Dear Your Majesty,
This was not actually ‘my’ Bafta speech, but an introduction I made, at Bafta, to an awe inspiring film project created and managed by Livity, you can read more about that, here.
I’ll never forget the day I arrived at Livity’s office to find a young man waiting on the doorstep who’d been released from Feltham that morning.
Unlike many of the 200 young people a month who find their way to Livity, he had no idea what he wanted to do, he’d just been promising himself he was going to do anything, and he knew that Livity would give him something to do.
Something To Do, such important, but underestimated, overlooked and misunderstood words.
Because in what we do, in what we make, we find the creative sparks
that light our interests, fuel our passions build our confidence, refine our skills and ultimately define our sense of purpose.
On the morning in question, we did of course, give him something to do, and because we are Livity, we gave give him something both creative and practical to do.
And it did spark an interest, he came to the office regularly until he had a permanent position on the magazine, and became a positive, creative influence on the other young people, and eventually he got a place at Jamie Olivers Fifteen.
But before he left us, one morning we came into the office to the sound of a 2 Step bassline. Before 9:30 he’d built a speaker stack, wired up his decks and short only of lights, smoke and a vodka and tonic had transformed the office into a dance floor.
I asked what he thought he was doing, he replied, he’d seen how hard every one was working and this might cheer them up.It did.
It was a very different way to be welcomed to work by him than how I’d met him, just a month or so before, but he’d found himself something to do that day, and even if it was a bit over enthusiastic, there’s no question it was an ambitious, creative, imaginative, thoughtful and purposeful thing to do.
And it’s a similar spark we tried to light in the young men who made tonight’s film, to ignite an interest that might propel them towards a passion that might help them create healthy, successful and happy futures for themselves, and for the rest of us.
And actually, if that means they all end up starting a disco in our office, I’ll be happy, we can work with that.
In fact, it is the stated ambition of this project a film making initiative, working with Young Offenders inside the Isis unit, to increase the chances of the young men who took part to connect with services like Livity on their release.
So whilst it is a creative endeavour, the idea is also indelibly locked into reducing recidivism, all the young people involved even received a qualification along the way.
Sadly, none of those young men who created Isis films, who wrote, edited and exec produced tonight’s feature presentation, can actually be here, because, like approximately 2000 other young people in the UK, tonight they are held in custody.
And as they remain in their cells, aware that we’re here tonight celebrating their achievement, and looking forward to the screening that will take place at Isis in a few weeks, it is all of our hope that the bridges we’ve created will also bring them to our office, whether it’s to create more film projects, turn the office into a rave, or just to find something To Do.
There are considered to be 12 Risk Factors associated with proven re-offending, that range from Substance Misuse to Living Arrangements, young people with up to 2 Risk Factors in place upon release tend to have a 30% chance of reoffending in year one, rising to an 80 – 90% chance if over 10 Risk Factors are in place.
The only heart-warming thing about this list is that it does mean that we, as a society, know the causes, and even the solutions to reducing offending rates.
It’s a logical, but also quite tragic list of apparently avoidable, sometimes circumstantial, always disproportionately associated with certain groups of young people, factors which contribute towards reoffending.
But, alongside this logical approach to reducing re-offending, we need to add a little magic.
Based on the logical facts around this project, and it’s chances of success, their were numerous barriers, to it’s progress. There was scepticism and criticism to overcome, and there were obvious and understandable logistical challenges along the way.
But, in light of the magic that happened, when the young people came together around the formation of a business, albeit a hypothetical one, and the creative process they collectively embarked on, and the profoundly rewarding feeling that only comes when you have something really great and creative to do, it looks like it might happen again, and what we’re about to see, may be the pilot for a much broader creative program. Depending on how much you whoop and applaud.
So even though the guys who made Getting Clean haven’t even seen the finished piece yet, they know we’re watching it tonight, and they’ll have their own screening soon, so tonight maybe we can all be proud for them.
And hope that soon some of their own pride in what they’ve achieved, propels them through the practical reality of risk factors, and helps them find their way to Livity, as an advance party for many others, proving that creativity can help overcome chaos and uncertainty and that inspiration can lead to ambition, and that having something of meaning and consequence, To Do, can create a powerful enough focus for another chance at life.
