The first hour of Saturday goes by and nobody comes down to see the exhibition. That’s fine. I tell myself people will start to drip feed in from the street. The high of Thursday’s packed private view is still lingering, so I wander around the show, now eerily quiet, refusing to sit down and accept that normality has resumed. Then I remember a few bits I can be on with. As I reach into my backpack, footsteps lightly descend from Stance, the sock shop above a brand that has given Andy Cotterill and I the space to put on this personal labour of love, Lend Me Your Ear. It’s Mac Ferrari, co-founder of the Bikestormz community.
I talked to Mac at the private view as he passionately explained that the bike was the glue between people who may otherwise struggle to see past perceived differences. He passionately explained that when young people are left with time on their hands and not a lot to do with it, a number of bad things are likelier to happen. To me this is not news, but seemingly, to those who make the cuts to youth services, it is either that, or worse, known and consciously ignored.
Let’s say there’s a kid wearing a different hairstyle or item of clothing, he tells me. Maybe one of the others will highlight this and take the piss. You get the idea. Devils, idle hands and all that. But when that kid gets on the bike and performs a wheelie, or just rides, they are equal, engaged or perhaps just distracted from a reality that does not bring them happiness. His arms are moving with purpose now, eyes seeing far beyond this room, his mind in the world he is trying to build from the ground up. The bike is a conduit of sorts. Mac explains that there are over 4,000 people in the Bikestormz community. Many of them are stars within it, far beyond it. He has a quiet manner about him, but the steel in his voice as he talks is invigorating and I want to work with him. Just like that, massive new scope for this collaboration of music photography and illustration to expand. I hold off blurting out suggestions for now, swap contacts and stifle my growing excitement.
In one room we have Mac, Young Urban Arts Foundation’s founder Kerry O’Brien who leaves much of the 130+ people in a state of shock as she reframes the way many of them will perceive gang culture, making it very easy to understand how vulnerable kids are preyed upon and trapped. There’s also Charlie Dark, who introduced Andy and I to Stance. Charlie is the founder of Run Dem Crew, an urban running club comprised of creative heads. They provide their own form of mentoring for young people. That our work and the support of Stance can bring people like this together is a beautiful thing.
Now meeting again on this slow starting Saturday, Mac asks me how much room I have down here and I look around, shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Quite a bit, why?’ Then he says what I hoped he’d say. Seconds later, 20 young people with bikes pour into the exhibition, nodding, shaking my hand, parking-up around the space, under the artwork on the walls. All the while I hold my phone, taking pictures, mouth open, shell-shocked. Mac asks me to give an impromptu short talk about my story and what’s happening here in this room. I tell them that the music of Damon Albarn, Gallagher brothers and Jarvis, all in this show, made me want to find my own voice in my own way.
Bikestormz are now Stance ambassadors along with Charlie Dark. They take in the show, ask questions, tell me which bits resonates with them and head upstairs to choose socks given to them by Stance.
Whilst they’re upstairs, I take photographs through bike wheels, pedals, over handlebars and have to talk myself down from having a go, knowing only too well I’d fall off and dislocate something. Instead I sit and sketch the bikes on the back of the ink painted original lyric for the Damon Albarn image in the show. It reads I AIN’T GOT NOTHING TO BE SCARED OF. Around it I write a message to Bikestormz as a thank you for this moment, which says they should never underestimate how much their energy lights people up and give it to Mac before they leave.
Bikestormz now have the backing of the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan police. My brain ticks and the cogs turn, thinking of ways I can be a part of this crucial work beyond the partnership with YUAF for this exhibition, how we can ensure this impressive framework is embedded into our society before too many young people are lost. Whilst my own passion for this cause stems from the happiness and belonging my creativity gives me, the desire to see it shared around, such roots often sprout from desperation and various extremes of personal adversity. Kerry’s own brush with gangs in her youth and subsequent escape into music is the foundation for YUAF. Charlie Dark cites disillusionment with his own music-making career as a DJ, a personal quest for fitness and a way to deal with his own mental health issue among others as catalysts for Run Dem Crew. As for Mac, #BikesUpKnivesDown says everything about the motivations of a man who has lost many people he grew up with to murder or prison.
I spend the rest of the day gloating to friends who come by about how I got my own personal wheelie from Kizzy, one of the Bikestormz riders, in the gallery space no less. Then it occurs to me that if my own experiences as a teenager were any kind of indicator, maybe they are not yet ready to appreciate just how much I mean what I wrote. But Mac knows. Kerry O’Brien and Charlie Dark know. The benefactors of their sweat and tears know. Many of the most effective creative solutions are inspired by personal challenges and adversity, showcased beautifully across these three communities and more people should be thanking them. But there is much to be done. To change cultural thinking, from the person in the office above who files a complaint because the noise of wheels on concrete below mildly irritates them, right through to those in power failing the most vulnerable young people with short term thinking, those of us who know must come together and find strength in unity. After this week’s encounters, count me in.
For more on Bikestormz: http://www.bikelife.tv/tag/bikestormz/
For Young Urban Arts head to http://yuaf.org.uk
For Run Dem Crew head to: https://www.rundemcrew.com/
To hear Kerry O’Brien’s empowering story about young people and creativity: http://soundcloud.com/arrestallmimics/ep138