Hip hop hero

13 February 2019 | West and South West England

Toby Gorniak of Street Factory

Charity that transforms young lives through hip hop dance in Plymouth.

A couple in Plymouth use hip hop dance to transform the lives of disadvantaged young people in their community.

Toby and Jo Gorniak founded Street Factory CIC in 2007, determined to improve the lives of local youngsters. Toby, a nationally-respected hip hop artist, and qualified youth worker, arrived in Plymouth from his native Poland aged 14, unable to speak a word of English. But he thrived and made a pledge to himself to help youngsters with difficult starts achieve their potential. He helps students discover who they are are, build resilience, and give them the confidence to achieve their goals through various programmes.

Regular workshops use dance, theatre, DJ-ing, rapping and graffiti to get youngsters to ‘think outside the box’ and broaden their mindset. The couple and their volunteers also work with local schools, colleges and community groups to devise pieces of hip hop theatre that explore issues such as bullying, diversity, equality and self-esteem.

Not all the classes are free, but Street Factory sponsors many of those unable to afford to attend. Street Factory primarily works with youngsters but welcomes people of all ages. 

Toby explained: “We are about creating change and opportunity and hip hop is the vehicle I use to help people. We are all about building confidence, giving people a sense of belonging and open doors. I also believe in the principle that if you give kindness, you get it back tenfold.

“I do what I do because I am one of them. I came from a single parent background and at times it was really tough. I just want show there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“Everyone is essentially welcome. I have one guy who is in his 90s. I am teaching him ‘popping and waving’ - which is a form of street dance based on the technique of quickly contracting and relaxing muscles to cause a jerk in the dancer's body. He loves it.”

Meanwhile another programme, Dance Back 2 Health! helped young adults affected by alcohol and drug issues build up their confidence through hip hop dance, rapping and mentoring.

Now the couple are gearing up to deliver their latest - and most ambitious - plan. They are  turning the Street Factory building into a £2.2 million educational centre and hip hop theatre in Plymouth - the first in the country. Toby plans for it to be an all-singing, all-dancing space for local people to learn and perform creative arts using the five elements of hip hop culture: respect, peace, love, unity, and fun.

Said Toby: “Our hip-hop theatre will be front and centre all about community. It is all about allowing the community to grow and invest. Knowledge gained will be ploughed back into the community bringing further opportunity and experience.
“We want to create a community hub where people feel physically, mentally, and spiritually safe and free to be, express, respect, grow, teach, and learn with each other. A safe environment to discuss topics they care about and process the world around them."

The 32-year-old dancer was recognised for his efforts when he was awarded an MBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List. When you consider he carries out his duties while also being a father of six children - all of whom are home schooled - the achievement is all the more remarkable.

But Toby, while proud, takes it all in his stride. “For me it is not about awards. It makes my day when people who have come through our programme come back years later to tell their stories and share their knowledge with those we are working with now.”

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