EP1: Kentish Town Community Centre

Welcome to the first episode of Community Talks by Get-Involved I am Mike Gyi, and I run Community Spot which is a new community newsletter sent over WhatsApp in Kentish Town and today I am joined by the lovely Sarah Hoyle from Kentish Town Community Centre So hi Sarah! Hi Mike! How’s it going today? It’s remarkably busy for what should be a bank holiday, and we should all be in our gardens drinking Pimm’s so anyway, yeah it’s basically a Tuesday in normal terms in March Just think about it like that really So just to start off, can you just give a little introduction about your role at the community centre and also…tell us your favorite Kentish Town anecdotes? So, on my Twitter profile I say that I lead KTCC Essentially my job title is centre manager, other people doing this job call themselves “CEO’s” or directors, but I think my job is to lead a team and to make sure my team can do really good work in their specialised areas So as a centre we have an older people’s project, which is run by Lisa We have a youth service which is run by Jamie, then we’ve got Tom who does all the bookings umm, and then we have our services So that’s kind of general stuff And then we have a membership scheme — we have free legal advice — free debt advice and as a response to the covid pandemic: we are big on food; food delivery and distribution! So I think my job is to make sure that everyone in our team feels comfortable doing the best they possibly can And if they need additional support; that’s my job to get that And that support can be anything from a laptop, to funding you know, or from training through to a “hug” When we can hug…! So if I do my job well, then other people’s jobs should be really easy, essentially That’s that As for Kentish town anecdotes, there are — there’s quite a few stories going around at the moment about — there’s one story about one of our older people when we were like; “do you want some toilet roll?” and she said; “Where’s it from…” and it was from Iceland…and she said;”Oh…that’s not good enough quality for me!”, so that was quite funny! There are so many stories You have a fantastic space there as well When I have been in there, it always surprises me going up that small garden path It’s very sort of hidden away But when you get in there, it’s amazing And what you have done with the indoor garden as well where you basically have the place full of pot plants It’s really good What kind of things are you doing these days, I know you mentioned you are helping with food But, what are you doing day to day? The main project we have is a project called: the ‘Happiness Hampers’ project So called because I went to Booker — which is a local cash & carry — three days before the official lockdown on the Friday — and we went, and I went with one of our trustees here, a trustee called Catherine We were thinking; “Oh…let’s get our pasta and rice”, and everything was out! All they had left was jam and honey I was thinking; they are not essentials but they are quite nice They are happiness foods! You know, if you just have a piece of toast with jam; it’s a happiness thing! Rather than trying to convince anyone that there would be anything in this hamper that was kind of essential: we called it the ‘Happiness Hamper’ project And what the project looks like now — we’ve got five primary schools all in Kentish Town, and sorry one of them is in Camden Town — every two weeks, me and various teachers from the schools meet at the Booker: the cash & carry We charge around Booker like expert shoppers, and every school has a budget of 350 pounds, and each of them get one of those “zappy guns” — so they can scan all the items — they get their food: take them back to their schools, create their happiness hampers and then they distribute them to their children So that means that we don’t have to think about any of the um, any of the GDPR issues; we don’t have to know the names of their students; we don’t know who gets the hampers In each of the hampers there is a small note saying; “If you need any more food or any support; come to the community center!”

