Wanted: Young Creatives

A programme supporting young people into creative careers has launched in Perth and Kinross.

Creative Catalyst, a social enterprise based in Perth’s Creative Exchange, is offering 20 places to creative young people over the age of 16 who are based in Perth and Kinross and facing barriers accessing education, employment or training.

The free programme, funded by the Scottish Government Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund, gives young people opportunities to connect with and learn from a range of creatives, sparking employment and training opportunities while building confidence and wellbeing.

Creative Catalyst

L-R Anna Kelso, Caitlin Hanna and Helen O’Brien. Credit – Kim Cessford, D C Thomson.

Although there is some structure to the programme, there are no formal expectations and, while the young people are encouraged to attend weekly sessions, the programme is flexible and can work around other commitments.

Following Creative Catalyst’s launch in 2020, the programme has already benefitted a variety of young people, some of whom signed up for the project alongside part-time work before progressing to art college or university. Others have since launched their own micro-business or working on individual private commissions.

Helen O’Brien, Director, said, “We are looking to work with young people who have a creative flair or passion but are struggling to take that next step, perhaps because of their own mental health or lack of confidence. Maybe they’re into photography, jewellery-making, painting or illustrating, or love working with textiles, fashion or ceramics. They’ll be creative but have perhaps become a bit isolated and disengaged, have lost their way or can’t see a path. By encouraging them to be their unique selves and engage with their creativity, they can build courage and resilience, allowing them to explore creativity and explore where it might take them.

“By supporting these young people within a safe space, they go on a journey with us, but one that’s bespoke to each individual. They get to know people making a career out of their skills, exploring the different options, whether self-employment, starting up a side hustle alongside another job, or perhaps applying to college or university. Our hub of creatives lead by example, allowing young people to soak up their enthusiasm and passion while also learning tangible and transferable skills to develop a practice that’s personal to them and, in many cases, monetise it.  They also begin to find their tribe, which is crucial to anyone’s personal and professional development. In many ways, it’s a gentle introduction to the working world that has at its heart the young person.”

Helen O'Brien

Helen O’Brien. Credit – Kim Cessford, D C Thomson.

By signing up for the programme, candidates gain hands-on work experience within an industry setting, working with creatives to broaden their skills and build confidence. Encouraged to reflect and self-direct, while supported through their own interests, the young people gain access to materials and studio space. They enjoy workshops to develop different techniques and employability skills to take their next steps. On occasion, creative practitioners also bring the young people into their own professional commissions. For example, last year, Creative Catalyst was commissioned to design and paint a mural at Moncreiffe Primary School.  Crucially, the young people also gain exposure to real-life trading with opportunities to sell at Creative Catalyst markets in Perth. As well as gaining experience in explaining their work to others, they enjoy validation of their work while also earning 50% of the profit.

One of those to benefit from the programme to date is Essex-born Lauren Evans (31), who lives in Perth with her five-year-old daughter.

Lauren said, “When I first got involved, I had a young baby and was struggling with anxiety, depression and PTSD.  I’d always been creative but never explored it as a career. Creative Catalyst gave me a place to hang out, talk things through with others and build my network, taking part in creative workshops on everything from a refresher on sewing machines and business skills to sustainability.

“The environment was a game-changer for me – I found like-minded people, plus the flexibility worked so well for me. It’s been a great opportunity to do something for me, to be part of something and see valuable art and creativity can be.

Lauren progressed to Perth College UHI to study a HND in Contemporary Art Practice and, next month, will start the Fine Art Degree at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) in Dundee.

She added, “Creative Catalyst has been hugely instrumental in building my confidence, first to apply to Perth College and then compiling my portfolio for art college. I’m so grateful for the project and its people – I can now envision a creative career when it was just a pipe dream.”

Meanwhile, Caitlin Hanna (26), is a Creative Facilitator with Creative Catalyst. Caitlin, who grew up in Perth, is autistic. As a school refuser, they attended very little of secondary school. However, given their creative interest, Caitlin went to college and studied art from the age of 17-19.  They then progressed to study Fine Art at the University of Cumbria. In February 2022, having recently graduated, they moved home to Perth.

“After I graduated, I felt really lost and unsure of my next steps or even if the degree had a real purpose. When I got back to Perth, there were no jobs that really appealed to me so  I got an admin job but was going stir crazy, staying off sick and left, ended up going on Universal Credit. That’s when I saw the six-month Kickstart opportunity at Creative Catalyst. Through Creative Catalyst, I’ve been able to work on my own artistic practice – whether that’s paintings, sculpture or ceramics – while also facilitating workshops for young people and mentoring them.  From running the kids’ club to learning about marketing, social media and how to run a stall, I’ve learnt so much and am now sharing that with others.

“So many people think they’ll never succeed if they don’t do their Higher English or Maths.  I didn’t even attend secondary school, let alone get any qualifications and, although I wouldn’t recommend that, I still went to college and university.  There are different paths and routes to achieving your goals, it’s not all about your grades.”

Meanwhile, one of the Creative Catalyst Facilitators, who also mentors the young people, is Auchterarder artist, Anna Kelso.

Anna Kelso

Anna Kelso. Credit – Kim Cessford, D C Thomson.

Anna, a practising artist, who studied Fashion Design at Edinburgh College of Art and then completed a Postgrad in Fashion Illustration, said, “Some of the young people we meet have been dissuaded from exploring their creative talent, sometimes by a parent or teacher. I want to support them to recognise their talents and skills and how they can be applied to working life. It’s not just about developing their creative practice – it’s about helping them recognise the associated skills that go with it, such as collaboration, entrepreneurship and discipline. These skills can be applied to all sorts of jobs and careers, they are not isolated to only art and design.

“Employability aside, being creative can be transformative for your mental health – if I can support the younger generation to engage with their creative side, I’ve made a difference.

“When I left university, I had no idea how to get a job related to what I’d studied or how to connect with people in that world. I’d have loved something like this when I was starting out, an informal, friendly hub to connect with that tribe of other creatives, open up opportunities by seeing where my strengths lie and how to apply them.”

Creative catalyst

L-R – Helen O’Brien, Caitlin Hanna and Anna Kelso outside the Creative Exchange. Credit – Kim Cessford, D C Thomson.

Creative Catalyst is located within Perth Creative Exchange which is operated by Wasps, Scotland’s national provider of creative spaces. The centre provides working accommodation for visual and applied artists as well as offices for creative industries, social enterprises and charities. Opened in 2019, the Perth Creative Exchange development rescued the former St John’s School building, and in 2021 the project won the Regeneration Project of the Year accolade at the Scottish Property Awards.

For more information, or to register, visit