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Zach Duthie
Zach Duthie Member, Administrator Posts: 56
edited April 25 in Film & TV Educators

Celebrating (Almost) 20 Years of MAMA Youth Project

UK charity’s founder, Bob Clarke, shares how this unique initiative is breaking down barriers to employment in the media industry.17 April 2024

Everyone deserves a shot at success – that’s the philosophy behind MAMA Youth Project, the UK charity founded in 2005 by film & TV veteran Bob Clarke. A shining exemplar of what’s possible when people are given access to the right support and resources, MAMA Youth Project is on a mission to break down barriers to employment in the media industry for young people from challenging backgrounds.

An idea is born

Bob’s own background is central to the ethos of MAMA Youth Project. Growing up in North West London, Bob found himself in trouble with some of the boys he hung around with. With limited options and uncertainty over his future, Bob joined the army where he gained a strong sense of purpose and discipline – both of which have stayed with him until this day.

After 14 years of service, Bob took a part-time role in a video duplication warehouse to ease himself back into civilian life. On stumbling upon the editing room and talking his way into a job, Bob went on to work at various post-production houses before starting his own production facility, MAMA Productions, in 2003.

When a chance conversation left him questioning the lack of Black representation in the industry, Bob decided to throw his own pebble in the water and see if he could make a splash. In 2005 he launched the MAMA Youth Project, recruiting young adults aged 18-25 from underrepresented or challenging backgrounds to work on all MAMA Productions commissions going forward.

A commitment to inclusivity

MAMA Youth Project is open to anyone aged 18-25 facing significant life hurdles or limited educational or employment opportunities, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. This broad approach to inclusion is a cornerstone of MAMA Youth Project and something Bob is passionate about: “Inclusion often means excluding one group in favour of another,” he says. “At MAMA Youth Project, we help everybody. It’s true inclusion.”

Another cornerstone of MAMA Youth Project is its focus on tangible outcomes – specifically, employment – rather than mere representation or participation. “I want to give young people a reason to wake up in the morning,” says Bob. “That’s why anything we do has to have a tangible outcome for the person we’re doing it for.”

And this approach is clearly paying off. Since its inception, MAMA Youth Project has trained over 900 young people, with the vast majority going on to secure employment in leading studios and production companies such as the BBC, Banijay, Fremantle, Warner Bros and Netflix.

Sought-after talent 

MAMA Youth Project’s practical training programme means that graduates are ready to hit the ground running. Created to kickstart careers in broadcast and digital media, the eight-week course provides hands-on experience in the roles of production coordinator, production manager, researcher, editor, locations manager, sound engineer and camera production manager. 

Playfully described as a “bootcamp,” the course leverages Bob’s military experience to prepare participants for the demands of the industry. “Many of our trainees have never had a job before,” Bob explains. “So, as well as technical skills, we teach them the work ethics needed for our industry. Timekeeping is a big one, but even small things like taking your coat off inside.”

But for Bob, the thing that sets MAMA Youth alumni apart is the practical experience they gain from working on real productions. “They understand the bigger picture of what they’re doing and everything that goes into making a TV show. This means they need less investment as a new entrant, so it’s a good business decision for the employer.”

MAMA Youth Project team pose with HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and Lyndsay Duthie, CEO of PGGB

Ongoing support 

A true mentor, Bob’s impact has extended beyond immediate job placement to a life-long support system to help graduates continue to thrive. “When I started MAMA Youth Project, it was all about getting people into employment,” he reflects. “But I couldn’t stop there, because even if you get that opportunity, if you don’t have a support network in place, it’s no good.”

By leveraging this safety net, alumni are able to show up and focus on the job. This freedom to excel is crucial to their success, with 96% of alumni still in sustained employment one year after completing the training.

A lasting legacy

When Bob cast his pebble into the water, he had no idea the impact it would have. “I call our alumni the pioneers of their bloodline,” he says. “Because they’re alright, so their children, and their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren should be alright too. I’ll be dead and gone, but the ripple effect [of MAMA Youth Project] will carry on through generations.” 

This ripple effect was formally recognised at the Production Guild of Great Britain’s 2023 Talent Showcase, supported by Entertainment Partners, where MAMA Youth Project was shortlisted for the inaugural Earl of Wessex Award for its outstanding contribution to fostering inclusivity in the UK film and TV industry.

Despite its successes, as a registered charity MAMA Youth Project faces an ongoing challenge to obtain the resources necessary to expand and deepen its impact. But as the charity approaches its 20th anniversary, its legacy – and that of Bob – is clear.

By focusing on inclusion, tangible impacts and lifelong support, MAMA Youth Project is not only transforming individual lives; it’s also a pioneering force for inclusion in the media industry and beyond.

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