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The duo working to make TV a more inclusive place

TVBEurope meets James Ash and Errol Osman, co-founders of Crew Room Academy, who are on a mission to help disadvantaged young people find a career in the media industry

Launched by a small group of UK film and TV professionals in March 2023, Crew Room Academy finds and trains young people aged between 13-21 who would otherwise struggle to hear about the broadcast industry, let alone break into it.

Founders Errol Osman and James Ash are experienced film and TV professionals, both with working-class and low-income family backgrounds, who found it a challenge to get a foot in the door when they started in the industry 20 years ago.

With Crew Room Academy (CRA), they want to reach disadvantaged young people and match them to free training and live production opportunities designed by current broadcast professionals and their partners at ITV and Amazon Prime.

Errol Osman (left) and James Ash

We want to tackle issues such as nepotism and a lack of diversity within the industry, and ultimately think TV should be for everyone,” explains Ash. “We’ve been working on the Academy since 2022, and the idea grew from our own experiences of trying to break into the sector.”

Both Ash and Osman grew up dreaming of working within the industry, but it felt it was out of reach because of their backgrounds. “We couldn’t afford things like work experience or internship placements, which often pay very little, or nothing at all,” says Osman. “Furthermore, when I did manage to land a job in TV, I felt conscious of coming from a different background to most of my colleagues.”

This led Osman to want to help others who at the start of their career in the industry, and he became involved with training schemes and similar events at ITV’s London Studios. “I worked with fantastic young people from local schools, as well as organisations such as Chicken Shed,” he continues. “It made me realise I could help even more young people by being able to mentor at scale. Over the years, James and I chatted about what that might look like, and from there, Crew Room Academy was born. By making our training and other services free, we can be a truly accessible platform.”

Ash adds: “I didn’t go to university and had no idea how to get started, but a lucky break when I was 18 led to a job on a TV shopping channel. Fast forward to nearly 20 years later and it got me to where I am now – a freelance technical director and vision engineer. It’s a real passion of mine to support young adults with limited resources find their first foot on the broadcasting ladder. 

 

“Working my way up through the industry, I wasn’t aware of any resources or organisations that helped young adults access training and get a foot in the door,” he continues. “It’s something I could really have benefitted from, so I want to make sure it’s available to future generations. Also, it’s clear that the industry still has a long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusion.”

As established broadcast professionals, the pair say they now feel a responsibility to tackle the issues they feel so passionately about. “Drawing on our own contacts and resources means we’re able to get round a table with some of the biggest names in broadcasting, who have the budgets and shared vision to help us. Our ultimate goal of making TV a more inclusive place only works if the whole industry is behind it,” states Osman.

Their aim for the CRA is to reach as many young people as possible, but they say that can only be achieved by growing their own internal resources. “We need more media companies to partner with us and get behind our work,” says Ash. “It’s the only way we’re able to keep our training free, as well as connect our students to live opportunities once they’ve completed their training.  

“Increasing our outreach means finding industry placements for as many young people as possible. We’ve got some really exciting plans in the pipeline which will hopefully help us achieve that. We’re also constantly investing in and adding to our online training videos and educational programmes. It’s vital our content is not only engaging and delivered in the right way but is also up to the minute in terms of its relevance to how TV shows are produced.”

Mentorship is a key part of the CRA, and both Ash and Osman know first-hand how important it is. “We have been lucky enough to meet some really inspiring co-workers along the way,” says Ash “Mentorships can have a profound effect on young people, especially those who have no one wishing them luck as they head off to an interview. That’s the daunting reality for some of our students.”  

The CRA offers training across a number of roles, from camera operator to broadcast engineer, streaming engineer and runner. It recently supplied a group of runners to ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent. “We were speaking to a colleague at Fremantle Media about the Academy,” explains Osman. “It sparked interest and we were put in touch with the show’s production manager. They were looking for all levels of runners – some more experienced, but also those who were looking to get a foot in the door.

“We put forward 16 students from the Academy, many of whom went on to work on the show. It was a really proud moment for us, but it also taught us a lot about how we can better support and encourage young people who are just starting out in the industry. 

Other shows where the CRA has secured placements include Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Pointless, Saturday Night Takeaway and TalkTV.

Asked what else they’re proud of achieving so far, Osman says he’s pleased the CRA has helped young people living in rural parts of the country go on to work on major Amazon productions. “A young woman who grew up in Ghana with an ambition of working in TV is now staff on some of the biggest entertainment shows in the world,” he adds. “We love keeping in touch with all our students and hearing what they’ve been up to.”

Ash agrees: “For me it’s the moment someone who’s come through the Academy gets in touch to say how well it’s going for them. They’re actually doing it, living it. They’re excited about their future and that’s an amazing thing to see.”

But for all they’ve achieved, Ash and Osman admit they continue to need support from across the industry to keep giving the next generation of broadcast talent a step up. “Broadcasting is a better place for having all sorts of people in it, we know this, so help us to make it more inclusive and diverse,” states Ash. “If you feel lucky enough to be working in such an exciting industry, why not help someone else fulfil their dream? Every bit of sponsorship helps.”

“We’d also urge all organisations to think about what they can do themselves for young people who lack certain advantages,” adds Osman. “We’ve seen first-hand how many colleagues in the industry have a relative or contact who’s opened doors for them, but not every young person has that.”

Having only been active for just over six months, the pair already have big plans for the CRA as it moves forward. Currently, the main focus is on the Academy’s outreach, as well as growing the number of organisations offering support. “We’re designing workshops and more practical, interactive studio days where we can focus on the basics of how TV is made,” explains Ash. “Something we’ve learned is that it doesn’t work to just supply young people with online courses, it also needs to translate into practical training. Many of our young people need help with other skills too, such as interview performance and basic work environment standards. We want to be there to support them through training and beyond.”

Another aim is to expand the CRA’s regional training and development. “We’ve got the blueprint now, we know what works and what doesn’t, and we’re passionate about reaching young people in parts of the country who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the sort of opportunities we provide,” says Osman. “We’d love to do more with schools, such as becoming a service provider to media departments. It would be amazing to contribute to the curriculum one day.”

Anyone interested in supporting Crew Room Academy can get in touch at info@crewroomacademy.com

To find out more about their work, register at the CRA’s website, which also includes job listings and training videos.