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A charity in the West Midlands is championing young people’s voices and youth leadership through a range of different activities. Tom Inniss nurtures the talents of aspiring arts and culture journalists.

contributors to Voice magazine
Contributors to Voice magazine at an editorial planning day, February 2020

Tom Inniss

‘Use your Voice’ is the mantra at Voice magazine. As both a magazine and an open platform for young creatives covering arts, culture, politics and technology, we believe in fostering youth voice and championing youth leadership. 

Voice attracts around 350,000 visits each year and is growing fast. We are well-known for fielding teams of young reviewers to festivals including Edinburgh, Brighton, Manchester International and other major arts events. And we have been the Youth Media Partner at Brighton Fringe for five years.

These are some of the things young people say about us:

“Voice provides a platform for me to talk about what I love and find interesting in a meaningful format.” Oluwatayo (18)

“The content is great for those wanting a career in the arts and informative to those just interested.” Lucy (21)

“Platforms like this are painfully lacking: a free platform for you to get your work seen by seasoned members of the art world and, what’s more, enables them to comment.” Bhavesh (28)

Led by young people

At Voice we are proud to be youth-led. The editorial team is in their early to mid-twenties and our network of Voice Contributors are aged 16+. Voice contributors are young people interested in the arts, culture and media who are looking for early industry experience. As volunteers, they work alongside the editorial team to write opinion pieces on the zeitgeist, and they get press accreditation as reviewers at national arts festivals.

Contributors play a key role in setting the direction of the magazine, drawing our attention to the issues that resonate with young people. They also help identify areas where we could be more robust; for example, in developing our multimedia content, experimenting with new ideas on social media or increasing the range of creative jobs we profile.

Finding new voices

Reaching out beyond our regular readers is vital to us. We’re committed to supporting young people to explore and comment on the arts where they live. The Voice Outreach programme works with partners to connect with young people who are less likely to attend the arts. 

Through a guided project, we help to introduce – or create – opportunities for these young people to discover art and culture in their local area and share their opinions in discussion and reviews. We bring in local professionals to talk about the arts and media and to answer questions.

Opening doors

Alongside the immediacy of the magazine, and the events and opportunities that underpin it, we spend a lot of time thinking about progression pathways, and how to have a meaningful impact on young people's personal and professional development. We hear time and again that it is particularly challenging to enter the creative sector if you don’t have prior experience. Knowing the right people can still have a disproportionate impact on getting a career off the ground. 

The way we structure our programmes creates a funnel for young people to flow from reader to poster to participant and get the right level of support to take their next steps. We’ve had outreach participants with no previous interest in arts and culture who have had such an enriching experience they become Voice contributors. From there, some have headed to university; one even collaborated on an article in a national newspaper exposing a culture of bullying and harassment at the institution. 

Another contributor, Maddie, moved from voluntary to paid commissions from Voice and other organisations, and has since fully committed to journalism as a career, working with the BBC and NBC before settling at Sky News. 

Our own Assistant Editor, Saskia, started as a contributor, and her time with us re-affirmed her desire to enter the world of publishing and journalism, giving her the confidence to apply for the role when the position opened. Check out Saskia’s work.

And I myself started out as a participant in the Arts Award Youth Network back in 2012. At the time I had no interest in being an editor, but the opportunities afforded to me led ultimately to studying for a Masters degree in journalism. 

Most recently, we have committed to taking on 18 young people for six-month placements as part of the Government Kickstart programme. Working with the Department for Work and Pensions, we are bringing on board unemployed young people aged 16 to 24 and giving them experience of working in the creative industries, building transferable skills and providing support for them to explore their options post-placement. Although it’s early in our 18-month cycle, we have already aided a Kickstart participant to sit as a member of the G7 Youth Summit, championing youth interests in front of world leaders. 

Who runs Voice?

Our parent organisation is Upstart Projects, a charity based in the West Midlands, which champions young people’s voice through a range of different activities including Youth Voice Training. It also provides resources for young people wanting to enter the sector, including the new platform Amplify, developed with Arts Council England (ACE) bridge organisations.

Voice also has a close association with Arts Award, another ACE funded project in association with Trinity College London. Our work in fact grew from the Arts Award Youth Network some 10 years ago. We now run a dedicated space for young people working towards an Arts Award, offering ideas and step-by-step guidance at www.artsawardvoice.com.

Get in touch

Our funding comes from grants, income from training and services we provide, and our donations campaigns. You can find out how to support our work with young people here.

We are always on the lookout for new partners so if you’re interested in a journalism or young reviewer project do get in touch. 

Above all, please come and enjoy young people’s views - read our content, listen to our podcasts and view our videos. See you at www.voicemag.uk.

Tom Inniss is Editor at Voice magazine.

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Photo of Tom Inniss