My Media World: Sam Conniff
Staff, 26 September 2012, 2:08pm
Sam Conniff, chairman and co-founder of Livity, started his media career as a club promoter, has experienced Yakuza death threats in Tokyo and spends his time dreaming that he is part of a Richard Curtis film with Rhys Ifans as his neighbour.
I have worked in the media since…
I was 21. As a club promoter I set up a media platform called Don’t Panic with some friends. It’s now a worldwide online creative community, content marketing firm and TV show.
I was attracted to this particular role because…
Don’t Panic began in my bedroom…so there wasn’t anywhere else to go. The booming 90s’ London club scene was an exciting, creative place, where we were part of bringing the first “brand partnerships” to clubs, festivals and Ibiza.
Not many people know that…
Gordon Brown dedicated a whole chapter of his book, ‘Everyday Hero’s’ to me and my business partner in Livity, championing our pioneering approach to using media techniques to address social change.
My worst experience in the media was…
Yakuza death threats in Tokyo clubland.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the media industry it’s…
That the world won’t stop if we do.
The best bit of media business I have been involved in was…
Setting up Live Magazine, the biggest youth-run magazine in the UK and South Africa. It is part training program, part multi platform publishing company and part life changing experience for the thousands of young people.
The one thing I can’t stand in media is…
The thought that infinite amounts of human endeavour, brain-power, problem solving intelligence and creative energy has gone into trying to create an emotional attachment between consumers and price comparison websites.
Outside of work I spend my time…
In a Richard Curtis film. I just got married to the Mexican love of my life, bought my first house and moved into a really lovely street where everyone knows each other. I keep expecting Rhys Ifans to stick his head out of next doors window.
If I could do it all over again I would…
Do it all again, only more.
The one event I would never miss is…
An opportunity to grab a brand by both ends and help it do something meaningful to benefit young people.
If money were no object I would…
Bet that we’d all be a lot better off.
The next 12 months will be…
Exactly what we make them.
If I ruled the media world I would…
Lead the media industry into a renaissance of creativity, positivity and social impact, transforming our sometimes shame faced world into a fantastic force for good.
If I could switch places with anyone in the media world it would be…
The 21-year-old editor of Live Magazine. The current editor, Celeste Houlker, is definitely one to watch.
An old friend asked me to do a reading at his wedding, actually it was his wife to be who asked me, he never would, and that was my challenge…
What do you read at wedding for someone you know very well, and you know very well that they are the least sentimental wedding reading type of person in creation?
I spent hours in shops leafing through books and evenings online looking at lyrics, pondering poetry and considering the classics, knowing none of this limp gaze into my eyes and talk about teddy bears growing old together jazz is going to fly, imagining my friend, one eyebrow raised, wry smirk, looking at me from the middle of the church, gently shaking his head…
But, undeterred from finding something that might, just might cut through his Boss suit of emotionally retarded armour I thought to myself, enough with soppy patrol, what this cynic needs is some logic in his love, and I googled the words ‘Einstein’ and ‘Love’.
What follows is the wedding reading I made for my friend.It’s entirely based on the truth, mainly, with some quotes and an account I found, that alleged to be historically, and scientifically accurate. I mashed them all together, an in so doing, I might have adapted the truth a tiny bit, but only in the name of Love.
So for anyone else, playing Best Man to a cheerful, but total, cynic, for whom the standard fare of Wedding Reading flower bleating won’t do, here is
The Relativity Of Love.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, in 1956 to be precise, a young yet ambitious scientist, keen to unravel the mysteries and meaning of life, addressed himself to Albert Einstein.
He addressed the great scientist at an assembly of the worlds greatest minds, who had been convened to try to answer some of the worlds greatest challenges.
Einstein smiled. And a very long minute passed before he replied.
And when he did, Einstein said;
“If A is succes, then you should say A = X + Y + Z. With X being hard work and Y being play”
The assembly was silent.
”Knowing when to keep your mouth shut” said Albert Einstein.
And in front of the greatest living brains on the planet, Einstein went on,
And Einstein completed his lesson in love with a simple, although not wholly scientific test;
He said, and don’t try this at home, “Put your hand on a stove for a minute and it seems like an hour.
Look at this poster, look at all the people, what a lovely reflection of the diverse population of this fantastic city this is.
