14690949_1654087768236692_3523450021692312158_n   Seeing all 21 Talent Match’s come together is a prospect that could be compared with watch the Avengers come together… sorry, my inner nerd frequently uses me as a mouthpiece. But during those six hours on 19th October 2016, we shared a great many things, a slick hotel, research results, opinions, inspiring stories… an event so extraordinary, it is difficult to find the words to do it justice… not that that’s going to stop me from trying.

We all met at Leicester Train Station around in the run-up to 8:30am (for some of us, it entailed a literal run-up). The team included Talent Match Leicestershire Manager Emma Southern, Exec Board Co-Chair Callum Black, Exec Board Volunteer Tenika Walsh, Emma Shabtay-White and Shan Needham from B-Working, Highfield’s Aysha Ghanchi, Prince’s Trust Youth Advocate Jamini Brahmbhatt and myself. Over the course of the journey, Emma and I went over the presentation and what I was going to say, everything that needed covering. Essentially a mental ticklist. I just had to hope I was not thwarted by the greatest enemy to all early-birds: sleep-deprivation.

We arrived in Sheffied at 9:41am, and were greeted by a group of Talent Match escorts, who proceeded to escort us towards the hotel where the conference was being held. As we made our way there, we took in the sights of Sheffield, her majestic buildings, her welcoming atmosphere… and her steep pavements. Dear God, those pavements. I’ve heard of the term, “life is a constant struggle uphill”, but that was ridiculous. I came away from that thinking, if we can get through this, we can get through anything.

We turned up to a very swish hotel that looked like something out of the 23rd century. Everything looked so white and slick. I was half hoping to see a robot receptionist. But I digress.

We took our seats in a large room, where young people, peer support workers, cameramen alike were all sat, waiting for the event to commence. We took the time to get reacquainted with Chantelle and the Humber group, where Katie Greaves, spokesperson extraodinaire, would also be discussing her story.

The event commenced at 10:15, with CRESER member Peter Wells kicking off the event, welcoming the Talent Matches together, before turning over to reggae artist/actor Dellano Lewis, who worked up an animated vibe, encouraging the audience to participate in a rendition of ‘School Youth Anthem’ (times like this, I wish I wasn’t tone-deaf).

After opening comments from the Big Lottery Fund’s Matthew Poole, TM Sheffield’s Adam Wragg took to the stage. Adam’s journey was an inspiration one, from his time with the charity Autism Plus, who supported in widening his skillset, which led to some very successful charity ventures, before finding his footing with Talent Match Sheffield, working as a Young Commissioner and later gaining employment with Voluntary Action Sheffield. A charismatic and remarkable young man with the perfect balance of innovation and passion, it’ll be fascinating to see where Adam goes from here. As he left the front to a thunderous applause, it quickly dawned on me; Katie and I were up next. Given the layout of the room and the floor we were on, any attempt to escape through the window was out of the question.

14612364_386347241754573_8568412245769811088_o   Katie has been with PADD since its inception as a founding member, and has done crucial work with the organization who have also given her platform to build on. Less than a week before the conference, she succeeded in attaining a job at KC Stewards in Hull. Well done, Katie, we’ll all proud of you. So many people with hidden conditions have so much to offer, but are seldom given the chance to do so. And yet, with people like you promoting the cause, I know we’ll get there sooner or later (hopefully sooner).

14711042_386347178421246_5235732935510834184_o   I told my story, talking through my experiences, my time with Talent Match and my work with Hidden Talent. Turns out all those years of watching film monologues really paid off. They seemed to respond to what I was saying. At the very least, no one was exclaiming, “Who is this lunatic fool!?” (give them time). We also took the time to tease our upcoming Balloon videos, set to premiere next year, the results of all our trials and tribulations laid bare, a beacon of hope for young people, laying the foundation for a new, shining era of employment… God, I really need to take a break from Lord of the Rings.

We concluded the presentation, and I was grateful to have achieved my main goal… not getting chased out of the room to some cheap get-away music. The raising awareness was also quite a biggie(!)

After our triumphant presentation, we took a brief break – while I was forced to drag that monstrosity of an overnight bag around with me. Though, in hindsight, it would have come in handy for smacking assailants over the head… if I wasn’t lacking the muscle to lift it over my head… and there were actual assailants.

We then went on to a workshop called “Reaching ‘hidden’ young people”, lead by TM Greater Manchester. The session was quite an eye opener – a necessity for us early birds – discussing the barriers facing young people prior to coming onto Talent Match them, and how to help them find avenues into education or employment, while also addressing the universal Catch-22 problem, probing a bit of discussion among the audience as to which avenues worked best for certain people with certain backgrounds. It was quite refreshing to discuss practices from various areas on how they supported young people, especially Manchester and their wide-scale research.

After that, we had lunch and caught up with one another. Of course, being the picky eater that I am, I shared my Haribo stash with the Leicester lot.

Once we had finished lunch, we headed back into the main room and sat through a series of sessions focused around work placements, a YP’s journey and research on in-work support provided by Anne Green from the university of Warwick.

Once the next break was out of the way, we attended a second workshop focused around Youth Mental Health, with TM Liverpool leading the session and discussing the work they had done with young people and creating a support network for mental health issues. Given that mental health is something we are looking to further explore in the future, I found it to be a fascinating talk and was very impressed with the work they had done to raise awareness of mental health traits, bridging a gap between employers and support services.

But for me, the standout of this session was Liam Cross. Liam took us through his dark journey with depression and how Talent Match had helped him recover from that. Liam’s story was quite a hard-hitting one, and at times difficult to hear, but it served as a necessary reminder of how deep the black pit goes, to feel constant despair with no end in sight. Which made Liam’s recovery an inspirational triumph. To pull yourself back from the brink of depression is one thing, but to see this young man who was now in a position to be helping people who had gone through similar experiences to him, made the talk an emotionally-rewarding one, and one that I am privileged to have heard.

14876087_10207212856259155_648256906_o   After another break (yes, another one), we reconvened in the main room where we began to wrap up the day with a variety of speakers, including Ashleigh Porter-Exley, winner of the 2012 Young Apprentice, and Dellano Lewis, putting an environmental spin on the proceedings, encouraging us to take a united glass of water… resulting in several glasses held up in a prolonged toast. With my muscles, I could have easily been doing weight-lifting with that glass.

The day was a monumental one for us. Over in Leicester, we have always considered what kind of legacy we would like to leave. But coming to this event, speaking to these talented people, who come together to achieve all of the revolutionary things I saw depicted here, taught me the most important lesson about Talent Match.

You can’t put a number on legacy.

I saw various, uncountable legacies being crafted here, each one guaranteeing in its own way that Talent Match’s impact on the UK would resonate for generations to come, like an orchestra touching the souls of its audience. And I was, and will forever be, proud to have been witness to this formation of legacies.

Of course, this a while to get through to me considering I was very preoccupied with finding my way across Sheffield to the Travelodge while dragging that monstrosity of a suitcase behind me. After that day, I have added stairs to my list of enemies. That and Google Maps…


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