Brixton project update

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Breaking the cycle of youth violence

“Due to the pandemic, our work in Brixton took a slightly different shape this year! When lockdown arrived, we rolled up our sleeves, made changes to our operating model and quickly expanded our staff and volunteer team to support some of the community’s most vulnerable families and young people through the height of the crisis.

I have to celebrate and give my heartfelt thanks to the incredible team of staff and volunteers – many of whom live locally and were facing their own challenges from the pandemic – who have thrown themselves into this work and done some fantastic peacemaking work over the last year.

Before and after lockdowns, we made strong progress in taking forward our Voices for Change project. Through this work, we seek to empower people to drive change in their neighbourhoods through community organising and by helping secondary school students at risk of exclusion fulfil their true potential through regular mentoring.

Sadly, violence on our streets began to increase again as the year progressed and, as we approach 2021, we believe it’s more important than ever to tackle the root causes of youth violence. Throughout the less restricted summer and following the most recent lockdown, our dedicated team have continued their incredible work creating brilliant art, building relationships, developing leaders and working for peace whether socially-distanced or online. 

With the fantastic team we’ve grown and the wonderful youth and parent leaders we’ve worked with this year, we’ve very well set for more peacemaking work in 2021!”

Paul Maxwell-Rose, Co-Director (Programmes)

Coronavirus support for families

Between March and October, our team of staff and 14 volunteers supported 70 vulnerable families with more than 100 children between them. This included ten Spanish-speaking families, for whom we recruited a dedicated family worker to provide assistance in their home language. Many people were already struggling before the pandemic, however the arrival of Coronavirus – and the loss of jobs, reduced income and the mental health and other issues that came with it –  only exacerbated their challenges and brought many to breaking point.

We provided the vast majority of families with regular weekly, often intensive, phone-based support. The issues they faced were wide-ranging, including debt, hardship and food poverty; digital exclusion; physical and mental health; childcare and family support; and the general frustrations of isolation. We supported them by providing help directly where we could, as well as signposting them to specialist support from partner organisations, and helping them to navigate and access council and social services. 

“Thank you so much for trying to help me. Yours is the only call I get where someone is trying to help” A Brixton parent who received regular support from our family support team  

Voices for Change schools work

Before and after lockdowns, we further built on our work mentoring students at risk of exclusion thanks to our funding from The Walcot Foundation. At the heart of the programme, we organised weekly group mentoring sessions with students at three Lambeth secondary schools, listening carefully to understand their frustrations and concerns and empowering them to take action on the issues they care about most. This year, for example, the issues included school behaviour policy, police-community relations and climate change.

While schools were closed during lockdown, we also provided daily virtual activities to help young people stay engaged, connected and learning. These included a wide variety of online challenges and activities from virtual street dance classes to BoxCercise!

The closure of schools served to highlight the full extent of digital exclusion in our communities. In the UK, an estimated 1.9 million households had no access to the internet during lockdown, and many millions more are reliant on pay-as-you-go services to access online education. It quickly became clear to us how widespread and unacceptable this situation was for many households in Lambeth and we decided to take action. In response, we sourced laptops and WiFi modems ourselves and donated them to some of the most vulnerable families struggling to keep up with schoolwork but with no means to pay for equipment, and we supported our partners with their campaigns too.

“This is the best thing that’s happened during lockdown!” The Vice Principal of a Lambeth secondary school when we provided a laptop to a family whose child had been unable to do any online learning and was in danger of falling behind.

Community organising

Our wider community organising work was naturally curtailed by Coronavirus restrictions. However, at the start of the year we launched two weekly after-school youth clubs – Youth Experience Club and Girls Group – which we continued to run virtually during the pandemic. This followed discussion with local young people, who told us that a lack of afterschool activities is a reason why they see their peers being led into crime. Our sessions offer a safe space where young people can build friendships, play games and eat together.

This year, Coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement have helped to further highlight the racism and inequalities that many people face. We offered a safe space for the community to talk and to share their experiences, and this emerged as one of the core themes in our summer youth programme, ‘A Summer of Film-making in Angell Town’.

Through a series of workshops and the production of a professional short film, we brought together young people from at least four different estates and helped them tell their story of what it’s like growing up in Brixton, including the prejudices they face – and how they would like to be perceived in contrast with the negative stereotypes that often portrayed in the media.

The project was very much youth-led, and participants played an active role at every stage from concept, to script development, to acting on camera and behind-the-scenes production. It was inspiring to see their confidence grow and, as well as supporting their personal development and building new friendships across different postcodes, it helped them to gain new skills and experience of teamworking.

Around lockdowns, we also organised three trips for young people – one to Van Gogh House to learn about Brixton’s cultural heritage and the positive things that come out of the area; a hiking trip to Hampstead Heath; and a visit to Sydenham Hill Wood to learn about nature and the environment.

“We provide a safe space inspired by young people for young people, who may not have other positive ways to occupy their time after school. They can come, relax, enjoy themselves and take advantage of food, games and homework support that they may not otherwise get and then return home with a positive energy that benefits the whole family.” – Abdoul is one of our Youth Club young leaders

Read more project updates in our latest impact report here!