Visual Roots

Visual Roots (2008–10) was an initiative developed by Engage which took a fresh approach to the development of youth participation and skills development in the visual arts. The project offered visual arts venues the resources and support to implement accredited placements for vulnerable and hard to reach young people. The aim was to open new pathways to the visual arts sector and enable young people to gain new skills, develop their talents and achieve personal development and accredited outcomes.

The programme was managed by Engage and funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families in 2008–09 and the National Lottery through Arts Council England in 2009–10. From 2008–10 twenty placements took place in ten visual arts venues across England.


The Visual Roots project built on envision, a five-year programme that encouraged galleries to develop new ways of working and integrating young people into their programmes, particularly those at risk or disadvantage. Information about envision and its handbook on youth friendly practices can be found here. As a result of this pioneering work, a need emerged to develop youth volunteering opportunities and longer-term engagement for young people within galleries.

Visual Roots took a fresh approach to the development of youth participation and skills development in the visual arts. It focused on longer-term work-based learning opportunities that enable hard to reach young people to gain new skills, develop their talent and achieve personal development and accredited outcomes. Visual Roots also offered galleries a way for testing and implementing the government’s current priorities including the Aim High for Young People and Every Child Matters and the 14–19 Agenda, which includes the Creative and Media Diploma and Apprentices scheme.

Policy context

The Visual Roots project emerged out of the interest and desire of the gallery sector to actively provide opportunities to young people, either through volunteering work or accredited activities.

The development of the project was also informed by the wider policy context and the changes that have emerged in recent years around work with young people. In order to assist galleries in developing this work further and to place the Visual Roots programme within its wider context, Rebecca Lee, the project’s Evaluator, has summarised some of the more recent policy developments, you can download her summary here.

Please note that this document was produced in January 2010 and is for guidance only.

Young People’s Advisory Group

The Visual Roots programme was managed by the Visual Roots team and supported by a Young People’s Advisory Group who provided guidance to inform its development.

The Young People’s Advisory Group was convened during Phase one to offer a platform for young people to influence activities and the development of the programme. The group was comprised of young people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experience who are committed to wider engagement in the visual arts. Members came from across England including Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Norwich, Manchester, London and Brighton. They were involved in initial consultations on best practice in youth volunteering, assisted in the gallery selection process, and conducted follow-up visits and peer evaluation of the programme. Two of the participants in the Phase One of the project joined the Advisory Group during Phase Two to provide a fresh input and their experiences of the project.