The early years
In 2001, Sam Conniff and Michelle Clothier set up Livity, a youth marketing agency with a socially responsible ethos. Alongside O2 and PlayStation, one of Livity’s first contracts was to help Lambeth’s Youth Service communicate more effectively to the young people in the borough. The solution: to engage young people within the borough to produce the communication piece themselves.
With money from a range of local partners and a handful of journalists helping out, Livity recruited a team of local young people to write the articles and take the photos. The early editions featured some classic LIVE pieces: including a diary of two young people who had to look after a ‘fake’ baby for the week (and failed), and a piece of investigative journalism into how high street employers reacted to the way young people dressed when they came in looking for a job.
Finding its feet
Soon the word got out, both among the young people and the media. Livity grew and LIVE grew with it. More young people wanted to be part of it: to interview their local crew or star in a fashion shoot. More journalists heard what was going on and wanted to help out. Local youth magazines were nothing new, but LIVE had something extra: an energy and vivacity that came straight from the raw passion and determination of the young people involved. Our teenage editorial team had Ms Dynamite and Dizzee Rascal on the cover before most broadhsheets knew what urban music was.
While the finger was naturally kept tight on the cultural pulse of south London, LIVE’s writers also never shied away from approcahing controversial subjects. Beyond all the cliché and hyperbole written about the terror of urban youths, there were stark realities. Some were teenage parents. Some did know schoolmates whose parents were crack addicted. Some did have friends who had been involved in teenage gang rape. Most were worried about the amount of guns and knives on their streets. By addressing these issues they were helping themselves and their peers understand and discuss how to deal with life as a young person in Lambeth, as unique as any other British young person’s experience but with its own extra special challenges.
Crucially, the magazine was (and still is) produced from within Livity’s offices in central Brixton. The working environment created by the Livity team seemed to bring the best out in the young people who came to the office. This has been one of the key factors in the magazine’s success and the reason why LIVE’s contributors learn so much from the experience of working alongside us. Almost as much as we learn from them.
By 2004, it was clear that LIVE had outgrown its original purpose. Lewisham Borough had shown an interest in the way the magazine reached an audience who were facing identical issues to the young people in their borough. LIVE doubled its distribution and the capacity and rose to 20,000 copies across south London, focused in Lambeth and Lewisham. LIVE also began its partnership with the Guardian/Observer group.
Most importantly, we realised that the young people working on the magazine were gaining a surprising amount of confidence, skills and ability through their experience with us. Either by working with mentor, going through three drafts of an article, or just learning how to behave in an office environment, we saw transformations happening.
The standard of journalism and design was also rising. LIVE had its first young graphic designer at the helm, in 19-year-old Zoe Adams. LIVE writers, under the editorship of Jordan Jarrett-Bryan and Cleo Soazandry, were interviewing the head of the youth BNP and covering controversial topics like homosexuality anmong the afro-carribean community, teenage gang rape, as well as crucial peer-led advice about drugs, STIs, contraception, and cautionary tales about crime.
Reaching capacity in terms of space and staff, we knew LIVE had to expand and access more funding. It was at that point LIVE ceased to be a Livity project and was incorporated as a not-for-profit company. Soon after we applied for a major grant from the European Social Fund, which we won. For the next two years, LIVE was to shift its emphasis towards delivering training and ‘outputs’ for this funding for a group of young people who were not in education, employment or training.
The aim of this grant was to help 24 young people who were not in education, employment or training to increase their confidence and get back on the ladder.
We recruited the team from across south London, and managed to attract an incredibly diverse group of young people, including refugees, single parents, ex-offenders, substance misusers and young people with disabilities. And among their number, and the challenges they faced, there emerged some of the most impressive, talented and inspirational young people we’ve ever worked with.
To hep deliver this programme, LIVE developed an accreditation system under the Open College Network, where units of NVQ-equivalent learning could be embedded within the activities young people were doing already. The curriculum covered graphic design, photography as well as music marketing and CV writing.
The ALG project came to an end in March 2007, with lots of successes and lessons to be learned. We had had to learn our LDAs and NEETs from our FMCGs and NDAs, and embed a more rigorous monitoring and administration into the magazine. But we also met and worked with some incredible young people who we’ll never forget, many of whom we are still working with on their next steps.
Shortly afterwards, LIVE employed a new educational officer and senior mentor in Emma Warren, who, aside from her considerable experience as a journalist and writer, came aboard to deliver the OCN accreditation, help the young people with their exit strategies and develop referrals from more ‘at-risk’ groups.
That’s the story so far. After 6 years building the project from scratch, we now feel we’ve learned how we need to do things and where we need to be going. 2007 will see the emergence of a comprehensive business plan and strategy for LIVE’s future. Watch this space…
For all the latest developments, check the news section of this site