How I Launched: Creative Mentor Network


Isabel Farchy, CEO of the Creative Mentor Network, shares how lessons she learnt in the classroom can engage and build a more diverse and connected creative industry

By Alanna Freeman   Monday 10 February, 2020

The big idea: 
‘It wasn’t really a lightning strike; there were a couple of key moments while I was doing Teach First. One of these was around my students’ work experience placements – if you don’t have your own personal networks to arrange them, it’s left to the school. But schools have limited resources. So, either the students organise placements or the school does. A friend’s brother was doing work experience at Warner Bros, while many of my students – who were capable and bright – ended up working, for example, in their local newsagent’s. It was uninspiring for them and I felt I was doing them a disservice as a teacher. We talk about equality of opportunity, but it’s not even about education itself being a leveller (which it is), it’s about access to networks.’ 
Challenging the norm: 
‘Careers education in state schools often comes from someone who has got an outdated view of the labour market and creative industries. Students often relay [the idea they’ve been told] that they can be a penniless creative or do something serious. And that’s not true. You don’t have to make a choice between those two things. When I set up Creative Mentor Network, the creative industry was one of the biggest (in terms of value to the UK economy). It’s worth about £101bn each year and is growing at four times the rate of the rest of the economy as a whole. So, it’s in complete opposition to the careers information that you get at school. If you want to be a real success, look into the creative industries. And I include tech in that.’

Building the concept: 
‘I feel strongly that careers education should be led by industry. There is a real value exchange in a young person and mentor working together. For someone from a low socio-economic background to be able to aspire to something and be mentored by someone outside their sphere is so powerful. I started doing little careers events with friends who worked in the creative industries, and my students got a lot from them, but there wasn’t much long-term impact. We talk a lot about lasting change for young people.’

Revision process
‘It’s taken a while to perfect our service to become packageable. I didn’t try to mastermind how it was going to look, which is probably the reason I was able to get it to this stage. It was a case of lots of building blocks. A big part of what we do is training mentors; about a year in, I started working with a coach who helped me design the training. Now, we build programmes that are bespoke to each company we partner with – such as Soho House’s Open House scheme – and deliver it for them. Having a rigour around our processes means people talk about what we do and recommend us. To date, our growth has been pretty organic.’

Seeking support: 
‘Turning my project into a charity was a big milestone, as I was able to build a board of trustees to help me. I approached four people from different backgrounds – education, legal, charity and creative – because there were areas I needed support with. They’re my mentors in a way.’

Taking on challenges: 
‘If people are going to invest in what we do, they need to see exactly how it works. That’s probably Creative Mentor Network’s main challenge. Keeping partners engaged, helping them understand the participants’ journey – both the young people and mentors – and demonstrating our impact is so important. A mentor isn’t always able to offer a mentee a job, but the point is the network. We’re creating a community of people who are invested in what we’re trying to do. The broader effect on all parties is really cool.’

Eye on the future: 
‘At present, we’re only based in London – but as soon as you go outside it, opportunities for young people fall away. So, one of our key objectives is to have a hub in at least one other UK city. But how can we speed up the process of mentees getting a job? Next year, one of our aims is to demonstrate the impact our mentor development programme has on company culture. We’re training a network of creative professionals to understand diversity and inclusion from the inside, and become better equipped to nurture young people from different backgrounds entering the industry. It’s important to me to focus the conversation on diversity and inclusion. So, it’s not just ‘diversity is great’, it’s about what has the most impact.’

To find out more about becoming a mentor with Soho House’s mentoring scheme, Open House, which is operated in the UK partnership with Creative Mentor Network, visit 

Illustration by Alva Skog

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