Charlie Alcock(above) is Founder and CEO of MAC-UK . Shes a trained clinical Psychologist, and now takes mental health to street level by delivering interventions to young offenders on benches, buses and stairwells: anywhere where they feel comfortable. Shes also just scooped the winning prize in the Ashoka and Ben & Jerrys Join Our Core competition- which was searching for Europe's best business brain. We catch up with her below
Congratulations on winning the Join Our Core competition! How do you feel?
I am still struggling to believe it! We entered as we thought it would be good experience but we never thought that we would win! Its credit to our young people and staff team. They are the ones who do the hard work and who give me energy to do things like this. Everything we do is a full team effort. Its an amazing feeling when it all comes together. Im still buzzing about it!
What led you to become a social entrepreneur?
I have always been interested in why we are the way we are and how our similarities and differences come about. When I was 15, I started volunteering regularly at a homeless shelter, where I had the privilege of seeing a whole new world. I remember one guy who always used to wear headphones. One day I asked him what he listened to and he told me that he didnt listen to anything. He just wore his headphones to keep people away. These sorts of experiences taught me that you cant take things at face value. We need to understand things from each individuals perspective. Its too easy to draw our own conclusions and in most cases they are probably wrong. There is no one size fits all.
The competition picked you out for your innovative approach to what youre doing can you dive a little deeper?
The MAC-UK approach is all about putting mental health at the heart of solutions to youth offending. This is different as mental health usually comes downstream as an intervention rather than being the first port of call. We only need to look at our own lives to know that how we feel each day effects what we do. If we oversleep and miss our train to work, then the rest of the day usually feels a bit all over the place. For me anyway. Young people are no different. We need to start with our mental wellbeing if we can get that right then the rest will follow.
MAC-UK is also different because we take mental health to the streets. We deliver what young people need, where they need it and when they want it. This can be on a bus, bench, stairwell or court waiting room. It really doesnt matter. This is a really different way of delivering services but its what young people have asked for they wont go to clinics due to the stigma and in some cases they are not safe to go: the clinic is in the wrong gang postcode.
What is it that you are doing in relation to this problem that is different than what others are doing in this space?
Our projects are authentically young person led. This is essential for young peoples sense of ownership which in turn is essential for their willingness to attend. We dont take any referrals: young people refer each other. We also wrap the mental health stuff around activities which they design and want. Its usually that they want a job or to create a CV or it might be music or football. These are the front facing activities and the mental health goes around them. Sometimes being youth led can mean things happen really slowly and it can be incredibly frustrating at times. But, it works and its essential.
We also work at a systems level. We believe its about getting the young person ready for the system AND getting the system ready for the young person. Young people might, for example, co-deliver mental health training to police officers. They would be paid to do this too, giving them real life employment experience. So, theres a double benefit there. Getting young offenders and police in a room together is also pretty radical in itself the training is almost the bonus.
Can you give us a story about the great social impact MAC-UK has?
There are many and its hard to know which one to choose! There is one young man who I find particularly inspiring. We met him in the early days of founding the charity. He covered his eyes with a hood most of the time and barely spoke to me. He was smoking a lot of cannabis, was depressed and was really embroiled in an offending lifestyle. By working with us doing streetherapy, he slowly began to change. Four years on, he is an ambassador in his community and has won awards for now supporting others to change. He is trained up in basic mental health awareness which he takes to others and hes a phenomenal musician. He was a co-founder of our Mini MAC social enterprise which takes music and mental health promotion into schools and prisons. Hes truly an inspiration far more so than me.
What are the key challenges youll be taking to Ashoka?
There are so many challenges that the first task will be to decide which one to address first! The one which is on our minds a lot is how to scale. We want street based mental health to become the status quo. It has the potential to reach all excluded young people in every community across the world. The challenge is working out the best way to do this and how to also keep young people at the heart. I know Ashoka have worked with hundreds of others with similar dilemmas. We are so lucky to have their support. Its going to make a world of difference. I am a clinician after all Ive never even read a book on business.
What excites you the most about winning the Join Our Core Competition?
Our work is pretty tough and unglamorous day to day and we have to get excited about the little things, like a young person responding to a text message for the first time. Its so validating to be recognized by such a strong and socially aware brand. It gives us the assurance that we need we move forward on our journey. It reassures us that others share our vision and that its possible.
My dream would be to create a new ice cream flavor which is made and designed by disadvantaged young people from start to finish. How cool would that be. Young people need jobs. We would love to work with Ben & Jerrys on a project like this.
Whats your favorite Ben and Jerrys Flavour?
Cookie Dough. I absolutely love it!
Why is your idea / work so important to you?
I have a pretty strong determination and when I see that something isnt right I dont really rest until I solve it. Young offending, gangs and the absence of mental health really got to me. I used to sit in a clinic waiting to see young people and nobody came. It made no sense. I had to find a better way to deliver services in the best possible way. Thats what were doing and were making headway. Its thanks to the young people, it really is. They are the ones who hold the solutions. We just need to listen.
For more information about Charlie and MAC-UK, head to MAC-UK website.