somewhereto_ re:store (the high street heist) - a UK-wide empty shop takeover

What do you visualise when I say 'local high street'? Sadly for many, like myself (who instantly thinks of the sorry sight that is my local East Ham high street), there is the image of empty, closed down shops, littered in between rows of betting shops, £1/99p stores, a sprinkle of chicken and chip 'eateries', and the odd powerhouse high street chain (thank you McDonald's, Starbucks, Primark etc for bringing a bit of 'glamour' to dying high streets).

Do we not want better for our local high street? Whilst generation 'next' moves in masses towards online shopping, bar the convenience of not having to stroll down the road, does one not feel any sense of despondency in the knowledge that one in five shops could close by 2018? Please tell me Sam's Chicken and Paddy Power isn't as good as it gets...

The latest campaign I'm working on is trying to change this woeful picture. Since 18 July, somewhereto_ re:store (the high street heist) has been taking over empty shops UK-wide alongside young people, bringing creative and entrepreneurial activity back to the high street. It kicked off in south London, Elephant and Castle, with an empty shop on East Street Market opening it's doors to music performances, stalls and live art by young talented locals. All the whilst campaign representative Theo Paphitis (former Dragon's Den judge) waltzed around the capital singing the #highstreetheist tune. Here's the vid highlights:

The somewhereto_ re:store campaign then marched to Manchester's Corn Exchange on 25 July, where former Pop Idol runner-up Gareth Gates, and a host of the city's young talented creatives took over an empty shop for a day of music, theatre, fashion showcases and more. And it's not just one-off days; London, Manchester, as well as Glasgow, Bangor (Northern Ireland), Cardiff, Newcastle and other parts of the UK will see local high streets get the somewhereto_ re:store treatment week by week until the close of summer.

Will this have a lasting, long term impact? One can only see, though the signs are good as young people and their communities are rallying together, reinvigorating otherwise dull, uninspiring high streets; united in a win/win situation that sees our two biggest economic assets - young people and space - put to good use. A much easier question to answer is - is this needed? Undoubtedly. If 'Closed Down' is a sign of the times, then let's think outside the box about empty shop spaces and invite young people and somewhereto_ re:store to lift the shutters and proudly leave a #highstreetheist tag for everyone to see.

Want to know more and get involved? Check out the campaign trailer below and visit somewhereto.com/restore

somewhereto_ re:store (the high street heist) is run by somewhereto_ - the UK-wide service funded by the Big Lottery Fund, helping young people access space for FREE.


Livity Advantage - Paving the Digital Apprentice Way

Last year I had the privilege of helping young apprentices from Livity Advantage respond to a digital brief from Penguin Books. Check it out below:
I'm happy to say the young team blew Penguin (and myself) away (see the highlights below), and are just beginning their 12-month placements with big-name employers; over this period will complete their marketing apprenticeships, putting their new skills and Google insight into practice.

The Livity Advantage Programme

 Livity Advantage is an exclusive pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programme, in partnership with Google to equip young people (non-graduates from an opportunity-poor background) with highly sought-after digital skills and industry expertise. The ‘Advantagers’ are given access to exclusive Google tools, Google tutorials and leading marketing and advertising sector guest speakers and mentors..

Follow their journey on Twitter, blogspot and Google Plus.


Interview with The Intern author Dillon Khan

An interview I did with the Spinebreakers last year, grilling all-round cool dude, The Intern author Dillon Khan:


Blog for The Independent: From London to Rio with Adam Deacon, TriN3rgy and somewhereto_

This blog can also be read on The Independent website here.

‘Life-changing’ is a term thrown about all too easily I think. A friend of mine once called his discovery of Guarana as ‘life-changing’. Granted, the drink is moreish but take the story of three young friends from London going from dancing pals in the playground to a standing ovation in the Olympic Park, before flying off to Rio de Janeiro to star in their own short film directed by Anuvahood’s BAFTA Rising Star winner Adam Deacon – I reckon their summary of ‘It was life-changing’ resonates a bit more than a can of Guarana.

Francis Ngahu, Troy Cameron-Eastman and Krrishna Sivakumaran (all aged 17) entered the somewhereto_ show off the back of a nationwide talent competition back in June. Going by the alias TriN3rgy, they had impressed already with their handheld camera entry, though were up against some stiff competition including musicians, circus performers, BMX riders, free runners, martial artists, fashionistas and even a guy doing lovely motorbike sound effects with his mouth – all with a keen eye on the prize; one of 10 performance slots at the Olympic Park, and one overall winner to get that spectacular Rio trip with Adam Deacon and starring role in the short film.

