Farewell for now, Live Magazine

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.

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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.

Some observations:

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.

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I just made a documentary for BBC1Xtra about the new wave of young entrepreneurs coming up with creative responses to the recession, presented by Gemma Cairney. It’s going out tonight.

It was a real pleasure to be able to make this, and not just because I’ve discovered I love making radio. It was a pleasure because I know there’s a huge disconnect between what the mainstream thinks about the youth and what I know from my work as editorial mentor at Live Magazine. Most people are just fed stories of doom and violence, dispossession and laziness. We hear that exams are too easy, that school-leavers can’t read or write, that young people are addicted to their phones or to celebrity and that’s not to mention the constant hum of our obsession with the tiny minority of youth who get involved in criminal violence, who end up as inaccurate poster children for a whole generation. They’re not.

I see a different reality, of a generation – or perhaps more accurately a sector of a generation – who are incredibly motivated and capable. These are people who are spending their teens and easily twenties making their own jobs, setting up charities and social enterprises, starting businesses that will end up employing other young people, or otherwise just doing stuff that will help make them more employable. Enterprise these days, says one of my interviewees, Andre Campbell, isn’t all about The Apprentice. It’s just “a positive hustle”.

I interviewed some positive hustlers for my documentary, like Sam Harris who set up Pedal Power in Bristol, or Live Magazine editor Celeste Houlker who also runs 12th Estate, a social enterprise to support young women who want to set up their own businesses.

The only downside was that I couldn’t include more people, like Beejay Mulenga who I first met when he was 13 and was hurtling headlong into a world of enterprise with his Supa Tuck Shop company and charity Supa Inspire, or the Rianna Price from the supa dupa fly Run Dem Youngers or Shadrack Straker who dreamed up a business that would bring people together and would solve youth unemployment at the same time. He became one of the first Virgin Media Pioneers and has subsequently met Richard Branson on a number of occasions. There are thousands more like them all across the country and I think they’re great.

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