Urban Ambush


URBAN AMBUSH was a 4 week festival of exciting creative programmes in which young people took over Watermans. Scheduled for the school holidays in summer 2014, the entire building buzzed with creativity as hundreds of young people worked with professional artists to develop new projects, learn new skills and showcase their work.

URBAN AMBUSH comprised week-long intensive projects in which young people learned to make films, to produce a short version of a West End musical, to do aerial circus on a professional rig, to design fully-working digital games, learned parkour and freerunning around and over the building, decorated the car park with large-scale, designed graffiti, and created large outdoor sculptures with recycled materials on the terraces.

Each week-long project was intense, high-energy and pushed youth arts to a new level. Project artists were young, professional, highly-skilled and inspiring for the young people.

The whole of Watermans’ building was thrown over to young people – indoors, outdoors, even the car park became a creative urban space. The building took on a new look and a dance studio, film production space and digital arts lab were created.

On Friday evenings at the end of every week, participants presented the work they had produced for an audience of parents, friends and supporters. In October, a full exhibition of work produced, and documentation of the project, was held in Watermans’ main Gallery.

Project delivery

The programme was designed to provide a choice of 4-5 different activities each week. There were therefore 19 different, week-long projects throughout the 4 weeks. The most popular projects, in terms of the number of young people booking onto the projects, were: Parkour, Graffiti, Recycled Sculpture, Digital Game Design and Aerial Dance.

A particular success of the programme was the integrated approach. 30% of the participants were Deaf or disabled. Participants had a range of learning disabilities, physical disabilities and communication needs. Support workers and youth workers were embedded in the programme throughout and ensured participants with additional needs were able to participate fully in the project.

The Friday evening showcases at the end of each week were a particular success and very popular with participants and audiences alike. Evaluation shows that these events contributed significantly to a strong sense of achievement for the young people and in building confidence. The events attracted an excellent level of engagement from friends and families and it was noticeable how often parents were surprised what their children had achieved and produced. Parents of the children and young people with disabilities in particular were often quite emotional at these events and overcome when they saw their children performing or presenting their work with such confidence.

The mixed funding model for the project was also a good example of how larger-scale programmes can be financed. The total project cost was around £160K including full cost recovery. This was funded by a mix of public sector (LB Hounslow & LB Ealing), private sector (Heathrow Community Fund, GSK), crowdfunding from individuals, and participation fees from those who could afford it. We were particularly grateful to Inspire Hounslow who contributed the final £7,000 needed to deliver the project. This mix of funding is a strong model to build on going forward.

It is believed that the immediate legacy of the project will be strong. Two of the activities, Parkour dance and creative media, were so popular with young people that they asked us to continue them. We responded to this and weekly sessions in both activities started in the autumn. In addition, a street arts project will also be initiated to provide follow-on activities. Young people have also been sign-posted to other existing activities and opportunities.

The outcomes

Watermans evaluates all its arts participation programmes. All participants complete registration forms and an evaluation of their skills, confidence etc at the start and end of their project. This is linked to the intended outcomes of the project.

Key outcomes across the programme were:

83% reported increased skills
85% felt that their communication skills had improved
89% of participants felt that the project had helped them to increase their confidence

What did the young people think of the activities being offered?
We have a vast amount of feedback from young people. Some examples are:

In response to the question, ‘What was the main highlight of the workshop and why?’

“Learning new skills and hanging out with friends”
“My highlight has been creating the show”
“The main highlight was the performance because it was awesome”
“The teachers and the friends I have met”
“My favourite thing is going through the dances and learning new things”
“All of it because I can say, I have been in a dance troop, and the Parkour is brilliant”
“When we met and made new friends and learning dancing”
“I do not have a specific highlight because I enjoyed every activity there was”
“Meeting new people and being able to work well with them”
“The sharing session with the parents and adults”
“Parkour was favourite and main highlight”
“Learning routine and performing. Learning Parkour from Farid”
“Being taught the dance because I learnt moves I had never done before”

Number of attendances

250 young people took part in URBAN AMBUSH in 2014, which was a 25% increase on the previous year.

Overall attendances were over 2000 throughout the programme.

[This is based on 1 participant attending 1 session counting as 1 attendance. A session is a morning, afternoon, or evening workshop. Therefore 1 person attending a full day is calculated as 2 attendances.]


The work produced by the young people over the 4 weeks was extraordinary. Watermans kept a visual record of the creative journey of the participants, through photography and video. The young people’s work and some documentary footage was displayed in an exhibition in Watermans main Gallery from Saturday 21 September – Wednesday 23 October. A celebration event for all the young people involved took place on Tuesday 8 October 2013.

Budget & Funding

The total direct cost of the project was £90K. This was broken down as follows:

Artists fees, transport, equipment & materials for 19 x 1-week projects £50K
Marketing £8K
Technical support £10K
Youth & support workers £12K
Exhibition at the end of the project £10K

The income breakdown was as follows:

LB Hounslow – £50K
Heathrow Community Fund – £10K
GSK – £10K
Fees paid by individuals to take part – £9K
Crowdfunding for the project – £4K

The total income, excluding Inspire Hounslow! was therefore £83K in total.

Inspire Hounslow’s grant of the remaining £7K was the final contribution which made the project possible.

Future planning

Watermans established a Youth Forum immediately after URBAN AMBUSH and recruited a core group of young people from the festival. They have been actively involved in shaping the programme for URBAN AMBUSH in 2015, and other youth initiatives, and have gained valuable skills and experience through doing so.

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