12 Heroes of Camden

Meet the local people doing extraordinary things for their community

It’s been an incredibly tough year, and King’s Cross would like to thank everyone who has given their time to help others in 2020. To recognise the amazing community we are part of, we have partnered with Camden Giving to shine a light on some local heroes who have been making a difference throughout 2020.

You can see the 12 Heroes of Camden on the art benches at the top of King’s Boulevard. There is also a tap to donate point here where you can make a much-needed donation. The default donation is £3, but you can choose to give more if you wish. To learn more about the essential work Camden Giving does to end local poverty and inequality please visit the Camden Giving website.

Paul Davis – Coach, Pro Touch Soccer Academy

“The people who come to our project have come a long way, especially as half of them had never kicked a football in their life.”

Coach Paul Davis combines his own experience as a person with autism and his football coaching skills with Pro Touch SA to provide much-needed wellbeing and training for people with a range of learning disabilities. The training provided by Paul’s project has an impact well beyond the football pitch, “We can develop a lot of skills through football – communication, timekeeping, social skills and also physical skills like coordination, which really develop if you play sport. The people who come to our project have come a long way, especially as half of them had never kicked a football in their life. Through Camden Giving we’ve been able to provide them with an outlet where they can feel included and at home.”

2020’s challenges have not deterred Paul or stopped the project from engaging with its audience. “We’ve been able to run online fitness sessions with Zoom, which helps with mental wellbeing,” he says, “and we’ve done quiz nights, which helps everyone stay in touch. It also helps provide a routine. As a person with autism, I believe that routine is fundamental to keeping yourself intact.”

Vanessa Browne – founder of Sankofa Storytelling Arts

“Even if you don’t have anything tangible to give, just giving time to people is so important.”

Sankofa Storytelling Arts is a Camden-based organisation that uses drama and storytelling sessions to encourage children, families and young adults to develop critical thinking skills, leadership skills, and wellness skills. Originally funded by its founder Vanessa Browne, Sankofa Storytelling Arts has received funding from Camden Giving this year, allowing it to continue its work during difficult times. “This year we’ve been out delivering our Sankofa Art Hampers; with books, pencils, worksheets, clay, and snacks. Everything children and families have needed to carry on being creative during lockdown.”

Vanessa’s online and ‘rule of 6’ sessions have been a lifeline for many Camden families during the last few months, giving them a much-needed break from what has been an incredibly challenging year.

Looking to the festive season, Vanessa sees more challenges, but also opportunities for people to come together. “I’m aware that during the festive period people are going to be alone, and I think the message of unity and togetherness is really important. Even if you don’t have anything tangible to give, just giving time to people is so important.”

Sarah Hoyle – Centre Manager, Kentish Town Community Centre

“It’s really important in my job that I try to help people define themselves as the best of who they are, rather than the situation they’re in.”

Kentish Town Community Centre allows space for people to flourish, providing a safe place at the heart of the community. 2020 has seen it adapt to the community’s needs, led by centre manager Sarah Hoyle: “In March, we launched the Happiness Hamper Project, supporting 240 low-income families in this area with a hamper every two weeks.” Teachers at partner schools hand-delivered the hampers, giving them a chance to check-in with families – as one teacher said to Sarah, “You cannot see a bruise over the telephone.”

Sarah knows from experience that the phrase “food bank” comes with stigma attached. “It’s not about the fact you don’t have any food in your cupboard – it’s the fact that you come here and it’s a positive experience,” she says. This winter, Sarah’s goal is to raise £15,000 and to deliver a ‘Super Bumper Hamper’ to 300 local families. They carry with them more than just Christmas cheer: “If we are able to provide a super bumper hamper, then people should be able to get through. It’s there to cheer people up but it’s also practical. I think we have to be really aware that food poverty doesn’t stop for Christmas.”

Gemma Clarke and Olivia Mervyn-Smith – volunteers at Camden Giving

“The team at Camden Giving wear so many hats – one person is the social media manager whilst also leading funding and recruiting volunteers. They do so much!”

Gemma and Olivia are communications professionals who volunteered for Camden Giving throughout the first Covid lockdown when they were furloughed from their jobs. Transferring skills from the large-scale business world to the daily hands-on work of Camden Giving has been illuminating, as Gemma discovered, We have the opportunity to help at our fingertips now and I’ve realised how beneficial it can be for an organisation like Camden Giving. I’m working to encourage my colleagues back at work to do the same.”

