Let us step back in time with the latest in our Retrospective series (sadly without the aid of a TARDIS), looking back on the earliest successes for the Hidden Talent Project B.T.B (Before The Blog, any excuse for an acronym). Sadly, despite the title sounding like a poor man’s Harry Potter, there’s no magic involved in this little flashback… except for a magician, so… technically, there was magic…


Anyway, after our unexpected success at the Leicester Business Festival, management from Highcross Leicester happened to be in the audience, and were very taken by the issues we raised about people with hidden conditions being left out in the cold, bitter, unemployment wilderness – it was winter at the time, so yes, the cold was justified. So taken, were Highcross Management that they offered us the opportunity to host a pop-up shop in an absent store opposite Waterstones where the Virgin Megastore used to be over Christmas 2015.


However, we couldn’t get people in to see Hidden Talent alone – the fact that none of us were trained hypnotists didn’t do us any favours – so we took this as an opportunity to host a variety of events within the pop-up shop.


Of course, the shop had been vacant when we found it and needed a bit of spicing up. So, we bought in some decorations from various areas, enlisting a few helping hands to shift it around and give the shop that youthful, vibrant entrepreneurial feel… either that or try to convince visitors that we could spin gold from an empty shop.


The only thing we couldn’t change was… THE COLD. As I said, the shop had been vacant for several years and this was early December. And we certainly felt it. It was like working in an igloo! Many of us felt inclined to come dressed in several layers. We had to crowd around the heaters for some semblance of warmth. Even my goosebumps had goosebumps!! The moral of the story is; if you’re going to run a six-week pop-up shop in a disused area in the middle of winter, dress like you’re going on a skiing trip.


We had a charity shot-put, which saw the innovative Efaz Ahmed taking to the centre with his NEBA business, getting several young children to engage in several games of football (as a man with the coordination of a hippo on stilts, I felt it wise to keep out of that game).


12356976_10205132816459460_7794041322170361634_oWe also used part of the store for some clothes sales. I cannot remember where we got the clothes from, but my muscle memory reminds me of the weighty bags we had to carry into that place. Seriously, it felt like carrying a John Lewis in there. Next time we have to do a lot of heavy lifting for an event and we’re looking for volunteers, I insist we seek out aspiring bodybuilders.


Music maestro Yasin El Ashrafi was also on hand to host a series of music events, acting as a DJ and rapper alongside his eclectic entrepreneurs, including the inspirational Kieran Wood


We even had a bit of magic on the scene with the mystifying magician Luca Gallone, who showed off a few magic tricks that would make Harry Potter blush. However, the rest of us Muggles were left stumped. Seriously, how did he guess which card was marked? He’s got to have X-Ray vision! That’s the only explanation that makes any sense!


…I’m alone on that one, aren’t I?


And of course, one of our best and brightest, Mr. Tom Davis melted our hearts, playing a beautiful piano rendition of ‘Mad World’, an apt and appropriately named song, I say. Oh, God, I getting heartstrings just thinking about it. Damn it, Tom.


Now, as for Hidden Talent, we were looking to get into the public’s headset regarding their thoughts on hidden conditions. But seeing as how none of us are mind-readers (Professor X would have sorted this out no problem!), we had to resort to alternative techniques. I assure you, this was NOT vox-popping. Despite the standing around and asking questions and trying not to scare people away with our overeager faces (well, mine, anyway), this was NOT vox-popping!


1421283_10205132816299456_6739646862908272312_oWe had the help of Wot Box founder Tina Barton, who designed a wallspace with five questions based around hidden conditions in which people could write their answers on post-its.


Believe it or not, this took a lot more effort than one might realize. First, you had to find a way to beckon shoppers over, then you had to rouse their interests in hidden conditions, explaining the complexities of a condition without some 19th century wordsmith, and then persuade them to postpone their shopping spree to write a few answers down on some post-its. To be fair, I’d be in a bit of a rush to catch a Debenhams sale myself.


But, with some help from the rest of the Talent Match team, we were able to get quite a few contributors and the answers made for some interesting reading. At Hidden Talent, when we are collecting research, we try to maintain there’s no such thing as a bad answer… unless you get some witless oaf stating that people with hidden conditions are the Devil’s Disciples or Satan’s Spawn, in which case we don’t listen to anything those nutters have to say.


We also met some very intriguing people with their own stories to tell about hidden conditions and the support needed. But the one that has lodged itself in my brain the most was a 10-year old boy, the son of one of our volunteers Carlie Hayward, who was offering her services as an impeccable masseuse. Her son, Logan, had autism and ADD, and was truly a delight to speak to. He possessed an incredible knowledge of trains, wowing me with his intricate knowledge of trains (given I’ve gotten most of my train knowledge from Thomas the Tank Engine, the experience was certainly an educational one). He definitely has it in him to be a fine engineer.


I had the pleasure of meeting a truly remarkable child, and one that I have every confidence will go on to do great things with his life. He was eight years away from the working age when I met him. And reaffirmed the message that when that time comes, we need to ensure that adequate support is in place to support people like Logan so that they can contribute to society.


The answers from the post-its revealed that autism was the big condition that appeared to be lodged into their brains (a whopping 82% knew what autism was, surprise, surprise). While we were primarily focusing on four main conditions – autism, bipolar, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD – we also wanted to see which other conditions they were familiar with, and it was fascinating to exactly what people considered hidden conditions. Some answers included pain-related injuries and PTSD. OCD was found to be a prominently known condition, and given its close ties to autism and anxiety, we decided to add it to the official roster of main conditions. The answers were truly diverse, gifting us with a great understanding of what people know and how we can rework our approach, research that is still vital to Hidden Talent to this day.


Overall, the event was a truly enjoyable one, and was one of the largest scale events Hidden Talent and Talent Match have ever partaken in, influencing the approach of Hidden Talent and giving several young people the chance to shine and show what we’re capable of.


Although, should we ever host an event like that again, I insist we have a bonfire activity of some kind, keeping us on the warm side. And this from a guy who normally avoids the heat like Nosferatu!


(Photos provided by Talent Match Leicestershire)