The catalyst connecting young creatives in Liverpool
Liverpool, a city with creativity at its heart. Home of the Beatles, the World Capital City of Pop, more museums and galleries than any UK city other than London, and most recently their creative and digital hub featured as the coolest place to live in Britain.
Recently, it’s been sharing in a problem facing many UK towns and cities. “Talent is leaving Liverpool,” explains Robyn Dooley, “Often to London, which is seen as a golden opportunity. Young people often don’t know about the great opportunities available locally.”
Robyn is the founder of the Innovators Hub, a social venture that aims to bridge the skills gap between young people and local businesses in the creative and digital sector. It’s main programme, Catalyst, gives students a 10 day crash course in digital and personal skills they’ll need to work in those industries. Robyn set it up following her own experience as a young person trying to find work in the sector.
“In 2014 I was doing a BTEC in fashion at the local college,” she says, “It was a good course, but it wasn’t for me. I found the way things were taught was restrictive, I wanted help opening up creatively but I wasn’t getting that – so I dropped out.”
Determined to find a way to discover a role for her in the creative industries she started to research what was around her in Liverpool.
“I wasn’t aware of what Liverpool had to offer,” she explains, “I saw pockets of digital companies and wanted to find out more, but they weren’t offering opportunities. A lot of what I found was in London and Manchester, and often they were unpaid internships, which many people can’t afford. The barriers this was setting for people looking to get into the industry were very high.”
Robyn found that what local colleges and universities were offering often didn’t match the company’s needs either. She learnt that they didn’t have the time or funding to create something that would bridge that gap, so she decided to do it herself.
150 cups of coffee
Innovators Hub has been running for two-and-a-half years with the aim to remove barriers and bridge the gap for young people. Wanting to create something that was “relevant for the sector”, she worked hard to establish links and contacts local businesses.
“In the first year I set myself a New Year’s resolution to have coffee with 150 new people,” she says, “I didn’t go with an objective, my approach was to just listen and understand. I just built up knowledge of what they might need.”
One of the big issues that she came across again and again was that the skillset that businesses expected from people was getting larger, and not much was being done to address it – so Robyn stepped up.
It was important for Robyn that Innovators Hub, and the events and courses it runs, kept an open and inclusive approach. The community of local businesses that support her venture are important to her.
“We have a wide range of local businesses supporting with time and money,” she says, “The local university donating facilities. Our community are always sending through ideas for things we could do. We’re built on our community, we couldn’t have achieved what we had without them.”
It’s all about the stories
And Robyn has achieved big things in their first couple of years. From securing sponsorship from local businesses, successfully piloting training courses, and helping people secure jobs in the creative sector.
“The personal stories that people tell me mean an awful lot to me,” says Robyn, “On the second day of Catalyst, we had someone come in to help students talk about their ‘why’ – what they want to do and why.”
“In the afternoon I spoke about three things that shaped me and asked them to share some things that shaped them – I’m comfortable being vulnerable and it’s proved to be a massive skill that employers are looking for nowadays. The session was designed to support them to open up and share stories amongst each other…. Half way through the session some of our students were in tears.”
“There was one woman who was on the programme, a photographer from North Wales, who contacted us the next day and told us that on the way home after feeling inspired, she started to email people around the world who really inspired her and sent a portfolio of some of her photography to them. Because of that she has now been featured in a Korean magazine and was asked to apply for a photographer’s fellowship in Spain, which she has now been accepted on. I love stories like that”
Robyn has plans to build on her initial success. At the start of the year she went full-time (before that she had been balancing up to three jobs alongside running the venture).
They’re also about to complete a rebrand, changing their name from Innovators Hub to OH, creating a beautiful new identity calling out to “misfits and mavericks to join our family”. Longer term?
“I’d love to find a building in Liverpool,” she says, “Somewhere we can take over and turn into our base. We could run events and training, and support young people and freelancers with a place to work. After that we’d love to replicate what we do in other cities – we’d have to tailor our model for each location, but I’m confident we could build on our success and grow our community across the UK.”