An evening of anything but standard progress

Young Progress Makers is an afternoon of talks, workshops and performances at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm for Londoners aged between 18 and 25. It is organised by the Evening Standard and brings together inspirational speakers from across the capital to stimulate and inform people from all backgrounds who want to find solutions to the challenges facing young people in the city. King’s sent Masters student, Ottilie Thornhill, along to see what it was all about.

There is a general rule that I am bound by when I write for this blog, that I must not mention the thing that happened in June last year, or the thing that happened in January this year — I suppose because everybody else does and it makes the King’s blog site something of a safe haven for the politically burnt-out. That said, I am now in a difficult position because I really don’t know how write about the Evening Standard Young Progress Makers (ESYPM) event and not talk about them.

Hosted at the Roundhouse in January, the inaugural conference drew together the great and the good from politics, business and the arts to explore how to give the young people of London a better future.

Evening Standard Editor, Sarah Sands, opens the evening

Evening Standard Editor, Sarah Sands, opens the evening

Unfortunately for this piece, in hearing some incredibly inspiring stories and finding out what can be improved, at least half the speakers in the six hour event mentioned the things that must not be mentioned, in conjunction with youth unemployment, unaffordable housing, the never ending cycle of internships, low wages, the NHS crisis, the growing vocalism of intolerance and all the other ills that come with being documented as the ‘best educated, worst off generation ever’.

As an over-educated, underemployed young woman who now doesn’t want to cross the Atlantic without the contraceptive implant, what I had hoped for out of the ESYPM – indeed what I hope for in general – is for someone to find the solutions. In the moments when I’m not panicking about really identifying with the characters of the TV series Girls, I do see that there probably isn’t one magic cure and that nobody is going to lay everything out whilst making it seem like it was my idea. With this in mind the focus on creating opportunities was intriguing even if it came from an unexpected angle.

The overwhelming message of the day was that the young should look to entrepreneurship, and that London should look to the young. Brent Hoberman shared his story of founding lastminute.com with Baroness Lane Fox. Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman and Fabien Riggall of Secret Cinema both launched new initiatives to help the young. The Office Group announced a plan to provide office  space to businesses started by young entrepreneurs and Secret Cinema are mobilizing to do more community outreach with younger people.

Sometimes, when facing the crippling fear that post-2016 life can induce in the young, it is important to listen to something better. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, reaffirmed his vision for London as a place where hard work and a boost can help you get where you want to be, again taking his journey from council estate to City Hall as an example. Actress and activist Lily Cole stressed the importance of sustainability and discussed her online community Impossible People and technologist Alex Klein spoke of the power available in understanding how the technology around us is built and functions.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan speaks to the Evening Standard Young Progress Makers

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan speaks to the Evening Standard Young Progress Makers

Intercut with more than twenty other talks were blindingly good and all-too-brief offerings from poets including Young Laureate, Caleb Femi.

ESYMP1 Anita Barton-Williams

Anita Barton-Williams, poet and resident artist at the Roundhouse, wows the audience

Undeniably, the game has changed and for many, either we didn’t see it coming or weren’t in a position to act. However, bearing in mind the wider ills listed above, the stories of two women who have overcome mental illness and disadvantage with support from The Prince’s Trust to go on and found a digital business and a bakery were the first in what I hope will be a long line of small victories for the new generation. Celebrating them definitely deserves more space in print than Brexit or Trump.

Words: Ottilie Thornhill
Pictures: Ottilie Thornhill

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