Bringing a community together

By Leah Stone, Ashton Douglas and Mariska Hadley   -  By Emma Bird

I think our project started from a feeling that we needed to challenge the negative perceptions of not just the area but the young people like us in the area.

Our area is just a typical inner city suburb really, but there are some areas that do need some TLC.There are two schools close by that are rivals and then there’s this community centre in the middle which is kind of neutral, where you can go and interact with each other and it doesn’t matter which school you’re from. But the community centre is so run down that not many people even know it existed.

We wanted to give it a bit of make over and freshen it up so that people would enjoy using it more. The centre manager was a bit apprehensive at first but we just spent time sitting and talking with her and saying, look we really want to do this and that just convinced her.

Everyone uses the main room at the centre so we had to make sure the room was appropriate for every single age group. There’s a mother-and-toddler group and old peoples dancing classes and they’ve even got a basket ball team -a quite successful one as well because their trophy cabinet was quite packed.

We applied for an O2 Think Big grant. Without that I don’t think we would have managed to do it. We also did other fundraising as well - a charity football match and a Christmas raffle. The money we raised meant we had to stay within a budget which was really good experience cos in life you’re gonna have to stick to budgets. So it’s kind of given us a head start.

We got a load of our friends to come and help with decorating and I think that impressed the centre manager. It was one of the days we were decorating that Curtis the basketball coach came to see us. He asked us if we were planning on doing anything for Agoth. We didn’t know who he was but he told us that he was a member of the basketball team who had died of meningitis earlier this year. He was only 17.

We thought maybe we could create a mural for him in the main room. We came up with this idea of making a tree out of hand prints where people could leave messages. We talked to the family to see what they thought about it and they really liked it. They put a lot of trust in us to make it right.

We organised a memorial at the centre for all his friends and family where they could leave their hand prints and write their messages. His family were just so overwhelmed and at the end of the service they came over and gave us a hug and thanked us. That was reward enough for us - to see that something we’d done had helped them complete their grieving process.

One of the best things about doing the project has been being able to meet so many other people. People we would never normally have met or talked to. It’s nice to build a relationship with someone who’s not from inside the school and to feel like you have the ability challenge the negative stereotypes or perceptions that people have of our generation.

I feel like we really have made an impact in our community. We not just sitting in the background of the community - we’ve actually made a difference to it. It’s a nice feeling.

Part of that experience has been about learning how to communicate better with people.

For me, the job that I’m going into, communication is one of the biggest aspects of it. You have to create such an intimate relationship with the people you’re working with in such a short space of time and I think being able to do this has been able to give me the foundation for doing that in the future.

Leah Stone, Envision team member and trainee mid-wife

I think this experience has helped us all mature a lot because it’s responsibility we wouldn’t normally have got at school. Yeah, you’ve got the responsibility of doing your own school work and getting ready for exams but this was a project that we had control of and it was down to us to make it happen. Envision gave us that independence and it taught us useful lessons for life – everything from budgeting to how to paint a wall.

Best of all we definitely challenged a stereotype in our community and that’s a huge achievement.