Craig Thurlow is based in Leicestershire and is a creative facilitator, music teacher and long-term LIFEbeat staff member. In 2010, whilst setting up a theatre company, he joined a LIFEbeat Creative Practice trainings to find out more about using the arts to build community within groups. Since then, he’s participated in more than 15 LIFEbeat camp programs, become a Lead Facilitator and trainer and helped to up skill youth graduates from our programs to allow them to join the staff teams.

Here, Craig tells us more about the skills he’s learned along the way and the things that inspire him in his work.

How did you get involved with LIFEbeat?

I first joined LIFEbeat 10 years ago. I had a different path to many people as I went to the Creative Practice at Stanford Hall, and then I had to do an audition. It was advertised on ArtsJobs. LIFEbeat don’t do auditions anymore but at the time they were growing rapidly and it was a way to generate staff teams and identify new facilitators who could lead the camps. I live in the East Midlands and the camps were going to be local to me, so I just went for it. At the time, I was also trying to get a theatre company started and I loved the idea of creative facilitation and using the arts to work with a group. 

What’s your favourite thing about LIFEbeat?

The connection with the young people. For me that’s it.

I always think back to my first camp. I found it quite hard. Especially the one day before the young people arrived and we were setting up and preparing. I just didn’t really get it.

A few of the more experienced staff members took me aside individually and spoke to me. They all said it would make more sense when the young people got there, and it really did. It just dropped into place for me. I can’t describe what it’s like very easily. It’s the only place where I have worked where the investment is a shared investment from young people and staff to want to get to the best part of everyone. I had always worked in schools and systems in which there seemed to be a simple need to just get through the day. That was it, done. But at LIFEbeat there is a real commitment from everyone to bring out the best in each other, especially the young people. That’s what community is really all about and LIFEbeat manages to do that through their programs.

LIFEbeat is strange in some ways because essentially it’s one week a year, but it’s somehow in your life for the whole year. I think about it a lot all year around and I talk to other LIFEbeat people regularly. The community is one of the best parts of LIFEbeat. We are all our own individual Avengers and we all do our own amazing things throughout the year and then when there is a program running, we assemble and combine our skills to create some amazing youth programs. Somehow LIFEbeat becomes part of you at all times, whatever you’re doing.

What is one of your best moments at LIFEbeat?

There are so many small things that happen while you are on a program, and they stay with you and you think about them one day or someone reminds you. Even just the conversations I have had with other staff and participants. There have been so many treasured moments that come to mind.   

I have one particular camp in my head. It was a challenging camp in some ways and there were some really big emotions around. There were some amazing moments. It was very moving. I was gutted when it ended. I almost felt a bit broken-hearted. As a community we had really overcome some challenges and managed to end up as one group of people who all really liked each other, despite (or maybe because of) the hard things we had dealt with.  

One of my highlights was with two other staff members, Chris and Rollo. They were running a workshop where the young people were making rafts to go out on the river. I have not laughed that much in such a long time. The young people gave themselves to being so silly and just having a great time. Some of the rafts were amazing and some of them dissolved when they hit water, but none of that mattered. I laughed so hard that it hurt and everyone just had a really good time being together and trying something new.

Tell us a little about your work outside of LIFEbeat

My main employment is teaching music, mainly ukulele and guitar. I also teach theatre and facilitate quite a lot, all with young people.

The way I work has changed since I came to LIFEbeat. The level of communication is different. I never enjoyed the battle between adult and young person or even between colleagues with different perspectives. Since doing LIFEbeat I have honed into the question of what is the best for the young people and for the organisaiton and then working out how we can best achieve that. I have learned to see the best in everyone. My perspective has changed and I now make sure that I zoom out and look at the bigger picture. I always myself ask what is going on behind the behavior that someone is presenting. Are they feeling scared, or are they trying to defend themselves because they are actually just really shy?  Could something else be going on here? What can I do to get to the bottom of it? Changing that perspective has a real impact. It’s about believing that everyone is doing their best and then taking a holistic approach to see the whole person that is standing in front of you, not just the particular behavior.

What is the main skill you have learnt at LIFEbeat?

For me, I think the main takeaway from LIFEbeat is good listening. It’s giving people a voice and then really listening to it. There is no point giving people a voice if you are not going to hear what they say. When I speak to my young people I tell them, we have two ears and one mouth because it’s twice as important to listen. As an adult you want that too, you want to be heard and feel that your contribution is important. In any group I lead it’s important to me to make it clear that I really want to hear what you have got to say and I want to act on it. That has transformed the way I work with young people. It also works to bring the group together, because if people feel like they have made a contribution, they will invest in what you’re asking them to be a part of.

What book have you read that you would recommend to others?

Last summer I read Ant Middleton’s book, First Man In. That probably sounds like a strange choice, but at the end of each chapter it had tips on leadership and being part of a team. It talked about how you don’t have to be at the front to be a leader, you can be there supporting. I took photos of every one of those pages and they all had really useful tips. I would recommend looking at those for inspiration.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out as a facilitator?

Keep an open mind. I went from being in quite a small bubble of people. The people around me all looked and sounded like me, but there is a whole world out there. Be willing to learn from that and be open to broadening your perspective. Don’t feel shame for not having experience of that before you go into this work because we are all learning all the time.  

One of the biggest things I have learned is the capacity to reflect and to give myself the time to look over things. If things don’t always go to plan it’s not a fail. To quote Nelson Mandela, “I never lose, I either win or learn.”

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