EPIC Youth and Beatfreeks form exciting new partnership

EPIC Youth and Beatfreeks form exciting new partnership

An exciting new partnership has formed between two Birmingham organisations that offer young people opportunities to change their own futures.

EPIC Youth, part of the Martin James Foundation, recently donated a sum of money to Beatfreeks project Fuel. The partnership has a natural synergy with both organisations currently supporting young people through grants, mentoring and support.

Beatfreeks, an engagement and insight agency, connects young people to brands, funding and government. Fuel is a pot of money for those aged 18-30 in the Beatfreeks Community to use to react to important social issues. Eligible young people can apply for up to £500 by sending a WhatsApp voice note answering a number of questions. A panel of young people who are paid to sit on the panel for one year, decide whether or not the applicants are successful. Decisions are made within 48 hours and the money will land in their account to kickstart their idea within 2 weeks.

Amy Clamp, General Manager at Beatfreeks says:

“We are super excited to be working with EPIC Youth to give Fuel funding a further life after 2 years of great success and obvious need. Firstly, because our organisations have such similar aims and values. But also because we feel that by working together, we can grow the impact of our work for young people by offering more opportunities to access micro campaign funding.”

Fuel aims to break down the barriers young people often face when applying for funding for social action work. Both organisations are excited about the prospect of young people who are funded by Fuel, turning their ideas into companies with EPIC Youth.

EPIC Youth provides those aged 14-25 with a business idea, with grants, mentoring and business coaching. The funding to Fuel will allow young people to trial ideas with lower stakes, and the partnership provides a natural pathway for development.

Lindsey Hyde UK Programme Manager for EPIC Youth says:

“EPIC Youth is delighted to be partnering with Beatfreeks. We have such similar visions and we look forward to developing our relationship. Together we’ll be able to help one another reach more young people, whether it’s through Fuel funding or through business development with EPIC Youth. We’re two very passionate organizations and we are excited to see what the future holds for us.”

Supporting Foster Carers in times of Covid-19

Supporting Foster Carers in times of Covid-19

FosterTalk was established in 2004 to give foster parents access to a greater degree of independent support. 

The foster care journey is challenging and unique for every child, young person and carer. FosterTalk supports families on this journey with services that are welcoming, trusted, reliable, knowledgeable and innovative.

2020 has been especially difficult for foster families. Due to the restrictions placed upon them, foster carers have expressed concerns about what support is still available to them, what their legal rights are, how to keep themselves and the children safe, and much more. 

But throughout lockdown, FosterTalk has been there to support its members in a variety of ways. We hear from three foster families that have benefited from our expertise this year:

We listened to our carers’ health and financial worries

One particular foster carer contacted FosterTalk as they had concerns regarding their health and financial circumstances. They also had worries around whether foster carers were defined as ‘key workers’, and if birth family contact for children was permitted. 

The foster carer felt there wasn’t much clarity from their fostering service regarding contact arrangements. Our FosterTalk advisor researched this with the foster carer over the phone. They found that there was a policy on the fostering service website, stating that carers must promote safe birth family contact through virtual means only. The foster carer was able to share this clear guidance to the young person in their care, easing their confusion and worry. 

In regards to whether foster carers were defined as ‘key workers’, our advisor referred the carer to the guidance published on the FosterTalk website, which clearly states that foster carers are not defined as key workers. Using the FosterTalk website, the foster carer was also signposted to finance and medical helplines for advice on their respective circumstances. 

At the start of the conversation, the carer was understandably confused and anxious about covid-19 and how it would affect their fostering responsibilities. They were ‘really worried about what’s going on’ but the call appeared to help the carer express their concerns. Before the end of the call, the carer was also signposted to the 24/7 counselling helpline for all members. With assurances, clarity on key issues, and relevant signposting from FosterTalk, the carer was supported as best as possible and fully utilised their membership benefits. 

