The real heart of Hackney

Physical comedy workshop Bafta winning Adam Deacon is in the driving seat for the comedy workshop

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'So we're here for the street dance workshop,' declares a straight-faced Kat B.

A group of teenagers, psyched up for a physical comedy session, exchange anxious looks and plot a rapid escape.

'Just kidding,' smiles the stand-up comedian, his ice-breaker earning a relieved laugh. The wannabe comics settle back in their chairs, happy to take on whatever's thrown at them - so long as it's not body popping.

It's day 13 of the Hackney Academy - Radio 1, 1Xtra and BBC Learning's project that is turning the Hackney Picturehouse into a hub of inspiration for the three weeks leading up to the Hackney Weekend. The stations' biggest ever social action and outreach programme, the Academy is where 10,000 16-24 year-olds are gaining practical skills and where star names are empowering them to follow their dreams.

On other days, local youngsters have enjoyed workshops in everything from developing an app and directing a photoshoot to making a spoof film and building a beat. And they've discovered how the likes of Leona Lewis, Plan B, Dizzee Rascal and Labrinth found their way to the top.

Sitting comfortably

Today, Adam Deacon - who grew up on a council estate in Hackney and beat the odds to bag the Rising Star Bafta earlier this year - mucks in with Kat B to coax the inner funny guy from the room of self-conscious teens.

Start Quote

It isn't a chair; it's an explosive device”

End Quote Kat B Stand-up comedian

'This isn't a chair,' insists Kat, defiantly placing a four legged bum receptacle centre stage. It soon takes on the guise of everything from a pram to a hat in the hands of the enthusiastic youngsters before the compere shrieks, 'It isn't a chair; it's an explosive device.'

Over in the bar area, Greg James is presenting his drivetime show, following the likes of Fearne Cotton, Tim Westwood, Trevor Nelson and Sara Cox in broadcasting live from the Academy. James taps top British athletes - and today's Academy special guests - Perri Shakes-Drayton, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and Asha Philip for the inside track on their Olympic prospects.

The young people see broadcasting in action, while listeners get to be inspired too. 'The presenters talk directly to the talent on air and we film interviews with them for the website,' explains Claire Thomas, the Radio 1/1Xtra exec producer who has driven the project with BBC Learning's Abigail Appleton. 'It means the Academy's message can really cut through beyond the local area.'

Roger Mosey joins athletes Perri Shakes-Drayton, Harry Akinines-Aryeetey and Asha Philip on the panel Roger Mosey joins UK athletes Perri Shakes-Drayton, Harry Akinines-Aryeetey and Asha Philip

Aikines-Aryeetey commits the cardinal sin of walking, albeit apologetically, through the comedy workshop, his pumped up frame making it tricky to remain inconspicuous. Kat shows no mercy and hauls the sprinter into an improvised exchange with one young participant who plays an outrageously camp dancer - with a limp. And a twitching right eye.

Fittingly, Aikines-Aryeetey proves a good sport and shows the kind of calm under pressure he'll need if he has to line up beside Usain Bolt in Stratford next month.

Today, though, he is lining up beside his fellow athletes and Roger Mosey, director of BBC 2012, for an Olympic-themed Q&A session. Mosey is the latest BBC exec to drop in on the Academy. Tim Davie previously popped by for a radio workshop, while Caroline Thomson hosted a 'meet the industry' Q&A on journalism.

'We get asked a lot of questions here about how we got to do what we're doing,' says Thomas. 'So we've had speakers who are just starting out at the BBC as well as senior managers who are able to share their experience and knowledge. It reinforces the link back to the BBC and it's a chance for the managers to be a part of it all.'

BBC's final

The athletes are frank about the sacrifices they make to win medals, whether it's missing birthday parties, days out at theme parks or student social life. 'I wasn't a typical student,' concedes hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton, who crammed her studies into a full-on training schedule. 'But you don't have to give up the talent that you have to get an education.'

