We were really positive about the impact of our work in the Street Years...physical changes in neighbourhoods, helping to shift attitudes...even changing government policies. But one question we wanted to answer was how much of our work was culturally specific; that is, would it work in other countries? We had been in partnerships with European organisations, but this one was a bit further afield...
We worked for four months in Zillmere, a suburb of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. One of few urban areas that had a multicultural population, including a significant Aboriginal community.
The work was based on the successful film project we had run in Burmantofts in 2001, and would culminate with an outdoor screening on a street in the middle of Zillmere.
The initial partnership was with Brisbane City Council. We worked closely with local organisations, libraries, community organisations, indigenous groups... but our prime relationship was with the Council.
It was not an easy relationship.
Government in Australia is a much bigger beast, the voluntary sector much smaller than the UK and so there was no culture of partnership. The Council were used to contracting, not partnering.
This produced hairy moments along the line, all to do with control; wanting a veto on the material we used, and even at one point insisting we stop speaking to the press about the project. They were nervous, understandably so. But all that changed when the final screenings were a huge success and the Mayor went on television to talk about what a wonderful project it was!
We were concerned when they first arrived–what did they want from the black man? But they listened to what we had to say and the film, at the end of it all, that was just great.
It was the same and it was different. It was the other side of the world but there still wasn't enough for young people to do. The housing was in much better condition but there were still issues of integration.
We had to fight more to convince people of the value of the arts and at times the challenges were perceptive: 'You artists in the UK - you just deal in poverty'.
Being an outsider was a fantastic role–to be able to look at things with completely fresh eyes. But it was hard working away from home trying to get things done in a culture that just worked differently and was so much more bureaucratic than the one we lived in!
Back home...with a new-found respect for the lean, positive institutions that our local authorities suddenly seemed to be; understanding of partnership-working and prepared to live on the edge!