A busy Brixton summer!

2021 brought a busy summer for our Brixton team and the young people we work with, made all the more special for everyone as Covid restrictions finally lifted! We asked a few of our CHIPS team about their highlights…

Herbarium project – learning to care for our environment

This project, which launched in Spring in partnership with San Mei Gallery, successfully continued during the summer. It brought together young people from Lilian Baylis school and our youth clubs, to grow plants, revamp a community garden in Angell Town, and learn about caring for our environment with the help of several local organisations, an artist, an architect, an award-winning film-maker and the educational team at Kew Gardens.

Our CHIPS partners Michelle and Abdoul took a group of young people to Cullinan Studio Architects for a presentation by an architectural assistant, a discussion about the Accelerate programme which helps secondary school-age students explore careers in architecture, and a tour of the beautiful office designed and rebuilt by Ted Cullinan and his team.

This was followed by a walk along the canals, and a sightseeing tour of the narrow boats, in vibrant Camden Town.

Michelle recalls: “We did a lot of walking and one of my highlights was observing how peaceful some of the young people were as they enjoyed laying or sitting on the canal tow path, watching the narrow boats sailing by. Some of the young people had never had an opportunity to come to Camden before and one young person said they couldn’t wait to visit again!” 

Fun with film

CHIPS Youth Worker Kamika supervised a successful film-making day with San Mei Gallery, helping young people to record and celebrate their journey on the Herbarium project, supported by the expertise and editing skills of Ollie, an award-winning TV film-maker.

The film will be premiered at San Mei Gallery on the 25 September along with a guest speaker, award ceremony and live entertainment for the young people, their parents and all the wonderful organisations who made the project happen.

“It will also be an opportunity to discuss new projects coming up, share ideas for the future, and explore how the young people can continue to be involved and develop”, said Kam and Michelle.

Pizza Making at the Garden Museum

You mightn’t be surprised to learn that pizza is one of the favourite foods for many of our young people. So we organised a summer visit to the Garden Museum, with the opportunity to learn how to make pizza from scratch, starting off with the pizza dough, then preparing and chopping the toppings, and creating their own mini pizzas which they scoffed for lunch!

They also made a rainbow coleslaw, with several of the ingredients from the garden on the premises. The session was great fun and the children also learned about cooking techniques, the cooking process, and kitchen safety including how they should handle knives.

CHIPS Youth Worker Jemmar adds: “This was followed by a walk along Thames at South Bank, taking in the National COVID Memorial Wall on the southbank and reading thousands of messages from those who have lost their loved ones. We finished the day with a final pitstop at Starbucks.”

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September’s arrival means the young people have returned to school. But we hope and pray that the skills, experiences and new friendships they gained this summer will remain with them. For our part, we’ll continue to partner with and support them during the academic year through our youth clubs and other community projects!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can Van Gogh help fight youth violence in Brixton?

During the October half-term holiday, CHIPS arranged a visit for Brixton young people to Van Gogh House and its sister venue San Mei Gallery, in a ‘first’ for CHIPS and for the Van Gogh team!

Access to arts for all!

“It’s so important to give young people the opportunity to access to places of interest on their doorstep and become submerged in the cultural landscape, instead of feeling disconnected from it”, says CHIPS volunteer Michelle Killington.

Michelle came up with the idea of the visit and helped make it happen after coming across the House and Gallery through her work with another local community organisation, Longfield Hall

Janet Currier, Special Projects Manager at Van Gogh House, explains that they have been developing their education programme over the past year, focusing on primary school children and families. “Our visit with CHIPS was the first time we have worked with teenagers, so we were really excited and curious to see how they would respond!” she says.

The response was a very positive one as the group of young people toured the House with Janet and listened to a talk given by local artist Emily Moore in the Gallery.

“We were all so impressed at how they engaged with Emily and asked about the practicalities of being an artist”, says Janet. Part of what we want to do is to help young people to see that it is possible to make a living through being creative, so having Emily there as a living role model was really important to us.”

Michelle agrees. “The young people really enjoyed speaking with the artist and asked some really interesting questions. The tour from Janet was also fascinating and the group was extremely attentive throughout the visit!” she says.

As with younger children who have visited Van Gogh House, the way the young people engaged with the environment was different to adult visitors, explains Janet. “They were particularly interested in the hidey-holes, the secret histories, and uncovering things”, she explains.

