From potential gang member to Chickenshed mentor, performer, and director.
Following his studies at Chickenshed, he now holds a role as an artistic staff member and a crucial member of the outreach team, taking on responsibilities in performance delivery and organisation. Michael is also a caring father to a daughter and a son.
"I arrived in the UK from France when I was 10 years old. I was in Year 6 at the time. My father always had a dream to live in London when he retired from the French Army Service Forces. He felt our family would have a better quality of life, so as soon as he was discharged we all moved to Tottenham.
I experienced knife crime on my first day in Northumberland Park, Tottenham. I was about 12 at the time. My mum had given me money to buy some shopping. I had my new Nike TNs on! On my way back from the shops an older boy pulled out a knife and told me to take off my trainers. I bent down and pretended to take them off - then I kicked him in his private parts and ran home as quickly as I could!"
"It was when I had a second clash with the police that my mum sat me down and had an emotional talk to me saying that I had to make a decision - to stop or choose a life in prison or even death. My role models were my friends and they were getting into trouble, I was following their path. Technically we were a ‘gang’ - but I thought of them as best friends or even ‘family’.
I had a drama teacher at this time, Ms McNeil, she was great - she recognised that I had a flair for performing and took me to Chickenshed to see my first live theatre show when I was 15. I decided to apply to go to Chickenshed as soon as I left school. On my first day I remember feeling really uncomfortable. I felt that everyone was too nice. I didn’t believe it was genuine. I was sitting in the café and this man came up to be. I knew from looking at him that he was the ‘Big Boss’. He came and sat next to me and I remember thinking that I must already be in trouble as that is the only time I had spoken to someone so high up in an organisation, but he just wanted to know a bit about me - he genuinely cared. I started to soften."
Education at Chickenshed
When I finished the BTEC course, I went on to take the Foundation Degree and it was then that I starting going to Outreach sessions and began delivering workshops. I fell in love! I knew that teaching, delivering and performing was what I wanted to do. I volunteered for all the sessions, workshops, performances and I went on all the outreach projects. I couldn’t get enough of Chickenshed. Subconsciously I knew if I wasn’t busy I could easily go back to the life I led before on the streets.
After the Foundation Degree Course, I was employed by Chickenshed as a mentor. I was one of the first people to hold this position - it made me feel so good about myself. When I wasn’t working, I volunteered. I was at Chickenshed all the time as there was nowhere else I wanted to be. I had so much to share and felt so valued!
My life was crazy - I quickly went from supporting lessons - to leading lessons, performing and then I joined the creative teams and finally I became a Director! Even with this rise in my career, my heart was still in being a mentor!
Five years ago I decided that I wanted to continue my education, so as a staff member I completed my BA (Hons) Degree in Inclusive Performance."
I am able to reflect on my life experiences when I go to Outreach. It is essential that Chickenshed carries on going into schools, colleges, pupil referral units, young offender’s institutes and prisons - anywhere where there are young people at risk. We tell of the “Golden moment” - that moment where time slows down and you have to make a choice - do you go left or right, positive or negative. A decision that could change your life forever! We show how important this moment is and we encourage our young people to take a breath and think before they take that step.
We also show how you can get support for the choices you make – even if they weren’t correct. To make positive change and to help people recognise their ‘Golden Moment’ there has to be support in place. We need more organisations like Chickenshed."
Connecting with Youth
We believe we are able to connect to these young people because we look like them, we speak like them - we are not lecturing them. We take that feeling that I got at Chickenshed to them! Respect - we respect and value them - and the response is ALWAYS indescribable.
In the last three years we have had a stream of young people from ‘deprived areas’ applying to come onto our education courses, and they all say that it was due to our Outreach programmes coming to their places of education. We have to continue - now more so than ever!
When reflecting on my journey, I know that Chickenshed was my ‘Golden Moment’ - I chose to take the BTEC course rather than follow the path of crime that many of my friends selected.
I often think of my friends, my ‘family’ and where they are now. Some are still in Tottenham doing the same things that we did as children, some have got into trouble and are serving long prison sentences - some pass in and out of prison, which has become a safe haven to them. Some tragically have died! I think an answer is to find something you love and someone who respects you. I found my love of mentoring and performing - and found a company that loved me mentoring and performing. Perfect fit!
I won’t give up on my friends - I am fortunate that I have made many contacts through my work and know of organisations that I can direct them too if they want that extra help. I always give advice and support - but the journey out of “trouble” is difficult- it requires society to be ready to accept someone who wants to change. We all have all made mistakes that we regret - but my past experiences have made me who I am - and made me the mentor that I never thought I would be. It is hard growing up a deprived area like Tottenham. You either feel upset and embarrassed about the way people look at you when you tell them where you are from – or you can be like me and my friends and fulfil the label that society has put on you – not out of choice but necessity. At the time I didn’t feel I had any other option.
At 16 years old, my ‘’positive life’ seemed like a far-fetched dream. Without Chickenshed there would have been a lot more ‘near misses’ and I don’t know how many of them I would have been able to escape. I realised this when I was in a technical rehearsal and my friends were waiting to go on a night out. We were running late, but I realised that the children and young people in the rehearsal depended on me. So I stayed. That night my friends got into a serious fight. It could have been me!
Now, when I meet up with my friends we go back to our childish mentality – but they also ask me what show I’m directing or where I have been delivering workshops on gang violence and knife crime – it feels good – I feel good, the same, but different. The best bit is that I can now get them tickets to the theatre – which in our community people can’t always afford!
Chickenshed as an organisation has always supported my background - and what’s more they talk to me as a Black professional on how to make Chickenshed even more inclusive and representative. That’s what is important! Always trying to improve, always willing to listen, ensuring that young people of all ethnicities, genders and backgrounds can see themselves in someone powerful. They need positive role models and aspire to be something similar.
"If you cant see it... you cant be it."
Watch Film: 'I Am Michael'
Crime of the Century
Crime of the Century is a hard-hitting, raw piece of theatre which explores the issues surrounding gang violence.
Our Outreach Projects are tailored to inspire, educate, and empower individuals of all ages, abilities, and cultural backgrounds. Through these initiatives, we foster our limitless belief of inclusivity, creating a safe and welcoming space where diversity thrives and everyone's voice is heard.