BRIT Trust Diaries: ELAM's Matt Sheldon on how embracing diversity can boost the creative economy

BRIT Trust Diaries: ELAM's Matt Sheldon on how embracing diversity can boost the creative economy

In the latest BRIT Trust Diaries blog, we focus on education and the untapped potential the creative industries could achieve by more fully embracing diversity, equity and inclusivity. 

ELAM, a college for 16-19 year olds, which prides itself on a groundbreaking approach that is seeing, for example, more female and non-binary students forge careers in games programming.   

Read on for key insights from Matt Sheldon, principal, East London Arts and Music (ELAM)...

Last year the All Party Political Group (APPG) for Creative Diversity launched their excellent Creative Majority report. Through meticulous research and analysis from their King's College research team, they detailed a road map for the UK’s creative industries to become more equitable, diverse and inclusive. As they put it, and with admiral understatement, “The UK’s creative economy has not made use of the diverse talent that exists in the UK.” The report is recommended reading. 

Then earlier this year, the Times Education Commission published their report after Rachel Sylvester and her team scoured the UK’s educational landscape for a year. Amongst other areas, they concluded that creative and industry-focused vocational education was crucial to unlocking the life chances of young people as well as to the UK economy. 

East London Arts and Music (ELAM) is a creative college for 16-19 year olds. We specialise in music, film and TV and games design and we have our sights firmly on addressing the problems highlighted in the above reports. 

At ELAM, our guiding organisational vision is for all children growing up in the UK to see themselves reflected in UK culture. This is not your average school’s vision. So why would we do this, and encourage others to do the same? We have this as our vision because if all children and young people did see themselves reflected in culture, their possibilities would exponentially increase. Put simply, more would believe they could “do it/be it” too. The consequent creative, societal and economic benefits would be huge. After all, is there anything that really defines the best of the UK more than its diversity and creativity? 

ELAM was founded in 2014 by a small group of founders - including Chase & Status’ Will Kennard - who recognised the huge potential of untapped UK talent. We were supported by the music industry - notably the BRIT Trust and Universal Music UK - from the start. 

Now, in 2022, we have alumni achieving Ivor Novellos, Grammys and BAFTAs. More importantly, we are also reimagining what creative vocational education can look, feel and sound like (see some of recent trainee work here). Despite the Covid-related challenges our alumni are increasingly succeeding in securing entry-level roles in the creative industries without needing to attend university and being laden with the attendant £50,000 of debt. 

Our alumni are connecting, collaborating and succeeding

Matt Sheldon

By baking inclusion and diversity into our guiding vision, we have ensured our strategy is to ensure we are both representative of London’s communities while seeking young people who are traditionally underrepresented in the creative industries. For example, part of our student recruitment strategy focused on increasing the number of women entering the gaming industry. We ran bespoke “girls in games” workshops in local East London schools, showing school children that their creative skills were valued and, equally importantly, there were excellent opportunities and jobs available for them. As a result 35% of our latest games design cohort are female or non-binary (this is against a current industry figure of 11% of games designers and 3% for coders being female) while 75% of our games design class are from racially minoritised backgrounds. This is just one example of how we are seeking, training and supporting the diverse talent pipeline the industry needs.  

ELAM is an inclusive school with lofty aims and high expectations. We have high numbers of young people who are in care, who have Educational Health Care Plans and in receipt of free school meals. All of our trainees take English and maths classes in addition to their ‘major’ - way beyond what any of their peers are doing in similar colleges - because we want them to not only access but thrive in the industry when they get there. We strive (and achieve) excellent academic results with nearly 70% of our trainees achieving a distinction in their UAL Extended Diplomas (equivalent of 3 A*s at A Level).

This model works. ELAM alumni are increasingly making noises in all the right ways. Just this summer artists such as Flo, Tendai, Sekou, Nia Smith, Ashley Singh, Chrissi, JClarke and Molly Rainsford have been in the music media and recognised as names we will hear more from. Other alumni are in industry roles at places such as 0207 Def Jam, EMI, Snapper Music, UTA, AEG, Island, News UK, Ridley Scott, Warner, Universal and the BPI. Meanwhile, a group of our recent film alumni just directed and shot the first ever feature-length documentary of East London’s iconic All Points East Festival. Our alumni are connecting, collaborating and succeeding. 

We invest heavily in our pastoral care, in world-class facilities and in our industry-facing team so that we can support, inspire and then connect our trainees to a life of creative and professional success. The BRIT Trust has helped us create our fantastic showpiece theatre and, when our trainees really needed help in the bleak heart of the pandemic, the Trust supported us so we could provide the mental health support they needed. 

Pastoral care, excellent equipment and supporting young people to make industry connections are all expensive. But, crucially, they make the difference between the negative cycle of under-representation and the virtuous cycle of success that inspires others to emulate. Continued support from the creative industries - from financial support, the provision of mentors and to the sponsorship of individual projects - is required to continually make this difference at ELAM. 

Please come and visit us to see for yourself, you will always be welcome and we hope that you will leave inspired!

To donate, get involved or find out more about ELAM contact Matt at Visit ELAM’s website here.


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