The south end of Camden high street doesn’t blow you away. The road is dominated by closed chicken shops and dilapidated charity stores, neither of which I want on an early Friday morning. Instead, I’m here to visit the Camden Collective, a regeneration initiative supporting young people breaking into the creative industries.
Just off the high street is the collective’s main office. Office is a loose term: you’re greeted by a ping-pong table, with photos of the Collective’s success stories pasted onto wall behind. The double-height open plan room behind it houses a row of desks, moveable partitions, and bean bags.
I’m met by Jess Behar, a ‘creative broker’ at the collective. Jess laughs away her title, explaining how it all works.
Running officially since October last year, Camden Collective has three sections to it: pop-up shops, free office space (or hubs) including hot desking for start-ups and freelancers, and the fellowship programme. As a creative broker, Jess is involved in the fellowship programme, so her role – in her words – is ‘job creation in the area'. By ringing up local businesses, asking if they need an intern or a student for work experience, or even if they have any vacancies they need filling, Jess creates a dialogue with the local creative community, connecting hundreds of young grads and students through her newsletters with the creative industries already present in Camden’s community.
There’s a diverse mixture already present: post-production and music companies jostle with galleries and publishing houses, and the collective seeks to draw this creative side of the town out, replacing the staid charity shops.
"A lot of the successful businesses in the area really want to help young people out and it’s really nice," says Jess "They’re often the people who engage with the programme, more than a HR department who just don’t care at all."
Creative career advice
Beyond her newsletter you can become a fellow of the collective, although, as Jess concedes, ‘it’s not exactly clear to the outside world'. Running CV overhaul sessions, speaking to university students at UCL, Central Saint Martins and Goldsmiths, Jess comments sometimes that’s all students want. "But some people are different: they are looking for that extra amount of contact".
One of these people is Imogen Houldsworth, 24, an aspiring print design assistant. Having graduated with a BA from Chelsea College of Design and gone straight on to do an MA at Saint Martins, Imogen suddenly found herself disillusioned with her educational path.
"I really wanted to work, and it just wasn’t the right environment for me." Finding herself at a loose end and reduced to working from her studio bedroom, ‘which is not ideal for a creative mind!’ – Imogen was at an event at London College of Fashion when she met Jess.
“She just said come down to the hub, you can come and work there, get your portfolio done. It was super casual.” Imogen joined only a few days ago but she’s positive about what the collective can bring: “I hadn’t realised how enclosing it can be working from home, but to be working in a creative environment, with other creatives around you, I think it’s fantastic.”
Pete Corrigan, 27, is another example of someone who’s enthusiastic about the Camden Collective. He left Staffordshire University with a degree in film production, but struggled to find any kind of work in his chosen industry. “It was very hard, especially when I first came out of uni. I was applying for any runner job, internship, anything and everything, but I didn’t really have any contacts.” Eventually, Pete just decided it was a case of doing it for himself: "I just thought, let’s give this a go."
With the help of a loan from the Princes Trust he managed to get together camera equipment, a business plan and was then introduced to Jess through a friend.
“At first I just said I needed a place to shoot. But she asked me to come down and see the place, find out what they do, and see if I’d want to work there.” Now, Pete divides his time between the collective and home, and is waiting on a further loan to invest in a laptop so he can spend more of his working day in Camden.
It’s hard to see why you’d ever turn the offer down. Jess mentions how they try to vary the individuals and companies using the hubs, keeping a diversity that stretches from tech start-ups to jewellers and fashion designers.
The versatility of the space naturally lends itself to the approach – the night before they’d had a party, and some of the resident fashion designers have staged their first runway shows in the space. Already, Imogen says, she’s got friends calling her up and asking if they can join. It’s an attitude that permeates the space, which recently expanded across the street, opening more office spaces and providing greater freedom.
The project is funded by the Mayor's Regeneration Fund, which in the wake of the 2011 riots announced a £70m refurbishment programme. Camden Collective received £1.4m, partly from the Regeneration Fund and from Camden Council and Camden Town Unlimited. The money goes towards renting the hubs and pop-up shop space, but Jess hopes that the collective will eventually become self-sustaining, turning into an affordable workplace, and engendering a legacy with its fellows. It seems already to be happening; as Imogen says “I think I’ll always be a part of the collective.”
The sense of community is helped by the attitude to the fellows and young people who interact with the collective. Their passion and enthusiasm is what motivates Jess: “It’s not just numbers: it’s a relationship you have with these people. I’ll be on email to them, or they’ll call me up, just with the odd question: 'I had this interview – do you think I should have done this, or this?’ and you can’t quantify it.”
What advice would Jess offer to those aspiring to go into the creative industries? “I look at so many CVs and the ones that stand out are the ones that are focused or streamlined, and which seem to point towards one particular area. If there is a thread then it’s a lot more powerful. I think people need to think about careers at school – really that is the most important thing.”
After leaving the collective I wander up Camden high street to take a look at one of their pop-up shops. Displaying the work of collective fellows, it’s a bright statement on a dull Friday morning; full of the promise the Camden Collective offers to the area and to the young people involved.
Collective are always looking for applicants to fill their available workspace in the hubs or to take over one of their pop-up shops. For more information please visit www.camdencollective.co.uk