They talk about the mental strength required to return from career-threatening injuries ('I've been world champion once, I can do it again. Job done,' former world youth 100m champion Aikines-Aryeetey says simply), the relationship they share with their coaches and getting in the zone. 'I think of shopping on the starting line,' confides a laid back Asha Philip.

Start Quote

I hope people like [the Olympic opening ceremony]... And if they don't, Locog organised it”

End Quote Roger Mosey BBC Director, 2012

Mosey takes his moment to woo a potential BBC audience with the Corporation's pledge to deliver live coverage of every Olympic sport. Even archery. The opening ceremony to the BBC is like the athletes' Olympic final, he says. 'I hope people like it… And if they don't, Locog organised it.'

The BBC man also points some members of the audience to the other side of the camera. 'You might think, I'm never going to run as fast as these guys,' he says, gesturing towards his co-panellists. 'Then think about broadcasting. Most people can be camera operators, sound technicians, journalists…'

The youngsters file from the theatre with new purpose. 'It's inspired me to do well in my football trials next week,' one local sixth former tells Ariel. While his classmate leaves with determination to take her athletics 'to the next level' while continuing her A-level studies. 'They make it seem achievable,' she reasons.

It's just what Abigail Appleton wants to hear. 'It's been terrific to see so much commitment from the talent,' she says, 'but most inspiring has been seeing the passion and engagement of the young people themselves. I hope their voices, as well as those of their mentors, will give the Academy an influence far beyond Hackney and this extraordinary month.'

Message wall Message wall captures the positive vibes

Careers advisors outside Screen Two are offering guidance to a young community radio presenter who wants to know how to make the move into professional presenting.

They sit opposite a message wall - a real rather than virtual construct where the teenagers use old fashioned pen and paper to post their thoughts. 'I'm inspired to be more than the average Joe,' shouts one from Newham in capital letters. 'Think big, dream bigger,' declares another.

Some of those dreaming of a career in journalism are picking up tips at a workshop led by the editorial team at Grime Daily - the popular urban culture website.

It's a story of plugging away for commissions, making contacts and finding your niche. 'Don't tailor it to other people,' instructs blogger Hyperfrank. 'Be a hub for them to come to.'

Poet Stewart chips in, stressing, 'You are your unique selling point.'

Nineteen year-old Hayley Ellman is taking in as many of the workshops as she can. 'It gives a structure to my day,' she explains. 'I've learned so much and gained a lot of confidence. It's helped me discover my strengths and I've rediscovered a passion for comedy.'

Any musicians out there?

Over in the big screen, Jordan Stephens, one half of hip hop duo Rizzle Kicks, settles into a chair opposite Nick Grimshaw for the day's flagship Q&A. Sidekick Harley Alexander-Sule is poorly and can't be there. The cinema seats are packed with young fans, many still in their school uniforms, but they're not there to scream and squeal.

Start Quote

Many of [the stars] grew up around here. They are so passionate about where they come from and they want to give back”

End Quote Claire Thomas Radio 1/1Xtra exec producer

'Are there any musicians in the audience?' inquires Jordan. A flood of hands shoot up. He tells them about being a Brit School graduate, about getting signed, of the need to develop a coherent sound and of BBC Introducing, which gave Rizzle Kicks their first platform.

There's been no shortage of star turns at the Academy. 'Many of them grew up around here,' says Thomas, taking a breather in the lobby as another day draws to a close. 'They are so passionate about where they come from and they want to give back.'

Walking taller

The youngsters start to spill out onto the streets of Hackney. Some have left behind their certificates of participation, but they seem to take with them a new sense of self belief.

'The incredible response from the young people in the area has kept us going,' reflects Thomas. 'I hope we've inspired them to find a new passion and to take that first step towards doing what they want to do. And maybe the opportunity to share a bit of their talent or voice with other people means that they walk away from here feeling that little bit taller.'

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