here aren’t enough positive stories about young people out there,” says Camden Giving’s director Natasha Friend (pictured above). “They are only in the news for stabbings at the moment; it is as if no one under the age of 25 is doing anything other than stabbing.”
This statement particularly resonates with Natasha as she, alongside the rest of the Camden Giving team, has spent the last few months meeting a group of Future Changemakers.
They are a passionate crew of ten young (16-25 year old) Camdenites, who sit together in roundtable discussions – sometimes heated, sometimes harmonious, always respectful and constructive – about which seven local youth services they would like to give a (£10,000) grant to, so that they can work towards improving youth safety in Camden.
The Changemakers are a diverse bunch, each of whom applied for this (paid) job through open recruitment via local youth services and pupil referral units. Some are in full-time education and training, others are not; some have spent time in prison, others have not; while a handful have personal experiences of knife crime.
This project was set-up in response to the stabbings of three young men in one night in Camden in February last year. Two of the victims, 17-year-old Abdikarim Hassan and 20-year-old Sadiq Adan Mohamed, passed away.
Camden Giving has been running for eighteen months. They are an independent charity bent on reducing inequality and ending poverty in our borough by fundraising from local businesses, and then gathering locals to decide which organisations should receive grants.
“We’ve had young people sit on panels before, and it has been brilliant, but this is the first time we’ve had an entirely youth-led panel,” says Natasha. “We want to give young people a choice. We didn’t just want to give this choice to a bunch of head girls, instead it is to people who really have experienced knife crime. Not that head girls never have, but we want to work with people who aren’t having the easiest start in life.”
Danielle Green, the charity’s assistant director agrees. “We are asking these young people for their personal experiences and their knowledge of youth services in their area.”
Indeed, 25-year-old Changemaker Jordan Bangura says, “growing up in Camden, I have seen first-hand the positive effects that local charities make to our lives. It’s so important to me that we grasp all the opportunities available to us through grants, as I want to make sure everyone younger than me still has the opportunities I did.”
At the start of this year the group brainstormed a brief for application, followed by a seven-week period in which organisations could apply. In June, they reunite, collectively deciding who best to receive their funding. “We all have one mutual aspiration,” says 18-year-old Changemaker Ranya Lamani, “to be a voice for young Camdenites and influence positive change through the grants we give.”
The Changemakers have been very cautious about what they do with the money: “far more cautious than say Comic Relief or Big Lottery would be,” says Natasha, “it is not a game to them.”
Dani concurs: “This is their community, where they live, their neighbours, their peers, they’re really invested in it. They came to the first meeting not really knowing anything about the charity sector – about funders or grants – so it is a real learning experience as well, giving them a platform to have discussions that they otherwise wouldn’t have, and getting to know each other across different communities throughout the borough. It gives them the tools to shape the future of their communities.”
The Changemakers have discussed a range of topics: the impact of austerity, drug culture, mental health, the sustainability of projects – questioning what happens when their grant money runs out, wondering if the projects have longevity – and of notable interest, positive role models.
“By positive role models young people don’t mean a load of white bankers coming in like, it’s fine, it’s easy to be a banker – because it is not a level playing field,” she says. “Instead they want to fund projects like mentor programmes where you can meet someone who may have spent a bit of time in a prison and then sorted themselves out, or those who have had a difficult start or who have lived in poverty.”
On top of this, Ann, one of the Changemakers, has managed to convince the others that gender equality needs to be part of the conversation about knife crime. She speaks persuasively of how cuts to youth services mean that councils have had to prioritise young men, as they are more at risk than young women. “What you end up with is loads of services all over London doing “boys stuff” like boxing and football, in fairly masculine environments,” says Natasha.
“Ann pointed out that if you are from a patriarchal society, particularly the Somali community, then your parents won’t allow you to go and be in that environment full-stop. So young men can become really masculine, which creates this macho anger that is part of the violence.”
Thanks to Ann, the Changemakers won’t give a grant unless it demonstrates that they’ve considered gender properly.
The Camden Giving teams’ excitement about this project is palpable. To date, they’ve given 55 grants, worth 1½ million to local grassroots initiatives that feed our borough, extracting money from parts of our community to give to others. Funding for this project was sourced from five businesses: Argent, Camden Town Unlimited, Camden Watch Co, Euston Town BID, The National Community Lottery Fund and The Span Trust.
“Small businesses are our biggest fundraising growth at the moment because Camden has given them a place to be successful and to grow, so they want to give back,” said Natasha, noting the personal connection many local businesses have to the area and its residents.
The owners of Inverness Street’s famous Good Mixer pub, who have contributed to the charity, recently told Natasha that they can’t walk past any more dead bodies on my way to work. This is a sentiment shared by many here, and the reason why the community is starting to band together to make Camden a healthier, safer place to grow-up, live, study, work and play.
With local business offering the funds, and local youths allocating the grants, it feels like this all-encompassing grassroots enterprise will unite us, making Camden a more connected, equal and harmonious place for us all to be.