The Somerset Belt — situated within the area from *Scape to the junction of Somerset and Killiney roads — provides a platform for youth to experiment with creative and impactful ideas, and connect with peers to discover unique experiences.
It aims to be a precinct for the youth to call their own. But what goes into shaping a vibrant destination for youth interests, subcultures and lifestyles? And why is it important?
Opportunities under the Somerset Belt such as the Realise Your Somerset Project (RYSP), and partnerships with institutes of higher learning (IHLs) and agencies allow youths aged 15 to 35 to try out experimental ideas on what they hope to see and experience in the Somerset Belt. We hear from three changemakers who have played a part in the journey.
Bringing the young together
Ms Tasha Enright, 33, a talent consultant specialising in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), feels the Somerset Belt should go beyond being a happening place for youth.
“This doesn’t just mean making spaces and events accessible to persons with disabilities or mobility devices, but also considering youth caregiver needs, and what a reasonable schedule or basic amenities look like,” she explains.
“We youth are also young parents, children caring for our elders or special needs siblings, or even professionals and volunteers supporting our communities through excursions and outreach in the precinct. Everyone has a place here, and should be accommodated to thrive in Somerset Belt.”
Ms Enright is a youth community leader for the Somerset Belt to guide the precinct’s transformation.
She reviews proposals submitted to the RYSP, which supports unique and experimental youth-initiated ideas for the area. Selected projects will receive funding of up to $50,000, and the chance to network and be mentored by industry professionals and youth leaders to turn their concepts into a reality.
This month, the RYSP will embark on a second call for proposals. The first call for proposals ran from May to June 2020.
By stepping up to the plate, the youth will have the opportunity to learn new skills on the job, fine-tune business and non-profit ideas, hone leadership and tech skills, and turn the Somerset Belt into a hub for all kinds of initiatives, says Ms Enright, who is also a member of the *Scape board of directors.
“I also give talks to and mentor my peers on topics relevant to DEI, provide business and strategic advice to the RYSP teams, and approve funding for successful pitches,” she says.
An example of someone who helps young people is Mr K Kawshigan, 29, chief executive of local drone racing firm D1 Racing. He created a year-long training programme for youths to learn how to handle drones, and eventually race them in a virtual setting through the Somerset Belt and courses at other physical locations.
The programme, which began in March last year, saw 100 participants taking a mix of virtual and physical training sessions that were coached by seasoned drone pilots.
With industries from real estate to media increasingly using drones for a variety of tasks, “it was very fulfilling to watch the youths pick up valuable drone handling skills that they may be able to use in the professional world”, says Mr Kawshigan.
“Every interaction during the programme was also an opportunity to inspire them to be better versions of themselves, and we have been very happy to see their growth.”
Bringing mental health to the forefront
Conversations about mental well-being are more important than ever in the age of Covid-19, and the Somerset Belt can be a safe space for them, adds Ms Cheryl Tan, 35, founder of The Breathe Movement.
Since 2014, the social organisation has offered trauma-informed tools and practices to enable individuals to navigate through the challenges of life.
Now, as a youth community leader for the Somerset Belt, she mentors and guides youth-led projects and also evaluates RYSP projects, where young people not only propose and prototype ideas for the area, but decide on funding allocation for the projects that they want to support.
“I see the Somerset Belt as a space where young people can explore the nuances of mental well-being,” she says.
“For example, over the years, many mental health awareness efforts have focused on educating people about different mental disorders.
“But mental wellness is also about how we can take care of our own, and each other’s, mental and emotional health. People can also feel mental distress when they care deeply about social issues such as sustainability and the environment.”
Ms Tan, who is also founder of the Singapore Mental Health Film Festival, is doing her part to encourage young people to develop mental wellness-related initiatives and programmes for the Somerset Belt.
Early last month, Ms Tan was invited as a guest speaker to talk about mental well-being to participants of ArtsXplore 2.0, a youth-centric arts incubation and mentorship programme.
The programme, co-organised by the National Arts Council and The Somerset Belt, began in December and ends this month.
Pitches and prototypes from the programme will be showcased at pop-up exhibitions at library@orchard and Orchard Central from March 17 to 31. Selected prototypes will also be featured in the Somerset Belt.
“I hope more young people will come forward and share their ideas in shaping the Somerset Belt,” Ms Tan says. “The Somerset Belt platform is different from others because it also offers a space for youths to unleash their creativity and transform their ideas into reality.”
Taking students out of the classroom
Through the Somerset Belt, students in Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Architecture and the Built Environment have a rare opportunity to work with industry partners, test their designs in the real world and receive feedback from the public.
Singapore Polytechnic is one of three IHLs that have partnered with the Somerset Belt to date. The other two IHLs are the Singapore University of Technology and Design and Temasek Polytechnic.
Two teams of Singapore Polytechnic students have created installations for the precinct so far.
The first team, made up of five students from the Diploma in Interior Design, Diploma in Architecture and Diploma in Landscape Architecture (DLA) programmes, produced a playful modular seat that people can configure in multiple ways. It was displayed in the Somerset Belt in March last year.
The second team — composed of 10 DLA students — have developed an installation called the TUG Wall that will be placed at the Somerset Youth Park this month. It uses upcycled timber pallets for boxes and a seat that can be moved to form, among other things, a linear art walk or an outdoor room.
“It’s a creative expression for our youth who dare to ‘push’ boundaries and ‘pull’ away from restrictions,” says Ms Toh Sok Na, 45, a senior lecturer in the DLA programme who led both teams.
“Through the Somerset Belt platform, our student designers can apply what they have learned in the classroom, transform their design into a tangible product, and showcase their creativity to the public in a high-traffic locale.”
The process also challenges them to consider and solve practical problems. The second team’s design, for example, includes small potted plants. “The team was mindful that people could steal the plants, but decided to use them nonetheless,” she says.
“Indeed, they are now going to use the plants to see if such public installations can withstand the test of trust and civic-mindedness in the community.”
She endorses the Somerset Belt as an excellent platform for aspiring young designers to enhance their learning.
“We also value the opportunity for our students to contribute to the Somerset Belt’s vibrancy through place-making design projects for the public.”
Want to have a say on shaping the Somerset Belt? To submit your ideas, head to youthactionplan.sg/somersetbelt or email the Somerset Belt team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feature is supported by the National Youth Council