Hackney is my home. I have lived in and around the area all my life. Lots of my friends and family live here and it holds lots of great memories from my years growing up in the area. In a world where everything seems to revolve round money, Hackney falls victim to a lot of the social issues that are consequences of poverty; a lack of support for the community, a lack of places for young people to go to engage and develop themselves, even just being surrounded by an environment that is a pleasant and positive place to be. Young people in the area feel unstimulated, bored, and often let down. Unfortunately, the results of this can often lead to the negative headlines we see about Hackney.
Having lived there all my life I am able to appreciate the creativity and talent that is bursting to be heard and seen. When Radio 1 approached me about being an ambassador for the Hackney Weekend I absolutely jumped at the chance. The opportunity to be involved with, help develop and perform on my home turf.
Over the past few months I have been working with Radio 1's Hackney Academy alongside Plan B and Labrinth, which is an initiative set up by the station to provide workshops where young people can go and learn about all different areas of the creative industries - from acting to dancing to journalism to singing... which is where I come into the picture!
I've been working closely with a group of young girls. They are all fragile in their individual ways and have all been through situations that have left them with delicate issues and struggles, but through my time working with them it has been hard not to be impressed by the talent that had been suppressed within them. That's not to say it has been an easy process. We have worked closely together, well exceeding the hours we were allocated together, whilst they wrote a song and put it together into a performance to be debuted at the Academy. Full of ideas and, to a certain extent, full of confidence in their ideas, there came a point where I had to get tough with them. Their end performance is a direct reflection on me as their mentor. So I was going to make sure it was a good performance!
The hours that have gone into coaching and helping them has been far more than I had anticipated, but when I set about doing something, I will do whatever it takes to get it perfect. There has had to be a certain amount of discipline from me, which hasn't come easily, but it was so important to me that they learnt from this and had a good end result. I wanted them to have fun but there came a point where they needed a reality check so I had to sit them down and give them a reality check; they needed to show more focus and dedication if this was ever to work. From that point they really took it on board and excelled.
The day then came for them to give their performance down at the Academy. It was quite an emotional experience for me to watch them perform as I had formed a connection with the girls beyond just being a mentor and was so proud at the dedication and courage they showed which shone through in their performances.
Seeing these girls come out of themselves and work so hard has been so very rewarding for me. I have grown up surrounded by people who work in youth and social care - my mum, dad, auntie, cousins - and I have seen how hard they work, for very little, if any, financial gain. Their work is tough and I got just a small taste of what they go through during my work with the Academy. In an age of government cuts left, right and centre, they would do well to look to the work that Radio 1 has done in these few short months to improve, educate, stimulate, engage and develop some of the most underprivileged young people in the capital.
It was amazing to open Radio 1's Hackney Weekend on the Saturday - the atmosphere was incredible and something I won't forget for a long time.