VCCP heads to the Potteries to tap into local talent

IMG_0659 Updated (1)VCCP is opening its first UK office outside London in Stoke on Trent – claimed to be the birthplace of the British creative industry as well as Robbie Williams’ hometown – as part of an ambitious plan to attract more diverse talent.

Initially, the office will function as an academy with staff from VCCP London working to raise awareness, provide training, work experience, mentoring and paid internship schemes, with a future apprenticeship scheme set to launch next year.

VCCP’s move to the Potteries is set against a backdrop of recent closures of both art colleges and advertising schools – as well as the Covid pandemic – the pathway into the industry has become narrower with more and more opportunities being removed.

The agency claims people outside of London are struggling to see advertising and media as a career option, especially those from low income areas or from diverse backgrounds.

Stoke has one of the highest rates of economic deprivation, especially amongst black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Within the creative industry, cities like Stoke are often overlooked in favour of Manchester or Leeds when setting up outside the South East, VCCP maintains.

The city has a rich creative heritage; Josiah Wedgewood, born in Burselm, founded the pottery manufacturer Wedgwood in 1759, and pioneered the mass production of pottery in Europe. As the “Visit Stoke” website states: “We are a creative city that makes beautiful things. We create art from dirt. We are a place where art, technology and commerce come together through craftsmanship. We are the World Capital of Ceramics.”

VCCP Stoke Academy will be open to people in Stoke and surrounding areas, and aims to tackle three major recruitment barriers faced by the industry, including a lack of awareness of the creative industry as a potential career option, a dearth of pathways into entry level jobs around the country and the extremely high cost of moving to and living in London where most entry level job opportunities are to be found.

The academy is the culmination of over 12 months’ work by a project group consisting of agency planners, creatives, HR and account management.

Led by chief strategy officer Michael Lee and executive creative director Jim Thornton, who has links to the city, the group also includes senior brand planner Luke Alexander-Gose, learning and development manager Lynsey Monroe and account manager Kenny Dada.

The group has spent time in Stoke building relationships with local schools, colleges and universities: Stoke Sixth Form College, Staffordshire University, Keele University and Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Council and the MP for Stoke North, Jonathan Gullis.

Michael Lee explained: “We’ve been concerned for some time about the increasingly narrow talent pool that we’re able to attract into an industry that we’re incredibly proud to belong to. Great creativity has always relied on being able to draw on a diverse group of people. Right now, because of the increasing socio-economic barriers to entry, we’re in danger of becoming quite a monocultural profession.

“We wanted to find a way to remove barriers for people to enter the industry. But it was clear that even if we could solve the awareness problem, cost was still a massive obstacle for the vast majority who don’t live in London and don’t have access to financial support from their families to be able to start on entry-level wages. The easiest way to solve both problems for all the prodigiously talented young people in Stoke who could and should be working in our industry, was to set up a local base.”

This summer, VCCP trialled work experience programmes with Stoke Sixth Form College called The VCCP Stoke Student Challenge 2021 and set up partnerships with Stoke-based creative industry businesses and social enterprise initiatives.

This work experience programme was run for sixth-formers at the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, Stoke’s largest sixth form college with over 1,700 students. It was devised in partnership with Geoff Willis, director of teaching, learning and assessment, and Naomi Baxter, teacher of creative media and CAP Futures lead and was run by Luke Alexander-Gose and Kenny Dada at VCCP.

Some 40 students formed nine teams to compete in a six-week pitch style competition designed to give them opportunities to develop their strategic, creative and presentation skills. Weekly check-ins enabled teams to benefit from guidance and mentoring from VCCP strategy, production and creative teams, with a final presentation session in which two winners were selected for the Best Creative Idea and Best Film.

Students were also assigned mentors to help them in the project and to help them understand what future roles they could apply for within the creative industry.

Naomi Baxter said: “The VCCP Student Challenge enabled students to work collaboratively in researching, developing and creating an advertisement for a live brief. Students received excellent mentoring to guide their work and prepare them for a final pitch. The VCCP team challenged them to think bigger and aim higher with their work. The experience really helped widen their industry awareness and inspire their future career ambitions.”

Building on the success of the last 12 months, the academy has set an ambitious target of engaging, inspiring and creating opportunities for more than 500 young people in the coming year. It will expand its successful Student Challenge over this academic year, adding two new local colleges: Stoke City College and Newcastle.

VCCP Stoke Academy will also work with Staffordshire University to attract students into the summer internship programme based at their office space, whilst also giving guest lectures to students on Art & Design and Digital Production courses.

Alongside its education work, VCCP has also formed a partnership with Carse & Waterman, a local specialist in digital VFX and animation.

Founded by two former Staffordshire University graduates, Gary Carse and Daniel Waterman, the animation agency works for eBay, Michelin and the BBC.

VCCP Stoke Academy will now share office space with Carse & Waterman in a building a few yards away from the famous old Spode pottery works. In the next few months, VCCP Academy will welcome existing employees to work part-time or permanently from the VCCP office and run the outreach and training schemes.

In return, VCCP will support Carse & Waterman’s social enterprise called Framescape, a joint venture with filmmakers Platinum Pictures, headed up by Richard Turner and Terry Stone, Daniel Waterman of Carse & Waterman and post-production outfit Dreamscape Studios. Framescape aims to raise awareness of potential careers in VFX, animation and production among Stoke youngsters in exactly the same way the Stoke Academy will for Advertising Communications.

The academy will also work with Eric Gresswell, founder of Popcorn Learning Media, to design a bespoke apprenticeship scheme which will be run at the VCCP Stoke Academy and which aims to hire people within the subsequent six months.

Popcorn Learning Media Ltd, is a multi-award-winning digital learning agency specialising in the creation of digital learning courses, filmed video and animation. Established in 2015, the company operates out of offices in Stoke-on-Trent and Southampton and they already offer apprenticeships in level 3 Team Leader and level 5 Management and Leadership.

VCCP Group already has a successful existing paid internship scheme, called The Table, which is an annual year-long scheme which recruits for entry-level roles in account management at VCCP London, Good Relations and Snap LDN. Working with Staffs University and Keele University, The Table will be replicated in Stoke to provide early career opportunities.

VCCP’s long-term ambition for the academy is to convert it into a permanent office, which hires local staff, recruits from the early career schemes and also services local clients.

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