Unfortunately, COVID-19 and all it has brought, forced Saphia to adapt her project and rethink how it would be delivered. She did not let it stop her though, instead she forged ahead and kept her vision and mission alive.
Read on to read this fantastic interview between Kate, The Agency Project Manager and Saphia the creator of We Integrate, giving an insight into her journey.
Kate: Tell us a bit about your project We Integrate.
Saphia: We Integrate is a project for young people who might be having some challenges at school or with the authorities to come together and be creative and to express themselves. I chose a creative approach because with creativity, no one can really tell you what to do, you are your own person. With creativity it’s subjective, everyone has a different way of showing their creativity.
The whole thing with We Integrate is that people shouldn’t feel left behind because of what society deems them to be. The young people I am targeting with the project; no one wants to hear them out, they don’t get a lot of chances that others get. That could be because of low self esteem or it could just be the lack of a support system. I want my project to benefit them.
Kate: We Integrate uses music to engage young people, why music as a form?
Saphia: Music is a very popular way to express yourself, especially with his generation, so it is relatable. With making music you can express yourself by writing lyrics that relate to you and yourself but also imagining things too. I want also to explore drama and poetry with the participants.
Kate: You are obviously a creative person yourself to create this project with art at the heart it…
Saphia: I am not good at drawing or stuff like that, but I like listening to music, I feel inspired when I listen to music. I am in to RnB and alternative music like Indie. I write songs. When I am in a certain mood, I write. I just say what’s in my head – I would rather write it down that keep it in my head. And I love drama, at school I did all of the shows and performances.
Kate: What is your favourite show you have been in?
Saphia: At college we did Bassett (by James Graham), that was a really good one. It is about 6 high school student who get locked in a classroom by a teacher and they talk about social issues like racism and politics and stuff like that. They all have mixed views, some are on the left and some on the right. It is different people’s opinions, it was interesting.
Kate: Originally the plan for We Integrate was to deliver workshops in schools and youth clubs across Moston and Harpurhey and a few days before the first workshop the national lockdown was announced and put a stop on everything. How did you deal with that, after all the hard work you put in to getting the project in it’s feet?
Saphia: I think for a while I was actually kind of devastated! All of the time, the preparation, the planning. I just felt like it had gone to waste. But when we were doing Zoom meetings (with producer Reece Williams) and looking at alternatives it made me more optimistic about the future of the project and how we can expand the project without having to meet face to face.
Kate: Through the process of re-planning and keeping going with everything, what have you learnt?
Saphia: I learnt that I need tone resilient and to be motivated. There was a time when I just couldn’t be bothered to do anything but I had to step up. It would have all been a waste of time if I didn’t try to push forward. It is a relief to know that even though I couldn’t do what I originally planned, there is always a plan b, an alternative. I learnt that you shouldn’t just stop because one thing didn’t go right.
Kate: You easily could have given up but you didn’t! What worked for you to get through it and find the motivation? Do you have any top tips for the rest of us?!
Saphia: I try to surround myself with positivity, what made the lockdown miserable for me was reading the news, seeing too much of what was going on, when I minimised how much I was reading in the news it made me more positive. I’m not going to say stop watching the news but limit what you are watching because it can be so draining. Another tip is to just do what makes you happy! For me, listening to music makes me happy, When I am listening to music I feel so much better. So I would say to just do what makes you feel positive.
Kate: You have been working with rapper Yussuf to create a track especially for We Integrate, tell us about the track…
Saphia: I think it’s relatable, the lyrics and stuff, I think the young people in my project will like it because of the message behind it.
Kate: It is a drill track, but it has a different narrative to most drill tracks and so I wanted to ask you about that. What are your thoughts on fusing together a genre like drill with a more positive message?
Saphia: When I was working with Yussuf and Reece Williams on the track, the main thing was that I wanted him to make something related to the target audience. We are so used to seeing drill songs in this culture with lyrics about stabbing people and violence and stuff like that. We wanted this to be different, to use a drill beat but do it in a way it is not usually portrayed. With drill there is a negative stereotype you know the lyrics and the meaning behind the songs, we thought if we take this genre but make the lyrics more positive I think people could start to see it in a different light.
Kate: What is the plan for the future for We Integrate? It feels like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with COVID, what are you wanting to do once groups can start meeting again for workshops?
Hopefully, I want to work on a music project at Contact and learn how to facilitate, learn to plan and how to work with my target audience. I want to gain some experience so I can run my own sessions for We Integrate, I want to be fully confident working with people, I want to feel like I know what I am doing and that I know what I want the outcome of my project to be.
Kate: You developed your project We Integrate through Contact’s youth entrepreneurship project The Agency. How do you feel about being part of The Agency?
It is fun but it gives you a lot of opportunities to do better with yourself, to branch out. The Agency makes you want to socialise with people, like making a network with people, The Agency helps you branch out and give you access to those people you need for your project.
Kate: Where do you want to take We Integrate in the next 3 years?
Saphia: At the moment I am just working in Moston and Harpurhey, but it would like to expand into other areas, I want other people from other areas to work with the project. I want young people to be able to turn their lives around.
Kate: What are some of the issues facing young people at this point as we are slowly returning to normality?
Saphia: I think young people mental health is not at its best, you know they have been stuck at home with nothing to do, I would say they feel unmotivated. They have not been socialising except with family and sometimes you need to speak to other people outside of your home and if you can’t do that because you have to stay inside it takes a toll eventually on your mental health. The pandemic has really opened my eyes to a lot of stuff, I knew that people had difficult situation at home like abuse and lack of food etc but I just wasn’t really thinking about it. The pandemic has opened my eyes to the stuff that people are going through, especially people my age.
Here is the video mentioned above, in which Saphia created with musicians Yussuf and Reece, with a strong message, in line with her project We Integrate.
You can find out more about The Agency and other projects we are supporting here. Recently, we spoke to Agency member Dasha about Embracing Me, her project creating body positivity workshops for schools. Read about Embracing Me here.