Thanks to the work of the SuperKidz project, London’s notorious Ferrier Estate is seeing glimmers of hope. AMANDA PILZ reports
[For Inspire Awards 2009 entry form – click HERE]
“It's said some people sleep with a gun under their pillow,” comments Helen.
An atmosphere hangs over the deserted concrete landscape. “I’ve had ‘Helen’s a bitch’ written on the side of my car and threats to set my hair alight,” she continues.
Grim tower blocks frown down on us as we navigate our way through a maze of paths, walkways and underpasses. We pass rows of tightly shut doors and litter-strewn porches. “Someone was murdered in that block,” she remarks, as we enter a bare, metallic lift.
This is London’s Ferrier Estate. Its notoriety spreads well beyond Greenwich borough where it is situated. Yet even here there is hope.
“This is a precious community which has been badly labelled by the outside world,” stresses Helen. “It’s a good community with a lot of people helping each other.”
Ten years ago Helen Russell, now Director of SuperKidz Community Trust, felt called to live and work on this council estate with her husband. The Trust provides a kids’ club and community support, so far reaching 1,200 children and their families.
SuperKidz consists of Helen and two full-time youth workers as well as helpers from the estate. Helen works full-time virtually unpaid but the charity itself is funded by trusts and local churches.
“We use a community-led model to support and encourage local children, youth and families in deprived communities through a variety of dynamic initiatives,” says Helen. “These include youth work, a girls’ group, a mums’ cafe, home visits, trips, holidays, school assemblies and some advocacy work.”
To make it community-led Helen set up ‘Junior Helpers’ whereby kids could take on some responsibility. “But,” she points out, “some have faced such extreme life challenges that they find it hard to help. We sometimes had to coax them off the roof and stop punch-ups.”
Simone Daw (17) has been a junior helper for seven years. “At SuperKidz I learnt about knowing God and became a Christian,” she relates. “I used to do wrong things, but now I see there’s no point in bad behaviour. I’ve also made lots of friends at church and I’m studying childcare at college.”
SuperKidz also runs a mentoring scheme called Coach which trains local volunteers to work with a young person or family member for a few hours a week. “We help the volunteers to articulate their own life goals and this empowers them,” explains Helen.
Mums and grandmothers want to be part of the team. One is Pauline Twiner. “I like seeing the kids having fun. It’s also nice when I walk around the estate; they recognise me and say hello. If SuperKidz wasn’t here the kids would just be roaming the streets.”
The work has developed significantly over the years. Initially around 15 kids attended the youth group in Helen’s flat. “A lot of them had family members in prison or with mental health problems,” recounts Helen. “They often didn’t want to go home and would hide. The group offered them a safe environment. They would say, ‘I wish you were my mum.’ It was sad at times.”
“In 2004 we peaked at 80 kids and 340 home visits every week,” Helen continues, “but numbers dropped to 50 when the estate, which is due for demolition, began to be decanted in April 2004.”
The decant, however, has sparked SuperKidz Re-Loaded, which has been set up on a second estate in Greenwich and in time will extend to three others. “We have been asked to expand outside Greenwich, but first want to make sure everything here is effective and sustainable.”
However, it is not easy work. “It can be dangerous,” says Helen. “My daughter was nearly savaged by two dogs on a visit. In one home, where the family was under threat of being shot and the children were violent, a drug dealer called by and did a deal right in front of me. It’s all linked up with the criminal underworld.”
“What drives me is seeing kids coming to the club to hear positive things spoken into their lives. If we can break the negative cycle by offering positive relationships and building kids up that would be a really powerful thing.”
SuperKidz Community Trust was nominated for the Inspire Awards (Projects) by Lydia Jones of Lee Green
Who is inspiring you?
Month by month we’re encouraged by the many stories Inspire receives about people and churches across the UK making a difference in their communities.
We want to encourage this further by telling more of these great stories, and spurring others on to be an inspiration, too.
Last November we celebrated with the winners and runners-up in our first Inspire Awards in Westminster – and now we want to hear from you again with your nominations for the Inspire Awards 2009!
We have three categories this year:
1 An individual Christian in the UK who is an inspiring role model
2 A UK church which is making a positive impact on its local community
3 A UK-based Christian project serving the local area
There’ll be a trophy and prize for the winners in each section: £250 (for individuals) and £500 of CPO resources (for churches and the projects) to help further their work. There’ll also be a special awards ceremony in Westminster later this year for the shortlisted entries.
How to enter
Send your entry via e-mail by clicking HERE. It could be someone you’ve read about in Inspire, or an individual, church or project in your community making a real difference to others.
We’ll feature some of the stories in the magazine or on the website over the coming months before our judging panel selects the three in each category we think should be shortlisted. The winners will be announced at the Awards. Now get nominating!
Closing date for entries is 1 September 2009.
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