From skid row to The Times and a chat with the PM

10th October 2008 at 01:00
A mentoring programme has given one young man a second chance at FE

Two years ago Lee McConville was living in a hostel, being threatened with eviction and caught in a life of heavy drinking and violence. Two of his friends had been shot and killed.

Now the 23-year-old has an interview with the Prime Minister and coverage of the G8 summit on his CV, and he is training in journalism at Harlow College.

He is one of the biggest success stories of the Media Trust's youth mentoring programme, a Government-funded scheme that last year helped 400 people in deprived areas by linking them with role models in the media.

Lee was spotted and put on the scheme after first seeking help from Fairbridge, a charity that helps troubled under-25s get back into education, training or work.

Encouraged to build his confidence by making a short film about life in the Lozells area of Birmingham, Lee's documentary caught the attention of the Media Trust, which put him in touch with Philip Webster, political editor of The Times.

With his support, Lee made films about last year's G8 summit and has just interviewed all three leaders at the party conferences.

That experience, and a National Council for the Training of Journalists bursary, helped him get a place at Harlow College, the training ground for journalists, from Martin Bell to Piers Morgan.

Lee, who left school after taking his GCSEs, said: "I've been lucky to get away, lucky I've not been killed by someone with a knife or a gun.

"My school days were normal. I left school at 16 and just started working. Three years ago, I left home. I was at the stage where I couldn't live under the same roof as my mum and dad. Then things took a turn for the worse. I foolishly got in a fight, hurt my hand and couldn't work. I had too much time on my hands, living off benefits and drinking . Then two of my friends were shot. I realised I was going to end up dead or in jail myself."

Instead, Fairbridge gave him the chance of a whole new career.

Lee said: "My mentor, Phil, is like the older brother I never had. At first I thought he'd be boring and old. We come from different worlds. But he started off where I am now - at Harlow College.

"I grew up where there is nothing to do and there are no role models - Phil's my role model now."

Lee hopes to ultimately to move into broadcast journalism.

Maddie Dinwoodie, of Media Trust, said they recruited about 150 mentors a year, with the aim of building the confidence of 14 to 25-year-olds by engaging them with an industry they are interested in.

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