Working at Real Ideas never has a dull day. We are an organisation that is difficult to describe and one that simply refuses to conform with many of the expectations of an organisation operating in the funded arts sector.
We are an Arts Council England Bridge organisation. We are also an NPO. However, at our heart, we are a social enterprise committed to positively disrupting the status quo and bringing about social change. We are passionate about finding solutions to social problems and creating and supporting real and lasting change for individuals, communities and organisations. It Is this CIC status that really supports our intention of placing inclusivity and relevance at the heart of every relationship we hold.
Our social enterprise constitution, and resulting editorial approach to choosing work, has forced us to think about relevance and inclusivity ever since we formed 15 years ago. We ensure all the work we do meets a ‘triple bottom line’ test of being good for people, planet and profit. It means that as well as the human and environmental considerations, we are also thinking about how the work is profitable and relevant to the current economic landscape which we explicitly seek to disrupt.
‘Lets Create’, as a strategy, really supports some of the principles that we have long held dear. Creating an investment principle that commits arts organisations to focus on their inclusivity and relevance, in turn, supports the adoption of approaches we try to live by such as co-production and collaboration.
For those of us with a background in the informal learning environment (20 years in open doors youth work for me) this investment principle is music to our ears. Meeting people in their creative sweet spot, spending some time finding out where they are, what they feel, what they would like to change in the world, whatever that is - works and is powerful. To have it enshrined as an investment principle brings additional credibility to the efforts we have made to embed this approach in the work we do.
We are fully aligned with the principle that Inclusion done well is the ‘smart’ thing and not just the ‘right’ thing to do from a business perspective. This message is relevant to every business sector and every element of our society. It has formed part of our narrative and is now something we now hold contracts to deliver business support in. Both in creative and non-creative arenas.
We also espouse the message that any step towards being more inclusive is a good one. We must be relevant to those who haven’t yet started on this journey. There is no point at which this work is ‘finished’ and being humble and aspirational about this is something we should all try to be.
Accepting our own point on the inclusion journey is important and as an organisation we have plenty still to do in this space. However, we have a good, live, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan with lots of measurable actions as well as broader values and intentions that we are going to work on over the coming months and years.
Crucially, it gives us a fantastic opportunity to bring the approaches we have used in our work with young people on contracts such as Gamechanger and Compass, and spread this methodology through our organisation and then the wider local creative economy.
Celebrating and supporting the development of creativity as a core transferable skill for the future of work – whatever that may be – has long been part of our practice and our narrative to young people and employers. Our approach is to continue to be curious about an individual until we have found a way to make this message relevant to them. To a greater extent, this is ‘the work’. We call it ‘finding the hook’ and it relies entirely on being as inclusive as possible.
Our long-standing commitment to co-producing our work with those who it is designed to benefit and understanding the needs of the group we are trying to support is the thing that has allowed us to keep our employment pathways work with young people relevant to them. It means that our inclusive intentions are backed up with high levels of retention and progression from our programmes of support for young unemployed people.
Our desire to meet young people at a place that is relevant to them and their contexts is our starting point for ensuring inclusivity. Our shared understanding of the myriad of challenges young people can face means they trust us and we celebrate them.
A recent example of this work in practice came from a superb group of young people referred to us by the local jobcentre. All were unemployed and living in Plymouth. Our team has become truly expert at building relationships with young people and ensuring that their creativity (whatever that is) is something that can be celebrated, developed, and applied to the world of work, regardless of the young person’s starting point or their aspirations.
The group engaged with our 6 week themed programme called Emerging Creatives. During this, they were encouraged to find an issue in the world they would like to try and solve and then they have to come up with a social enterprise business challenge as a way of solving it. They then must work the social enterprise concept up to the point they can pitch it to an audience of business representatives who then, in turn, give feedback.
During this whole process, our team worked with the young people to identify what is relevant to them and how that can be included in the process. The team highlights the transferable skills they are using (especially creativity) and supports them to articulate this while they apply for work.
This particular group went one step further. Such was their ambition and drive and the creativity they displayed, they delivered the proposed service (an online exhibition space and community) in minimum viable product format and curated and launched an online exhibition of young people’s work.
The peer learning and support from this environment was massive. The skills they developed during the 6 weeks were easy to identify and highlight due to the immediate, relevant, experiential nature of the activity. We then backed all this up by using digital badges to reward and highlight the achievements and skills demonstrated. This is another tool in our toolbox to make the experience relevant and useful to the individuals and presents them with a digital token that contains the language of the skills they have shown. These fabulous little credentials are practically useful for the young people. They can include them on their CVs and share them via the Linked In profiles they create during the programme.
The onward progression from this programme is currently 70 % Against a national average of around 50% and in addition to this, we have been able to recruit 2 of the young people to roles within Real Ideas. Our commitment to inclusive recruitment means we have been taking full advantage of Kickstart and supporting young people into our own and other organisations' kickstart roles.
We also recruit to casual (zero hours) roles, fully and explicitly articulating them as roles that would provide a degree of flexibility that would suit someone pursuing an alternative (less stable) career in creative or other freelance or start-up spheres. Both the Kickstart and the casual roles we offer come with access to our connect membership offer which enables the individuals to access career coaching and business support as a built-in feature of their employment.
This cohort was the latest in a long line of young people who have accessed our services. They have however done a superb job of reminding us that our practice is as enriched by the things we learn from them, as theirs is from their interaction with us.
As our membership as an organisation expands and includes more and more diverse voices, our challenge is to continually assess and work with our members - in dialogue - around the relevance of our work to them at different stages of their lives and journey. It is one we embrace.