Jedidah Onchere, Community Development Officer for Big local Impact, explains how the Brixton-based initiative is addressing community safety, cohesion, physical space and capacity building.
Big Local Impact is entrusted by the residents of Brixton to support them in changing their environment to be a better place in which to live. Brixton itself has undergone massive changes and is unrecognisable from what it was thirty or forty years ago. It is going through urban regeneration, which has led to gentrification and demographic changes. For the elite young people of London, Brixton is the place to be because it offers a rich genre of cultures and a great social life. Underneath all these, Brixton’s original population is still described as coming from disadvantaged and deprived backgrounds. This applies especially to young people who remain unemployed.
To respond to community needs to improve the area, we have four projects addressing community safety, cohesion, physical space and capacity building. All these positively impact on young people’s lives. Our work in Brixton has taught us that most of our young people are keen to excel in life and that there are only a few who are involved in crime and youth violence. We see drug traffickers targeting the innocent, some as young as eight years old. We also see parents who are frantic and seeking help for their children and the system failing them again and again.
Big Local Impact is well positioned to do something about it. We work with residents to improve the safety of the area. We approach this in two ways. First, we work with individual young people, supporting them and mentoring them, and secondly, we support a network of local organisations working on intervention work and preparing young people into employment. This allows us to have a wider reach, especially now that we can do a lot online – training, workshops, webinars and meetings.
Our mentoring programmes are key to making a change in lives. We let young people know that there is someone there to listen to them, help them work through their day-to-day challenges and ultimately connect them with an external person who will progress and develop them towards achieving their dreams. Someone who opens the world of opportunities to them, like Google. And someone who enlightens them of other income options others than earnings from crime.
We find that those with a past of street crimes are actually great entrepreneurs. Life has taught them how to run a business, albeit knowing the illegitimacy of their activities. Turning their lives around, with all the peer pressures still on their shoulders, is hard but we are a constant in young peoples lives and have managed to turn at least five directly from Big Local and, on average, twenty a year (when considering the work done by our network of organisations) move into wonderful careers or business ventures and are earning legitimate incomes. A benefiting young person told us, “I am not ashamed to say that if Big Local had not opened the doors for me, I would never have met the CEO of Google as my mentor. I am glad, truly glad.”
Our intervention work in schools, social and sports settings, and with families, is also producing fantastic results. The annual interactive job fair that we run on Angell Town is a great testimony of the job opportunities out there. Young people get hands-on experience too. We are enhancing this aspect of our work by making it one of the work themes led by a wider group of grassroots organisations.
One young person who attends our job fairs said, “I feel more confident that I can achieve my career goals because I am now more aware of job opportunities available to me”.
Our work would not be complete without supporting families and our programme, Sound Waves, supports families who have lost their children through gun and knife crime. This is a great gap in community service delivery.