 We encouraged open and honest discussions around difficult situations

A foster carer recently contacted FosterTalk to discuss their concerns regarding a funeral that a young person in foster care had been invited to. This was an extended family member of the young person, though still of great significance to them and they understandably wanted to attend the funeral. The carer wanted to honour the young person’s wishes, but was concerned around the rules of self-isolating and staying safe in the current climate. 

FosterTalk referred the carer to the guidelines on funeral arrangements via the Age UK website, which provide clarity on what steps the young person would need to take if they were to attend the funeral. Furthermore, FosterTalk informed the carer that it may be best practice for a risk assessment to be completed by the local authority social worker, in conjunction with the fostering service and the young person. 

Promoting an open and honest discussion with the young person was FosterTalk’s message, and this appeared to help the foster carer feel more at ease. They expressed to the carer that FosterTalk could not provide a ‘yes or no’ to whether a young person in foster care could attend a funeral, as this lies with the person with parental responsibility. 

However, by providing clear guidance on funeral arrangements, reiterating the importance of a risk assessment, along with referring the carer to the medical helpline, the carer received clarity on a complex matter and their mind was put at ease.



We clarified complex protocol, finding solutions using technology

Another complex matter for foster carers during the pandemic has been the protocol around statutory visits from children’s social workers, and visits from supervising social workers. 

FosterTalk have spoken to a number of foster carers regarding this matter and have advised them to clarify the policy of their fostering services and local authorities. They have also suggested that foster carers could work with professionals to ensure visits are completed through alternative video means. 

FosterTalk reiterated to the carers that it is more important than ever that all professionals supporting children in care work in partnership to ensure visits are completed, but not at the detriment of the children’s or foster carers’ health. This support and guidance appears to have been received positively by our members.

FosterTalk have, and will, continue to provide consistent advice to all foster carers who need us over the coming months. For more information on FosterTalk please visit their website: https://www.fostertalk.org/

Finding resilience in times of change

Finding resilience in times of change

Over the last few months we have seen further changes across the UK, tier systems introduced, closure of high street brands and curfews at 10pm. Since our last update back in April the Martin James Network has also been adapting to changes, and it’s been a busy few months.

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement made us stop, reflect and change. We made a stance to support the fight against any injustice both inside and outside the workplace. Not only did we talk candidly about Black Lives Matter on our blog, we also created a new diversity charter, ensuring that all our colleagues are treated fairly and without prejudice or discrimination.

During this period we have welcomed to the network Cliff Faulder and his business ‘About Face’. A new anti-racism training business that provides a safe space to ask the hard questions about diversity and equality in the workplace. Cliff recently created a blog for Black History Month where he discusses his dreams, diversity and more. Read his blog here.

VR and being a disruptive business

We expanded our business with the acquisition of a VR company – VR Simulation System which forms part of the TalkOut Group. Incorporating VR into our business allows us to expand our mental health services, offer alternative learning and support through VR and allow us to reach more people than ever before through collaboration.

In June, Martin James Network were successfully nominated and announced as runners up to Disruptive HR’s ‘Better Normal’ Awards. The awards recognised our leaders’ response to the Coronavirus pandemic – we were congratulated for our innovative and disruptive initiatives during lockdown.

Say hello to CoLAB – we welcome the Mayor of the West Midlands

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands officially opened our creative incubation centre ‘CoLAB’ in October.

The CoLAB will serve EPIC Youth, which is part of the Martin James Foundation. EPIC Youth allows access to mentoring, finance, marketing, and business advice. This collaborative, safe space allows them to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset, with access to laptops, camera and video equipment, plus a photo and podcast studio. 

The space has also been utilised by our colleagues when we hosted a ‘Festival of Learning’, offering workshops on creative storytelling, photography and video editing. CoLAB will be a cross functional space for everyone to use and gives our EPIC entrepreneurs direct access to mentoring from MJN talent.

Graffiti trail across the Midlands to celebrate National Poetry Day through founder’s COVID experience

To celebrate National Poetry Day, we decided to take over key areas around Birmingham to raise awareness of the poet ‘Basic Existential Boy’ – also known as our founder Jim Cockburn.

