On Friday I was privileged to be part of a Musikscool event, working with a Young Peoples’ Centre in Wantage, Oxfordshire called The Sweatbox.  The centre is due to close in June because of funding cuts, and our event was part of a series of initiatives designed to help the group to keep their centre alive.

We have been running Musikscool type events in the corporate world for over 10 years, and only recently started working with schools and non profit making organisations.  What the kids achieved on this one blew us away.

First recording within 90 minutes!

We set out with the aim of making a 5 track music CD in the day, raising a substantial amount of money from it and raising the profile of  The Sweatbox as much as possible.  A huge challenge for any group,  let alone a bunch of teenagers, who we all know are supposed to be disaffected, lazy, lacking in focus, confused and generally dysfunctional.

In the event we had our first track recorded by 10.30 (3 hours earlier than if it had been in a big fat corporate).  The first local press turned up at 10.00.   The BBC were there by noon filming us for an hour, later transmitted on local evening news.  And we had no less than 4 interviews on BBC Radio Oxford, with over an hour in total on air. If you’re quick you might catch it on iPlayer.  (3 interviews, one with me 2 hrs 34 mins in).

Oh, and by the way, the music was outstanding, as this short video will show you (this track was the first to be recorded).

So, the results speak for themselves.  They win, hands down.   What the results don’t show is the way in which they did all this.  They made it look a complete breeze.  I found myself worrying about the lack of sense of urgency, the permanently chilled but cheerful demeanour thoughout the day, the absence of conflict. It just didn’t seem right.

Let me be more specific about how they did things compared with how “grown ups”  (ha ha, give me a break!) perform:  at the start of these events we tell them what they have to do overall and what each team’s brief is, and then ask them to get into the group where they fancy working for the day.  Try that one in corporate land, and give it at least 20 minutes, after which you will need your loud hailer to bring them to order and have to then force people to change groups or make their decision for them.  In teenage land you let it work itself out, and within 5 minutes it is sorted.  If you tell them they are short of 5 fundraisers, 5 people volunteer to swap without a moment’s hesitation.

What’s the difference?  I’ve been thinking about this all weekend, and come to some simple conclusions.  What teenagers have but we oldies don’t (and we have forgotten we don’t) is:

  • Egos which have not yet stopped them from listening to each other, and recognising who is the right person for each job
  • Curiosity to learn and explore new things
  • Resilience and the ability to recover quickly from setbacks.  (We had no internet for most of the day.  Imagine that in corporate land.)
  • Informality and a relaxed approach, allowing things to evolve without stress.  They get more done by slowing down.

The other thing which knocked my socks off was the passion they had for their cause, and the sense of purpose.  Listen to the lyric on the video.  The song is called “Don’t take it away”.  The opening words are “We’ve been here 45 years, and we’re not going down without a fight.”  Disaffected?  Disengaged?  I think not.

And what was most moving, for me, was the comment at the end of the film, when Jay asked someone what Sweatbox meant to her, in one word, to which the answer was “family”.  The centre is so important to them because they value the chance to be with people, to share and build meaningful relationships rather than hanging around in the park smoking dope, which they readily admit they would otherwise be doing.  Their passion was to protect something as basic as what they think of as a family.  How encouraging is that?

It got me thinking about how some of these qualities gradually get washed out of us over the years. without our noticing.  This was a brilliant way to put them back into focus again.

If you would like to hear the other 5 amazing tracks on the CD, please let me know (in the comments box) how much it is worth to you (!) and I’ll make sure you get a copy.

Please help us to get the word out for The Sweatbox by tweeting this and doing all the other stuff that teenagers are good at!