Inspiring work of Norwich-based Culture Works East is helping young people in a tough climate

An arts organisation working with young people across the East is more in demand than ever as prospects for young people get more and more difficult.

Culture Works East, based in Norwich, aims to use the creative talents of the region's hard-to-reach youngsters to help them into training and employment.

But despite high unemployment and an increasingly bleak outlook for the country's youths, the company is notching up an enviable success rate which has seen young people turn their lives around, find jobs, and gain places on art degrees.

Director Elli Chapman said: 'We believe every young person should have the opportunity to discover and unlock their hidden talents and potential.'

The organisation, which was set up by former hard-to-reach youngster Miss Chapman three years ago, runs a variety of workshops and courses centred around music, art, drama and dance.

They aim to inspire participants who often struggle to get enthusiastic about school, learning and future prospects.

Culture Works East caters for anyone aged eight up to 25 but has a strong focus on 13 to 25-year-olds who fall into the 'hard-to-reach' category.

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Some may simply struggle because being a teenager is tough, while others may be young offenders, young parents, Travellers, asylum seekers or have special needs.

Miss Chapman, a 34-year-old who left school without any GCSEs and had her first child at the age of 16, said she knew first-hand how inspirational the arts could be to youngsters in that position.

'You name it, if a teacher told you not to do it, I think I probably did it,' she said.

'I was very lucky that somebody offered me an opportunity to volunteer in the arts. It all spiralled from there. The creative industry is a great place for square pegs in round holes.'

The courses range from workshops on graffiti and animation to projects creating charity music albums and covering music festivals as reporters.

The young people are guaranteed a lot of fun, but Culture Works East believes it can lead to much greater things and put them on the path to a career in the creative industry.

'People who haven't had a conventional route through education and life have very strong entrepreneurial skills,' said mother-of-two Miss Chapman, who has previously worked for Creative Arts East.

'They have life experience, they are very street wise. There is a level of determination because of the lives they have had to live.

'We see it all the time – young people developing their entrepreneurship because of their creativity. That's very in vogue at the moment, but we have been doing it for a long time.'

As prospects for young people get more and more bleak – youth unemployment stands at 1.04m nationally – the need to support people not in education, employment or training (NEET) is becoming more and more important.

Culture Works East, based at the Open Youth Venue on Bank Plain, Norwich, offers public workshops and courses during school holidays which, for a small fee, can be attended by any young person.

And it also runs programmes for youngsters funded by other organisations for people referred to the service by their social workers, schools or others.

Both types have seen an increase in demand.

Miss Chapman said: 'We're definitely noticing an increase in the number of people wanting to do our courses. I've got a course running at the moment I could have filled three times over.

'Anyone working with NEETs will know that can be very difficult.'

But although times are tough, the group is continuing to see positive results.

Its last programme, which saw 12 young YMCA residents from Norfolk create a charity album from scratch, saw everyone progress on to either full-time college courses, further training, apprenticeship programmes or jobs in retail.

Culture Works East has also seen four of its young people go on to gain places to study at Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA).

Lee Horide, who lives in Norwich city centre, has taken part in photography, film and heritage projects with the group.

He said he picked up a number of professional skills including researching, document handling and archive skills and now has a level two arts award – all of which have helped him get a job.

The 21-year-old added: 'I have also volunteered as part of their projects, including with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival, which is where the Norwich Theatre Royal spotted my talents. I now work there as an usher.'

But Culture Works East does not just aim to find other businesses and organisations to support and employ its youths.

The organisation also offers a raft of volunteering and job opportunities itself.

It currently employs 12 young people who have attended its courses while many others get involved as mentors, through work placements, and pre-apprenticeship schemes.

Harry Matthews, 21, of Mousehold, is determined to turn his work placement, through Remploy, into a job.

He added: 'From day one Culture Works East has been supportive, understanding and accommodating to me. After being involved in the Festival City project, I felt I'd found a career that really interested me.'

To find out more about Culture Works East, visit