Leo Young is on a mission to make the creative industries as diverse as the city he lives in, and he gets his inspiration from exploring every corner of London and immersing himself in the people and culture of our great city.

Living in Stoke Newington, Leo was happy to welcome Tales of the City to his home in one of our favourite London postcodes, N16, where we learned more about the work of the inspirational founder of pioneering creative agency, Good Nugget.

Leo Young was raised in Southsea, Portsmouth, and although his family enjoyed coastal life his parents had a passion for London. They were foodies and would bring their son up to town regularly to eat out and regale him with stories from their life in London as a younger couple.

“I loved those daytrips,” Leo says, “and from a young age I couldn’t wait to move here.”

Like many of us, he lived in a few areas before finding his first proper London home.

“When I moved to Shoreditch, fifteen years ago, Timeout was launching the ‘Art Trail’ where you navigated London by boutique art galleries. I threw myself into this and found the diversity and rawness that East London, in particular, offered made me feel properly at home. I loved how open it was and how individuality was expressed. Living next to the Tea Building, I was drawn into the party, music and art scenes, and the range of cultures and people I found there. That was where I found my group of friends and it was the start of finding my life.”

But he found his home three miles up the Kingsland Road.

“When I went looking for a different type of life and connection to my neighbourhood, I fell in love with Stoke Newington. The beauty of N16 is its variety and being so close to everything. The city is twenty minutes away, I’ve got Dalston on my doorstep for my foodie fix, and all the independent shops and pubs on Church Street. It’s a buzzing village close to the heart of the city. And there’s the cemetery! You can suddenly be on winding paths in the middle of woodland with total peace and quiet. Life in Stoke Newington is anything and everything you want it to be.”

Leo worked for fifteen years as a graphic designer in branding and packaging, specializing in the luxury and premium sector, and always happiest when working on fashion brands.

“I was consumed by the work, so at that time I didn’t fully understand the personal barriers I faced being part of the queer community and being a Chinese Asian. But that said, I was aware of how inspirational it was to be at an agency run by two amazing female leaders.”

One of those inspirational women is now involved in supporting Good Nugget, the non-profit organisation set up by Young in 2021. As his career progressed, the lack of diversity in the industry became impossible to ignore. He saw unconscious bias play out frequently and observed the way that creative companies repeatedly, year after year, hired the same type of talent in the same type of ways.

“A part of being creative is to be surrounded by a range of people bringing a variety of ideas, life experiences, and perspectives to the process. I wanted people who would challenge me and my teams in new ways. All this was sorely lacking in the creative industry.”

The benefits of a diverse workforce do not need pointing out, and hopefully neither do the societal obligations to ensure one. Mentoring and being generous with one’s own experience is one of the most effective routes to opening up opportunities for people and Leo suspected the industry was filled with senior professionals who would be glad to help.

“I asked myself and my peers ‘what do we wish we had known when starting out in the industry or thinking about trying to get into it?’ If I can tell someone what I know, it might help them. It could possibly empower a young person, and that means any young person, even if they’re from privilege. For those who don’t tend to get the opportunity to access a creative career, the insight and knowledge we can give them is even more powerful.”

Leo left his job and set up Good Nugget, so that addressing the lack of diversity in his profession became the priority in his working life. The agency started by running a mentoring program for young people from underrepresented backgrounds who they matched up with Leo’s network of creative contacts.

Good Nugget have recently launched Kickstart, real-life workshops which will boost employability soft skills and teach industry practices. Each participant gets an industry insider assigned to them, networking opportunities with creative companies and industry professionals, and one week’s work experience. The agency has a Just Giving bursary fund set up to raise money to ensure participants can afford to travel to their Kickstart events.

The essence of the agency’s work is understanding the barriers and issues around diversity and inclusion, many of which stem from how surprisingly conservative the so-called creative professions often are, which is one reason they don’t come close to reflecting the diversity of the population. Young believes the industry needs to change the way it looks at talent and hires it.

“The biggest thing I’m campaigning to change is the systemic barriers in the hiring processes. I want us to draw different talent into the creative industry by changing how we recruit. For instance, the way that we look at experience and education through CVs creates a dangerous bias. We need to recruit people, particularly at entry level, on potential and skills-based matching for the job. You don’t need a graduate from Oxford to be your PA, Studio Manager or Client Services Manager, you need somebody who is a great team worker, shows initiative, thinks outside the box, solves problems, and communicates. I don’t care where they came from, what university they went to; I need evidence that their skills and character can match to the role they’re applying for.”

Good Nugget’s speed mentoring initiative, called Coffee Club, consists of thirty-minute conversations between a young person and an industry professional from the creative sector that they’re interested in. The agency has found that half-an-hour can be profoundly empowering and insightful for that young person.

“Thirty minutes can change someone’s life.”

What’s remarkable about the way Young thinks and works is the very direct correlation between his passion for London and his commitment to diversity in his industry. The two things are intrinsically linked.

“I feel like that’s what connects me with London is that it is so diverse. It’s this pluralism, the different cultures, people, ways of seeing and living life, that made me love this city. I can walk from neighborhood to neighborhood, place to place, in London and experience that extraordinarily enriching diversity and that is what I want the creative industries to achieve. They should be exploring the emerging workforce and taking young talent from every neighbourhood, every race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, wherever and however they have been educated. Just as I do not stay put in one postcode and expect London to come to me, the leaders in the creative industries should not be going back to the same old places to recruit in the same old ways.”

Leo Young is a man on a mission. He says emphatically that he doesn’t have favourite haunts in London because, for him, London life is about the whole place. He passionately recommends leaving our phones at home and exploring, allowing yourself to follow your nose, and not interrupting the experience to photograph it or share it.

“I like to be quite present in places,” he says. “This city stimulates me, its diversity, its people, are such a stark reminder of the untapped potential for the creative industry. It’s a constant reminder that Good Nugget’s mission, to eradicate barriers to entry for young, underrepresented professionals, should be an imperative for all the city’s creative industry.”

If you are looking to enter the creative industries, or if you are an employer who could do with re-booting, or a creative professional who would like to mentor young people from all backgrounds, then visit https://goodnugget.co/

Good Nugget’s Just Giving bursary fund for the Kickstart training programme can be found at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/gntravel?utm_term=wAnEVwkn2

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