“It was also lovely to see how they projected their own ideas – they had a lot to say about how they would create their perfect bedroom upstairs, for example. They seemed really at home – enough to start making TikTok videos in the kitchen – a first for Van Gogh House?!”

Janet says that though they are a small team at Van Gogh House, they have big ambitions for their education programme. The fact that nearly everyone has heard of Van Gogh makes it a really easy starting point for all kinds of learning and development, she says. “The story of Van Gogh is such a great way in to thinking creatively about many things that are still relevant now – like social justice, social change, migration, mental health and wellbeing.”

 

Looking to the future

Looking ahead, the team’s hope is that as many young people in Brixton as possible will come to know Van Gogh House and San Mei Gallery and feel that these are places they are welcome, and which have something to offer them.

“We would like to be part of an area-wide movement to support young people to have greater access to opportunities in arts and heritage”, Janet says. “How we do this and how we resource this something we now need to work out, but our workshop with CHIPS was a very positive start that we look forward to building on!”

Michelle also sees a number of specific opportunities for Brixton young people as a result of partnership. “One of my hopes is that local young people will learn more about history and the art of oral story telling which is an amazing skill,” she says.

“There are also some very practical opportunities to gain work experience as a tour guide to the public. And I’d love to explore the possibility of local young people interested in art working together on a creative project to be exhibited at San Mei Gallery – I’m already looking at ideas!”

“Ultimately, as peacemakers, we want young people to feel included and proud of their area and its history”, she concluded. “We hope they will see that good things can and do come out of Brixton and engaging with its history can also help them to be a part of a positive future!”

If you’re part of a local community initiative interested in exploring ideas for partnership with Van Gogh House and San Mei Gallery, you can contact Janet at janet@vangoghhouse.co.uk

Fun facts

  • Many people are surprised to know Van Gogh lived in South London. This had been lost in the mists of time until 1971, and the house has only been open to the public as a heritage site since May 2019.

  • Van Gogh’s time in London was significant to his life as an artist. He was very taken with the city – roaming around on foot to visit galleries and enjoy nature!

  • Not many people know that Van Gogh learned to swim in Brixton!

  • When Van Gogh was there the landlady Ursula Loyer ran a school from the front parlour and that there were often 8 or 9 people living in the house sharing one outside toilet.

  • During his time in the house, it is often said that Van Gogh reportedly fell in love with the landlady’s daughter Eugenie and that his feelings were unreciprocated. She went on to marry someone else shortly after.

Cover photo by Van Gogh House.

E is for… Exclusions

In this series of short blogs, we’re working through the alphabet to highlight the approaches – some more surprising than others – that we take at CHIPS to grassroots peacemaking!

Across England, permanent exclusions from school have soared by 60% in five years[1] and, as peacemakers, this gives us great cause for concern.

Exclusions affect the poor and vulnerable disproportionately. Pupils eligible for free school meals and those receiving support for special educational needs are significantly more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers.[3]. We are based in Brixton, and we also see the racial bias inherent in the system with children from African-Caribbean backgrounds much more likely to be excluded.[4]

Exclusions take young people out of the education system and remove their safety net. For one thing, they make it much easier to be recruited to a life of violence and crime. Indeed, recent data from HMI Inspectors of Prisons reveal that more than eight in ten children in custody have been excluded from school.[2]

Pandemic pressures

The recent extended school closures during the height of pandemic make the need for tackling exclusions even more urgent.

We know from anecdotal evidence that criminal and drugs gangs have been busy using school closures as an opportunity to lure new recruits. These young people who have experienced exploitation will now also be more vulnerable to exclusion.

We understand how, as the pandemic accentuates financial uncertainty for many people across the country, a criminal lifestyle might appear more appealing. We know one young person sentenced for drug dealing who says he only did it to try and help his family when their rent was in arrears.

Many young people are also experiencing trauma and stress as a result of the pandemic, and wondering what it means for their future and aspirations. Schools currently face multiple competing priorities and, as one union spokesman argued recently, unless they are able to balance their need to catch up with adequate support for young people, we could see a new spike in exclusions this year due to COVID.[5]

Preventative action

At CHIPS, we see every day how exclusions stop young people from reaching their full potential and lead to conflict and violence on our streets. That’s why working to prevent them is a priority for us in South London. Over the last few years we have partnered in different ways with six schools in Lambeth and we expect to have worked with over 200 students at risk of exclusion by the end of 2022.

