By Jonny Riggs
Prince’s Trust Outreach Executive, and professional artist
What is a City of Dreams Champion?
City of Dreams Champions believe we are able to shape the future.
We believe we can make NewcastleGateshead the best place for young people to live and engage with culture.
We champion great ideas, and big decisions, which we believe will have a positive impact on the lives of young people for many years to come. We provide the venue, the canvas, and the stage for discovery and expression, where an ambivalent murmur becomes a rambunctious roar!
What do I bring to the table?
My name is Jonny Riggs. I currently work in an Outreach role for the Prince’s Trust.
Coming from a disadvantaged background, I’ve been called the Billy Elliot of the art world. Aged just 10, I competed against 1500 talented children to win an Arts scholarship at King Edwards Royal boarding school, in Surrey. After 8 years first class art education, study, and later university, I launched my own business – JR Portraits – in 2014.
I’ve been an artist my whole life and very fortunate to turn my talent into a profession, gaining UK wide recognition for my work in the comic book industry. Now I want to do more for those in the position I once was, but who aren’t getting the same opportunities I did.
I can relate to the feeling of wanting to experience an art gallery, or seeing a live musical performance, for the first time.
I want to bring about real change and to make art and culture more accessible to young people in the North East regardless of their background.
This is why I became a City of Dreams Champion.
What exactly does a Champion do?
I’d describe the culture sector as a pinball machine. I mean, the whole playing field is tilted, right?
Many cultural organisation aim for, and ping off, the parts we already know and get rewarded with big shiny lights, loud ringing bells, and high scores.
That means the impact those organisations have on young people is only temporary. That shiny, silvery ball eventually finds it way down the black hole.
But with City of Dreams we – partners in education, the voluntary and community sector, councils and colleges, and young people themselves – are in control of the flippers. With immense determination we are flinging each other in unexpected directions. We are networking, sharing experiences, and discovering as we collide with each other.
We all share the points and the score is a joint effort.
We have regular Champions meetings to discuss the important topics which will shape the way young people engage with culture. We helped to write the City of Dreams “theory of change”, its strategy and action plan, and led a number of its early activities.
These meetings are somewhat informal, and are a chance for everyone meet and share stories, opinions, and ideas…and the free tea and coffee is always a bonus.
Champions include The Prince’s Trust, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Children North East, Centre for Life, Headliners, New Writing North, NewcastleGateshead Council for Voluntary Service, Dance City, Newcastle City Council arts team, Tyneside Cinema, Gateshead Youth Assembly, and more. There are nearly 50 members of the group, from all sectors.
I have really enjoyed attending these meetings and can honestly say everyone is really friendly. I have made some new colleagues during the journey. The benefit to me is my voice has a soundboard, just as much as anyone’s, and this collaborative and shared approach is why I feel City of Dreams will be a big success.
How do organisations benefit?
I became a City of Dreams Champion in January 2018.
I work alongside my colleague Gemma Dyer (Partnerships Manager) in this role. We share a passion for the arts.
Since joining the Champions group we have made fantastic links with cultural organisations who also share our passion for creative change and cultural improvement.
The Princes Trust took part in the Big Culture Conversation process (November 2017 – February 2018), and provided young ambassadors for the closing event attended by over 300 young people. Our role was to speak to young people, and listen to their views about art and culture, in NewcastleGateshead.
This information was so valuable and helped to shape new cultural opportunities such as the first ever Twilight Shows, youth ambassadors for cultural programmes, and supporting young people with access to venues, performances, screenings and events.
We also collaborated with the Centre for Life to introduce our “Get Started with Robotics” programme, which launched this month, hosted by Prince’s Trust at our new Cheryl’s Trust Centre in Newcastle.
This was led by our staff Sean and Beth, with John from Roaming Robots – a well-known face in the industry and on TV’s Robot Wars.
The course began with young people building 350gram robots using motors and cardboard, with the aim of completing simple challenges like table football.
The team arranged a visit to the Life Science Centre, where young people were introduced to research labs, had a tour of the Robots Then and Now exhibition, and even built a robotic orchestra to play musical instruments.
We ended the course with a celebration event, where young people had been challenged to design and build a larger robot for the ultimate showdown – our very own Robot Wars Battle. Each team put all of the knowledge learned throughout the week into practice, going head to head against each other for the Robot Wars finale.
Also showing support was Matilda and The Ripper! Along with 20 Princes Trust staff.
The Prince’s Trust have been working with Cheryl Fernandez-Versini to establish a new state-of-the-art centre in the heart of Newcastle to support thousands of disadvantaged young people from across the region.
The Cheryl’s Trust Centre opened in February 2018. Read more about it here.
Keep up to date on the Prince’s Trust work by following them on Twitter.
To find out more about Jonny Rigg’s work by follow him on Twitter, watch this video, or have a look at his Arts In One YouTube channel for product reviews, instruction videos, and more.