POSTED BY: STEPHANIE BURNS
THE BEST IS YET TO COME FOR THE SOCIAL ENTERPRISE BOOSTING SHEFFIELD’S UNDERGROUND SCENE
When University of Sheffield history graduate Michael Thompson was arrested – and later jailed – for drug offences in 2013/14, it made him take a good, long look at his life and wonder how the hell he was going to turn things round.
But prison, rather than crushing his spirit, ignited something that has since helped Michael and his two fellow directors – Joe Gaughan and Adam Seymour – launch one of Sheffield’s most exciting social enterprises.
As RiteTrax celebrates its first birthday with a warehouse party, we caught up with Michael to find out what they’re up to – and what they’ve got planned for the future.
How did RiteTrax come about?
About four or five years ago, me and Joe were involved with Artificial Constructs, a creative collective platform for the underground scene. I spent 2014 in prison wondering how to turn Artificial Constructs into something more. After doing a business course in prison and learning about social enterprise, we came up with RiteTrax. We got a grant from The Prince’s Trust and got Adam on board. Then, in June last year, we did an online crowdfunding campaign on a site called StartJOIN and raised just over £1,500.
What was the idea?
That there would be no limitations. We wanted to start a project – a creative collective – that would provide a platform for events and help people learn new skills through workshops. We received quite a bit of support. My aim was to eventually get ex-offenders involved because of the things I saw in prison and the lack of creative participation.
When did it all come together?
We launched this time last year at Yellow Arch Studios. Then we got a residency at Golden Harvest and, since then, we’ve been building the momentum. We have a core group of people – we use the same sound system (Insub Audio) and do loads with Golden Harvest.
What else have you been up to?
Me and Adam also do a monthly radio show at Reform Radio in Manchester. They promote digital skills in young people and we promote any kind of underground music we like on there. In August we did an event at Bolehills in Crookes to reach out to the wider community and it went down really well. Earlier this year I applied to the School for Social Entrepreneurs, which is funded by the Lottery and Lloyds bank. It’s a year of social enterprise and business training and a £4,000 business fund. Out of 135 applications, only 21 of us got on the course. It’s less around your project – although you have to apply with your business idea – and more about developing leadership skills, project management skills and being a better business person. It’s having social aims and noble aims but trying to make money too.
Why do you think it’s important that initiatives like RiteTrax exist?
It’s important to have a sense of collective identity and to promote a sense of collaboration. We try to have regular events every month so people always have something to work towards. It keeps people busy and gives people friends that they see every month.
What is the ultimate aim?
To have a creative space so we can bring artists together and do sessions with people from the community. We also want to provide a sustainable platform for events, poetry, live art and digital things, and maybe even set up a record label.
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