The pride of Hackney: can a festival spark a local renaissance?

Trevor Nelson will cover the 2012 opening ceremony for the BBC. But first he wants to help his community

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The Independent Online

When Jay-Z, Rihanna and Florence Welch entertain 100,000 fans at the Radio 1 Hackney Weekend it will be the proudest moment of Trevor Nelson's career.

But, long after the megastars have moved on, the DJ will be urging the BBC to extend a social action programme that has delivered career advice and mentoring to the troubled borough's teenagers.

Nelson, 48, was appointed an ambassador for the free festival, which begins on Hackney Marshes today and is the biggest event Radio 1 has staged in its history.

As well as attracting stars including Jessie J, Jack White and Nicki Minaj, whose performances will be broadcast across Radio 1, 1Xtra and BBC3, the BBC opened a pop-up Hackney Academy, which offered career advice to young people in the borough and the surrounding areas.

The US R&B star Usher, the Bafta award-winning actor Adam Deacon, the fashion designer Ozwald Boateng and the London-based artists Plan B and Dizzee Rascal were among the names offering advice at workshops on how to succeed in their profession. The Academy has closed its doors after three weeks, but Nelson, who presents shows for Radio 2 and 1Xtra, told The Independent: "I'd love this to be at the start of something that goes on. Hackney gets a bad rap but we've shown the kids how to get involved in radio production, journalism, film and DJing. "They wanted inspiration and they wanted to be heard. Every year and in every area of the country, we need an Academy."

Nelson, who "grew up half a mile from Hackney Marshes", said he would have to "try not to cry" when his East London home became the centre of the music world today. Appointed an MBE for his community work, the soul and dance music DJ will become a familiar figure on television over the summer – he has been chosen to co-present the BBC's coverage of the Olympic Games opening ceremony from Stratford, alongside Hazel Irvine and Huw Edwards.

Perhaps wisely, he passed on an offer to work on the BBC's much-criticised Jubilee river pageant broadcast.

Nelson accepts that extending the Academy will depend on financial backing beyond Radio 1. But mentoring youngsters is his passion. "I'm trying to show the kids a work ethic. It's a grind and you've got to have patience to deliver. We have to differentiate between the kids who want to try and those who want to cruise through life."

The BBC Trust has told Radio 1 that it must deliver more "social action" campaigns in order to retain its service licence. Despite being told to attract listeners at the younger end of its 15-29 target range, figures last week showed that the average age of a Radio 1 listener is still 30.

Dizzee Rascal, the East End grime star tipped to appear as a special guest tomorrow, praised the Academy. "It was good to see where the kids' heads were at and to be able to talk to them the way they need to be spoken to, without sugar-coating," he said.

Police are promising stringent security at the festival, which will unite 100,000 music fans in an area notorious for gang-related violence, saying it would be used to test its security plan for the Olympic Games.

Local voices: Hackney and the Olympics

This week, The Independent ran a journalism workshop for young people in Hackney in conjunction with BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra and local magazine YH World. We sent the team of trainees, aged between 16 and 22, out with our reporters to interview fellow East Londoners about whether they think the Olympics will have a lasting legacy in Hackney and the other Olympic boroughs.

"The money needs to go to young people because they are the next generation"

"Chantelle", 24, teacher (not her real name).

She used to live in Hackney but has moved out of the borough because she says she wants her young child to grow up with better opportunities.

Idea: Invest in schools and restore the educational maintenance allowance.

"The Olympics, it ain't benefiting Hackney. About three years ago the hospital didn't have money for neo-natal costs. But we have a brand new car park for the Olympics. It makes no sense. And the amount of money they're spending on the opening ceremony – why don't they put that into the schools?

"Kids need maths and English putting in their heads.

"Basically the money needs to go into the young people because they are the next generation.

"I was a teenage mum and I've [recently] moved out of the area, because I want a better life for my child. Here, if you're from the wrong side of the road you can get killed. A lot of people I know have been stabbed. I don't want my son living in this area because he's afraid to go to Dalston because he's from Upper Clapton. It's just stupid.

"I think the priority is schools. Some kids at schools – that's the only meal they get.

"Plus they've stopped EMA [the educational maintenance allowance] – the EMA was keeping a lot of kids off the street. Yeah some of them are buying trainers, but most of the kids were using it for a good purpose. To get to school. There are some kids out there who survive on that [EMA]. A lot of kids I know have dropped out because they haven't got funding and they've gone back to hustling. But that's life, that's Hackney."

"The Olympics have done a lot to renovate the area. Don't forget us when the Games finish"

Malick Bright, 18, student from Hackney.

He has lived in the borough for 13 years.

Idea: More affordable housing for young people.

"Because of the Olympics they've done a lot of renovating of public space, loads of the parks have been improved. They've improved the buses, there's more opportunities for young people job-wise, a lot more publicity around Hackney, so people really want to show off and show what Hackney can do. I'm all for it.

"Once the Olympics finishes I'd say they need to not forget about Hackney, and focus on providing student homes and more jobs for students, funding to support students, because we are the future of London."

"We're a fantastic borough with fantastic people. This is our chance to show it"

Jason Cashman, 44, store manager.

Born at Hackney hospital and went to school in the borough.

Idea: Rent breaks for new businesses.

"I'm from the area. It's fantastic. In the last couple of years the demographic has changed enormously – the people coming into the area, the links to the city, some roads have become very trendy. Our late night trade in the store has got a lot stronger, with people coming back from the City.

"For people round here it will be an opportunity to show Hackney doesn't have to be the way it's portrayed in the popular press. We're a fantastic borough with fantastic people and this is our chance to show it.

"I hope there will be a legacy. We should be trying to get a broader range of shops in. We've got another Cash Converters opening up down the road and there are too many bookmakers, money lenders and pawn shops – it's ridiculous. A bigger variety will attract new people into the community. I want to see more locally owned shops, more clothing shops, independent food shops and local people given rent breaks to start a business. If it's the first time you're starting a business you've got enough on your plate without having to worry about high rents. If you look at how Broadway Market has transformed there's no reason why Hackney shouldn't do the same."

"No-one from here's getting jobs and afterwards it's going to be rubbish again"

Leeann Brissett, 23, full-time mother.

Has lived in Hackney for 21 years and gave birth to a girl 10 weeks ago.

"I don't really care about the Olympics to be honest with you. It's good in a way, as it has made Hackney look better, but at the same time it's a downfall as no one in Hackney's getting jobs in the Olympics, whereas people elsewhere are.

"Afterwards I think it's going to go back to normal old Hackney, it's going to be rubbish again. No one has any jobs to go there [to the swimming pool], no one really goes swimming anyway because this country is always raining. It's not really going to benefit us."

Interviews by Shanelle Nwanaebi, Tevin Vidal, Jamal Greenaway, Amos Asare-Thompson, Ayesha Taylor-Camara, Erica Mckoy, Hamaiz Iqbal, Stan Grampin, Monique Geraghty, Michael Alake, Simon Keg and Joel Ilhengu