It's Friday January 8th, 2010. The country is swaddled in a tight silver blanket of snow, Celebrity Big Brother is exhaling the last, dying breath of reality television, we're still fighting a forever war in Afghanistan, career weirdo Lady Gaga is at number 1, Jonathan Ross has just announced his departure from the BBC after 13 years of faithful and needlessly controversial service, Avatar, filmed entirely inside a ZX Spectrum and requiring viewers to don silly 3-D spectacles, has already become the second most popular film in history. (It always had number 2 all over it, as far as I could tell.) And yes, today, The Teens' Speech finally bids you a fond farewell.
For the uninitiated, who will stumble across this site in years to come, possibly via a hybrid pair of augmented reality mittens, The Teens' Speech was a project designed to give a voice to young people in Britain. It was predicated on a simple truth, espoused by philosophers as diverse as Bertrand Russell, Friedrich Nietzche and yes, Whitney Houston. Children are our future. They will define this country in years to come. Therefore, its everyone's best interest to listen to what they have to say. It's also in everyone's best interest to give them the best possible start in life and create a society where young people can make mistakes and learn from them, a society that removes them from the moral and legal equivalent of Newton's third law of motion - that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. We need to develop the moral imagination and courage to allow children to develop into well rounded individuals - or we face a future based on the worst qualities of humanity, rather than the finest.
So, yes, The Teens' Speech tried to give a voice to young people. We did it by interviewing hundreds of teenagers from all over the U.K. - mostly over the telephone, but also face-to-face and on camera, we conducted research and ran polls and we also instituted an unprecedented campaign of engagement on YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.
What we found on YouTube is something that I don't think the mainstream media is aware of. Maybe that's the point - I don't know - but anyway, there are hundreds of thousands of young people posting and commenting on each other's videos. Yes, some videos are spectacular examples of existential navel gazing, but others are honest, intimate, funny and really, really creative. They use sophisticated editing, text, animations, interviews and music to create little no-budget video vignettes. A handful of these video diarists have developed a massive following, a constituency of digital natives, who see the internet as their turf, their place to express themselves honestly and without interference from adults, corporations or any other manifestation of 'The Man'.
The Teens' Speech approached these YouTube 'Super Users', explained the concept and asked them to get involved. And they did. They helped us promote the project and raised awareness among hundreds of thousands of users, some of whom visited our channel and watched our videos and some of whom started posting videos themselves. I think that it was our biggest achievement. The Teens' Speech ceased to become ours and ownership was passed on to the young people it was dedicated to.
Finally, all our research, interviews and social network activity was funneled into The Teens' Speech film. A 17-minute documentary that attempted to reflect the mood of Britain's young people at the edge of a new decade. It's a brooding, beautiful piece of work and, if you haven't already, please do take a look.
If I was personally going to draw any kind of conclusion from The Teens' Speech, then it would be this: young people's lives may be permeated with stress, alienation and misunderstanding, but their innate hopefulness and burning desire to forge better lives for themselves remains undimmed and is a source of inspiration - for everybody - to ensure that our futures are filled with better days.
At Barnardo’s we'll continue to speak out on matters that affect young people, but there will be times when we'll need your voice to make sure an issue gets the attention it deserves.
Right now we're calling on politicians to support the UK’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable children ahead of the general election. You can challenge them and make sure they hear our call for change. Take the next step and become a Barnardo's campaigner at www.barnardos.org.uk/campaign.
I'll leave you with a video redux of The Teens' Speech film, featuring a specially commissioned poem by Kate Tempest and photographs submitted to MySpace by friends of the project.