Deep in the basement of a building in St Paul’s, Anton Brown gestures proudly around a room set to be transformed into a music studio.
Most recently home to Catch 22, an alternative provision school that closed in December 2019, the vast premises is currently undergoing major renovation work to transform it into a place of opportunity and aspiration for teenagers at risk of slipping through the cracks and turning to criminality.
With provision to run NVQ training courses for 20 young people not currently in education, employment or training, the building is also a safe, creative space for the wider community of St Paul’s to call their own.
“I was one of them and I still feel like one of them,” says Anton, an entrepreneur, mentor and founder of BIIIG Academy, speaking about the teenagers not in mainstream education who lack opportunities.
“The community in the last few weeks have gravitated towards me. This is like the ark,” he adds.
Anton grew up in St Paul’s and Easton and launched Eco Sheen, an eco-conscious professional cleaning business, with a small loan from his grandparents and a mop and bucket given to him by his dad.
He provides employment for people from similar backgrounds to him and went on to become a mentor, helping teenagers who were struggling with education and the criminal justice system.
The academy, which is entirely self-funded, is the next step in bridging the gaps in St Paul’s and beyond, and providing opportunities with the potential to transform young lives.
Anton set up BIIIG in honour of Tyrone Hayman, who was fatally stabbed in Bedminster last year.
“It will act as a blanket or umbrella for young people who are hurting right now,” says Anton. “Nobody has given them opportunities or shown them that it is possible for them to have what they think they can’t have.”
One of the biggest challenges, says Anton, is telling teenagers not to start on a path of criminality yet failing to offer alternative options to make money.
BIIIG is divided into two – with one side dedicated to NVQ training courses and the other development firm, which will provide employment opportunities for newly-qualified people.
Anton is exploring more options to provide entrepreneurial support and jobs. Visiting the site alongside Bristol24/7 one recent Tuesday afternoon are representatives from Bristol City Council and City of Bristol College with a view to potential partnership work in the future.
It may still be a work-in-progress but Anton has a full plan mapped out of what will go where in the building, with classrooms upstairs and workshop space in the basement that leads through to ‘The Cave’, a recreation room that will have a TV, games, pool table and more.
There will be a professional kitchen installed for NVQ courses, as well as the music studio.
Outside, a compact garden area is currently full of building rubble and razor wire. “This will be a therapeutic garden,” says Anton, gesturing around the space with a smile.
It is vital for him to invest time and money in ensuring everything in BIIIG Academy is top-quality so that those who come into the building feel valued.
There’s no set opening date yet but Anton intends to be up and running before the end of the year.
Main photo by Ellie Pipe