Our Soho Impact mentorship initiative turns two

A man sitting on a stool with a yellow background behind him.

Open House has been pairing Soho House creatives with mentees to increase inclusivity in the creative industries since 2018. Find out which city is next to join the Open House cohorts in London, Amsterdam, New York and Toronto

By Aleah Aberdeen   Above image: Devante Mowatt     Tuesday 8 September, 2020    Short read

Despite being a booming industry, opportunities to break into the creative sector continue to be unequal, making it increasingly difficult for underrepresented young people to enter the scene. Open House, run in partnership with the Creative Mentor Network and Routes In as part of the Soho Impact initiative, has opened the doors to these closed spaces. A 16-week mentoring programme set up to empower communities and make creative industries more inclusive, Open House pairs young people aged 18-27 with established creatives to help them flourish in their chosen career path. Each mentee is given a Soho House Membership to grow and connect with like-minded individuals, and the opportunity to showcase their work. Since launching in London in July 2018, Open House has established further cohorts in Amsterdam, New York and Toronto –and Hong Kong is next on the list. 

‘When you’re a creative, there isn’t necessarily a person to look up to, or guide you and give you advice,’ explains Devante Mowatt, a Toronto-based mentee. 

July marked the two-year anniversary of Open House and it’s evident that the mentoring initiative has driven positive change in communities, as well as achieving tangible, rewarding results on an international scale. In the last London cohort, 94% of mentees received paid job offers after participating in the programme. Since completion, London-based mentee Chani Ra has established an online platform, Celebrate, which champions ‘healing through creativity’ and writing workshops. ‘Open House is priceless for its [ability to help you build] connections. I feel very lucky to have my mentor, Roisin,’ Ra explains. Co-owner of the festival beauty brand In Your Dreams, Roisin Cusack and Ra collaborated online, with Ra taking over Cusack’s Instagram with live poetry classes; fundraising for BLM; and promoting The Loveland Foundation, which provides free therapy to Black women and girls.
A group of people standing on a stage.
Some of the 2019 Open House group at Shoreditch House
Mark Araujo, a New York-based mentee tells us, ‘I saw how impactful the program was with others being able to develop and produce incredible projects. I wanted to be a part of that.’ Through the programme, Araujo has showcased his own art installation project called ‘Let’s Talk Empathy’ – which uses 216 mirrors to explore, ‘What makes you, you?’ – in various locations in New York, including the Chelsea Film Festival and Ludlow House. 

Min Shrimpton, Head of Communications at Soho House, notes, ‘We are countering the perception that people may have of members clubs by prioritising access. [This is] a means to be inclusive and reach a wider group of people.’

Partnered with the Creative Mentor Network and Routes In, Open House nurtures diverse talent across the globe. The Creative Mentor Network oversees the UK programme, while Routes In occupies Toronto, Amsterdam and New York. The Dutch non-profit organisation focuses on ‘diversifying the creative industries, by connecting those who have made it and those who are on the way.’ Certainly on the way, film director mentee Mowatt explains, ‘I wanted to make bigger projects that required bigger teams and bigger budgets, and I guess he [mentor, Imad Elsheikh] was listening.’ Since lockdown, Mowatt has managed to direct a campaign for Old Spice and NBA player, Serge Ibaka.
A girl taking a selfie.

‘In the last London cohort, 94% of mentees received paid job offers after participating in the programme'

Above image: Chani-Ra

With COVID-19 forcing Open House to move entirely online since March, Zoom has become the hub of mentor meet-ups, social mixers and presentations. Here, participants can connect to a much wider audience at once and facilitate large group discussions of up to 60 people. More importantly, it has channelled a strong sense of community exactly when it's needed most. ‘We wanted to create a digital hub where mentors and mentees could come together, and COVID has sped this up. We’ve had feedback from mentors and mentees that they loved having a space online to collaborate and, going forward, as we return to physical Houses, there will be some elements of the digital programme that will remain and be integrated,’ says Shrimpton.

Amsterdam-based mentee Zara de Graaf also notes that ‘the programme has taught me consistency is key – it has grown my entrepreneurial and personal network and I now have lots of people I can reach out to for questions around business.’ De Graaf has recently launched her own Surinamese food business, Switi Tjaps, which promotes the psychological benefits of eating together and building community. Since completion of the programme, de Graaf has led several initiatives and catered for less privileged people throughout Amsterdam with free food.

Now shortlisted for Collaboration: Best Equality and Inclusion Cause Campaign in the 2020 Purpose Awards taking place in London in September, Open House is getting recognition. More than 550 people are currently part of the programme and keeping the community of mentees alive in Houses beyond the longevity of the training provided. As a result, access to a much wider group of alumni and creatives are being sustained in Open House. ‘We’ve realised the power for mentees is in the growing Open House network.’ Shrimpton adds. With future hopes of expanding the initiative to every city, Open House continues to break down barriers – and open doors.
Interested in becoming a member?