Too Cool for school: the unique new scheme to help young people succeed
In September The Big Lottery broke new ground in Northern Ireland when it provided £500,000 in funding to Cool Choices, a unique training programme for young people not currently in education, employment and training.
The first cohort finished the programme just before Christmas and all nine have got placements as a result - including one on Game of Thrones and another, Sam McCreedy, a job at Cool, helping to train the next group of 18 who started at the station this week.
Such a new model could have positive consequences for all sorts of third sector organisations, should they be able to find suitable partners, especially in the foreseeable future when funding is likely to be at a premium.
The 15-week programme has at is centrepiece a five week intensive course at a specially built micro studio at Cool FM.
Students are taught a range of digital skills: they run their own blogs, learn editing skills, conduct interviews, make videos, write and sell advertising, prepare and learn broadcast and presenting skills. The climax of the programme is their own show broadcast on the station.
They also go out on Cool FM’s media bus touring areas in Northern Ireland with high youth unemployment.
David Corscadden, who manages the programme for Cool FM, said: "It is really full on and intensive. We’ve just got through the first cohort and the second is now just underway and it has been a fantastic experience for all of us, not just the students themselves but everyone on the station. It’s amazing to see the transformation from the first day as the talent emerges and team work sets in.
“Everyone at the station has really embraced the concept and all staff - broadcasters, production and commercial staff alike - there is a real buzz to it. I’m also absolutely delighted that we were able to appoint Sam McCreedy to the team after the course. She’s incredibly talented and will be a great asset, and after all, getting young people into work is what this course is all about.”
Sam applied for the programme after graduating in Design at the University of West England. She had to get up at 6am to travel from her home in Cookstown to Newtownards or Belfast for the programme which she says has been transformational.
“It was amazing; we got to do everything,” she said, “selling, making advertisements, presenting and doing that show was really something – it put us under pressure. And at the end of it all we’ve got fantastic experience to put on our CVs.”
She enjoyed the mix of students as well: she was one of two graduates, the rest of the students were younger and she found the different backgrounds of the people involved really helped to create energy and creativity.
Sam’s ultimate ambition is to set up her own fashion business and believes that the course has given her the confidence to live her dreams.
“Beforehand I was quite shy, but now I can walk into a room and talk to whoever – that’s a result of spending time with highly skilled professionals who have taught me a lot. The combination of experience and skills between Start360 and Cool FM was also really brilliant, we got so much help from both.”
Caoimhe Murray, Cool Choices Coordinator at Start360, is delighted with the progress to date and impressed with the level of interviewees that a station like Cool FM can attract for the students.
“There have been lots of highlights but one that sticks out is the Generator NI event in 'The Mac' Belfast when the young people put the presentation skills and interview techniques they learned at Cool FM into practice. They interviewed industry personalities such as X Factor finalist Janet Devlin and Tom Robinson from BBC 6 Music for their radio broadcast."
Caoimhe and David say that they have formed a really strong partnership since they started working together in September with the people and developmental skills of Start360 helping the youngsters to adjust to the fast-paced high octane environment of a busy commercial station.
David acknowledges that in the very early days when the partners were preparing their funding bid and getting to know each other there were challenges because of the very different cultures between private sector companies and charities. But these were relatively easy to iron out and the station has an appetite to do more work with the sector.
“We actually have a lot in common with Start360 because their clients are often our listeners and we do know a lot about young people: what gets them up in the morning, and also their worries and concerns.
“We’re also always on the look-out for new talent, for new ideas and to be as closely connected as we possibly can be to our listeners. Also we know how tough it is for young people these days – getting work, getting your voice heard, been given a chance and we wanted to do something to help.
“There is an incredible amount of talent out there, and our appointment of Sam to the programme is a perfect demonstration of that. We believe in young people and want to give them the chance to grow and develop, so working with Start360 has been a genuinely rewarding experience."
Cool FM are now talking to at least two other charities about future collaborations.
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