Horizon Retreats empowers young women through a series of free workshops and residential trips

Supported by Battersea Arts Centre, Dulcie Usher’s programme offers encouragement and opportunities for 13-16 year-old BAME girls to explore their creativity.

18 May 2021

A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.

The Agency programme was initially conceived by Marcus Faustini and, since launching in 2013, runs in various cities around the UK. Through a series of creative workshops, the programme has brought together a handful of artist-entrepreneurs who are working to help their communities through social-impact programmes, supported by Battersea Arts Centre and Manchester's Contact Theatre with funding, networking and creative enterprise expertise. Alongside Danielle Honger and Prince Agyei, Dulcie Usher is one of those agents, an artist and creative entrepreneur who runs Horizon Retreats. Focusing on 13-16 year-old BAME girls from inner-city London, the programme offers workshops and activity-filled residential trips to broaden their perspectives. Here, Dulcie sheds light on her empowering work with Horizon Retreats and how she’s adapted over the last 12 months.

It's Nice That: What is your mission, and what about the creative industry are you hoping to change?

Dulcie Usher: My mission with Horizon Retreats is to deliver free programmes and workshops that encourage 13-16 year-old BAME girls to explore their creativity, believe in themselves and their abilities, along with introducing them to activities they may not have had the chance to enjoy before. I want to be able to help give them a sense of direction in life and encourage them to think outside of the box, in terms of their future and what they can achieve.

Workshop topics cover self-confidence, self-esteem, developing life goals and consent. Through group discussion and exercises, Horizon Retreats aims to equip young girls with mental tools and practical methods to overcome common issues like negative self-talk, peer pressure, anxiety and harmful relationships.

Although Horizon Retreats is open to all 13-16 year-old BAME girls within inner-city London, it’s especially open to girls from low income backgrounds, those receiving pastoral support at school, or those who have experience with the youth justice system. As someone who was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to travel during a particularly dark time in my own life as a teen, I believe a lot of girls from these particular circumstances can greatly benefit from the opportunity to leave their immediate environment and think about what fulfils them in life.

My central goal for Horizon Retreats as an organisation is to secure enough funding to take girls on free residential trips outside of the UK, particularly places such as South East Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. On these retreats, girls will take part in our workshops and outdoor activities whilst developing a deeper understanding of different cultures. Additionally, these trips would give the opportunity of travelling abroad to those who may have never left the UK due to their financial background.

NT: Tell us a bit about your background, or the background to your organisation, and what led you to this point.

DU: I was raised in south London, in a single parent home with no siblings. Like many people, the theme of my teen years was feeling angry and lost. Although I had been raised to have high confidence and self-esteem, it deteriorated rapidly throughout my adolescence, leaving me depressed, with no real sense of self between the ages of 13 and 16.

Then I was given the opportunity to volunteer at an animal shelter abroad. In hindsight, that trip ended up changing the entire trajectory of my life, and I began to care about my future. I also realised that I wanted to work in a sector that helped others, as it’s what I find the most fulfilling. Two years later, I had secured a place at university, having gained only 1 GCSE before that trip.

I developed Horizon Retreats because I wanted to create something that the younger me would have benefited from. Since becoming a visual artist, I’ve incorporated a lot of the arts into the workshops. All of the girls who have participated in my workshops have shown amazing talent, and I’m so happy to have played a part in them developing their creative processes.

INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing, and why?

DU: The main challenge within the last year has definitely been COVID-19. My original plan for the pilot of Horizon Retreats was a residential trip to Dorset, which wasn’t possible. Another challenge is funding. Horizon Retreats is, and always will be, completely free for all participants, so securing grants and holding fundraisers is always at the top of my agenda to be able to keep the programmes going. A lot of time is spent researching organisations that offer grants to social change projects, and drafting applications.

INT: How are you tackling them?

DU: The Agency supported me to adapt around COVID-19 restrictions, and create something local that I could run for young BAME girls during the pandemic. During the most recent lockdown, I also held some virtual workshops over Zoom.

The Agency has helped me develop my skills in writing funding applications, finding funding opportunities and through The Agency networks I’m able to talk to people who have experience writing to similar organisations or building fundraising strategies and events.

INT: How can the creative industry help your mission?

DU: From my own personal experience, the largest obstacle for a lot of young creatives is the financial resources. Discovering how many organisations offer grants to social change projects was definitely a turning point for me, and enables me to always have a plan for Horizon Retreats and know what the next steps are.

Having mentors around you and people who have experience within your field is also a crucial advantage, and I’ve been able to meet these people within The Agency. I’ve learned that the best way to feel confident about something is to collect as much knowledge around it as possible, so I love to be in the loop about different venues and arts organisations, or others who work to create a positive social impact!

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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