Ben Drew, Plan B
Award-winning rap artist, songwriter, actor, producer and director Ben Drew is laying the foundations for a different society. One that challenges a system that measures success only by academic qualifications and alienates young people who are unable to gain them. “Kids who are not academically gifted are told they are failures. They believe it, become disruptive get expelled. They end up on the block, smoking weed and doing crime. They are alienated from society,” says Drew, who speaks from experience. Drew ended his school career in Tunmarsh pupil referral unit (PRU) in Newham, for children considered ‘unteachable’ in mainstream education.
Drew’s route out of what he calls a “vicious circle” came when he found music. “There was an inspirational music teacher at Tunmarsh called Cliff Early who had the patience and motivation to work with kids like me. He gave me the confidence and belief in myself to pursue a career in music,” says Drew. Drew has gone on to win more than 20 top music awards, write two number one albums and produce, direct and co-score the film Ill Manors that tells the story of gang life on the Forest Gate estate where he grew up. Now as a successful artist he refuses to turn his back on the streets that were his muse and the estate kids whose talents he says are being wasted.
Spurred into action by the 2011 London riots and looting sprees he began to think about how he could change things. “These kids weren’t useless. They knew how to deal drugs, they were organised enough to commit crimes. What I also saw is that they all took great pride in their appearance, especially their hair. I thought if I could teach them how to cut hair I could give them a skill that they could use for life.”
Discussions with friends led him to Andrew Curtis and the Hair Project near Shoreditch. Curtis is a gifted Vidal Sassoon trained hairstylist who rejected an industry career to teach kids how to cut hair to the highest standards in a state-of-the-art salon. “When I met him he was living in the salon because he had run out of money.” Drew funded him to carry on his work and is helping The Hair Project become a sustainable organisation that takes kids from two East London PRU’s, training them for industry. And so Drew’s charity Each One, Teach One (EOTO) was born in 2012. He describes it as the ‘University of Alternative Learning’. Drew has invested hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring together like-minded people and create sustainable organisations committed to creating opportunities and enabling positive long-term changes in the lives of young people.
EOTO works with projects that invest in kids with creative vocational skills. They are currently running hairdressing, video-production, and music and drama projects, but are looking to expand their range of subjects to cover as many creative and vocational career paths as possible. The key to success says Drew is enhancing young people’s emotional intelligence through mentoring. “Mentoring is the glue. Without mentoring the rest would be a waste of time. We are mobilising the people who care and understand the problem to create a new society - one that young people understand and can be a part of,” says Drew.