Yesterday was my last day as Senior Editorial Mentor at Live Magazine in Brixton, which is run by social enterprise Livity. Here’s some of the team past and present.
Live is a brilliant, morphing series of platforms where young people make content with the support of a professional mentor. It was a magazine, then a website and soon it’ll be two new YouTube channels. I worked at Live on and off, and in various capacities, for seven years, which is as long as I was at secondary school. It’s a long time.
I can’t convey all of the funny, brilliant, profound things I witnessed – we’d be here all day (or for the next seven years) but I can tell you that I’ve seen a lot of transition and transformation of individuals, of myself and my co-mentors, and of ourselves as an entity. We’ve been secret agents of change, a journalism project with an agenda to empower and enthuse the young people who’ve passed through our doors. Without sounding too soppy, it’s family. It’s about love.
Most transitions take time and I’m lucky enough to have a long view. I know individuals as they are now, working at Westfield or doing well at college, or working for national news media, and I remember where they were when we first met them. Often, this was very far away from the future they subsequently invented for themselves. Some of the biggest successes appear minuscule by mainstream standards but are epic given the challenges facing the individuals concerned. I’m thinking about the person who managed to get herself back into education after being kicked out and ended up with a brace of GCSEs. Or the 16 year old who was out of school for years but harnessed a natural talent for social media – and who’s now applying to college.
It’s not just individuals who have changed. Live itself has changed, too. When I joined to run journalism workshops in 2006 it was very local and often very frontline. We were working with young people who were light years away from the mainstream. These were economic boom times elsewhere in society but not behind the steel shutters of Tunstall Road. We were youth workers who didn’t think we were youth workers, doing things we weren’t qualified to do, but doing them anyway. Take this film that Livity co-founder Sam Conniff made over four Saturdays with a group of young people. It’s a deceivingly raw satire on the trend for wearing gang-affiliated bandanas dominant at the time.
Warning: this clip is very sweary.
Our videos have evolved. This is future star Eve-Yasmin interviewing MC Mic Righteous. Our new channels that we’ll be launching in the autumn are even more ambitious.
Live’s now a place where almost everyone is a highly impressive young creative. In the picture at the top of the piece you’ve got writers, film-makers, artists, activists, musicians and a Forex trader. The landscape has changed, and so have we.
Live’s done a great job of trusting young people to make interesting decisions, and to create a fun and safe place in which you can make mistakes. Mistakes are good. But they’re costly if you make them in the real workplace, especially with youth unemployment running at 20%.
Mentoring isn’t about helping anyone. If we’re being honest, no-one can help anyone. Not really. But we can create the space in which people can succeed in a way that’s real and organic, on their own terms. The benefit is entirely two-way. I have got at least as much out of mentoring at Live as anyone has got from me.
I believe there’s something radical at the heart of Live – and of any organisation that genuinely creates opportunities for young people. That might be a youth club, or an arts college, or in our case, a business. We’ve opened up privileged opportunities to people who don’t have them in their family network and supported them in making the most of the door we’re jamming open. Equally importantly, we’ve created a space where broadly privileged people can work in alliance with young people who from a different class background. It’s healthy to test your assumptions. Where else can you do that?
I’m suddenly reminded of a moment from around 2009 where myself and a young man from Live went up to 10 Downing St to attend a reception. The young man was as impressive as he always is and gave a speech to the great and the good and their crystal decanters. A wealthy-looking lady came up afterwards. “Oh that was wonderful!” she said. “Are there more like you?”
The answer, lady, is yes. There are.