That has been phenomenal; that really is our kind of “flagship” project for COVID And the reason why it’s been phenomenal is: we’ve got 240 low income families now part of it These are families that may not be on any benefits at all, but all of a sudden their income stopped A really good example of this would be: a painter decorator who was earning quite a lot, but suddenly stopped, or people working in hospitality So the schools decide My job is to fundraise and get the money, then sort out the Booker run What’s amazing about that project just to add, Mike, is that it has allowed and given teachers the excuse to talk to families So they knock on the door, step back and say “this is from our school and Kentish Town, how are you doing, what’s going on?” and there’s some very moving stories about teachers that have picked up on safeguarding issues, or picked up on concerns that they wouldn’t have been able to do if they didn’t have this excuse to do it — and the hampers provide that excuse It’s a powerful project, not just for the food but also for the fact that conversations and connections can be made which couldn’t have been made without the vehicle of food There’s that, and then we have our food bank on site which anyone can access between ten and two; you just have to phone in advance And then, what’s about to happen here: we do these “guerilla” deliveries which are quite fun When we get too much food —we get food from Camden Council which is fabulous — we just stick it in paper bags, and put a sign on it, and deliver it to people’s doors It’s quite fun! What’s really cool about that, is that there are loads of local families that won’t ask for help —they won’t ask for help at all — but they are very good at thanking We did some of this “guerilla deliveroo” on one of our local estates, peckwater, the other day What we did is we got three young people — who normally attend the youth service — to do the delivery for us By all accounts, we had people clapping for them and just cheering them on as they were delivering “guerilla” food packages: we don’t know who these people are and just drop them at their door It’s really incredible That’s been really brilliant for our young people: it makes them feel really valued Without sounding bad, there are a lot of good things coming out of what is a pretty awful situation Sounds like you are dealing with it pretty well That is an awesome story of young kids getting involved, because that I think is quite hard for them They are usually at the community centre playing Fifa and table tennis — as I have seen them doing before — so it’s amazing to see them still involved with the community centre Going back to the ‘Happiness Hampers’; delivering them door to door and hearing stories What would you say are the biggest challenges in Kentish Town as a community at the moment? Stigma around food is one of my biggest fears at the moment and stigmas around asking for help I am really worried that people won’t ask for help and instead they’ll battle on The cost of food and anything else will go on the credit card People will get into debt I think there is a high possibility that in six months’ time, a year’s time, we’ll have an increase in homelessness in our area Because people will have gotten into debt, the debt will spiral out of control — you know they can’t afford their rent or whatever — and I just really hope that people reach out Even if they come to the centre for a cup of tea — and a little bit of a time out — that is absolutely fine for me They don’t have to come for food or a service Perhaps they do come for a cup of tea and realise that there’s other people you can chat to and stuff: then they access our legal advice or access our debt advice! What I want our centre to be, is a place for de-escalation A place for people to come down to decompress We’ve had a few people come to us in real rage and panic, you know like “I can cope, I haven’t got food” You can tell! People speak very quickly and they are very stressed We are just treating people with care

My biggest concern is that people don’t reach out They don’t feel that they can reach out, then things spiral; that’s my biggest concern right now I have to say, that’s not people you’d normally associate with, like people with large families on housing estates Particularly, one of my big concerns is young professionals: who may lose their job; who freelance Their work dries up Rather than saying “I am not in a good place”; they struggle on and it becomes too much I think that is an important point as well Hopefully the listeners of this will be in that demographic We will be sending this out in the Community Spot newsletter this weekend I think we spoke about this in the past; engaging that section of Kentish Town Typically — I don’t know if you’d agree — but it’s really hard to know what a community centre is without being there and finding out what the services are Certainly in my experience, I have had people think that community centres are just for really young kids or really old people You have youth activities there as well, but I think that demographic is something I am really passionate about and I know you as well Do you have any ideas about how you might remove that stigma? Yeah, actually we’ve got some fun ideas! Going back to your overarching point; I have this slightly strange approach, or saying which is: one of our biggest challenges is to get people “up the path” There is this path that goes to our centre — our centre is off the main road — it essentially took over a number of people’s gardens If you haven’t been here, you think about it that way You go up this small alleyway to get to the back of the garden: and that is where we are! So yeah, to get people “up the path” is really important That’s why, strangely, I’ve taken quite a lot of time working on our garden over the last few weeks It’s really nice, people want to walk up the path! Often when I come to work, you see me doing a half an hour digging before I actually open the computer I am just really focusing on that detail of experience It’s really important to me — so making sure that as soon as people walk up the path they feel calm and welcome and that they feel this is the right decision they’ve made Going on to your latter point about young professionals Earlier this year we set up the ‘Arts Club’, which was just brilliant It’s about having gigs in our centre, acoustic gigs, and they were really fab! I remember the February ‘Arts Club’, we were like; “Hmm we should do one of these every two months” , or there will be a pandemic where we do it twice a year, you know! I’ve got a call later on, with some of the people from the ‘Arts Club’ who are just fabulous! We’re talking about if we could have a Hare Krishna-style pop-up food cart that went around and delivered really fun and cheap food for people: so you could go to the van and it was okay Another thing that we were talking about in a meeting later on today is: food kits It’s so cool! We’d give you all the ingredients to make some food; you take it home and make some food, take some pictures and then you send it back to us on Instagram So it becomes like a challenge! You come in and get as many enchilada kits as you want, but the process is not about getting the food: it’s about having the best looking enchiladas I think if we have that approach, then we reduce the stigma about actually asking for food That’s what we are trying to do at every one of these junctures: make food the vehicle and not the kind of emphasis They might work, they might not work We’ve actually got a chef who’s going to work with us; to think about the recipes So it’s really exciting actually! We’re really lucky, because Kentish Town is quite a vibrant area so we can try these ideas And if they work; brilliant! If they don’t we just try something else What would you like to say to the listeners of this episode in terms of how they can get involved? And what are you trying to do at the moment; how can they support your cause generally? Okay, so if you are listening to this you need to become a member of Kentish Town Community