During the 1st lockdown, Jim launched a collection of COVID-19 poetry the month before after falling ill with symptoms of the virus at the start of the year. Showcasing parts of his work across the city, the ‘clean’ graffiti could be found in areas such as Moseley, Harborne, Digbeth, New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill.

Supporting our colleagues for World Mental Health Day

At the network, we have a variety of initiatives to help support our colleagues’ mental health. Throughout this period we have offered access to our TalkOut app – allowing all colleagues to connect and speak with each other, access resources including mental health, employee rewards, and internal company updates all in one place.

We also increased online webinars to cover topics such as mental health, wellbeing and fitness. And we encouraged colleagues to join virtual hangouts, quizzes and celebrate birthdays online. We understood the pressure on working parents – juggling work life and family life as it merged into one. Everyone was offered flexible working, access to additional support online and more check ins with their managers to discuss any issues they had.

Welcome new businesses and a new vision

Even though it’s been a rocky year we have been fortunate to have a strong, resilient business which has allowed us to grow and welcome new leaders and businesses into the Network.

Cliff Faulder has joined as CEO of AboutFace a new diversity training business which will help educate around equality and diversity. We also welcomed Richard Morcombe who has taken lead at UK Fire Training – both new businesses to the network.

Paul Putman will now head up Talkout Group as their new CEO with Daniel Croft joining us as CEO for our Fostertalk brand.

This period has also given us time to step back and solidify our network vision and mission. A vision of a ‘society’ in which every individual is valued and where all dreams can be realised without fear, limitation or prejudice.’ As we move toward the end of the year, we take comfort in the the work that we have achieved over the past few months, despite the global uncertainity.

MJN celebrates entrepreneurs week with EPIC Youth

MJN celebrates entrepreneurs week with EPIC Youth

This week, Martin James Foundation and EPIC Youth are celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week 2020. Hear the stories about our EPIC Entrepreneurs Dion and Rennae who have been working with EPIC Youth over the last few months.


Dion Fanthom – Mindful Monday


Dion joined EPIC Youth in June 2020. Dion had already launched her business the previous year however required some further support to develop and grow her business. With the help of EPIC Youth we were able to trademark the name ‘Mindful Monday’ as well as providing intensive business and financial support.

The inspiration for Mindful Monday came about from bad experiences within the workplace, when it came to employee mental health and wellbeing. I had openly spoken about my mental health challenges and encouraged my colleagues to do the same but the support was non-existent. It seemed at the time that managers didn’t really care about or know how to approach the topic of mental health in the workplace.

I saw my colleagues burn out, experienced terrible anxiety myself and as a result ended up dreading going to work on a Monday morning. My one wish was to simply have a more mindful Monday, hence the name for my own business came to life.

When I left these toxic working environments I was filled with frustration towards my prior managers, I was left damaged by the poor experiences myself and my colleagues had been through. It was only after reflecting I started to think maybe it’s not their fault, maybe it’s not always about being ignorant, maybe it is about being uneducated. That is why I created Mindful Monday, to be proactive when it came to mental health. To create understanding and educated environments across all industries for individuals to thrive, completely shame-free.


Since launching at the beginning of the year we have held fully booked events, launched a project to give over 100 people a free box of positivity at the beginning of lockdown, created online content, and sold a range of products via our website.

Some of these products include mugs, coasters, pocket mirrors, and as we approach December we have created an alternative advent calendar that provides self-care and mindful prompts each day in order to inspire people to be kind to their mind over the festive period.

When it comes to Mindful Monday, success to me is achieved every day. With each message or order that comes through I get a sense of success as I know we are helping those who want to get a better understanding of mental health. Long term success would be seeing a real change when it comes to mental health in all industries and environments, normalised conversations and support systems, individuals thriving in work with constant support for employees mental health.

