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Creative Access speak at the Westminster Media Forum

We thought you might want to read this amazing speech that the Creative Access Head of Business, Nigel Warner gave today (Tuesday 19th January) at the Westminster Media Forum event. Enjoy…

Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 16.51.48Another all-white shortlist at the Oscars. Another speech by a prominent black actor in the House of Commons “The Britain I come from is the most successful, diverse, multicultural country on the earth”, but you “wouldn’t know it if you turned on the TV”. That’s what Idris Elba said in parliament yesterday. It feels like we’ve been here before. Far too many times.

Three years ago, a group of people got together to try to do something in a small way to help. The producer and talent agent Michael Foster, someone with 30 years experience at the highest levels in the business, drove it. Together, we set up a charity called Creative Access.

With the sole aim of helping bright young people from black and Asian backgrounds get a start on a career in the media. The idea was that if we could bring in a substantial number – hundreds – of ambitious and talented young people then some of them would rise to the top and become the decision makers of the future.

Because, as Spike Lee said yesterday, The “Real” Battle is not at the Academy Awards, but in the executive offices where The Gate Keepers Decide What Gets Made”. In three years Creative Access has placed 500 BAME young people into properly paid internships with over 200 media companies. The internships last a minimum of 6 months – so they get a real foot in the door They come with a comprehensive package of training, mentoring and masterclasses. And we provide grants to companies to help them in taking people on. We place people in any one of 12 sectors including film, television, radio, newspapers, book publishing, theatre, music and advertising We work with over 200 media partners, from the BBC, ITV, Mentorn, HarperCollins, Random House, the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, the Times and the Daily Mail… Through to touring theatre companies, independent art galleries, PR and marketing agencies, academic publishers and digital start-ups.

Our interns are training as TV producers and researchers, editorial and post production assistants, journalists and marketeers, stage managers and theatre administrators, digital content producers and animators. Every imaginable entry-level position. We have a database now of over 7000 registered applicants. So don’t let anyone tell you that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are not interested in working in the media. Many of our candidates are graduates, but the majority of them are the first in their family to go to university. 40% of our applicants were eligible for free school meals (compared to 15% which is the national average). This is promoting socio economic as well as ethnic diversity. And the really good news.

The really good news, is that nearly 80% of Creative Access interns get a job at the end of their placement. Sometimes a permanent role, sometimes a freelance role. That’s the nature of the sector, as we all know.

If you’ll forgive me, I just wanted to read out an email I got yesterday from one of our alumni, a brilliant young bloke called Alex Browning. He said “Just thought I’d drop you a line to say ‘hi’ after bumping into you in the Hospital Club. “I’m freelancing now as a director/producer either working directly to agencies through my ltd company or as a sole director through production companies. “My friend Umar Hussain (assisted on my first ever short film) through Creative Access, hop skipped and jumped from marketing to production and now is a VFX Production Coordinator at Industrial Light And Magic and has spent the last year working on Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. He’s been signed on for Star Wars VIII. “My sister is now an Account Manager at Starworks she’s been promoted quite a few times after her initial internship at Dundas Communications via Creative Access. “We’re all keen to help if you ever need us to come and talk to the current interns about access and navigating the very important early stages.”

And that’s not an unusual story. Look at our website www.creativeaccess.org.uk. It’s peppered with comments from current and former interns who are making a real go of it in their chosen field. As a charity we’ve been very lucky. We’ve had the support of wonderful people like Dinah and Government Ministers who had the foresight to see that you need to attract the most talented people into the industry wherever they come from to make sure our creative sector continues to compete with the best in the world. The economic case for diversity is just as strong as the social one. And the companies we work with recognise that. I worked in government for about eight years. And the holy grail in policy terms is if you can link together economic incentives and good social outcomes. So we were delighted when Channel 4 published this time last year its 360 diversity charter. Because it said to all those coming to pitch programme ideas to Channel 4, you need to take action on diversity if you want a commission from us (I’m paraphrasing). Creative Access was referenced in the report. As soon as it was published, we were taking calls from independent producers as how that might recruit an intern through us to help them meet the new standards Channel 4 had set. The BFI has done something similar.

The more economic muscle we can put behind the drive for greater diversity the more successful we’ll be. It’s really not that complicated. Creative Access doesn’t recruit actors or performers. (at least not intentionally) So I can’t say we’re looking for the Oscar winners of the future in those categories. But we do have some aspiring directors, producers, writers, editors and animators who might one day be in contention. But even more importantly we’re bringing in some who might be gatekeepers. Might be the ones who “decide what gets made”. The most important decision of all.