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Trevor Nelson, Leona Lewis and Plan B prepare to give something back
Bringing Rihanna and Jay-Z to Hackney Marshes for a free concert in June is not enough, declares Ben Cooper.
Just as important, insists the controller of Radio 1 and 1Xtra, is the stations’ Academy, which aims to empower 10,000 young locals in the weeks before the Hackney Weekend.
A programme of masterclasses, Q&As and panel sessions featuring leading figures in a range of creative fields was unveiled today, with the ambition to both inspire and offer practical advice to some of the capital’s hardest to reach youngsters.
‘We want to take all those football posts out and create some magic,’ says Cooper of the Cultural Olympiad highlight, which will see some of the biggest names in music perform at a live festival in the shadow of the Olympic park.
‘But I don’t want us to be a spaceship from Planet Showbiz. It has to be more than that. That’s about the three weeks preceding Hackney… it’s about the Academy.’
I don’t want us to be a spaceship from Planet Showbiz. It has to be more than that.”
Ben Cooper Controller, Radio 1 & 1Xtra
The stations’ biggest ever social action and outreach programme will invite Hackney’s 16-19 year-olds to quiz the likes of Dizzee Rascal about how he made his mark in the music industry, Paloma Faith about fashion, Levi Roots about business and Bafta winning Adam Deacon about his burgeoning film career.
But it will also offer hands-on opportunities, whether workshops on scriptwriting for EastEnders, developing an app or designing a t-shirt or sessions on stand-up comedy, pitching for investment or getting published.
‘That’s the point of the Academy,’ says Piers Bradford, commissioning editor for Radio 1 and 1Xtra, ‘you get the star, but you also get the manager, producer, scriptwriter… We want to show that there are loads of different connected careers.’
The programme was developed after many months of talking to schools, colleges, youth organisations, the council and focus groups. ‘It’s not some crazy BBC plan,’ says Bradford. ‘It came from lots of time spent doing insight work – getting out and about speaking to young people.
‘We discovered that they are massively ambitious and driven – but that they want to know how to take that first step.’
Bradford accepts that the networks are ‘superserving’ Hackney. ‘It feels right to do something special for the local area in the run up to the Olympic Games,’ he tells Ariel, ‘but I hope the message will become more universal.’
Radio 1 and 1Xtra will duly broadcast a range of shows live from the Hackney Picturehouse, where the Academy will be based from June 1-22, while some of the work created by the young people will be showcased during the Hackney Weekend.
Videos and information – Ozwald Boateng’s top tips on taking a first step into fashion, say, or Jamal Edwards’ pointers on setting up a YouTube channel – will be posted online.
A BBC Three documentary, meanwhile, will see Leona Lewis, Plan B (both Hackney Weekend ambassadors) together with Labrinth return to their inner London schools.
Plan B, who goes back to the Pupil Referral Unit in Newham he attended as a teenager, will work with some of the 13-15 year olds towards a musical performance at the Hackney Weekend.
The rapper/soul singer considers his involvement as a way of giving something back.
‘It fills me with so much purpose going back to that school,’ he says. Having previously felt ‘ignored, like he didn’t have a voice’, he found direction at the unit.
‘I met a lot of positive people in that school; I might have been doing something more negative if it hadn’t been for them. So if me and Leona can spend half an hour with these kids, it could shape their whole lives.’
It’s about providing positive adult influences, he adds.
‘You’re not going to help by buying them a pair of trainers or a tv – it’s about spending time with them.’
Others who have signed up to give their time to the Academy – which will be funded by the BBC and run in collaboration with partners like the Hackney Empire and Rising Tide – include Lethal B, Rizzle Kicks, Fearne Cotton, Ashley Walters, Riz Ahmed, Gemma Cairney and Trevor Nelson.
1Xtra’s Nelson hopes it will open the young people’s eyes to careers they may not have considered.
‘I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do,’ he admits. ‘We want to show them that there are ten people who work behind the DJs – producers, researchers, engineers… They’ve got to come to the Academy and be open minded.’
At the same time, the youngsters need to be aware of the hard work that often goes hand in hand with creative success.
‘Life is accelerated for a lot of young people,’ believes Nelson. ‘They want it now… but the work ethic is massive and the kids really miss that part.’
Not that it should deter them from following their dreams, he continues.
‘It’s so much easier to work hard when it’s something you really like doing. Then you find it easy to pour your heart and soul in. Then it makes it easier to get up in the morning.’