Belfast-born founder of Urban Development wins 'Campaigner' award

Pamela (right) accepts her award from Selina Webb of Universal Music UK
Gail Bell

BELFAST-born music mogul Pamela McCormick has been recognised by the industry after winning the 'Campaigner' award at the Music Week's 'Women in Music' event in London.

Founder and director of London-based talent incubator Urban Development, Pamela accepted her award from Selina Webb, executive vice-president of Universal Music UK, at the ceremony which celebrates influential women from all sectors of the music industry.

Born in east Belfast in the 1970s into a family of shipyard workers (her grandparents worked for Harland & Wolff), she says her vision "to give back" grew through a difficult era of pub bombings and barricades –and a growing belief that poverty and lack of opportunities lay at the heart of problems.

After graduating from Edinburgh University with a degree in French, her music career started with Assembly Theatre & Music – the company that ran the Assembly Rooms programme during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – and from there she went on to programming and producing UK jazz tours and working with high profile conductors in France.

"It was, what I would call, a very privileged situation, working with very privileged musicians and promoters," she said.

"When I moved to France, I also saw it as an opportunity to use my French degree.

"But I soon felt a strong calling to do something to help young artists I had met on my travels, so I went freelance in 1997 with a loose idea of 'doing my own thing'."

That translated into relocating to London, completing an MA in Arts Management at City University while spearheading a number of arts projects and championing hip-hop music at a time when the arts funding system didn't really support the genre.

"Urban Development was born 17 years ago with a simple mission: to provide opportunities for talented musicians working outside of the mainstream and help them get noticed," Pamela said.

"We have had numerous success stories, to date, among them the singer, songwriter and rapper Labrinth (Timothy Lee McKenzie) and Ed Sheeran who also passed through our doors before becoming a global superstar."

Engaging with over 3,000 young people every year, the charity is also a National Portfolio Organisation of Arts Council England, raising over £5 million from a wide range of arts, education and music industry funders to support its work.

Working with an annual budget of around £700,000, Pamela is now aiming to attract new strands of funding and bump this figure up to £1 million to develop an ambitious new centre for urban culture in east London.

"We are already half-way there on the capital side, but it is a lot of hard work," she said. "Luckily, I am from Belfast and I am a hard worker.

"Although I was never on the front-line of all that was going on in Northern Ireland at the time, I think my upbringing taught me that it is important to follow your dreams and fulfil your potential.

"After working with very privileged musicians, I think I have come full circle now. It is the best job satisfaction in the world to think you are helping other young people reach their own goals and dreams."

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