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RECLAIM's Ruth Ibegbuna's new book is right 'On Youth'

Rob Martin
Written by
Rob Martin

On the day that Salford announces it is to be the North's first Social Enterprise City, we talk to Ruth Ibegbuna, the founder and Chief Executive of RECLAIM, an award-winning social enterprise charity based in Manchester which works to bring out the potential of young people in the city via a two year community-based programme, focused on leadership, enterprise, activism, & community development. 

Her new book, 'On Youth', gets five of the young people who participated in the RECLAIM project to tell their own stories, so we found out a bit more about Ruth's thoughts on the so-called 'Northern Powerhouse', the aims of her organisation, and how the arts scene in the region deal with the young people she works with.

You're originally from Bradford - what do you think about talk of a new 'Northern Powerhouse'.

'I left Bradford after the riots in 2001 to come and work in Manchester. Bradford has continually lost out to more established northern cities and now struggles to achieve any positive recognition. So whilst Manchester will undoubtedly push forward and realise the scale of its own ambition, this may well be at the cost of its less advantaged neighbours. I currently live in Stockport and if a northern powerhouse is to emerge it’s crucial to ensure that the development is all-encompassing and doesn’t leave a stream of failed towns in its wake.

Manchester is becoming a hot spot on the British cultural landscape; The Whitworth, HOME, MIF etc - how much do you feel Manchester's young people are included in this vision?
'RECLAIM works with young people from working-class areas. When we take them to cultural hotspots they walk around in awe. Often, cultural engagement with so-called ‘hard to reach’ communities is often tokenistic and driven largely by available funding streams. We talk of ‘engagement projects’ and ‘accessibility workshops’ rather than a genuine welcome of all residents, regardless of status, wealth, age and social class. The North West contains some of the poorest towns in the whole country. For me, a truly brilliant gallery would provide something of relevance for all.'

With recent debates about elitism in the arts, do you feel working class talent is locked out of British future success stories?
'Others have expressed this far more eloquently but we're now facing a situation where working class talented young people have a mountain to climb to attain critical and commercial success in the arts. Traditional outposts for creative success are now dominated by those who have already received a headstart in life. Its imperative that alongside our Benedict Cumberbatch, Damian Lewis and Eddie Redmayne we find a few more like Julie Walters, Kathy Burke and Jimmy McGovern. Working class young people are often priced out of arts professions. Drama, Dance, Art and Music are increasingly marginalised in the school curriculum and this has an inevitable knock-on effect.'

Why did you decide to profile the stories of 5 Manchester working-class young people in your recent book, 'On Youth?'
'Each chapter in 'On Youth' resonates very strongly with a different demographic. The young people selected have pertinent and relevant stories that resonates widely and reflect a considerable cohort of young people across the country. What is interesting is that many older people read the book and tell me that the stories reflected their own lived experience; growing up and facing extreme challenges with limited support. The young people in On Youth have clearly demonstrated that UK society needs to wake up and better support its young.'

Your charity, RECLAIM has a pretty bold aim to 'end leadership inequality within a generation' - why is it important to have national conversations about inequality?
'There is an unprecedented assault on the most vulnerable groups in society. We talk of leadership inequality but we have a uniform political establishment that doesn’t allow for new dissenting voices. We rely on an economic model that has had a catastrophic impact on the working class; particularly the young who have been hit hardest. At RECLAIM we are working with young people across different neighbourhoods but they provide a universal response by crying out for change. We already have young leaders within RECLAIM and we know there are thousands beyond our reach. Ending leadership inequality within a generation is only ambitious if you believe the current status quo is the right one.'

Find out more about Ruth's book, 'On Youth'

Visit RECLAIM's website

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