Breaking into an arts and culture career can seem like a closed shop if you don’t know where to start.
Luckily, there are now all kinds of courses, projects and organisations right here in East London that can help.
Here’s our guide to loads of them…
Breaking into the creative sector can be an obstacle course of gatekept knowledge, financial challenges and inaccessibility. It can feel discouraging when you’re being nudged towards more ‘secure’ work…and downright tempting.
But amid all this, a burgeoning network of East London-based organisations have made it their mission to transform young people’s pathway into the creative industries.
Organisations such as Good Growth Hub are constructing alternative routes into the sector and segues for those with creative interests, but without the means to necessarily secure a creative career. Being alumna of their programme myself, I’ve seen first-hand how that support and continuous encouragement can revive one’s creative spark.
Oliver Benjamin is Director of Employment and Skills at A New Direction, the charity formed in 2008 that facilitates employment projects such as the Olympic Park-based Good Growth Hub. “The programme is a London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) initiative,” he tells us. “The question was: ‘What happens after 18, 19? What pathway is there for local young people into the cultural creative sector?’ So I started looking at alternative provisions.”
“A lot of young people struggle knowing what their passion is, especially post pandemic”
Now in its ninth cycle, their STEP [Shared Training and Employment Programme] is a 12-month paid traineeship in the creative and cultural sectors. 12 young people are paired with an employer of their choice, paid London Living Wage and given vital training throughout their placement.
Previous and current employers include BBC, UAL London College of Fashion and Bow Arts. The non-profit organisation also runs bi-weekly 1:1 career coaching sessions, and a freelance support programme.
Over in Walthamstow, Waltham Forest College is harnessing young creative talents, too. Deputy Head for Creative Industries, David Warburton, says the college is taking a different approach. “A lot of media courses are around TV and film production. Ours aren’t. We focus on 2D and 3D animation and using virtual reality headsets. It’s smart software and tech orientated.”
With courses such as Art & Design, Fashion and Media, students can gain a better understanding of their chosen niche. Industry professionals are often invited to Q&A sessions and students are required to complete 36 hours’ work experience relating to their course.
“A lot of young people struggle knowing what their passion is, especially post-pandemic,” says David. “I always say to students: forget the curriculum, forget the units, tell me what you’re passionate about. If that passion then matches with a course, we’re good to go.”
The college also offers courses for adults online and on campus, targeting people who have been out of education or work for a while, to get them more confident with the latest digital skills.
Working on a larger scale are international property company, Lendlease. Their work in Newham – particularly their involvement in the redevelopment of Stratford Cross – has reshaped the area from a site with a world of potential to a popular cultural destination.
“It’s been 11 years since the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and we’ve been involved since the very beginning,’ says Workplace Futures Lead Rachel Edwards.
“As a developer, our role is to foster the energy and culture of a place. At Stratford Cross, we do that by attracting creative industries and businesses, for an environment that supports collaboration and inspires visitors and residents to create and to innovate. Lendlease also plays an active role in creating opportunities and routes into creative industries for local people in Stratford,” says Rachel.
The company’s recent partnership with Inspire saw them encouraging students in Newham into STEAM activities and careers, while their Open City Accelerate partnership was established to offer mentors and project experience to young people interested in architecture, development and property.
“As well as Westfield and the neighbouring East Bank, Stratford Cross benefits from its proximity to Hackney Wick and the businesses that are clustering around Here East,” says Rachel. “The surrounding neighbourhoods are packed with everything from charities, to startups and world-leading organisations, which means creative opportunities for students go way beyond the classroom door.
Led by UCL, Lendlease’s latest partnership has them teaming up with UAL London College of Fashion, Loughborough University London, Here East, Plexal and LLDC to collaborate on the SHIFT Innovation district; a ‘testbed’ for urban systems, modern approaches and methods of improvement for cities, located in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park The partners expect to bring further training, programmes and employment opportunities to locals. “It’s been such an exciting journey for us to be part of Stratford’s evolution into the creative and cultural hub it is today,” says Rachel.
