Creativity from the care system

Naomi Taylor
Naomi Taylor

Naomi (Gnome) Taylor came through foster care, battled demons and is now an award-winning creative at Mr President. She wants to find more role models to help others from similar backgrounds succeed in advertising.

There are many reasons why I might not be writing this today, and many reasons why you might not be reading it. We make choices because they determine our destination and with every completed journey, another hits you up. But what if you lost your map and didn't know where to go? Not everyone can afford a tour guide.

I’ll give you a bit of context. I went to School of Communication Arts 2.0, received a scholarship and crowdfunded living/travel costs by asking the industry for help. During the end of the school year, I hit rock bottom and battled some demons. I went back in the next intake, entered D&AD New Blood, won a black Pencil and secured the job I had always wanted at Mr President. 

Diversity. A word I’ve begun to hate. It’s not just about opening your eyes to what’s in front of you, it’s about opening your mind. I was in foster care and although it wasn’t all bad, it was an experience I had to go through because of other experiences. I had no choice. I could call them problems or issues, but they taught me things and that’s what’s important. That’s my choice. I am one of the lucky few that kept fighting for something better than expected statistics. And that bothers me.

At 18, you move out. "You’re on your own, mate." It doesn’t matter if you’re a refugee who can’t speak English or a teenage mum with another on the way, it’s "See ya later." When you don’t have the support of a family, who do you turn to? When you have no friends because you’ve never lived in one place for longer than a few months, who do you talk to? I don’t even know, and that’s why the system is shit. Yeah, there’s support out there but you have to search for it. I dunno about you but I never go past the second page of Google results. One thing that’s consistent with care leavers? Creativity. A way of expressing your feelings when you can’t talk about them, using your initiative because you don’t have parents telling you how to do things.

This worked for me and it will for others. I’m gonna be their tour guide because they don’t deserve to become another statistic of drugs, jails, institutions and death. So, I’m starting Next of Kin to help care leavers get into the industry because I believe in them. Their voice is valuable and they deserve to have unexpected opportunities. Next of Kin will provide workshops, training, talks and, ultimately, scholarships. But first it needs to build a network.

If you were in care, I’d like to get to know you. If you have cared for someone, I’d like to know you too. Care leavers need role models – someone to look up to, someone who will go back and help others reach their destination. Surveys suck, but they’re decent at gathering data so please click here. You can say nothing or you can tell me your life story. I swear not to share anything you say without your consent. We can change statistics but, bigger than that, we can change lives.

Naomi (Gnome) Taylor is a junior creative at Mr President @ThisIsNextOfKin @gnomeegnome

Gnome’s story by Marc Lewis, dean of School of Communication Arts 2.0

The selection process at School of Communication Arts is as unorthodox as the diverse students who win a place. When Gnome came for hers, in 2016, I knew she was something special and I offered her a scholarship. I loved her tone of voice and her attitude. The trouble was that she needed more than just a scholarship to start her journey with us in September 2016. As a care-leaver without family support to lean on, she needed help to fund her travel to and from Colchester every day, money for books, money for an iMac, money to survive.

I was impressed by how Gnome crowdfunded the money she needed. By sending hundreds, thousands, 10s of thousands of emails, letters and tweets, she persuaded the good and the great to back her. I won’t mention names because I don’t want to create a queue outside offices in Soho and Shoreditch. I think she bagged about £20k to go along with her scholarship. When Gnome sets herself a goal, she smashes it almost every time.

But in July 2017, Gnome hit rock bottom. Much of the money she had raised was invested in Colombia’s black-market economy and distributed up her nasal cavities. She had bruises, blackouts and a breakdown. The troubles of growing up in care had come back to haunt her. Later, I would discover that drug and alcohol addiction is almost expected among those who grow up in the care system.

Gnome moved into my family home that July. My wife and kids helped me to support her. I took her to Narcotics Anonymous meetings five times a week and then I took her on our family holiday so that I could keep an eye on her. Slowly she started to look a bit more human and eventually she looked like the fighter I had met at that first interview day.

By September 2017, Gnome was ready to give SCA another go. Sober this time. Still living in my family home, we travelled to school together each day, talking about our hopes and dreams. One was to help Gnome to find an affordable flat in London, one was to win a D&AD black Pencil, one was to get a job at Mr President.

Let’s pause for a moment and agree that these are hefty, chunky, ambitious goals for anyone. To be recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, having lost confidence and health, and without any money, it must have seemed like climbing Mount Fuji in flip flops.

Gnome moved into her own one-bedroom apartment near Warren Street just before Christmas 2017. I decided that she was ready to leave SCA and begin her first placement in March 2018, soon after she had submitted her D&AD award entry. Friends who run Gravity Road kindly offered to look after her, and they went beyond the extra mile in helping to nurture her confidence. Her work was pitched to clients and bought. A couple of months later, Gnome landed her job at Mr President.

Two goals achieved, one to go.

Last week my cohort descended on the D&AD New Blood awards to discover what colour Pencils we might be taking home. Students from more than 50 countries entered the awards this year, competing in more than a dozen briefs. The single best campaign across all the entries would win the black Pencil.

Of course, that went to Gnome.

As an educator, I am always looking for lessons we can learn. So what can we learn from the story of Gnome?

I have glossed over some of the details but when I mentioned earlier that Gnome had reached rock bottom, I really meant it. When I mentioned that Gnome now has a flat near Warren Street, a job at Mr President and a black Pencil, you must try to understand how coveted these things are.

I could share glib lessons learned, such as that it takes a village to raise a child. True, but hardly worth the ink of Campaign. Or that life is a rollercoaster, or some such guff.

But that’s not what I want to share as the most valuable lesson that I have earned from Gnome.

That lesson is a reminder of what we mean when we talk about the need for diversity. Some imagine (wrongly) that it is about gender or ethnicity. Both of these are important, but mask the real opportunities that come from supporting diversity in its truest form.

Gnome was an addict – a symptom of the care system – with a working-class accent from Essex. She sounds like someone who might appear on The Jeremy Kyle Show.

But she writes like a queen.

She was a rough diamond and a reminder of how important it is to find these precious gems. I am grateful to the agencies, media owners and brands that have helped me to fund nearly 100 scholarships since 2010 to help find more rough diamonds.

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