Committing the skills they used in their everyday working lives to Camden Giving has given them a new perspective, as Olivia explains, “Camden Giving makes such an impact for families who couldn’t feed their kids because they weren’t at school, or people who couldn’t pay for funerals when they were losing people to Covid. It was really amazing to see all the small organisations that Camden Giving supports throughout the borough.”

Tamera Jamal – Community Panellist, Camden Giving

“Normal people have heroes like Spider-Man or Barbie, but mine is Camden Giving.”

During lockdown, Tamera has given her time to take care of her neighbours, day in and day out. “I’ve been helping older people to pay their bills, and checking on them every day,” she says. “Sometimes they need somebody to phone up the council or pick up their medications and make appointments with their GP.”

Tamera also volunteers with Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice: “I provide support, listening to families, and signposting them where to get help if they need anything.” Because she knows and understands her community’s needs so well, she’s the perfect person to sit on the Camden Giving decision-making panel with other local residents – figuring out where funding is most needed and allocating grants. It doesn’t stop there for Tamera. She even donated her payment for sitting on the panel to the funeral fund of a local bus driver.

“Normal people have heroes like Spider-Man or Barbie and all these people, but my heroes are the people at Camden Giving,” she says. “What we do is nothing compared to how hard they work.”

Daniel Jourdan – Youth Programme Manager, Coram’s Fields

“You feel a real burden of responsibility for the young people you work with. They can feel very forgotten.”

Coram’s Fields provides a sanctuary for kids and teens: a park and playground where “no adult can enter without a child”, it offers a lifeline to young people in the form of top-notch sports facilities, workshops and, crucially, support.

Youth Programme Manager Daniel says, “As someone who runs a youth program you feel a real burden of responsibility for the young people you work with,” he says. “They can feel very forgotten.” Lockdown was particularly tough on many teens: “We had more young people reaching out about their mental health than ever.”

The problems young people face during lockdown are manifold – from lack of face-to-face contact with social workers, to the shuttering of sports clubs. “When you take away football, that’s a large part of their identity that’s gone for them,” Daniel explains.

“Youth work hasn’t been seen as essential childcare during lockdown in the same way that nurseries and after school clubs are, so we have had to visit people outside near where they live” he says. Despite these many obstacles, Daniel’s work continues to be transformative for vulnerable young people.

 

Raquel Rahel – Community Panellist, Camden Giving

“It’s about discussing real solutions for real problems. Who better than the community to do that?”

Combining compassion with practicality, Camden Giving has a community-led approach to giving grants. This means that key decisions about how funds should be distributed are made by a panel of local residents with first-hand experience of community issues – rather than a group of bigwigs and businesspeople.

“It’s about discussing real solutions for real problems, basically,” says Rahel, from the Social Action Fund panel. “Who better than the community to do that? I think that’s what makes Camden Giving completely different from other charities.”

Raquel’s experience of working closely with the homeless shelter charity C4WS gives her insight into what’s most needed, as well as the ability to adapt to the new challenges faced by homeless people during the pandemic.

Raqhib Islam – Founder of Your Bike Project

“We want to create an alternative way of life for young people.”

A truly grassroots organisation that started during lockdown, Your Bike Project was able to donate more than 100 bicycles to disadvantaged young people in Kings Cross and Euston in 2020, thanks to funding from Camden Giving. For local resident and founder Raqhib, it’s a labour of love.

“I coordinate bike projects for young people within the area,” he says. “We give them bikes so they can get to work easily even when the buses have limited capacity. We also teach them cycle maintenance and safety, as well as promoting wellbeing and healthy eating.”

It’s a wholesome approach that’s rooted in the reality of daily life. “Camden has one of the highest levels of unemployment in London unfortunately, and it scares me,” he says. “I’ve read every year about knife crime, antisocial behaviour and gang crime here, so we want to create an alternative way of life for young people.”

The many benefits of Raqhib’s initiative include reducing car traffic and CO2 emissions on the notoriously busy Euston Road. “I definitely want to introduce a cycling culture in the neighbourhood,” he says. “It’s free and it’s fun. It’s always taken me back to my childhood.”

Abdikadir Ahmed – Youth Services Manager, Somali Youth Development Centre

We saw there was a massive digital divide within the area.

Based at the N1C Centre in King’s Cross, the Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC) is a grassroots youth community organisation that works with disadvantaged young people and families in Camden, offering support that’s tailored around their needs.

