We caught up with Shawn Adams of POoR Collective, a radically inclusive initiative bringing the change they want to see in the creative industries.
L-R: Larry Botchway, Ben Spry, Alpha Barrie, Shawn Adams, Matt Harvey
Shawn Adams is quick to identify the formative experiences he had growing up.
‘I’m from a working class home and, when there wasn’t anything for me to do outside of school, my friends and I used to go to youth clubs,’
‘It was in these spaces that we built our confidence. Not only did we feel valued there, we met people of different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, and really got to know our community. Young people are so connected to social media these days, but that means they might interact with people from the other side of the world whom they’ve never met and not even know their peers from just down the road. And then, with the closure of youth facilities, they’re losing more than just a sense of belonging.’
The importance of access in those impressionable years is something Shawn is both ardently passionate about and acutely aware of; it’s his investment in fostering it that exposed him to like-minded creatives. Having met through their extended circles at the University of Portsmouth — and eventually, the Royal College of Art — Shawn, Larry, Alpha, Matt and Ben are the co-founders of Power Out of Restriction Collective. A social enterprise, POoR focuses on the development of communities, working at the intersections of race, class, culture, and beyond. Their mission is to bring the empowerment they remember from youth centres to young people from backgrounds under-represented in the creative industries. Through workshops, teaching, and other forms of knowledge sharing, the group draws from a multidisciplinary approach of their combined skills, ranging from architecture and art to film and television — and more.
‘With Matt, for example,’
‘because of his financial expertise, people assume that he is the accountant of the collective. But it’s so much more than that. Matt having a real stake in the project means we look outside of our creative bubble and realise that thinking outside of the box doesn’t automatically make our work accessible. This is why it’s so valuable for people from different fields to work together.’
He cites Resolve Collective, Migrants’ Bureau, and Assemble — the 2015 recipient of the Turner Prize for regeneration project Granby Four Streets — as inspirations behind POoR’s commitment to engaging with communities in real, tangible ways. For Shawn and the rest of the team, the important thing isn’t merely that communities are thought of throughout architectural and design interventions, but that they are central to every phase of their development. ‘In recent years, the word co-design has been thrown around in architecture to describe a collaborative way of working, but due to liability restraints this has never really been tested.’ He references cooperative building practices seen in rural West Africa, where ‘in some regions, the word architect doesn’t even exist’, to contextualise his criticism of the Western framework of imposing design onto a community from the outside.
‘When you actually speak to local residents, they want to join forces to create something for themselves, whether it’s a mural, a row of seating, or even a building. Communities where there is direct involvement and where locals know each other — even if it’s just to wave from across the street — are also safer. Where there’s collaboration and understanding, people thrive.’
Reflecting on the urgency of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, Shawn offers words which could be seen to define the spirit of POoR Collective:
‘You should always listen to people. There is no experience as powerful as a first-hand experience.’
Alongside their numerous accomplishments, this is something the group has in droves. ‘These challenges faced by communities — we were already aware of them for a very long time. And with things like racism, myself, Larry, Matt and Alpha have lived through it.’ Stressing the tragedy that it took harrowing events for dialogue around racial justice and equality to unfold, he also acknowledges the extent to which people are listening at the moment. But how does he really feel about 2020’s sociopolitical breaking point in terms of its potential to catalyse permanent change? ‘It’s too soon to tell. Unfortunately, change is a slow process.’
But then, Power Out of Restriction aren’t waiting around for change to happen. Rising with the wave of innovators turning their backs on institutions which fail to reflect their needs and ethics, the collective is busy transforming the creative industries, one workshop at a time. And despite being taken aback at the suggestion that he and other POoR members are important role models, Shawn lights up at the opportunity to speak about their upcoming initiative: a joining of forces with Beyond the Box Consultants, Here East and the Royal Institute of British Architects to create The People’s Pavilion — London’s first community space entirely designed by young people.
‘The People’s Pavilion emerges out of a long period of working together with theatre training groups, architects, engineers, videographers, designers, all coming together under the umbrella of making a space for young people to create their own experiences. It’s a competition comprising workshops, training, and skill building, where the winning pavilion project will be built to hold activities and events which all who took part get to collectively curate. So at the end, whatever it is that the young people want to do, however they want to use the space, we will help them realise it. Even if they want to have a party,’
The People’s Pavilion launches on the 25th of September. You can support and follow The POoR Collective on instagram @poor_collective.