Hannah was one of Blaze’s first Young Producers. With a cohort of 25 others she produced Blaze’s first Festival in 2012. She has worked with us now for ten years, and recently managed Blaze as our Interim Director.
My grandma loved taking me to the theatre. She wanted to be a ballet dancer, but she worked in Marks and Spencer her whole life, bless her, and she loved it. So she took me to see plays and musicals. Those trips sparked my love for this creative world, and I wanted to be in the middle of it. But I didn’t know anything about the jobs that happened behind the scenes, or what is required to put on an exhibition, a show, a gig or a festival.
Without Blaze showing me that, and helping me develop those skills, it’s hard to say if I would be where I am now.
For that first Blaze Festival I was about 17, and loads of us came together from Liverpool, Manchester, Accrington, Blackburn, Cumbria and the surrounding areas to Preston. We met young people from all over the North West that we wouldn’t have ordinarily had the chance to, who were looking to do something creative too. We were full of ideas, and Blaze helped to make them happen. Together we put on our festival, and we curated local artists and art from all over the world. And the whole time, we were learning.
We developed loads of skills, like how to manage the budget, financing, projects, how much things cost. I remember we were coming up with ideas for what we wanted to do, and when we looked at the costs, we were quite shocked at the price of hiring toilets or how much you would need to pull off something like this. But we started to get that real practical experience, and that experience set me up with a solid foundation when I went on to pursue a career in the creative industries.
One of the most important things I learned during that first project with Blaze was how much an artist’s time cost, and that being an artist could be a career. This is not just GSCE Art, you’re not just copying a painting or doing a landscape. This is us out in communities and having an impact on people and places, and there is value to that work.
So that was a mindset shift for me. Despite what everyone said, “oh get a proper job, you’re never going to earn money doing this”, Blaze opened up my eyes to the whole arts and heritage sector, and I learned about jobs that I didn’t know existed just through meeting people.
After the festival, I started working for Blaze part time through their “Alternative Saturday Jobs”. I had to build confidence, overcome imposter syndrome, and learn how to value my own voice enough to speak up. I think a lot of creatives, especially from working class backgrounds, have this internal battle too. I couldn’t believe my luck that I was getting paid so much for a job that I loved doing and I was getting loads of experience. The team at Blaze were saying “we need this doing, we’re here to support you, but crack on; we trust you”. It was being given ownership and being handed responsibility, but in a really supportive environment, that made all the difference to my confidence.
After University, when I moved back up North, I worked with Blaze again, managing and mentoring the Harris Young Producers, young people like me who were coming to this opportunity for the first time. Recently, when there was a changeover in management, I applied to be Interim Director of Blaze, and I got the job! So there I was ten years later, and I’d come full circle. I was mentoring the young people who were accessing these opportunities for the first time. I’ve recently finished that interim position, but the experiences I have build up have meant I’ve been able to move to Berlin, where I’m managing a studio and pursuing more opportunities.
The people that we were working with and being mentored by as a young person 10 years ago are all still working in the arts and culture scene. Now, when we meet each other, they say, “Flipping heck Hannah, you’ve grown up, you’re running an organisation”. I see the other festival producers’ creative ventures and businesses, and it’s a testament to how enriched we all were at Blaze.
And for the people we worked with to have seen that journey that we’ve gone on, and the journey that I now see other young people go on, is the absolute best part of this.
Blaze supports young people like Hannah to develop creative skills, lead using their passions, and explore their creativity without having to leave their hometown.
But we can’t do this work without the support of people who value creativity in young lives. Help us nurture the next generation of young people by making a donation.