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‘School of hard knocks’ graduates at Street University

Street University has come a long way in five years. The Ted Noffs Foundation has turned Liverpool’s former tyre warehouse into a vibrant youth space littered with creative studios: a place of beat-boxing, break dancing, graff art and fashion design.

It’s exciting times at the Street Uni: the Liverpool-weaned dance crew, Pioneers, took out a national dancing championship before flying to Las Vegas to take on the best in the world, finishing 14th, while the organisation has just launched its own Street University fashion label.

Street Uni has successfully fostered community and corporate partnerships. The Liverpool space was given to them by community club Mounties, while a second venue in Mount Druitt has been sponsored by Crown Resorts. Even the Pioneers’ fundraising drive was mentored by a Commonwealth Bank executive – before the youngsters did the fundraising themselves.

“It’s a place to express our talents and not get in trouble for it... You can concentrate on what you want to do.”

– Khoda Haddad, 18, of Fairfield Heights

Street University takes a bunch of kids from the ‘school of hard knocks’ to a brighter future of dance floors, recording studios and art dens. “The street uni targets young people and creates a sense of community- it can be quite fractured at times and we bridge that gap,” said Mark Ferry, chief operating officer at the Ted Noffs Foundation.

“We have a youth council, the Street Union (that is elected). We get their ideas and they come up with their own ideas. We involve them in the decision-making process (and) get them doing something of their own choosing,” Ferry said.

From the streets to uni

Khoda Haddad, 18,  of Lebanese, Jordanian and French descent, tells a story of lows to natural highs. At the age of six, he spent nights under a Cabramatta bridge, which began a wayward youth. “I felt nobody was there for me... I was a reckless fool and never attended school, but then I realised I could make a change in my life – and change others... This is the place that got me off the street.”

Now the budding MC goes by the stage name ‘Unknown Misery’ and attends workshops at the Street Uni from his home in Fairfield Heights every day. “It’s a place to express our talents and not get in trouble for it... You can concentrate on what you want to do.”

“Whatever drama you have in your life is kept outside the door,” he said.

His focus is on developing his MC skills, to tell his story through rap, and continue his progression as a sound engineer.

Graff and hip-hop

Nathan Hallard, 22, a young father of two, has been a regular at the Street Uni for the last five years, working on his sketches and painting. Such is his faith in the joint, he’s started bringing his younger brother, Matt, who’s completing his HSC.

“It helps resist temptations out on the streets and doing stupid stuff. It keeps you out of the line of fire of being in trouble,” Nathan said.

“And it’s better than sitting at home being bored. It helps you end up doing something better in life.”

He attends Matthew ‘Mistery’ Peet’s graff art workshops. ‘Mistery’ is middle-aged, but in a youth-driven environment, he’s the relative grandfather of Sydney’s hip-hop and street art scene. The renowned Bankstown artist was raised Jewish and he’s now a Christian minister in Lakemba, where he runs hip-hop services. The long time campaigner for legal walls to enable young people “to manifest energy in a positive way” and workshop facilitator is a driving force behind the Street Uni’s evolution.

“I just want to facilitate people doing what they want,” he said.

He was also involved in Liverpool Council’s Living Streets program, where professional artists worked with up-and-coming artists in decorating drab sections of the locality in spray-painted designs - a scheme aided by a state government grant.

He’s helping out with the Street Uni’s hiphoperations, too, which teaches young people “how to make tracks, how to write a song, then record a song before we have a performance.”

From rags to wealth

Street University launched a clothing label in August, helped by sponsorship from Virgin and Mounties, and big industry partner, Look Print. The shirt-printing scheme, managed by Jackie Te-Aroha, has facilitated seven budding rag industry types with experience during their studies - one which has already graduated to a paying job.

It’s all about working with government, such as Liverpool City Council, and Multicultural NSW, publisher of The Point - and particularly corporate sponsors, according to Liverpool’s manager Delise Kerehona. “They know the game. If you want people to be young entrepreneurs, you need entrepreneurs (to teach them).”

The organisation’s partnership with Oz Harvest, which provides free food and facilitates hospitality training, and local businesses such as Flames Hair Design, which gave young folk, including the Pioneers dance crew, a makeover so they ‘look the part’, underpins its success.

It allows young people “to create dreams into reality,” Kerehona said.

A lot of performers have graduated from the Street University and gone onto living the life they want, and letting the western suburbs be the vibrant area it’s capable of being. For Ferry, it makes good social sense.

"We had a letter from the Attorney-General three years ago to say we’ve contributed to a reduction in crime in the Liverpool area. We had anecdotal evidence of that, but it’s nice to get that acknowledgement.”

Such is the end result of kids breaking, beating and painting. “We use hiphop as a hook to get young people in,” he said.

The Point

Street University has developed corporate partnerships to give kids a creative direction in life

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