While its gigantic party in the park gets all the attention, Radio 1 has been busy with a project that will leave something far better than 100,000 crushed beer cups behind in Hackney. Together with its sister urban music station 1Xtra, it has spent this month turning Hackney’s Picturehouse cinema into an academy offering young people 80 workshops in everything from music production and film editing to fashion design, computer programming and journalism.
This being Radio 1, there are plenty of stars giving talks and answering questions — actor/director/writer Noel Clarke and musicians Leona Lewis, Plan B, Dizzee Rascal and Labrinth have all been down. Lewis, Plan B and Labrinth will all be performing at Hackney Weekend while Trevor Nelson broadcasts live from behind the scenes. The whole event will be on Radio 1 and 1Xtra and live from 7pm on BBC3.
But the less glamorous sessions are just as important, stresses veteran 1Xtra DJ and Hackney native Nelson. “Most of the Q&As are with people in tangible, reachable jobs,” he tells me. “People are signing up because of the subject matter, not because of celebrities. Usher is the biggest celeb we’ve had give a talk and we didn’t even announce him.”
Nelson has been broadcasting his morning show from the academy and helping with workshops in the afternoons. “It feels like a real community. The kids love how up close and personal you are. They want to learn. Plus, it’s a cool environment — some kids are coming down every other day.”
Born in what is now Homerton Hospital and now living on Old Street, Nelson has seen plenty of changes in his home borough. “It is gentrifying while still being very working-class at its core. It’s always been underfunded, under pressure. As a kid my mindset wasn’t positive, my prospects were bleak — I had no idea what was possible for me. But there is hope for a lot of the young people we’re meeting. I know I’m going to be seeing some of them again in a few years.”
As with the Olympics project as a whole, there is concern about leaving a positive legacy in this poor area. “We wanted to do more than have a big party and leave,” says Nelson. After the academy shuts its doors today there are plans for the work to be carried on by partners such as film production company Mouth that Roars and music education group Rising Tide.
And it sounds like it isn’t just the students who have been inspired. “I’ve never done anything at the BBC that’s been this satisfying,” says Nelson. “And I mean that.”