Set to open in the new year, Sadler’s Wells East’s roster of projects and opportunities are already looking promising: “It is vital to us that we’re part of the community in Stratford,” says Executive Director Britannia Morton.
“We want everyone to feel welcome in the new building, and are aiming for at least 50% of the roles created for Sadler’s Wells East to go to people who live or study in east London – particularly the boroughs that surround the Park: Newham, Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest.”
Sadler’s Wells is also a founding partner of the STEP programme, with three STEP interns currently working at their Islington theatre and more employment opportunities planned for the East Bank theatre.
“Supporting artists is at the heart of what we do, and Sadler’s Wells East will be home to a hip hop theatre academy ABC (Academy Breakin’ Convention), to develop the next generation of artists in that field,” says Britannia.
The intensive two-year course for 16–19-year-olds will offer practical training in performing arts and will cover all the artistic elements of hip hop theatre, including classes in breaking, popping and hip hop dance, as well as rap, DJing, beat-making, and graffiti. The opening of the new Rose Choreographic School will also help choreographers develop their ideas.
East Ed is the exciting careers and education programme on the Park for schools and young people in Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. The Park and the surrounding area is rich with cultural, creative, scientific and future-focused institutions and businesses.
The project is all about connecting schools, teachers and students to these unique opportunities and experiences, equipping young people with the skills and tools to shape their career journeys. Their annual East Summer School this year attracted over 350 young people, who took part in a range of unique learning experiences across tech, performance, fashion, design and more, delivered alongside extraordinary institutions and community organisations in and around the Park.
As part of National Careers week in March each year they host East Careers week, inviting schools from across East London to the Park to visit different industries, learn from industry experts and take part in a range of workshops.
“Work experience isn’t about making a cup of tea”
Nomadic contemporary circus company, Revel Puck had their beginning in East London, with most of their staff having studied at National Centre for Circus Arts in Shoreditch: “The creative voice of the company is informed by the environment within which we developed our practice,” says Artistic Director, Luke Hallgarten.
In an effort to bring the arts to all, the team explored ways to facilitate performance opportunities for fringe arts organisations and artists, whilst developing a wider scheme of engagement for local people which has led them across the UK: “Touring in this way means that we build the venue, the bar, we rig the whole show and we do all the site planning and health and safety around that, so that’s a real opportunity to offer development skills across a broad range of things.”
“I don’t believe in there being a linear pathway into the creative industries,” says Kaveh Rahnama, Programme Lead at Future Formed, a programme for 16–30-year-olds based in Waltham Forest and operating across seven boroughs. “My constant argument is if we’re training people to be freelancers, they need multiple and ongoing interventions and support. Not just; here’s some training. Tick! Off you go.”
The programme uses a 5-step system: creative engagement, (which involves free cultural visits to theatres and galleries, unpaid work experience), mentoring with an industry professional, industry-relevant training and paid placements.
“Work experience isn’t about making a cup of tea,” says Kaveh, “it’s much more hands on. I’ve helped people gain experience in various roles so that they feel in a position where they can survive and have a sustainable career as a freelance creative in whatever area they decide to go into. Some of the training would cost a grand or two, so we facilitate that for free.”
Westfield Stratford City is also rebooting their Future You careers event this October. Now in its third year, the event will be held across four days (19th-22nd) and offers a variety of events, workshops and activities for 12-24 years olds, including workshops in sports, social media, journalism, wellness, styling, music and DJing, as well as budgeting and influencer talks. Attendees will receive guidance on finding their first job and acquiring skills necessary for success.
As East London continues to produce native creatives and attract artists further afield, reassurance lies in the steady growing cluster of funds, trusts and organisations looking to invest in young creatives, helping them secure a career in the creative sector.
“I don’t pretend it’s easy”, says Oliver, “but I’m optimistic about where and how young people can contribute. It’s just it’s so obvious to me: invest in young people.”
Can talent, drive and a genuine desire for knowledge be nurtured and supported in today’s creative scene? Check out one of the above organisations and you’ll find out.
The Wick’s creative careers & student special continues here: