When we think of our favourite creative spots in London, Hackney is a place that will always spring to mind. It’s an area of London characterised by a gritty entrepreneurial spirit and populated by an inspiring mix of people. It’s no secret however, that for all its magic, and it has it in spades, Hackney is a unique and polarised place. The families of the people that began moving to Hackney for work 150 years ago still call the borough home and now live amongst a swell of young professionals, creatives and new independent businesses. Despite the brilliance of Hackney, the area has the second highest rate of child poverty in London and the skewed correlation between income and earnings makes it the city’s fifth least affordable borough.
What’s concerning here, is that as Hackney booms with creativity, strong communities may spring up, but existing ones can also be broken and pushed apart. Two years ago, our friends at UnLtd teamed up with UBS to found Hackney Connect, a programme created to give local people between 18-30 the cash and support needed to to create social ventures to make their communities more resilient. Since then, UnLtd has worked with these young entrepreneurs to make Hackney an even better place to live. From arts to employment, these are just a few of our favourite Hackney Connect heroes and their stories.
Art is for everyone
Sophie Thompson, much like ourselves, grew disenchanted with seeing the same groups of people at arts events, time after time. This lack of diversity and inclusion prompted her to found Hackney Arts. Using her experience of working in the arts and with a little help from Hackney Connect, Sophie became committed to broadening the reach of arts events across the borough.
‘A lot of inspiration came from Hackney’ she explains. ‘It’s place filled with talented people so I wanted to make sure that the thriving arts community reached everyone. The benefits should be shared by every community, no-one should be left behind.’
Hackney Arts, now established, uses income from workshops and expert-led excursions to organise free arts workshops for disadvantaged communities across the area, inviting and welcoming people from all over Hackney to take part.
Coffee vs. unemployment
For Eve Wagg the issue was unemployment. She wanted to help local people find work, specifically fulfilling careers that offered inspiration and security. Eve set up Well Grounded, a social venture matching speciality coffee shops with budding Baristas. The organisation provides thorough training, giving people the skills to thrive and move up in long-term employment.
‘Social equality is what it’s all about,’ explains Eve. ‘If you can provide someone with good employment there’s a tangible change in people’s lives and motivation. The benefits that come out of that can be really profound.’
The power of words
Young entrepreneur Reuben Braithwaite wanted to tackle the lack of confidence he saw in parts of his community. He set up LiveLoveTalent to nurture creativity in young people as a means of inspiring the bravery to face everyday obstacles. The social enterprise uses spoken word and music as a natural form of introspective therapy.
‘Spoken word is a really good medium to address social issues,’ explains founder Reuben Braithwaite, ‘If I call myself a musician or rapper I have to design all the other elements to accompany a song. With spoken word I can just get on stage and talk about what I want to talk about. I can inspire someone else in the audience with what I’m saying. It’s a powerful tool for activism.’
Fighting for affordable fitness
Ashwaad Uddin noticed the soaring costs of fitness classes, gyms sports centres and was keen to enable everyone in his borough to keep fit affordably. At the age of 11, Ashwaad fell in love with Muay Thai and decided to turn this passion into a venture that could help others. He set up Legends Muay Thai, which offers young people in Hackney affordable health and fitness. Where normal clubs would charge £10 a session, Ashwaad offers a varied pricing structure, from £2 to £7.
‘This has made me think about how else we can grow to meet the needs of the community,’ he says, ‘Our eyes have opened to where we could do more. We’ve realised there aren’t many youth activities and we could see more young people coming in because they have nowhere else to go. We really need a proper, fully-fledged youth centre locally.’
These are just a handful of success stories that have come about as a result the Hackney Connect programme. Discover a whole host of social enterprises that UnLtd have backed, and find out more about the impact of the programme, on the brand new Hackney Connect site.