Increasing diversity in the workplace has well-documented benefits – from accessing new pools of creative talent, to gaining new perspectives that draw upon different life experience and backgrounds.
This is something that Accumulate: The Art School for the Homeless has long been passionate about harnessing. The school was created in 2013 and funded its first few workshops by making jam. Since that time it’s been behind the first radio station and first graphic novel created by the homeless and funded multiple scholarships for those affected by homelessness to attend university.
The school is now underway with its latest project, Creative Futures, whose purpose is to unite the UK’s creative industries with those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Accumulate participants are all people with experience of homelessness who have aspirations of entering creative industries. “Many of these people suffer from a range of issues which act as a barrier to employment,” says Accumulate founder Marice Cumber.
“Poor mental and physical health is common amongst homeless people – 73% of homeless people report physical health problems and 80% report some form of mental health condition. Other problems include substance misuse, poor education, lack of qualifications, experiences within the criminal justice system and being a victim of violent crime.”
Creative Futures is funded by Adobe and its primary role, says Cumber, is to break down the entry route barriers into getting work related opportunities in the creative industries. “This is a sector well-known for being highly network driven, educated, experience-led and hard to get into,” she says, adding, “this is even more poignant for Accumulate participants (as well as other ‘non-traditional’ groups) who may have the talent but lack the credentials to get any work related opportunity that the sector may offer.”
Aligned with the aim of Creative Futures is the fact that many of the UK’s creative industries want to recruit those from disadvantaged backgrounds but often struggle to engage and reach such “hard to reach” groups.
At a two-day workshop in London held in July the scheme’s participants took part in skills and employment workshops as well as networking opportunities with creative industry employers.
“At the planning stage we asked ourselves what would be the essentials needed to enter the creative industry that could be delivered in a two-day workshop,” Cumber says. “In order to do this, we honed in our focus on particular areas of the creative industry: design, branding, advertising, podcasting and content creation.”
Feedback from Accumulate participants was also essential to prevent assumptions and ensure the process was user-led. Suggestions included how to present themselves, how to talk about themselves and their work, as well as actually having the opportunity to meet people working in the creative industries.
Participants attended sessions on how to build an online portfolio, led by Accumulate trustee Tori Taiwo, as well as a portfolio review session with industry professionals present to offer participants advice and know-how on editing, curating a portfolio and how to talk about themselves and their work. There was also a photography station to capture hard copies of participants’ creative work to upload to their online portfolios.
Participants met people from Adobe, Audible, Design Bridge, Bulletproof, Wilderness, JKR, Portas Agency, Gem Creative Studio, Claire Cheung Design, and 20Something. “Every single participant was offered at least one work opportunity from these businesses,” says Cumber.
This ranged from in-house workshops to job shadowing and paid work experience placements: “Some were offered as many as five or six opportunities. There are plans for a follow-up event in January 2023.
“As a result of the social media activity around the event, Pink Banana studios contacted the school in advance and offered a paid opportunity as a production runner. Other opportunities include work shadowing on live projects with the Portas Agency and paid work experience with agencies such as Design Bridge and Bulletproof.”
While these opportunities are CV gold dust, Cumber says that the long-term gains are possibly life-changing: “This experience will help them gain confidence, help them believe that they do belong in this industry and experience what it is like to have people believe in them. It could just be this that pivots someone from being excluded into being part of the creative industries and also gaining longer term employment opportunities.”
Accumulate trustee and Creative Futures participant, Mitchell, says, “Even without the outcomes/opportunities it was a great way to learn how to present yourself and your work digitally and in person. These are things I have really struggled with so just the volume of people we spoke to meant I feel much more comfortable about it now.” He adds, “It helped me form an idea of my direction as an artist and I no longer panic so much when people ask to see my work.”
Student Crystal Alleyne got involved with Accumulate at the end of 2018. She says, “I was a live-in carer for someone for approximately 16 years, and I decided to leave my job as my life was not my own, I was both emotionally and physically drained.” She approached Barnet Council who arranged for her to live at North London YMCA. “I was at my lowest point,” she says.
Alleyne is now in her third year at Ravensbourne University doing a degree in graphic design. She recently participated in a two-week exchange programme in collaboration with the Obama Foundation, Vault 49 and Creative Lab: “We designed a decorative basketball vest and shorts for Jordan/Nike, which incorporated the basketball culture in London and Chicago,” Alleyne says, “and we presented to Tinker Hatfield and Howard White, to name a few.”
Alleyne’s plan after graduation next year is to work and gain experience with a design company and says “this opportunity came into my life when I was at my lowest point, as I did not know what life had in store for me.
“I looked forward to our workshops with excitement every week and I am extremely grateful for Accumulate as my life might have been entirely different. It helped me gain self-belief and self-esteem and I was able to look at life with a new set of eyes.”