I travelled from London to Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff with somewhereto_, capturing the best (and at times weirdest) of young talent the UK had to offer. I play guitar myself, but never had the confidence (or sufficient talent) to perform anywhere beyond my bedroom, so already – credit was due.

Then came the huff, puff and scratch of the head challenge of whittling the hundreds down to a final 10 for the Olympic Park – and of course, TriN3rgy were in there. On the day I recall meeting them for the first time, all three of them nonchalantly stretching, body popping and flipping behind the Bandstand stage, and all already extremely appreciative and wearing champion badges. “We’re just so excited to be here. We’re in the final 10, there’s hundreds of people waiting to see us – so Rio or no Rio, we already feel like winners” – humble sentiments by Krrishna before setting the stage alight with Troy and Francis, and as the story goes – winning the competition, hand picked by head judge Adam who said, “I watched them perform, and thought their style and moves would definitely look sick with the Rio backdrops.”

On to Rio, and I somehow managed to get a seat on the plane for my own life-changer, six days working alongside the crew and TriN3rgy; who danced with trademark woolly hats and masks in 30 degree heat on Copacabana Beach, through an old school Copacabana market and Rocinha favela, down the Selaron Staircase, and opposite the iconic Christ the Redeemer. “It was special from the moment we flew over Rio and saw all the lights…” said Troy, “I can’t choose a favourite location; the whole experience has just been out of this world for us” added Francis.

Also basking in the ambiance was Adam: “City of God is one of my all-time favourite movies. To be here where that was filmed, with TriN3rgy and somewhereto_ doing our own film, I’m just as happy and excited to get tRio out there.” Meanwhile, I was flooding somewhereto_ Twitter and Facebook with everything I could grab a snapshot of – from the stunning scenery to TriN3rgy’s moves (simultaneously plotting my return ticket to Rio. Bring on the World cup 2014).

Back in London, and tRio (which you can now watch below!) had its premiere screening at the Brazilian Embassy (with the added bonus of Guarana on the menu), provoking a rapturous applause for TriN3rgy. I expected nothing less. “Watching it, I don’t think things will ever be the same. This spells a new chapter for us,” said Krrishna who with TriN3rgy, are now on the cusp of booking further dance shows in 2013. 
somewhereto_ is all about changing young people’s lives, and I’ve seen hundreds over my 16 months on the project who have found the space and channels they need to turn their ideas, skills and passions into outstanding actions, in turn formulating positive changes for their future. With TriN3rgy and the rest in mind, ‘life-changing’ may be a term I’m not sick of just yet.

Blog for Huffington Post: Taking Young UK Talent From London to Rio With somewhereto_

This blog can also be read on the Huff Post website here.

I can safely say my first year with somewhereto_ has been a hectic one. I joined the team just over a year ago under the presumption that the nationwide Cultural Olympiad legacy project that 'unlocks spaces for young people to do the things they love' merely involved getting future Justin Biebers into studios, future Wayne Rooneys onto football pitches, future Fearne Cottons on the air waves and future Damien Hirsts into exhibition halls (you get the point!). How very wrong I was.

somewhereto_ is all about that - and much more. Thousands have practiced and showcased their skills and passions through the thousands of spaces somewhereto_ has provided (and all for free no less), but highlights from my year have seen 'thinking way outside the box' occasions, each one illustrating what creative talent we can develop with young people if we open our minds with them just that bit further. Getting spoken word poets, free runners and boxers showcased in 10 Downing Street, animators with their work screened on the BT Tower's giant LED screens, and a dance crew performing at the Eden Project are pure somewhereto_ examples of how 'unconventional' can equal innovation.
This brings me to the latest instalment of somewhereto_ magic moments, as in October I flew to Rio de Janeiro with young dance crew TriN3rgy, who through a somewhereto_ nationwide talent competition, won a trip of a lifetime and chance to star in a short film directed by Anuvahood's BAFTA Rising Star winner Adam Deacon. The film called 'tRio', which features Francis Ngahu, Troy Cameron-Eastman and Krrishna Sivakumaran (all aged 17) showing off their moves on Copacabana Beach and a local Copacabana market, through the Rocinha favela, sliding down the Selaron Staircase, and opposite the iconic Christ the Redeemer, can now be watched below!
 "The whole experience has changed our lives. A year ago we were just three friends dancing in school shows. We've now been to Rio and starred in this film which we'll be proud of forever," said Krrishna. Francis added, "Every location was unbelievable, I'm still dreaming of Rio" whilst Troy stated, "It was special from the moment we flew over the city and saw all the lights. I'll never forget it."
Adam Deacon, who may be more used to working with professional actors than three boys with no acting experience, was full of praise: "TriN3rgy were amazing, always full of energy despite the 30 degree heat every day, and even brought their own ideas to the table. They were great to work with, the tRio looks sick, and I just hope everyone enjoys it."
Another chapter from the world of somewhereto_ comes to a close, but expect much more success stories_, especially as the project has recently been given £7million by Big Lottery Fund (BIG) to support the expansion of somewhereto_ over the next four years.

