After the fantastic lectures on Social Innovation and Women, the Better Lives lecture series concluded last week with the final instalment focusing on the topic of Youth. The evening included spoken word performances from Malik-Sankara Mfalme and Cecilia Knapp as well as presentations from Katy Dawe – Founder and Creative Director of Art Against Knives and Turly Humphreys – Owner of Circle Collective.

Q&A with Claire Swift, Katy Dawe, Malik-Sankara Mfalme, Cecilia Knapp & Turly Humphreys

Q&A with Claire Swift, Katy Dawe, Malik-Sankara Mfalme, Cecilia Knapp & Turly Humphreys

Malik-Sankara, a student at the Guildhall school of music and drama, started off the evening with a fantastic spoken word performance which was followed by another spoken word piece from Cecilia Knapp, an alumni of the Camden Roundhouse’s poetry mentoring scheme.

Before her performance, Cecilia, who has featured on the BBC, spoke about her passion for spoken word, saying that one of the reasons she got into it was that she loved the idea of just getting up on stage and performing her work. She said she felt that this was one of the most immediate and authentic expressions of creativity:

When you write and perform in your own voice, it gives you a licence to share a story that doesn’t necessarily have to be remarkable but means something to you – it’s empowering and it breeds passion. I think it is important to do something creative in our everyday lives. Performing what we write can be cathartic and it is important for young people to have ownership over something so that they can engage with the world around them.

Following on from Cecilia’s powerful words was Katy Dawe, Founder and Creative Director of Art Against Knives, a London- based social enterprise that works with at-risk young people affected by knife crime and facilitates creative opportunities to help them secure employment, education or training.


Katy started Art Against Knives in response to the unprovoked stabbing of her best friend and fellow Central St Martin’s student, Oliver Hemsley in 2008, leaving him wheelchair bound. The charity began its life as an exhibition, put on by her and her friends, to raise money and awareness a year after he was attacked. There was massive support from some of the biggest names in art and fashion with work donated by Tracey Emin, Rankin, Antony Gormley, Tim Walker, Christopher Kane, and Banksy, amongst others.

Our audience were talking about an issue that they perhaps were not engaged with before – Katy Dawe

This huge success of the exhibition opened a dialogue and created a genuine purpose for Art Against Knives and Katy’s reaction was to listen to the communities worst affected by violent culture, understand the root causes, and channel these learnings into action.

During her presentation, Katy talked about a series of projects that the enterprise created in order to support young people in a way that would foster long-lasting change. One of the projects, ‘Design and Make’ is a collaboration with LCF which uses fashion and retail to empower young people and another, ‘Dollis Dolls’ aims to support young women by providing them with positive role models from their communities, as well as creating a safe space.

We are innovative without trying to reinvent. We listen to young people to do things that they like – Katy Dawe

Malik, Cecilia and Katy pose after the evening lecture.

Malik, Cecilia and Katy pose after the evening lecture.

Turly Humphreys, owner of Circle Collective, rounded off the talks with a presentation on the work that she does helping unemployed young people acquire and develop the workplace skills, confidence, positive mindset and self-discipline needed to secure life-changing permanent employment.  Her presentation included a video that highlighted the stereotypes attributed to young people in terms of employment.

Turly also spoke about a number of projects aimed at helping young people gain transferable skills, highlighting a project where the young people work with year 2, LCF students doing market research to support the shop run by the collective.

Our young people need more encouragement and support – the system needs to change – Turly Humphreys

The evening closed with a panel discussion lead by Dr. Sams and Claire Swift, Head of Social responsibility at LCF. The panel discussed ways in which engagement with young people can be improved, and the power of creativity in empowering young people. Malik suggested that if a young person wants to change, they will find a positive route:

Having a creative platform is important. Platforms like spoken word can move people forward. My environment cultivated me to push forward.

Another theme raised during the discussion and throughout the night was social media. Katy said that a lot of their service-users are self-referred and that 90% of their content is shared by young people. Whilst Malik suggested that young people used social media as a coping mechanism which should be tapped into.

Claire Swift concluded the lecture by saying:

It is important that voices are heard through all of these great projects.

The Better Lives lecture series for 2016 is presented in collaboration with the LCF Social Responsibility team, MA Fashion Futures and MA Fashion Media Practice and Criticism.