We Deserve Better - Letting Young People speak for themselves

Our second week of research and development (R&D) for Youthquake took us to Hartlepool! We were based at the brilliant Centre of Excellence in Creative Arts (CECA). Over the course of the week, we led eight workshops and spoke to over 100 young people from different areas in Hartlepool as we devised and discovered the structure of our new show.

In each workshop we lead young people through a series of tasks and activities to help them share their thoughts and feelings on a range of topics. This week we started to discover multiple recurring national themes. The main issue that has come up time and time again is that adults have an overall lack of understanding and willingness to understand Generation Z. Young People today find themselves frequently held back or crushed by the adults in their lives, whether these be parents, teachers or politicians. There was also pushback against the structure of the UK education system, that favours the achievement of top grades over instilling a genuine interest in learning alongside teaching realistic, applicable life skills, such as the value of money and how to take care of your mental health.

We heard all these issues from the young people we met in Hartlepool, as well as strong views on hyper local issues. In particular, there was significant backlash against the representation of Hartlepool in Skint Britain: Friends Without Benefits, Channel 4’s “documentary” about living in Hartlepool while receiving Universal Credit. The majority of young people we met felt that the series made a mockery of the real struggles that those living on benefits face by seeking out the most extreme stories. Instead of offering an accurate narrative about the realities of life on benefits in the age of austerity, Skint Britain provided a singularly negative portrayal of Hartlepool that would make for the most interesting television viewing. They felt that this narrative disregarded both the struggles that those living in Hartlepool face, as well as the fact that receiving Universal Credit is not an entire identity.

The young people in Hartlepool had a strong sense that the system is stacked against them and apathetic to their needs. Within these stories, however, there was a determination that the narrative of deprivation in Hartlepool would not be an endless cycle. We heard from young people who sought to go further than previous generations of their family ever had, by finishing their GCSEs and progressing towards higher aspirations. Some wanted to go against the advice of older family members, who frequently urge them to leave Hartlepool and find somewhere better to live. Not all young people want to leave their home city for something better – they wanted to solve the problems and change their home for the better.

We had planned a big blog post to unpack all of this. But instead, we’re going to leave you with the voices of real young people from Hartlepool. We set them the simple task of writing a list of what they thought they and their generation deserve. Considering the typical narrative that depicts teenagers as shallow and self-centred, their responses might surprise you.

We deserve…

We deserve…
To relax on the weekend
To wear what we want
McDonalds everyday
More ice-cream
More fun

We deserve… 
To spend more time with family
To be spoken to better
To be cared for more
To be complimented instead of dragged down

We deserve…
Time to learn from our mistakes instead of being scolded
Forgiveness for our mistakes because they’re a part of growing up
Recognition for progress in school, mental health and personal growth
To be accepted for who we are

We deserve…
Teachers who stop and listen
Free Higher Education
Equal pay for women
To be included in adult conversations
To have a say in our future
To be able to afford a place to live
To be able to vote

We deserve…
A world without conflict

We deserve…
To live without being judged
To love with no conditions
To not have to grow up too fast
To feel safe walking home at night

We deserve…

We deserve…
To be heard
To be happy
To be worthwhile
To be free 

Above, Photos from Elliot Hunter’s current exhibition at Hartlepool Art Gallery. Elliot is a 14 year old photographer we met who goes out on his bike to photograph the parts of Hartlepool that no one else sees. His work seeks to find the beautiful in the urban decay. He loves living in Hartlepool and wants to stay to make people see it in a different light 👊


Youthquake is a Zest Theatre production currently in the Research and Development stage. It will tour nationally from Autumn 2019.

Commissioned by Tees Valley Combined Authority, The Civic Barnsley and Lincoln Drill Hall.

Supported through public money from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, together with Garfield Weston Foundation, Foyle Foundation, Hays Travel Foundation, Sylvia Waddilove Foundation and Lost Village Festival.

Developed with the support of ARC, Centre for Excellence in Creative Arts, Darlington Hippodrome, Gulbenkian, TunedIn, The Egg, The Garage and Stratford Circus.


Jenny Daniels is a Liverpool raised theatre maker and recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Massachusetts. Jenny’s previous work for Zest includes Assistant Directing What Once For Ours and Lost Village Festival. She is currently Assistant Director for the R&D of Zest Theatre's Youthquake.