CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - THE IDEAS FOUNDATION. Ideas Foundation drills for creativity in Hackney

The UK's education system fails to nurture our creative talent, Robin Wight claims.

Can you remember the first moment in your life when you realised you had the gift that ultimately led to your own career in advertising?

Did you have a "crystallising experience" as psychologists call it, or an "Aha moment" as I call it in a study I am doing about this moment of self-recognition among creative people.

So far the likes of Alan Yentob, Al Alvarez and Richard Wentworth, as well as stars in the media firmament such as John Hegarty, Nicholas Coleridge, David Puttnam and Michael Grade, have contributed to this investigation.

Indeed, it was my own moment of self-revelation aged 17, writing an essay on "colour", that ultimately triggered this project.

What if I, or you, hadn't received this support that validated that early evidence of some creative magic within us? And what if we hadn't found a creativity domain in which to practice this gift? What if you were born, for example, into a single parent, ethnic-minority family in an area such as Hackney?

Hackney is, in fact, the first place the Ideas Foundation will be launched to identify and then nourish the creativity of gifted young people whose talent may be overlooked by an exam-focused school system or a challenged family environment.

The concept is very simple - encouraged by the chairman of the Government's working group on curriculum reform, Mike Tomlinson, we plan this autumn to identify up to 50 creative scholars from 14- to 19-year-olds in Hackney (and if we make a success of the scheme in Hackney, we will then move on with a programme that eventually may identify a thousand creative scholars a year).

The creativity scholarship is intended to be much more than just the recognition of talent (although that remains important). It is essentially offering what we call "creativity mentoring", which will be a combination of work experience, work shadowing and more straightforward mentoring.

There will be a clear "output" provided by each of the creativity scholars, based on their experiences.

How is all this different from what's on offer at the moment?

Although there is no shortage of placement schemes and work experience opportunities for young people, there is a shortage of an integrated managed programme focusing on creatively gifted young people between 14 and 18.

Most work experience is pot luck - one day you could be sorting out old files and the next you could be doing something of interest and real value.

In most businesses I have contacted, the process is a well-meaning but haphazard one.

So, for the first creativity scholars, the Ideas Foundation is planning to work with everyone from the IPA, to D&AD, to organisations such as the BBC with substantial experience in creativity and managing young people.

The goal is to establish guidelines so that each of the companies offering creativity mentoring to the creativity scholars will have an agreed-in-advance programme for what the young people will do during their visit.

We aim to have a mentor manager who not only provides training for the mentoring companies and the creativity scholars, but also monitors the creativity scholars' progress on a daily basis.

At the end of each day, they will log on to our website and provide feedback.

Did something really useful happen today? Maybe it is an idea that can be shared with the other mentoring companies right away. Or was there a problem? Then it can be sorted out and not left to fester.

At the same time, each of the creativity scholars can use our website as a chatroom, where they share their experiences with each other, giving each other support and encouragement as they do so.

To our knowledge, nothing like this yet exists. But without the support of at least 50 businesses within the creative industries, such as advertising, it won't exist.

But it's not just out of corporate social responsibility that businesses should approach this - it's out of self-interest as well. How much talent is going to waste in Britain today? Even though all of us have thousands of people who may approach us every year, are there potentially talented people who never even get as far as that?

Look at our schools: it's now recognised that there may be eight or nine different "intelligences". Only three or four of these different intelligences are focused on in schools: linguistics, maths and logical intelligences are the core of the curriculum. However, there are other intelligences, including creativity, that are largely neglected.

And although well-resourced schools with supportive parents can nourish creative talent outside the academic system, in areas such as Hackney this happens less.

Hackney was described in 2002 as "the worst educational borough in Britain".

A young person with creative gifts in Hackney may only have the opportunity to express them via sport, music or crime.

Numerous studies show that outstanding creative people are often misfits and oddballs. And the way in which that talent is encouraged is crucial to its development.

As two of the leading academics in the field, Joseph Walters and Howard Gardner, have noted "the nature and extent of a crystallising experience appear closely related to the environment which a talented child is raised in".

Which explains that in an area such as Hackney, too much creativity is wasted by only being able to be articulated in areas such as crime (explaining why the average prison may contain more creative people than the average business).

Even worse, much of this creative talent is not even identified because of the educational and family environment in the first place.

This raises an exciting possibility, for although in many supportive environments creativity may well be nourished and come to the fore, areas such as Hackney may represent oil fields of creative talent just waiting to be discovered.

Wanted: people to help drill for creativity in Hackney.

Please contact our website,, if you'd like to be involved.


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