I have very ambitious plans for Mindful Monday and I am confident I will achieve them. There is a need for an organisation like the one me and my community have created, this pandemic has shown there is a clear demand for more organic mental health support and I am determined to continue providing that for as long as it is needed.

Rennae Smith – Tressamore

Rennae joined EPIC Youth in January 2020, she had a passion for hair extensions and wanted some support to launch her own business as she was unsure of how to do it on her own. Rennae received intensive support from the Martin James Network which included business and financial help. Some of the ways in which the network was able to help was by guiding her through trademarking her name, registering her business, helping her to design logos and branding as well as ongoing pastoral support.

When Rennae was asked why she chose to start a hair extension business she replied ‘ I chose to start a hair business as it was something I’m passionate about as I’ve always been doing hair from a little girl to make extra money on the side. And it’s a skill that I have naturally become very good at. I am very fond of the hair industry and origin; it’s something that I find really interesting’. 

Due to COVID-19 it has unfortunately delayed the launch of Tressamore as products have become unavailable or hard to get hold of but Rennae is still hoping to launch online after Christmas.

‘I’m excited to finally launch so everyone can see the amazing quality hair extensions I have in store as I have so many ideas up my sleeve. I am hoping to Launch after Christmas’  

Rennae has a clear idea of what being successful means to her. ‘What drives me is the idea of being successful and meeting my end goal that I have worked so hard for. Coming up with new creative ideas to improve business & just becoming the best version of myself and becoming a role model to my siblings.’

Lindsey Hyde – EPIC Youth: I am so excited for Rennae to launch her hair business, she has been committed driven and passionate to get this point. I am sure the business will be a massive success and I can’t wait to her see her launch and to finally start selling her products. Good luck Rennae!!

Please look out for more information on where you can purchase some of Rennae’s amazing products…………


Find out more about Martin James Foundation and our EPIC Youth scheme by clicking here 

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid?

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid?

Cliff Faulder is CEO and Training Director of AboutFace and ‘The EmbRACE Awards’. Here he discusses the backlash to this years Sainsbury’s Christmas advert

“At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade….”

OK Mr Geldof you’re losing me with the second line. Considering this song was originally penned to highlight the plight of the starving people in Africa at a time when good will to all men (and surely women ) was in order, it feels like it’s loaded with subliminal intent.

Where is this festive nostalgic scrutiny coming from Cliff, I hear you say?

Well actually.

It comes from the almighty backlash that Sainsbury’s have faced for having a black family in one of their three new Christmas advertisements.

When my wife informed me that the unrest over the imagery of a black family enjoying Christmas was really a thing, I immediately took to YouTube to watch the advertisement again to check if I had missed anything.

I mentally compiled a list in my head.

  • Warm festive home video footage. CHECK!
  • Cute children, tinsel, seasoned food. CHECK!
  • Positive Christmas vibes. CHECK!
  • Sense of family. CHECK!
  • Fun, laughter, love. CHECK-CHECK-CHECK!

So what is the problem? Surely, surely it could not  be simply because the family being depicted are black.

In a fashion reminiscent of BAT-MAN turning to his trusted sidekick Robin, with the urgency of comic book hero I exclaimed.

“To the comments section!”

Alas there were no comments on YouTube.

I grew suspicious. Had YouTube removed the ability for the public to comment on this wonderfully crafted showcase of a black family at Christmas, because they knew what would follow?

I headed to another source.

One Google search was all it took to find the backlash. A tsunami of racial hatred, all related to the Sainsbury’s Christmas advert.

The Daily Mail online reported:

Customers accuse Sainsbury’s of ‘virtue signaling’.

The Independent led with:


 The Independent found a few people that celebrated the advert and challenged the views of those railing against the ad online.

As I sat back in my chair and thought about what I was playing out in this very public outpouring of emotion, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.

Shocked? No. Never shocked, but certainly disappointed.

This year I have joined my neighbours, as many of you have, to stand on our doorsteps and applaud the valour and dedication of the men and women who make up our beloved NHS.

