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Posted by Sarah Brown on 13 Dec '21

What inspired me to get up at 1am to write.

Sometimes a story and insights are so gripping you can't sleep.

Every Sunday, I go to bed and hope to listen to Matthew Syed, one of my favourite writers, on Radio 4 at 12.15am.

I usually start listening and then fall asleep, but tonight it was so gripping I couldn't go to sleep and then had to get up to start writing this.

The programme finished, and I wanted to sleep but was afraid I might lose some of my thoughts. So I got up on a cold December night at 1am to write in longhand rather than lose the inspiration.

You can hear the programme as a podcast on BBC Sounds inspiring Bill Strickland

It started by talking about the impact of a teacher, Mr Ross, on one teenager in Pittsburgh, Bill Strickland. Mr Ross taught ceramics and inspired this young man so much that he has gone on to change the world for thousands of others and is still doing so. I will give more details about that below.

The programme also shared other inspiring insights. Building on the theme of inspirational teachers, it described the history teacher that played protest songs to teenagers while teaching about the Vietnam war and used Love Island to discuss Queen Elizabeth 1st's suitors.

That got me thinking about Mrs Fergurson, my history teacher, who inspired me. She told us that there was no absolute truth, question everything, even what she said, and look for different perspectives. She wanted us to read a tabloid and a quality paper each day to compare how they approached the same story. I can still remember the piles of newspapers we had at home because of this request.

But this is not my story. It is the story that so many teenagers could be inspired by great teachers and are in danger of psychological damage.

The episode shares the science behind this. It is now known that the brain continues to grow and change into the early '20s. In particular, teenagers are creative, but many psychological disorders also start in the teenage years because their brains are still forming. Teenagers are not fully formed adults acting up; they have particular strengths and needs - how clearly the last two years have shown this.

If you are worried about a teenager, this programme might give you some ideas.

"We have to build places of hope rather than places of despair. The public school system here is built to contain kids, not educate them. If you build prisons, you create prisoners."

Bill Strickland

The headline on Bill Strickland's website and the title of his book, which I have just ordered, is "Making the impossible possible."

The following is based on information from his website. Bill Strickland was born in 1947 and grew up in Manchester, an inner-city neighbourhood of Pittsburgh. His life changed when he became inspired by high school art teacher Frank Ross, a skilled artisan on the potter's wheel. Ross and Strickland's relationship with a revolving mound of clay gave form to the future vision of Manchester Craftsmen's Guild. The Guild began as an after-school arts programme in a donated North Side row house that Strickland secured while still a college student at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1969, he graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in American history and foreign relations, having been expected to fail by his school before he met Ross.

The steel industry's decline created widespread unemployment. Bidwell Training Centre addressed the problem by offering vocational training to displaced and underemployed workers. Due to Strickland's successful track record with MCG, he was asked in 1971 to assume leadership of BTC and guide its transition to providing skills relevant to Pittsburgh's emerging market economy. Strickland's involvement in MCG and BTC doubled Manchester Bidwell Corporation's strength to help the community. He envisioned a template for social change and began to form relationships with businesses, government officials, and individuals who shared his vision.

Today, Manchester Bidwell Corporation has evolved into a national model for education, culture and hope. MCG Youth & Arts and MCG Jazz are both Manchester Craftsmen's Guild programmes: MCG Youth serves approximately 3,900 youth each year through classes and workshops in ceramics, photography, digital imaging, and design art. MCG Arts gives students a chance to work intensively with visiting artists of national and international stature through exhibitions, lectures, workshops, residencies and school visits. MCG Jazz is dedicated to preserving, promoting and presenting jazz music by bringing audiences together with jazz artists at its 350-seat music hall in Pittsburgh for innovative four-day performances and recordings. After 20 years of operation, MCG Jazz has become an anchor of Pittsburgh's cultural and community life. Bidwell Training Center provides market-driven career education created through strong partnerships with leading local industries. The centre offers accredited Associates Degree and diploma programmes in fields as varied as culinary arts, chemical laboratory technologies, health careers, horticulture and office technology.

Manchester Bidwell Corporation is a business model that works. The model works so well that Bill Strickland has replicated the Manchester Bidwell enterprise throughout the country and globally. From his initial work in Pittsburgh, his ideas have spread to Chicago, Israel. The model is now being developed in Belfast.

The following is taken from the website of the original charity Manchester Bidwell Corporation:

The guiding principles

"Our guiding principles and diverse programming transform the lives of our community, adults-in-transition and Pittsburgh-area youth. These principles are at the heart of our Founder & Executive Chairman Bill Strickland's educational model and in his own words, are the cure to the cycle of poverty. We implement these principles in many ways – adult career training, youth arts education and social enterprise – but the end result is a better way forward for our community.

Environment Shapes Behavior

​Everything about the physical, emotional and philosophical atmosphere at MBC is purposeful – the way the light fills the rooms, the art on the wall and the friendliness of our staff.

We believe that everyone, no matter their background, deserves beauty, respect and the opportunity to learn in a safe space. When provided with these, the underserved will become world-class, productive citizens.

People Are Assets

​We believe that people are born as assets. Given the proper positive environment, any person can grow the seed of personal genius buried inside them.

By providing encouragement, opportunity and resources, we strive to keep community members, young and older, on the positive side of the social balance sheet.

Creativity Fuels Enterprise

​Society and the economy are driven forward when new ideas become reality. At Manchester Bidwell, we embrace and encourage creative thought.

Given the chance to dream, anyone may have an opportunity to create something – a product, artwork, a business – that will change the world."

Want more inspiration read:

Seeing opportunities rather than problems

Would your business do this?

Working together to change the world

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