A couple of years back, we met one 14-year-old boy in Brixton – let’s call him Jonas. Jonas was angry and frustrated and felt nobody was listening. At school, he was disruptive and his teacher thought he ‘wasn’t going to make it’.

Over the course of a year, we helped Jonas identify the issues he cared about and how he could change things. He began to find his voice and talk more openly. His school attendance improved. He started to engage more positively with the community around him. In due course, his teacher said that he would not only ‘make it’ but would be a success.

That’s typical of the approach we take, and the outcome we try to achieve. By drawing out the ‘hot’ anger of young people, focusing their energy on shared issues and empowering them to make change happen, we not only reduce their risk of exclusion, but also help them to become changemakers and positive role models for the future.

Now, as the new school year gets into full swing and the pandemic continues to threaten to disrupt day-to-day life across the country, reducing school exclusions has never been more important.

That’s why reducing school Exclusions deserves a place in our A – Z of practical peacemaking.

Footnotes

[1] Evening Standard, ‘The Excluded Campaign’, 21 September 2020

[2] Children & Young People Now, ‘Children exploited by gangs in lockdown most at risk’, 28 August 2020

[3] RSA, August 2019 report: thersa.org/discover/publications-and-articles/rsa-blogs/2019/08/exclusions

[4] The Guardian letters page 9 May 2020. 

[5] Islington Tribune, ‘Union warns of a surge in school exclusions’, 26 June 2020

Connecting the disconnected

One of the first prompts you get when you plug in your brand new laptop is “Let’s connect you to a network”… But for some people, that’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

A big disconnect between theory and reality

Online education while schools are closed sounds good in theory. But one of the big challenges we keep coming across in Lambeth is that many people simply don’t have access to it.

As a result of not having computer equipment or broadband at home, some young people are unable to do any online learning at all. Others are trying to use their mobile phones without WiFi. At CHIPS, we believe that neither is acceptable.

Solutions needed

That’s why we’re seeking funds for laptops and mobile WiFi systems so that children can keep up with their education. We’ve applied for a grant that would help us provide this type of support and, meanwhile, we’re buying laptops and modems for those in most urgent need.

We delivered our first laptops and 4G WiFi modem packages in Brixton this week. One family in question didn’t have a laptop or any internet access at home and the eldest child, a year 10 student, was in danger of falling behind without it. The Vice Principal of the school said:

“Teachers report that the pupil was actively and excitedly online today. This is the best thing that’s happened during lockdown!”

Another household received their delivery yesterday and thanked our family worker during their weekly support call, explaining that because they are on universal credit they simply couldn’t imagine doing it themselves.   

Paul, our Co-Director (Programmes) at CHIPS says: “Doing something seemingly small like this now could actually have a significant impact on a child’s learning and development.” 

Can I help?

If, like us, you think this situation is unacceptable and would like to do something to help we suggest that you could:

  • Contact your councillor to understand the situation in your area and ask for their support in getting it on the local agenda.
  • If you have a laptop you aren’t using, contact a local school you’re connected to and ask if they can put it to better use.
  • If you can donate a laptop to our work in Brixton, or contribute to the cost of buying new equipment and WiFi access, we urgently need support and you can contact us at office@chipspeace.org.

Paul delivering computer equipment to a family this week

Brixton school exclusions: project update

We recently reached another small but encouraging milestone at CHIPS – half-way point in the first year of our latest project tackling school exclusions in Lambeth!

Launched with the support of the Walcot Foundation in September 2019, we expect to work with up to 150 pupils at risk of exclusion over our three-year Voices for Change project.

We’re pleased with the progress we’ve made so far. Rishan Walker, our CHIPS Youth Worker, has been a facilitator at nearly every group mentoring session since the programme started and says: “Six months in, I can already see how the work we’re doing is helping them to become better students – and more importantly better people!”

Tackling hot issues

One of the key aims of the project is to engage young people by drawing out their anger and frustration, and helping them to channel it into the issues they care about and make change happen.

Two CHIPS youth workers facilitate regular group mentoring sessions with them at school, and also organise activities with them outside the area, to help them see the bigger picture and encourage them to explore new ways of problem-solving.

