Ben Drew, or Plan B as he’s better known, isn’t just a triple threat – he’s a quintuple threat. An accomplished musician, actor, director, producer, writer – everything he touches seems to turn to gold. Which is why it’s a good job that he set up Each One Teach One, a charity that focuses on inspiring and encouraging the youths that some parts of society seem to have given up on. The Tunmarsh Centre isn’t a place that Ben has forgotten as he’s ascended to new levels of success; it was here that his musical journey was first conceived and an institution that Ben is now a governor of. Although it’s been in the works since summer last year, today a brand new music room is now being launched in the school, furnished with some of the best musical equipment money can buy. Named after Ben’s late music teacher Cliff Earlye, the intention of the room is to give young people positive opportunities and another chance to become whatever they want to – as was once given to him.
Do you remember the moment you decided to set up Each One Teach One?
I set up Each One Teach One after the (London 2011) riots because without the music, without the career that I had – there’s every possibility that I could have been one of those kids. When I left school, I was a very angry individual; angry with society and the way that certain people in society treated me because of where I was from, because of the way I spoke, because of the school that I went to and the way that I carried myself. I was a product of my environment. I think it was pretty obvious to the outside world; the world outside of the bubble that I lived in, that I was from where I was from and I felt it made it very difficult for me when I was going for job interviews or mixing with other classes. I felt like I wasn’t part of society and that’s why a lot of the early music I wrote was the way it was – it was me trying to shout out to the world, saying people like us are human beings as well. Just maybe had a harder start, but we’re all capable of achieving as much as everyone else. When I saw the kids in the riots, I saw myself, years ago and it upset me because I knew places like The Tunmarsh Centre, where we are now, the pupil referral unit that I went to – it’s full of these great teachers that dedicate their lives to transforming young people that come from difficult backgrounds. My initial reaction to the riots was that all that hard work that these teachers and social workers had been putting in through the years – was for nothing – because the riots gave the well-off classes what they wanted, in terms of excuse as to why these kids should be punished further and the reason public money and tax money shouldn’t be spent on these kids. That was my initial reaction, but then as time went on, I actually started seeing a silver lining under all that negativity – no-one could deny that there was an issue any more. It’s because of the environment that these kids live in. They’ve got drug dealers on their doorsteps, bad parenting, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc. The riots proved that those issues have not been dealt with for many years and they’ve never been on top of the priority list. That’s what made me set up the organisation, because I felt like the government are never going do anything about it. Someone like me, who comes from that environment, feels that strongly about it and is now in a position where he can now help in terms of influence and also in a financial way – I felt that I need to do something for the young people. I need to teach the young people to value themselves, show them that they all have hidden talents somewhere; they just need to find them. Then show the world that we’re all human beings and just because someone’s had a harder start, doesn’t mean that they can’t reach the heights of success that people have done from a more well-off background. The way of doing that was by introducing more hard-to-get-into industries to these kids at a younger age. Vocational studies, subjects where the kids can get their hands dirty. They’re obviously not engaging well with academics, so we need something that they will engage with. Music, hairdressing, art, film, videography, media – is what these kids enjoy anyway. I found out about small organisations that existed in local areas and were run by really enthusiastic passionate people with a lot of knowledge and experience in these hard-to-get-into industries. When I set up Each One Teach One, it was so we could help fund and support these small organisations, help them to be sustainable but also connect them to the young people that they were set up to help.
Gibson have donated Cerwin Vega! Speakers, Gibson Les Pauls and Epiphone guitars – what does that mean to the charity and what impact might it have on the young people who come here?
When I was growing up, I could only afford an Epiphone acoustic guitar which is about £100 and I remember other kids having proper Gibson Les Pauls – I always thought, ‘Wow, I’m worlds away from ever owning one of those’. So, for me to have a brand such as Gibson, so prestigious, to be gifting guitars of such high level and high quality for these kids – I see it as a dream come true. They’re walking into a place like the music room that we’ve just built, they’re seeing the facilities and the instruments and it seems real to them. It seems like we’re offering them a route into a career that is actually attainable and we’re partnering up with the right companies. It means there are brands that do care about the progression of young talent and it’s just a good statement of intent from us and from Gibson to be providing these kind of kids with these kind of instruments.
You’re friends with many other influential artists, have you brought any of them to this music yet?
We’ve been doing some pilot sessions here. Today’s the official launch, but we wanted to film and document how some of the sessions will operate once the room’s launched. It’s really simple – just get artists that the kids look up to and get them to sit in sessions. The sessions will involve an artist like myself or Tinie Tempah or Labrinth or Jess Glynne and you’ll sit with an individual, you’ll ask them what they like doing, some of them may like bass or drums or piano or singing and then you just work to their strengths. You ask them to play in front of you, you work out how good they are at what they do – their ability, the strengths they do have and then you work on the weaknesses. With a lot of the kids, you can put a guitar in their hand and teach them two chords and they‘ll just get going and you can get someone on the bass, someone on the keys and they can start jamming away – almost instantly. But there are always a few kids in the corner that will not get involved and won’t try any of the instruments. When we were doing the workshops, those were the guys that we tried to focus on. I’d bring them over to the synthesiser and show them how to make noises and if that didn’t work, I’d bring them over to the drum kit and Labrinth would teach them basic rhythm on the drum kit and instantly you’d see these kids who believed that they had absolutely no ability to make music, suddenly, they’re really natural drummers and that’s within 10 minutes. So, the effect that this music room is having is already bearing fruits. It’s already very evident that it is going to be a positive force in their future and the main evidence is the increase of good behaviour and the increased attendance of students. If a kid is turning up to school more than they were before the music room got here – that’s evidence that it’s working. If a child is getting kicked out of class less than they were before, that’s all the evidence we really need going forward, in terms of getting more funding to keep this running and trying to open up more places like this in more pupil referral units.
Each One Teach One has progressed immensely since its inception, what aspirations do you have for its future?
We’ve got a model in our head of how we make a difference to young people in this country – in the long run; we will make a difference to our country. If you look at the kids during the riots, you’re looking at a generation of what people may call ‘troublemakers’ – you need to transform those ‘troublemakers’ into members of our society that want to be part of it. The only way of doing that is by going to where we know those kids are, where they’re registered, which is pupil referral units. These are kids that don’t work in comprehensive schools, they get kicked out of class all the time when they are at comprehensive schools, eventually get expelled and end up here. We know where those kids are, the kids that go to local community centres to play football – those are the kids we’re talking about and if community centres close down, those children are no longer monitored. As long as kids are monitored during the summer, as long as they’re supposed to be somewhere, there’s less chance that you’re going to have scenes of rioting like we had in 2011. We know where these kids are, so we need to bring these opportunities to them, which means opening more music rooms in more PRUs and not just music rooms, also outreach programmes. We work with a lot of different organisations, at the moment we work with hairdressing, boxing, acting, media, sound tech. We’ve got a lot to offer pupil referral units in terms of outreach and expertise, people coming in and introducing these subjects to kids from a younger age than 16/17, we should introduce them at age 13/14, so that the kids have a couple years of experience of something before they get to college and they’re asked what they want to do. If somebody wants to do hair and beauty in college and they’ve never done it before, they may enrol and find six months down the line that they’re not into it and don’t like it. It’s better to give a kid a taste of that before they’re asked to make that decision. That’s what we’re looking to do with our outreach programme at this school at The Tunmarsh Centre and we hope in the next two years that we can prove that it works and then going forward, that our model is adopted by other organisations up and down the country and hopefully, eventually, funded by the government.