All over the country we have stood and put our hands together to show that in these desperate times we can come together as the Great British public and stand against the most challenging of foes.  Britain was famous for this in war time. When it asked men and women of colour to come to its aid and fight for the mother country.

I can imagine those black and ethnic minority soldiers who fought for this country, genuinely thinking they were amongst brothers. But after the conflict was over, they were met with a society with a unerring passion for the rhetoric of Enoch Powell.

Fast forward to 2020, could it be that when many of the British public whooped and hollered on the nations’ front lawns, they were only cheering for the white doctors, nurses, hospital staff and carers.

Fifty years on, we are still giving out the message that the black family is not welcome in Brittan.

Enoch Powell warned that his speech would fizz like a rocket and true to his prediction it has shaped the minds of post war Britain ever since.

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid.

Yes there is, but it depends on your level of privilege and social standing.

You see as the nights draw in and the autumnal chill fills the air we look around us and, and much like John Snow from Game of Thrones we utter in dimly lit corners that “winter is coming”.

As the season of glad tidings approaches many of us gather to celebrate the birth of a child of colour. A child born to a  family with skin as dark as his own, in a country who still to this day, have a high population of people with dark skin trying to find a place to be welcomed.

So, as you tuck into your umpteenth mince pie and partake in the odd libation, please take a moment to consider this.

Somewhere not too far from you there is a black family who are clearing the table after a fine breakfast of akee and saltfish, green banana and fried plantain, hard dough bread, and bucks fizz. Later they will be playing charades and opening gifts, wetting their whistle with Guinness punch and sitting down for a most splendid Christmas meal.

Do they know it’s Christmas time…..?

Sure they do.

And it’s ok for Sainsbury’s to know it too.

Cliff celebrating Christmas with his family last year

National Care Leavers week at Martin James Network

National Care Leavers week at Martin James Network

At the Martin James Network, we support learning, collaboration and support any initiatives which are part of the network. This year, National Care Leavers week (26th October – 1st November)  the network hosted events, workshops, and information pieces to support care leavers  (where upon turning 18, many young care leavers  are forced to leave their placement and start to live independently before they feel ready) on our network which was led by EPIC Youth – a young person initiative through the Martin James Foundation.

Over the week we carried out 3 workshops, 1 for personal branding and storytelling led by Shane Sidaway from Tribera, An EPIC youth open day with presentations from Abba (Birmingham Care Leavers Trust), Luke Mulekezi (Business mentor for EPIC Youth) and Rachael Cole (FosterTalk). We also held a session around CV writing and application forms led by Ketan Chhatbar from The People’s team (Martin James Group). 

The EPIC Youth open day was created to demonstrate joint working with other partners such as Birmingham Care Leavers Trust. BCLT have always supported EPIC Youth by promoting the programme as well as providing referrals. Abba explained the importance of working together and what care leavers week meant. We also showcased EPIC Youth and what support can be offered. Luke explained the role of a business mentor and what young people could expect if accepted onto the programme. Rachael explained the link between Fostertalk and EPIC Youth and how they work together to raise awareness – we also advertised and asked for expressions of interest to arrange a youth board/council so they could help shape and be involved in moving EPIC Youth forward.

Lindsey Hyde, UK Programme Manager from EPIC Youth, was also asked by Lambeth council to give a presentation on EPIC Youth as part of their National Care Leavers week (Be inspired). Rennae, a young person on the programme, accompanied her and as well as answering questions from the young people explained her journey from January to be ready to launch her own business by December. Lindsey explained how the programme worked and how they could access the support by different referral streams. Shared success stories from some of the young people that are on the programme and will soon be ready to launch.

Lindsey said “It’s been great to work in collaboration with different parts of the network, care leavers trust and allow people to find out more about EPIC and the amazing work we do. We love supporting our care leavers and hope the workshops help them to learn and grow.”

Find out more about the foundation and EPIC youth by clicking here.