During lockdown, the problem of lack of access to technology became acutely clear. With schools closed, too many young people were cut off from laptops and devices. “We saw there was a massive digital divide within the area,” says Abdikadir, the centre’s youth services manager. “We found out young people were doing homework on their phones. It’s quite harrowing to hear that, and we thought as an organisation we’ve got to mobilise.”

At first, the centre started handing out its own equipment to families in need. But thanks to funding from Camden Giving, SYDRC was able to give out more than 45 laptops to young people. “Another thing is we found out a lot of the families were falling behind in terms of schooling,” says Abdikadir, “So we hired maths and English tutors to help them. Camden Giving has been a massive support,” he says. “They’re not as rigid as some organisations. They’re a good friend, as we always say.”

Shyanne Sorolla – Business Assistant, Small Green Shoots

“It’s easy for us young adults to be quite negative, but with everyone showing community and a sense of faith, it puts us in the right direction.”

Just as the name suggests, youth-led charity Small Green Shoots provides hope and hands-on help for young people who want to pursue a career in the creative industries, but are not in education, employment or training.

“We do a lot to help young adults within this community,” says Shyanne, the charity’s business admin assistant. She experienced the Small Green Shoots effect first-hand, after realising the college route wasn’t for her: “I thought, wow, this could actually put me on the right path, give me mentoring, and help me with my interview techniques – because I’m a person that gets quite nervous.”

Shyanne is now a key part of the team, overseeing payroll and invoicing, as well as funding applications: “This year, we’ve been in and out of lockdown, and I’ve been supporting Arts Council applications for emergency funding.” Other initiatives include sourcing laptops for those working from home, plus online Instagram workshops with guest speakers, with Camden Giving funding the Digital Programme response to lockdown.

From content creators to music assistants, most of the fresh-faced team are local – and upbeat. “It’s easy for us young adults to be quite negative, but with everyone showing community and a sense of faith, it puts us in the right direction.”

Albert McEyeson – CEO and Founder of Action Youth Boxing Intervention

“During Covid, we’ve been supporting people with mental health issues who are struggling, giving them a safe space.”

Albert McEyeson is a trained therapist and boxing coach. By combining boxing with cognitive behavioural therapy, Albert has created a unique programme and transformed the lives of hundreds of young people in Camden and Islington. “We run programs helping young people to re-engage in school,” he explains. “Particularly during Covid, we’ve been supporting people with mental health issues who are struggling – giving them a safe space, doing boxing with them and being mentors for them.”

Albert founded Action Youth Boxing Intervention in 2018, with start-up funding from Camden Giving. “They believed in us,” he says, “It was very new, doing counseling techniques with boxing. They take the time out to make sure that we’re getting trained and offer free courses. A lot of them come from Camden, so they know the issues of the area.”

Albert has valuable insight when it comes to coaching vulnerable young people – but, he says, it was hard to be taken seriously by potential sponsors for exactly that reason. “Camden Giving gave me that chance,” he says. “We’re working with some of the more challenging people, where we are the last resort. We pick them up and engage with them to get them back in school, back into training, or off the streets.”

Sheldon Campbell – Youth Employment Programme participant

“When schools came to visit, they would need supervision – and I’d be there to help them.”

Sheldon has made big changes to her life for someone so young. She had just hit her stride as a participant on Camden Giving’s Youth Employment Programme with a placement at Regent’s Place when lockdown came into effect. An exemplary multitasker, Sheldon had been arranging meetings, assisting the manager with community funds and offering support wherever she could. “When schools came to visit, they would need supervision,” says Sheldon, “and I’d be there to help them”. Then Covid struck, ending the placement abruptly.

But Regent’s Place were so impressed with Sheldon’s hard work and brilliant attitude that she secured another volunteering placement at Coram’s Fields, helping the ground staff during lockdown. At the same time, she also worked on the outdoor space at the Youth Centre: “Next summer, we’ll be able to chill on the grass and do barbecues outside.”

As well as her dedicated work as a part of Coram’s Fields, Sheldon studies at Talacre College in Kentish Town, learning to teach sports to kids with a focus on special needs; she also plays football for a women’s team in Camden. Her plans for the future are simple: “Next year I want to get a permanent job that I can stay in and build up from.”

Camden Giving is a local fundraising charity that works closely with dozens of volunteers and grassroots organisations in the borough, providing grants and support where it is needed most. Please support this important work by making a donation, or find out more about Camden Giving’s incredible projects on their website.

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  • Location

    Goods Way
    King’s Cross
    London N1C 4UR

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