Sophiya’s story

We caught up with Sophiya, a Young Empowerment Fund Recipient, to find out more about her creative project, what’s happened since, and what the next steps are for the future…

When Sophiya applied for The Mighty Creatives’ (TMC) Young Empowerment Fund (YEF), she was studying for her A levels, which included Graphic Communication. Sophiya was one of the original members of Attenborough Arts Centre’s Youth Ambassador Group, where she helped to establish the art group and worked on various creative projects; including her first collaborative zine.

When it came to design, Sophiya was forever experimenting and looking for ways to develop her ideas outside of the classroom. Since taking part in YEF and creating a Zine (documenting people’s experiences of lockdown), Sophiya has been commissioned by TMC to produce an animation video and to design a national themed framework for care-experienced young people.

Sophiya tells us about her experiences of YEF, how it’s supported her to take on new projects, and how it’s helped to inspire her future.

A Q&A with Sophiya

How did you hear about YEF?

I heard about the Young Empowerment Fund in Autumn 2020 (then known as the Youth Cultural Entitlement Fund) through the Attenborough Arts Centre. They passed on an email from the team at TMC. I’d never heard of TMC before, and only had a few hours left to apply by the time I saw the email, but I thought it was a great opportunity, so I gave it a go and applied. I had been thinking of making a creative zine during lockdown so, soon after applying, I was delighted to find out that the idea had been successful, and that that it could become a reality.

Can you tell us a bit about your project?

Creative forms of journalism have always been something I’ve wanted to explore. The brief for the application was that the project could involve any idea or art form, as long as it had a link to lockdown and the challenges young people, and their communities, were facing in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In lockdown we became very aware that we were living through a historical moment, so I wanted to document other people’s voices in an engaging and innovative way. My aim was to interview a bunch of people around me, and to reach out to people I hadn’t had a chance to talk to much – people from all different walks of life – and share their experiences in a way that anyone would enjoy reading.

To collate responses for the zine, I interviewed people in my lockdown ‘bubble’ and sent around a digital survey with some thought-provoking questions. I gathered all the answers and planned how to present each of the 30 or so spreads a distinct and unique way. The aim was to make each spread a visual surprise for the reader, no matter how young or how old.

How did you find working with a Creative Coach?

Working with my Creative Coach was really lovely, especially as I’d just been cut off from school for 3 months. I was used to being around other creative students, going into class, talking to teachers, but that essentially stopped when we went into lockdown. That was a real struggle for a lot of the people I interviewed, so, for me, it was hugely beneficial to have that person there to bounce ideas around with or just for someone to tell you that they like your work.

How did you feel when the YEF project came to an end?

I felt quite stunned by the end of the project. With all the challenges of lockdown and living through the pandemic, I didn’t know what I needed – but that project turned out to be exactly it.

A couple years after my round of YEF, we were finally able to celebrate the projects together in Leicester – it was so uplifting to see other YEF grant recipients in real life. During the project, we couldn’t meet or socialise due to lockdown, so most communication was online. Everyone there was genuinely curious about each other’s creative projects and there was a real sense of community. I also met someone else who’s studying at my university (University College London) and they were looking for someone to create animation videos – so it was a great networking opportunity too!

How has TMC continued to support you on your creative journey?

After my YEF project, I was approached by TMC to produce an animation video on youth voice. Animation was another area I wanted to develop further, as I knew I had only scratched the surface with my A Level projects. Creating this piece gave me the freedom to challenge my ability by experimenting with so many styles, I really valued the challenge of taking a research paper and creating something that I would want to watch as a young person.

Soon after that, I was commissioned to design the Cultural Entitlement Framework (My Creative Track) – a themed framework for care-experienced young people, aged 5-25, to engage with arts and cultural experiences. At first it was quite overwhelming! I was given a huge spreadsheet of all the content, but it was a brilliant project to sink my teeth into. Another valuable challenge, and I felt very grateful to be trusted with such an important project and creative freedom.

Alongside from those two design projects, TMC has always kept me in the loop and connected me with other opportunities. For a couple days in between those two projects, I worked with young people on an alternative education programme at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, delivering animation workshops. For me, that was a huge personal achievement, because it took a lot of confidence that the Sophiya who made the Zine could not have imagined having!

How does it feel to have worked on these projects?

It feels really validating. I feel so privileged to have worked on My Creative Track in particular. Although I’m not care-experienced myself, I created it with those young people in mind. They have something that has been designed for them; the shape is square so that it’s fits into the hands of younger children and young adults – rather than looking like just another A4 work booklet from. That project was something ‘proper’ and worthwhile, not just something nice to look at. It will make a massive difference to the lives of those young people. Seeing the printed versions of My Creative Track in real life was incredible; I couldn’t quite believe I was holding something that I’d made.

What have you learnt?

I’ve learnt that there is so much possibility! Sometimes you might doubt yourself or your abilities… but the fact that I was considered worthy enough to design My Creative Track, for example, means I’ve proven to myself that it can be done.

These projects were a lot of work, but that it is what made them what they were. My main takeaway is that whatever you visualize is always a lot more possible that it seems at first.

What are your next steps?

At the moment, I’m studying Comparative Literature and French at University College London. Alongside developing my creativity through my studies, I’ve managed to secure a job at The Design Museum where I help visitors around the exhibitions – which has been such an insightful experience! I wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply for that role if I hadn’t taken part in YEF and the many other projects with TMC.

Over the next year, I want to push the writing side of my creativity further – especially in creative non-fiction and comedy. I’ve really enjoyed writing a couple of articles for my university’s journals, including one from a press launch at Tate Britain! My relationship with TMC has definitely given me a better understanding of my own creativity and relationship with the arts sector, and I’m so grateful for that.

What advice would you give to other young people thinking about applying for YEF (or any other creative opportunities!)?

There is no reason not to do it! It allows your ideas to grow and become a reality. Whether you have an idea or not, just go for it – there are really no expectations just opportunities.  My advice would be to not treat your project like a school task. There are no limits, so just ask yourself: if I could create anything, what would I create? Because the likelihood is that you will be able to create it. Forget the boundaries of what can be or is expected to be done – what you need to do really is possible.

How would you sum up your experience in three words?

Validating. Growth. Enriching.