Stephen Lawrence training scheme gives media exposure

Levelle Simons, April Pinnock-Grant and Travis Beckford l-r: Levelle Simons, April Pinnock-Grant and Travis Beckford

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Rich, white and snobbish. This is what three young people thought the BBC might be like before coming to work here.

Travis Beckford, April Pinnock-Grant and Levelle Simons - all from London - are trainees who have joined the BBC for six-week placements as part of the Stephen Lawrence BBC training scheme.

Named after the teenager murdered in a racist attack in 1993, the aim of the programme - co-funded by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and run by the BBC Academy - is to give young people from minority backgrounds an opportunity to come to the BBC and learn more about the media.

Start Quote

Everyone has that sort of perception that everyone [at the BBC] is hard-nosed and snobby and rich white people”

End Quote Travis Beckford Trainee

Originally a group of 15, a total of 11 trainees will complete the programme, to be marked by a graduation ceremony on Monday at the headquarters of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust in Deptford. None of them has any formal media training or university degrees. What unites them is enthusiasm, creativity and a desire to learn.

'Everything's important'

Beckford is only 21 years old and recently finished a three-year prison term. While behind bars he got involved with national prison radio and hosted a programme for over two years, which he edited himself. He also raps, writes songs and sings over instrumentals he has created.

His placement in commissioning and business affairs has given him more confidence about making a transition to what he calls 'normal life'. 'It was so long I was away and I come home and it's like little things that most people take for granted, I don't really take them for granted. Everything's important, every day is an important day,' he tells Ariel.

Beckford - a talented football player who appeared in a show called Wayne Rooney's Street Strikers - has learned to make the most of contacts at the BBC. He's been introduced to people at 1Xtra who might help him with shadowing opportunities.

He explains how he has more direction and confidence, because he had been worried about how things would pan out after prison. 'I just wanted to work and make money and do things the legit way and properly. That's all I knew I wanted to do. [This] helped.'

'No guarantees'

There are, however, no guarantees that the programme - in its first incarnation - will lead to anything tangible. In fact, it's not even known whether there will be another intake of trainees at the moment.

'I know it's not a guaranteed entry or a guaranteed job,' says Pinnock-Grant, 'but experience here has given me a shot in general. I've met so many people … had different experiences. That alone, I think, is something that could help me move forward.'

In addition to their placements, the group has also completed six weeks of course work at Westminster Kingsway College, leading to a BTEC Level 2 Certificate in Creative Media Production for the seven trainees who were ultimately successful in obtaining it.

They will be fast tracked to the final interview stage for the BBC Production apprenticeship scheme - which could ultimately lead to a job.

Not a 'slave'

Pinnock-Grant says she might be interested in getting into researching or marketing and PR. Another goal is to perhaps become a presenter. She spent her placement helping with a gothic season on BBC Four and went on a shoot, which she enjoyed ('They didn't treat me like a slave or anything. It was just like I was part of team').

Start Quote

I came back in because I wanted to. It felt good to wake up and think that I was going to the BBC”

End Quote Levelle Simons Trainee

She admits to thinking that the BBC might be unfriendly. 'I thought everyone was going to be stuck-up and, you know, I'm just going to sit in here and nobody is going to talk to me.

'But I was shocked when I got there and met my team and stuff because they are cool people, like proper cool. So yeah, it was nice.'

Beckford echoes her thoughts: 'Everyone has that sort of perception that everyone [at the BBC] is hard-nosed and snobby and rich white people. These rich white people from London, they don't care about you.

'But this was the opposite. When I come in here, everybody was very welcoming and smiley; they want to help you and they can teach you a lot.'

Travis Beckford, April Pinnock-Grant and Levelle Simons The trainees bonded with each other over three months
Feels like family

Levelle Simons speaks about feeling like part of a 'family'. He spent six weeks at Radio 1Xtra on a project called World Cup Freestyles. It was his job to help find rappers to represent every country that will be competing in the football tournament. He then had to convince DJs to get involved and champion three countries each on their shows.

Ed Sheeran in Live Lounge Levelle Simons spent time with the Live Lounge team, who work with artists such as Ed Sheeran (seen here in June)

'My attendance was 100%,' he says proudly. 'I came back in because I wanted to. It felt good to wake up and think that I was going to the BBC.'

Part of what he enjoyed was the environment, which included working with the Live Lounge team. 'Everyone had some sort of passion and you could feel it, you could feel that energy when you are here, you can feel that everyone has come from somewhere as well and there's a lot to them.'

Beckford talks about learning 'small things' such as communication, organisational skills and just being around working, professional people. 'You don't get to be around people like that every day, where I'm from.'

More diversity

The scheme is one of the BBC's attempts to recruit more people from diverse backgrounds. At the time of announcing this project, director of television Danny Cohen said 'the diversity of our workforce is a very big priority for me'.

It's also a priority for director general Tony Hall, who in October spoke of his ambition to make apprentices 1% of the workforce - a target that the BBC boss said he'd meet by the autumn.

In March, three schemes were announced that were intended to give people on-the-job training in business, journalism and law. At their launch, Hall said: 'In a creative organisation, we should be much more creative in how we spot, and promote, talent.'

He added: 'But I'm also worried - and I know many of you are too - that if you have the right contacts - or perhaps you can afford to work for free for a while - you have a better chance of getting into our profession.'

It's a problem the trainees recognise, and they admit it can be an obstacle. 'It is who you know, not what you know,' observes Pinnock-Grant. She says that while what you know is valuable, 'it's that person connected to you who can give you the opportunity to do something'.

So one of the things the trainees have learned about is the art of networking - and getting up early.

Suppressing a few giggles, the young woman says: 'Coming in every day at 9 o' clock… it took its toll on me, but I got through it in the end.'

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