Interview with dance trio TriN3rgy on Rio's Escadaria SelarĂ³n (SelarĂ³n Staircase)

Grabbing a moment on Rio's famous staircase to interview the stars of 'tRio'.
Watch below to see the final cut of the somewhereto_ film directed by Mr Adam Deacon!

The full story is here.


Outlook Festival 2012: A New Outlook On Festival Life

Often prescribed to the average raver at heart as the medicine to rejuvenate a lacklustre summer, Outlook Festival , despite pouring rain and muddy hills, did provide soothing, relentless and just what the doctor ordered filthy drum n bass, jungle, break beat, reggae and dubstep for the soul! … so much so that the muddy patch on my fallen ass and gash on my knee (consequences of trying to skid down a muddy hill) just didn’t matter after 21 hours (more or less, stamina depending) of uninterrupted, unadulterated skanking.

I lasted a respectable 20 hours, which started when I arrived from Pula airport on Saturday September 1 and headed straight to meet my lads at the festival site for the Black Butter boat party with the Rudimental boys and John Newman. I partied hard (having to play catch up missing the first two days of the festival) with Rudimental producer Amir Amor for three solid hours who said, after seeing a packed boat go mental for their set (rounding off with UK Number 1 summer anthem ‘Feel The Love’ ) that Outlook was “up there with the very best festivals”. 48 other rocking boat parties were up for grabs, and with too many to cover, quick shout outs go to Outlook boat party sessions by True Tiger, Rinse FM, Broken Beat Assault and the Jamaica Party (celebrating 50 years of Jamaican independence) which will be reminisced over for many a year, or at least until Outlook Festival 2013′s next raves on the waves.

Next stop, the fort. Amazing to look at, even better to dance like a madman in, with acoustics and an atmosphere that are attractions in their own right (and where Dimensions Festival goers following Outlook come down especially to for techno and electro treats). Rooms from the ‘Dungeon’ to the cylindrical bass funnel ‘Ballroom’ were filled to the brim with back to back heart pumping sets, and for me it was a couple of hours of Mungos Hifi’s dub-reggae onslaught that truly settled the score – Outlook had become my official new summer festival home.

In between all of this, one might overlook Outlook’s other appetisers; a chill out tent for the laid back faithful (and bodies in recovery/reboot mode), a campsite which was typically dirty (we all have festival toilet horror stories so no need to divulge here) but unexpectedly offered pockets of mini-raves and much more of a lively community than others I’ve encountered (just ask young ex-farmer Rupert who quit the harvest life but won the award for friendliest Outlooker after buying us a beer and asking if we’d like to rave with him after holding his space in a cash point line), and lets not forget Pula town – down the road if you want a little break from the festival life, with a few local Croatian sites and munch that beats the traditional stomach ache slop on the festival menu. Then you’ve got the surrounding beach, which also has parties and break out sessions throughout. I managed to catch snippets of all the above. In fact the last memory I have of Outlook is watching the sunrise on the beach at my 20th hour with the last ravers standing; a couple of thousand of them, killing any sense of intimacy – but who really cared at 7am in the morning?

 I’m missing a large chunk in my review of the festival here, and that’s the remaining stages and harbour, all stocked with more DJ goodness – hours upon hours of Skream, Congo Natty, Goldie, Andy C, the Newham Generals and more which kept me and my fellow raving buddies moving from nightfall to sunrise. Oh yes, the withdrawal symptoms have been dire.

 I hope you enjoyed the highlights and my Outlook experience may just give you a new outlook on festival life. This Dj buffet caters for the rave up purists to the V Festival/Hackney Weekend regulars looking for that extra punch. So if that’s you, I will have to question why Croatia is not in your diary for summer 2013.

Photos: Tekla Balfour 
Illustration: Tom Pritchard

This review was also published in Live Magazine