A New Angle: how Ideas Foundation connects school kids with creative careers

Started with a vision to upend the exclusive and nepotistic creative industry, the charity works with British teenagers to nurture skills and open up opportunities, and in turn, bring a broader range of ideas into the sector.

9 February 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. Each week we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.

This week we speak with Heather MacRae, managing director of Ideas Foundation, a charity which aims to “educate a new creative class” by connecting secondary school-age children with the industry. Started in 2000 by Robin Wight, the organisation says “you shouldn’t need to live in a particular postcode or wear the ‘right’ school tie” or know someone in the industry to start a creative career. It, therefore, works on connecting schools with agencies and practitioners with students, thereby nurturing untapped skills and opening opportunities to a wider pool of young people. Here, Heather explains its work in more detail, and how the industry can help its mission.

It’s Nice That: What is your mission, and what about the creative industry are you hoping to change?

Heather MacRae: Our mission is to bring creativity into the classroom. Many young people, whether from rural areas or inner-cities, aren’t aware of the creative industries or creative careers; they don’t realise, perhaps, that social media can be something other than communicating with their friends. We know that we can nurture great ideas and future creatives by bringing together students and the advertising, branding and communications sectors. The discipline and excitement of working on real-life briefs, supported by professionals, introduces them to the world of telling a story, thinking critically and producing a result. By return, we want industry professionals to be inspired by the bold and unfiltered ideas from young people.

INT: Tell us a bit about the background to the organisation, and what led to this point.

HM: The Ideas Foundation was started 20 years ago by Robin Wight, famous for his creative campaigns for 118118, BMW, Orange, and Warburton at WCRS, which is now Engine. Robin felt that the advertising world was missing out on young talent and was too full of people like him – Oxbridge, male, privileged. His aim was to give young people a taste of the industry and for companies such as Engine to open their doors to enable this. I met Robin when I led on widening participation initiatives for The Learning Trust, Hackney, when Hackney was a failing education authority and before it became such a creative hotspot. Starting in Hackney with no budget, we have now expanded to develop partnerships and programmes across the country with brands such as the BBC, Burberry, Nike, TikTok and agencies such as Engine, Ogilvy, and McCann, Manifest, Wavemaker, and others. Robin Wight was awarded a CBE in the 2020 Honours List for his work supporting diversity in the sector.

INT: What are the major challenges you’re facing, and why?

HM: As a charity, funding is a neverending challenge. Our immediate challenge is how to evolve our offer to schools that are struggling to redesign their curriculum because of Covid. Quite often, our programmes’ impact on students’ careers isn’t known for several years although we do try and keep track of our alumni. For example, Andrew Georgiou was part of a creative programme when he was 15 and now, at 22, he is global social and visual production lead at Unilever.

INT: How are you tackling these challenges?

HM: We are working closely with teacher associations such as the National Association for Teaching of English to align our hands-on projects with the curriculum. For example, working with Adam and EveDBB, we have created creative persuasion resources featuring adverts for John Lewis and Nike that teachers can download and use. Other material includes a digital storytelling kit created with Canon and with our Burberry Inspire partners. We have given out creativity kits to students in our partner schools and made digital content available.

Working with Engine, we have offered virtual work experience programmes via Zoom; and we are now working with TikTok to create microlearning resources for #learnonTiktok.

Ideas Foundation has an ongoing project with Disrupt Space and Global Academy to promote Black visual art. In October 2020 we organised a day with Year 12 students, artists represented by Disrupt Space and professional photographers working with Canon including Mabdulle. The students created digital stories about the artists that will eventually feature on digital media and outdoor advertising working with Global Media/Engine. To achieve this, we are now working with AR/VR firm Octagon Studio to co-create a virtual reality art gallery. We are also producing sets of digital training resources that cover topics such as personal branding, digital etiquette and business start-ups.

At Manchester College, we have an employability programme targeted at BTEC students with industry mentors providing real-life understanding and encouragement.

INT: How can the creative industry help your mission?

HM: Students respond to authentic briefs and insights from creative professionals who share their expertise and skills with students. We value mentors and industry professionals who support our creative supergroup – industry folk who cheerlead, challenge, and support our efforts to keep adapting our offer to students, teachers, and industry.

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent over a decade working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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