Brixton People: James Gubb and Guy Watts

Just over a year and a half ago, James Gubb and Guy Watts set up Streetscape, a social enterprise that aims to help tackle youth unemployment in the UK. It’s been a hard slog, but the results speak for themselves. London’s Stories chats to the Brixton residents about Streetscape and the challenges that they have facedŠ

Interview by Amy Baker. Video by Streetscape.

James: “We’re a social enterprise dedicated to transforming the lives of young people who are long term unemployed. We do this by providing apprenticeships in our landscape gardening company, apprenticeships that involve a Level 2 Diploma in Horticulture, English, Maths and personal development training. As a landscape company we provide, design, landscape and maintenance services to residential, corporate and community based clients, focused on getting that little bit of a Œwow factor.

I worked at a think tank for five years researching different areas of social policy and it really opened my eyes towards problems and inadequacies within the system particularly when it comes to welfare relating to young people.

It was seeing the problems with the current system that compelled us to start the charity. A lot of approaches to helping young people into work can be really straight-jacketed with a lot of people getting shoved onto programmes that they may or may not be interested in and they can be quite short term. If you really want to make a difference to peoples lives and help them to acquire skills that will actually help them to get into work then you really have to take a more long-term and tailored approach. In that sense, I think it’s also important that although we’re a charity we see ourselves very much as a social enterprise too. We provide landscape gardening services to clients, and have to deliver quality day-in-day-out. That’s the kind of environment you want apprentices learning in.

The response to Streetscape has been really positive. So many people have got on board and helped us along the way so it has been a real team effort.

It’s challenging but very rewarding, of course there are things to work on, but we’re lucky that both Jerone and Jordan [the apprentices this year] are very dedicated and really want it, which makes it a lot easier to work with themŠ it’s actually a lot of fun!

I sit down with them once a week and we go through different goals for them. Today Jerone told me that he had started reading a book on plants in his own time that he got whilst working at Architectual Plants Nursery in Sussex with Guy. When you see that they have really grasped something or that they are doing things that go above and beyond the call of duty ­ that’s the best part.

Guy and I are obviously very good mates as well. We’ve been friends since we were about 12, so we know and understand each other very well. He’s the hunter-gatherer, getting new business and making new contacts where as I’m much better at nurturing those relationships.

There’s a real need for different routes into work for people who aren’t academic. There’s been way too much emphasis on pushing people towards going to university where it might not necessarily be the right option. Youth unemployment is a huge problem, a fifth of young people are unemployed, 311,000 are long term unemployed. That’s a lot of people and you need to think about ways that you can change this.

Guy: In 2009 a friend of mine and I rowed the Indian Ocean from Western Australia to Mauritius. We spent 102 days at sea, were the first ever people to do it and we broke two world records. Understandably, I had a lot of time to think over the course of the three months about what I wanted to do when I got home. I’ve always been extremely passionate about gardening and so I thought that this would be a great trade that could help people to get back into work.

We want to provide young people with the training that will get them into work and keep them there.

We ran a project where we designed, landscaped and still maintain the entry to Stepney City Farm in East London. We raised £17,000 in sponsorship from Barclays Capital, Rothschild, Legal and General, Paragon, MSS and various other donors to run the pilot project. This showed that it works and that people and companies were prepared to support us. That encouraged us to work hard to move Streetscape forward.

It’s cool working with 18-25 year olds, they’re amazing. Jerone and Jordan, our apprentices, are very inspirational. James and I believe in mutual learning, every day we learn something from the apprentices and in turn they learn from us. It shows that there a lot of people out there who just need the right opportunity.

They work so hard, they are a credit to themselves and Streetscape and when you see them learning and growing like we have done, it shows that it’s working. That’s a great feeling.

My biggest bit of advice for others setting up a charity would be to get a partner you can trust. James and I work incredibly well together. He’s very smart and great with the detail. I’m probably more of a blue-sky thinker and my role is to get things one and push things through. It’s all about drive and moving the company towards where you want to go and you need to be working with the right people to make that happen.

I think certain people do have negative opinions about young people after the riots. We have seen that kind of attitude on occasion but on the other hand, we have also seen people who think what we are trying to do is great and they want to support it. Our clients, for one, generally love it that they get a great garden and get to be part of something that¹s helping young people into work.  They recognise we’re trying to create a solution by providing our apprentices with training opportunities in a working environment and a way for 18-25 year olds to make a better life for themselves. We believe in providing opportunities.

See here for the full interview with Guy and James

If you need work done on your garden, if you would like to volunteer or if you’d like to make a small donation, you can email the boys ­ info [at] Show your support by following them by clicking here and following them on Twitter or join or their Facebook group here