News / Opinion

How one social enterprise in Hackney is tackling diversity in the creative industry and the NEET issue all in one go


Isabel Farchy is founding director of Pitch It, a mentoring scheme for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping them get their break in the creative industry. Here, she writes about her frustration with the lack of diversity in the UK’s creative industries, and how education could help tackle this and the NEET crisis too.

The closure of Creative Access has highlighted, once again, the lack of diversity and the need for organisations supporting equality in the creative industries. In the UK, the sector is fast becoming a major export, contributing over £80bn a year to the economy.

Despite creative industry growth, a rising tide isn’t floating all boats. In London most notably, many boroughs with a flourishing creative economy have a high population of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET). The result is a creative industry that isn’t accessing the best talent and is beginning to lose its relevance to large portions of society. For an industry whose bread and butter is engaging the public, this is a worry. But perhaps more pertinently, since the cost of the UK’s NEET problem is in excess of £77 billion annually when including lost income and the impact of wage scarring, it is a missed opportunity: connecting these two communities would benefit both.

That’s where Pitch It comes in. We are a social enterprise supporting young people from lower socio-economic settings into careers in the creative industries through one-to-one mentoring. We recruit industry professionals looking to develop themselves and inspire young people, match them with talented 16-19 year olds and support a course of training and mentoring.

So why is the creative sector in the UK particularly non-diverse? One of the biggest problems is the education system. With their focus on passing exams, schools in the UK often fail to equip young people with the “soft skills” – like self-awareness, drive and confidence – that they need to thrive in this job market. Something I noticed firsthand working as a teacher.

On top of this, schools suffer from a real lack of awareness of the creative jobs market. As the fastest growing industry and the biggest graduate employer, the creative industries should be a focus for careers departments. A recent study by the OECD demonstrated that access to up-to-date career and labour market information has a major impact on social mobility. If pupils and parents know what pay you get for different jobs and about the proliferation of vacancies, they will be more likely to make choices that challenge their assumptions about the right job for “people like me”. But, with few clear signposted routes into creative employment, the industry can be off-putting to those for whom a lack of financial security means they’re less interested in taking what seems like a risky option.

Creative businesses also play their part in the problem. The industry recruits through networks; one job leads to another. But not knowing anyone who works in the area you want a job in means not understanding, for example, that in order to get into the film industry the best approach is to work as a runner.

It is also inherently unstructured which makes it hard to understand without knowing someone “on the inside”. Look at the fast-evolving jobs market, with new roles – influencer manager for example – constantly being created, and it becomes obvious why careers information in schools is often irrelevant.

And because networks are so important, reliance on skills like confidence and self awareness mean an inherent bias towards those familiar with the social context. So many of the young people who take part in Pitch It are painfully under practiced in this kind of thing and are at a huge disadvantage as a result. To take just one example, Elizabeth who we recently worked with, found it difficult holding a conversation and even making eye contact with new people. Her mentor, Lottie at Propercorn, did some really imaginative work which included setting up a series of interviews with fellow colleagues and helping Elizabeth prepare questions to ask them in advance.

Pitch It mentoring is designed to tackle inequality by helping young people develop their ability to build their own connections. We accept that it’s an industry that recruits through networks, and that’s not going to change. So we’re trying to equip our young people with the tools to make their own inroads into the creative world of work.

As well as developing young people, Pitch It is also about supporting mentors. We believe the relationship benefits both.

The idea was born during my time as a teacher. Teaching a class full of young people, supporting them to be interested in what you’re teaching as well as pass their exams, I learned a lot about managing people. At the time, I had friends who were either suffering bad managers or taking on management positions themselves without feeling equipped. With a marriage of theoretical training and practical work with young people, the Pitch It training course is designed as personal development for mentors. To find out more, sign up to our mailing list, “here”:

We’re still only just over a year old but we’re already working with some incredible partners. Iris, M&C Saatchi, Propercorn and Rapha are really behind the project. And we’ve had some amazing stories come out of the programme. In our first round of mentoring, Ameer met someone at the BBC who suggested he apply for an internship programme which he did. He’s now a full-time employee!

As many of our young people take the first steps in their careers, it’s clear our organisation is having an impact. The question is, should it fall to organisations outside the education system to help prepare young people for the future of work? And should the industry take more responsibility to open itself up?

On 24 January, Pitch It will be hosting a panel discussion, Social Mobility and Creativity in the UK. See here for more details and tickets.