Hot issues which have emerged so far, where we are now helping the students to explore ways of taking action, range from school behaviour management policy to police-community relations and climate change.

Please come again!

Rishan says one highlight of her work so far was when one of the groups, who started the project with great scepticism, started to ask “Can you guys come again on Thursday?” even though their sessions are only held on Tuesdays!

Darnell, aged 14, was one of the most disruptive students at the beginning of the school year, which was displayed through aggressive talk and horseplay. Since the first session, his behaviour has improved week by week, and he has since begun to engage actively in the group discussion.

Happy teachers

Teachers seem pleased with progress too – if not a little bemused that their students are suddenly keen to come to school! One senior teacher says “The students really like it and are always asking if sessions are happening today” while the pastoral manager at another school says that the students always look forward to their sessions.

The work is one strand of the CHIPS Voices for Change project, which brings together, and builds on, two of our most successful areas of work in Brixton to date – community organising and partnership with schools.

Paul Maxwell-Rose, Co-Director of Programmes, oversees the project from the CHIPS base in Brixton. “Through community organising, we help young people and families on the estates drive change in their communities, while our partnership with schools means we can help those at risk of exclusion to turn their lives around”, he says. “By delivering these together, I believe we can have a real impact as we work to build peace in Brixton.”

CHIPS launches programme to help tackle school exclusions

Charity’s partnership with schools will empower young people at risk of exclusion to drive change in their communities

CHIPS, the international Christian peacemaking charity, today announced the launch of a new programme to help reduce the number of school exclusions in Lambeth.

The announcement follows the publication of a report this summer by the Home Affairs Committee, which calls for urgent action to tackle school exclusions[1] as part of the fight against serious youth violence. The number school exclusions has risen nationally since 2012, and the latest data shows a further year-on-year increase in permanent and fixed period exclusions for the 2017/18 school year.[2]

At the heart of the programme, two CHIPS youth workers will facilitate weekly small group mentoring sessions with students at participating secondary schools. The sessions are designed to channel the students’ energy into identifying the shared causes, interests and issues they care about most and will empower them to take action and drive change in their communities. To complement the mentoring work, CHIPS will also organise regular visits outside the neighbourhood, helping students to build new relationships and explore different ways of thinking and problem-solving.

Success will be measured by the number of students successfully completing the programme and avoiding exclusion. Other expected outcomes include improvement in school behaviour and attendance, improved communication skills and greater engagement in the community.

The Walcot Foundation, an independent grant-making organisation and Lambeth’s principal independent funder, has contributed to the funding of the programme over three years and Citizens UK has provided training in community organising to the CHIPS team.

Paul Maxwell-Rose, Co-director of Programmes at CHIPS, said:

“The number of young people being excluded from secondary schools in London has risen in recent years, to reach over 40,000 permanent and fixed-term exclusions in the last year for which statistics are available[3]. At the same time, the link between school exclusions and youth violence has become increasingly clear. We need to take action now and society needs to hear these young people’s voices.

“We are very grateful to the Walcot Foundation for recognising the importance of this issue in Lambeth, and for their generous contribution towards the funding the programme for the next three years. Our experience shows that, by drawing out the anger of young people and focusing their energy on shared issues where they can make change happen, we can not only reduce the risk of exclusion but help them to become positive changemakers in their communities.”

 

Notes for editors

About CHIPS (Christian International Peacemaking Service)

CHIPS is a charity of Christian peacemakers, who have been living at the heart of conflict for over 50 years. From Brixton to Ghana, the charity is invited to join communities and help build a sustainable future free from violence and division. Inspired by the life of Jesus, CHIPS believes that the best way to bring about lasting peace is to take sides. Both sides. For more information, visit chipspeace.org

About the Walcot Foundation

Walcot Foundation is Lambeth’s principal independent grant-maker that aims to tackle poverty by creating opportunity.  The Foundation makes grants totalling £2 million a year to individuals, schools and community organisations.

For more information, visit walcotfoundation.org.uk

[1] Home Affairs Committee report, 31 July 2019

[2] Department of Education, Permanent and fixed period exclusions in England 2017/18, 25 July 2019. Statistics are for state-funded schools and all school types.

[3] Department of Education, ‘Permanent and fixed period exclusions by type of school’, local authority statistics 2017/18, table 17. Statistics are for state-funded secondary schools.