young people in economically disadvantaged areas across the North East. Those whose lives have been deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and resource divide. Those who faced exceptional, often compounded challenges of domestic abuse, crime, disruption to their education, online abuse, hunger and food insecurity, inadequate housing and homelessness, social isolation, financial hardship, and the stress and uncertainty of the lockdowns (VOICES Project, 2021). Each factor has profoundly impacted their overall physical and mental health and wellbeing, with potentially long-lasting effects (Maciolek and Bou, 2020). 

The heart and soul of the exhibition were the artworks created by children and young people. Their inner worlds were laid bare through drawings and writing, a mosaic of emotions and experiences vividly depicting their realities, unfiltered and raw. Together, the artworks made a tapestry woven with vibrant threads of imagination, illustrating the profound impact the pandemic had on their lives. Breathing life into their thoughts through several prompts – what brought joy to their lives, what caused them distress, and what held utmost importance – their responses unfurled onto the paper with poignant honesty. A symphony of their funny, sophisticated and heartbreaking thoughts, hopes and concerns. The joy and innocence captured in the vibrant colours of their depictions of virtual and physical playgrounds, friendships and family life contrasted starkly with the dark shades and heavy strokes, portraying isolation, longing and loneliness.  

Moreover, the North East is a region of contrasting landscapes – from picturesque, rolling fields interwoven throughout the rural areas to towns of rich, often overlooked, industrial heritage, like Ashington, Hartlepool and Stanley, to metropolitan post-industrial spaces that have instrumentalised the creative economy for urban regeneration, or cynically, beautification (Mould, 2018), such as Newcastle and Middlesbrough. Each has entrenched social and economic deprivation and has drastically increased child poverty since 2014/15 (NECPC, 2023). These conditions are the harsh reality of these young lives. Through their eyes and voices, their artworks bared individual stories and collective struggles, offering a powerful lens to interpret and understand the region’s complexity.  

In developing the exhibition, the significant increase in child poverty across the North East in recent years weighed heavily on my mind. The stark fact is that 35% of babies, children, and young people are below the poverty line, with some areas like Middlesbrough exceeding 40% (NECPC, 2023). Likewise, the connection between poverty and poor health outcomes among children and young people is undeniable yet avoidable (RCPCH, 2023). Living in poverty harms their mental and physical health and wellbeing, making them considerably more likely to suffer acute and chronic illnesses (RCPCH, 2023). The VOICES research that illuminated this link with the artworks was etched in my mind. These children were battling economic challenges and fighting for their physical and mental health in a society stacked against them, making the urgency of the exhibition even more apparent. 

The VOICES team carefully selected the venues to house the artworks to ensure the exhibition was accessible. These venues hosted the children’s and young people’s voices, creating space for them to see their accounts represented in places that hopefully resonated with their daily lives: libraries, youth centres and schools. Libraries hold the promise of knowledge. Youth centres echo shared stories and a sense of belonging. Schools represented challenge and learning.  

To begin with, however, finding accessible spaces that align with Children North East’s Poverty Proofing© criteria proved challenging. We set up the exhibitions in the backdrop of substantial, damaging yearly cuts to libraries, youth centres and schools since 2010 (YMCA, 2020; CIPFA, 2023; Unison, 2023). Consequently, these safe youth-focused spaces have faced ongoing significant challenges, impeding the quality of and access to education, services and facilities (YMCA, 2020; CIPFA, 2023; Unison, 2023). Thus, demonstrating the importance of such spaces hosting VOICES. Subsequently, accessible venues in County Durham, Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and North Tyneside exhibited the artworks. 

Embarking on this journey, my aim was clear: ensure these young voices were heard and represented. Setting up the exhibition was not just about curating artworks; it was about building bridges between these children’s and young people’s voices and the influential figures who could make an active difference. The artworks stood as a testament to the impact of the resource divide, the trials and triumphs of young souls navigating a world in turmoil, and a beacon of hope for change to make even the most established policymakers, business leaders and community organisers pause and reflect. They needed to see beyond statistics, headlines and adult interpretations of the world to understand the lived experiences behind the artworks. Only by connecting these worlds could we hope to bring about meaningful change; it is up to those in positions of power to respond with empathy and action. 


CIPFA (2023) ‘Press release: library expenditure in Great Britain falls 17%’. 2 March 2023. Available at: (Accessed: 21 August 2023). 

Maciolek, A. and Bou, C. (2020) Children in Lockdown: The Consequences of the Coronavirus Crisis for Children Living in Poverty. The Childhood Trust. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 10 August 2023). 

Mould, O. (2018) Against Creativity. London: Verso. 

NECPC (2023) Facts & Figures. Available at: (Accessed: 7 August 2023). 

RCPCH (2023) Child health inequalities driven by child poverty in the UK – position statement. Available at: (Accessed: 7 August 2023). 

Unison (2023) Cuts since 2010 have cost pupils £5,000 each in lost education. [Online]. Available at:,remains%20significantly%20below%202010%20levels. (Accessed: 21 August 2023). 

VOICES Project (2021) Covid disruption and the resource divide: interim evidence from children and young people in the North East. Children North East and Newcastle University. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 10 August 2023). 

YMCA (2020) Out of Service: A Report Examining Local Authority Expenditure on Youth Services in England & Wales. YMCA. [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 21 August 2023).