“A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.” ― Paulo Coelho
West Cumbria, on the North West coast of England is beautiful, attracting huge numbers of tourists every year. But like many regions it’s feeling the effects of a changing economic landscape, both nationally and locally. In a community that has traditionally relied upon only a handful of employers outside of the tourism industry, there is real need to introduce new ideas to the young people of the area – to extend their horizons and plant the seeds for careers that they may never have considered. This is why Canon’s Young People Programme (YPP) exists and has been inspiring children and young adults with the possibilities of creative futures since 2015. In West Cumbria, however, the students who took part in the YPP weren’t the only ones who learnt something new.
Canon Ambassador Clive Booth describes himself as, in turns, a graphic designer, photographer, filmmaker, writer and speaker. “I never thought teacher would be part of that,” he says. “I realised that, at the age of 53, there’s a whole new world for me. This other world of being involved in education.” Over five days, he and the team taught 400 children and young adults, aged 11-18. It was a world away from Clive’s high energy shoots with luxury brands for whom he travels all over the world.
“They stopped calling me ‘sir’ within the first five minutes, I became ‘Clive’”
Challenge number one was to step into the student’s world. This was their environment and a place they understand and feel safe. Each day Clive and the team had to quickly break the ice, giving the students confidence and permission to free themselves from the learning style they were used to. “It took a little while to break out of the school structure because we came in and blew it apart,” he explains. “We completely rearranged the classroom, put tables into a U shape, so that the students could sit on tables around me as I taught. I got them involved, up in front of each other and working as teams.” Even the very youngest students in Year 6 at Silloth Primary School had an insight into the basics of Adobe Spark with Phil Badham from Edgegain and the power of inclusive and persuasive language from Peter Thomas of the National Association for the Teaching of English. Clive was staggered by how much they soaked up – and how quickly. “I gave them a workshop about lighting. We talked about half light, warm and cold light. I even talked about chiaroscuro lighting, to ten-year olds! And the Rembrandt triangle! then I said ‘now, I’m going to give you one hour, and you collectively are going to come up with a communication about single use plastics’.” A single hour for youngsters to achieve such a thing sounds impossible, but actually, this breakneck speed combined with everything they had learnt meant that they were pretty accurately simulating of the skills, speed, collaboration and creativity that is required in a world class advertising agency.
“Within the hour they worked out the idea – to half cover a face with plastic – then worked with me to shoot the picture and then worked out the wording. And all the time they’re shouting out every five minutes ‘WE’VE GOT FIFTY-FIVE MINUTES LEFT... WE’VE GOT FIFTY MINUTES LEFT…’ And it came down to the last ten seconds before they actually finalised on the copy for the picture.”
This real-life approach is the beating heart of the work of the Ideas Foundation, who partnered with Canon to bring this project to West Cumbria. The charity, led by Managing Director Heather MacCrae, wants to see creative, tech and communications industries take a more diverse direction and works with them to deliver inspiring educational experiences to students who in their words “might not get a look in”.
“I was emotionally wrecked at the end of each day – in a really nice way”
They’d set themselves a structure that was intense – solid teaching with no breaks – so you might expect that Clive and the team would spend the evening in a darkened room, but this was only a fractional truth. “We’d finish and I’d go back to my room, sit down and fall asleep for half an hour! Then we’d all meet up and work out what we could improve on for the next day.” One evening, however, they were interrupted by Clive’s phone. He was astonished to see a message from a parent via Facebook thanking him for inspiring her daughter to think about a career in the creative industry. At the end of each day his students were asking questions, requesting visits to their next school and wanting advice on cameras. It was non-stop. “A student even wanted to change from asking for an Xbox for Christmas to a big Canon camera!”. This charge of energy from the students, just as their educators were winding down the day was just one delightful antiparallel that Clive discovered in his new role as an educator. Another was in how much he could learn from the students.
“Unfortunately, as we get older, we start to get blinkered in certain ways. I’m a perfectionist and I have a certain way of doing things. Young people haven’t necessarily developed any kind of barrier system or any kind of structure in their way of doing things. They have this incredible freedom and no inhibition.” He refers to the way in which his students were fearless in the way they expressed themselves. They showed genuine passion, excitement and enthusiasm. Without filter, without self-editing. “If you want to see real mindfulness, look at a child. Young people are totally in the moment.”
“Every human being is creative; everyone has that capability”
But it’s not just about showing young people alternative career paths, it’s giving them the gift of the arts that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. As Clive rightly points out, “the arts have always been a vehicle for people who are facing challenges, they give us a vehicle to express ourselves.” This is a gift, once given, that cannot be taken away. What began as a week of sharing his skills with these young people quickly became an exercise in mutual learning, respect and an innate understanding of the importance of giving young people faith in their futures. “What it proved to me was the unbelievable potential of young minds. It’s given me a glimpse into the possible and the legacy we leave individually and as a brand.
All the people who were involved found it an extraordinary week. I think for a lot of young people, they need to know they have freedom. Freedom of choice.
Through its Young People Programme, Canon equips students with the skills, tools and platforms they need to share their stories with the world and create new opportunities both for themselves and others, using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as its foundational framework. The West Cumbria YPP was held in partnership with Sellafield, the Ideas Foundation and the National Association of Teaching of English.