Then look at the last man standing, on the right, the fellow on his own, a bit further away than the crowd than anyone else, and let your mind do the rest.
A very wise youth worker, running a very lonely voluntary little youth club on the prairie in the heart of a south London estate, once told me that everyone was racist, ‘even just a little bit’, he said, but even so, I was upset and offended, at first.
I was younger then, and so I huffed and puffed and told him some of my best friends were brown, etc, etc, and how could he say such things in front of his kids.
But he said the same thing to them too.
He, Fred, went on to say the best thing any of us can do, ever, is be aware, and be honest about it, when it creeps up on us, or within us, we have to admit it. And only then, can we really deal with it, challenge it and confront it, with just as much honesty, wherever we find it.
Uncomfortable, challenging, upsetting and honest. It was to this day one of the most useful bits of advice I’ve ever been given to deal with prejudice working with young people. When it comes to talking to young people honestly, you need to start from an honest place. And what Fred was getting at is that, honestly, prejudice runs so deep in our society, unless you acknowledge, accept and understand that the starting point is often (unfortunately) subtly prejudiced, it’s hard to move forward and to successfully tackle prejudice in turn, wherever you find it.
It’s a constant fight, in all walks of life, but arguably particularly so in advertising, where campaigns try so hard to reflect their (often multi ethnic) audiences. Sometimes it can seem as if every nuance of media and advertising could be accused of perpetuating an image of prejudice and it requires constant vigilance not to succumb to textbook stereotypes, whether your creating a Benetton blend of perfect inclusion, or if you’re trying to target, but not offend (or wet the bed in the process) any ethnic or minority group, I myself am of Mixed Follicle origin, or GME (Ginger Minority Ethnic) and don’t take kindly to being patronised when being sold too.
So, I’ve always tried to be aware of my own ingrained prejudices, be aware where they came from, and deal with them, but the other day, waiting for a train, I’m staring at one of the illustrated ads letting us know that our creaking transport system might look a bit busy during the Olympics, as part of the Get Ahead of The Games Campaign, and there’s a reflection of the beautiful and diverse make up of the London that I love, smiling faces, young, old, even I’m there, the Ginger Afro representing my genetic heritage, and then, on the far right, kind of in the distance, kind of menacing, my inner prejudice indicator goes off.
Is it because of all the news about surface to air rocket mounted luxury lifestyle apartments at the games, is it because of years of media imagery of terror threats being affiliated with turbans, is it because it’s a bit weird that pretty much the only face without a smile appears to be the gentleman in the distance in military green with comic book Bin Laden features staring malevolently at the tube station, is it a cultural oversight by the creative agency behind the campaign, is it unfair to pick on them and their probably genuine efforts to be representative, is it a bit incredible that at the point of signing off the illustration no one thought, “ello, ‘ello ‘ooo’s that mean eyed looking fella with the funny ‘at then?”, is it a joke from a cheeky junior illustrator that slipped through the net, is it offensively unfair or inappropriate of me to even bring it up, or is it just me, being a little bit racist!?
This poster has got nothing to do with racism really (although it’s not doing whatever it’s job is particularly well) and it’s not because the character is Asian that anyone reacts as they do when they spot him. It’s because he reflects the 21st century bogeyman image that’s been instituted by the media as an icon of fear. That and the fact he’s standing near a train station looking shifty.
As a last sanity check I spoke to Andre, Celeste and Robbie, three talented bright young Londoners who edit, design and produce Live Magazine, and are as media savvy, sharp and intelligent as the day is long.
Their initial response to the poster artwork was that it’s ‘positive, friendly, and doing a good job, making light of a bad situation’ all of which turned to laughter and genuine disbelief when I they spot the last man standing, on the right.
Three diverse young Londoners were unanimous that it was a ‘liberty, ludicrous’ and ‘a joke’ and they proposed different views as to how it happened to be there, from an illustrators own mischief to a sophisticated piece of graffiti, but none of them could believe it had been officially sanctioned.
My favourite theory to come from the group was Celeste’s who suggested it might be subliminal messaging, a subconscious public safety warning for people to stay aware for security threats, delivered in the style of Where’s Wally.
For more in depth explorations of the proposition that ‘everyone’s a little bit racist’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RovF1zsDoeM&feature=fvwrel