Centre, because we need to look at this situation as a long-term thing I need to say to you; are you prepared to volunteer for us in October, or December; or March 2021 You can’t volunteer with us right now because of social distancing and GDPR but what we want to do now is to get more and more people to be members It’s a free membership Members of Kentish Town Community Centre get our newsletter and you get connected So the call-to-action is; become a member And we may well need volunteers in the future; so think about whether you want to volunteer for us in six months, nine months, twelve months More importantly what you would like to get out of that volunteering opportunity We want volunteers who want to themselves become better people Not that you wouldn’t be better people, but a brilliant volunteer for me says: “Okay, I want to put this on my CV” or, either “I want to learn something new” or “This experience would be really good for me” I know that you have a fundraiser online at the moment that’s reached a 5000 pounds milestone, which is an awesome achievement All that money is going towards the ‘Happiness Hamper’ project and its funding the food bank at the Kentish Town Community Centre as well We’ll put a link in the show notes on the website Is there anything else to say about that? I think the other thing that’s really important to say to anyone who watched this is just: look after yourself If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after everyone else So please, resist kind of, putting yourself out there too much Doing too much community work if that means you get tired; if that means it takes away from your headspace; if that interrupts with your work People have contacted me who have said; “I did loads of stuff and I can’t do anymore, and now I am in this place…” Kentish Town is going to do really well if we look after ourselves; then we can look after other people Take the analogy of someone in a swimming pool who is not doing really well, you know, the thing you do is you give them a life buoy; you don’t jump into the water with them As a community we need to make sure we’re okay before we can help other people — which is not selfish in any way at all — it’s just practical We cannot burn ourselves out, because then we’ll have people who need help, and people who are burned out by helping This is then two lots of people who then need support This is going to go on for at least a year, not in terms of the lockdown necessarily, but in terms of knock on effects of one year or two years We need to think about the long term, be sustainable and basically not burn out So I’d say to anyone who is out there; look after yourself right now We really might need you in September Take care of your mental health, and you know take care of your mental and physical health and then you’ll be able to help people Just to add there — and wrap up this first very interesting episode of Get Involved — I would just say, for all the people listening out there: go to the Kentish Town Community Centre on ‘Busby Pl’ It’s about five minutes walk from the high street, in between Kentish Town High St and Brecknock Rd It’s quite secluded but it’s a real tranquil place Go there and you’ll meet some of the lovely staff there You might meet Sarah! It’s just a really nice experience, even just to say hi and have a bit of a talk I guarantee that you will feel fulfilled, definitely We have loads of plants now We had a big spider plant who had loads of babies, you might see on Twitter, but earlier today there is one of our elder people — and lives just across the road, who has dementia — her daughter, who herself is not so young, took the plant and repotted the spider plants this morning So come to KTCC and get yourself a spider plant! There we go, that’s the message! Thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate it It looks like the delivery you are waiting for luckily didn’t turn up during this episode, so perfect timing! And for everyone listening as well, just to reiterate; I run Community Spot a community

newsletter for Kentish Town You can sign-up for that online at communityspot.org and receive a newsletter over WhatsApp every Sunday with lots of information — including what’s going on in Kentish Town Community Centre Thank you again Sarah for your time, and have a great day!