I have lived in Waltham Forest since I was a teenager. I originally was born in Zambia in a little village in the middle of nowhere. I then moved to Scotland and then came to London when I was 13.
I attended University of East London before it was called University of East London. It was polytechnic of East London at the time. I studied at Duncan House which is no longer there as it has been turned into flats. A lovely metaphor really as I was due to be a surveyor.
But after two years of studying Land Use I was already doing some voluntary community work with young people and I realised that I prefer people to buildings. I got involved in community development around music and creativity. I decided I wanted to focus fully in youth and community work and I did a distance learning degree in informal and community education. I set up my own organisation called Catalyst in Communities and we’ve been going for around 9 years. We have our own youth intervention projects in London and throughout the world including international initiatives funded by the Commonwealth and through the Erasmus plus project.
Doing international work has made us realize that young people from around the world have the same concerns. Lots of them are worried about the state of the world today. It gives me hope to see how these young people want to change the world. This is the generation that will be able to make these changes.
I have this bugbear with youthwork. The deficit model makes it difficult to get a grant unless there is something wrong with the young people. Either they are on drugs, truanting, in gangs or suffering from mental health problems. Society views young people through the lens of their challenges but focusing on the problem exacerbates the issue.
We had a project in East London called East Side Story and we had the themes from Romeo and Juliet. Family, love, anger, boundaries etc. We got some money from the Borough of Culture money pot and I was talking about the project at my parents' house as we were about to launch and my sister who is an ex BBC producer said this would make great TV. So, we made a BBC Documentary called East Side Story.
We worked with two estates that had rivalry...but most of the people that live there are not involved. We have a methodology called the art of perfection where we encourage people to see things from a different angle. The stories you tell yourself about who you are and the stories others tell about who you are (or who you may become... or who you would never be)... they only become true when you believe them.
The truth is that young people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Young people reflect the world that they are brought up in.
Robin Lockhart is Director of Development at Catalyst in Communities