“When was the last time you felt truly happy?”
It was a question that I posed to one of our most vibrant yet simultaneously discouraged young people. He deliberated for all of 10 seconds before concluding,
“When I was last in the [youth] space.”
His response was just as much a testament to the impact and importance of FAST’s presence on the Patmore Estate as it is a disconcerting reality of the lives of many who inhabit it.
If one were to take a stroll through the often forgotten turf of one of Battersea’s most multicultural communities, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was like any other residential area. Large green spaces and playgrounds are occupied by school children enjoying a playful afternoon. Residents smile and greet each other amicably to and fro their daily activities, and exuberant teenagers can be spotted attempting to re-create the skills of Cristiano Ronaldo in the football pen.
On its surface, the Patmore Estate is a very normal urban area of London replete with earnest, hardworking people. In fact, it is the sense of solidarity that 6 years ago seduced our founder, Kerry Astin in to staying here.
“Coming from ‘up north’ I was used to living in quite a close knit community where everyone knows each other and really ‘does life’ together. Patmore Estate is the only place I have found that resembles that kind of great community feel. Everyone knows everyone and they really look out for one another.”
Nevertheless, below the veneer of community cohesion, was a more worrying, toxic underbelly. Below the surface lay the very reasons for FAST’s existence. With the Patmore languishing in the bottom 10% for income deprivation, an unemployment rate of 1 in 3 and a notorious gang culture that often runs concurrently with issues of drugs and violence – Patmore was in need of an establishment who would not offer lip service or quick fixes, but rather create the tools to equip and empower local people to help positively transform not only their own lives, but those of their family and community as a whole.
Having grown up in a very similar estate about 10 minutes up the road, I was aware of the size of the challenges I would face in the youth work sector. However, I was largely unaware of just how sizeable an influence a charity like FAST could have on completely re-shaping the lives and lifestyles of the disaffected. For those from troubled backgrounds who are continuously shunned and cast out by society’s blind and ruthless eye, FAST embraces. For those who are seeking the space to express their creativity, make new friends and indulge in new activities, our new youth space provides a space for. For those who have been dejected in the search for employment and training opportunities, FAST provides the networks for – and this has been made evident most pertinently in the last month where two of our brightest and most engaged young people have found work through a combination of their hard work and ours. Notably, our relationship with Battersea Power Station has been integral to this.
With the redevelopment of one of London’s most iconic locations in progress, the need for staff to help execute the job has grown – and thus has the opportunity for local people to join the mission. The connection between the Patmore and Battersea has never been stronger, particularly as it was the financial muscle and manpower of the people at the Power Station who hurled together to help build our new home on the estate.
Battersea MP Jane Ellison and Mayor of Wandsworth Cllr Nicola Nardelli joined the FAST team to celebrate its opening in August 2015 The redevelopment was projected to create 25,000 new jobs and a handful of people on the Patmore have already directly benefited from this. Employment training, CV writing assistance and interviews tip expertise are now on the doorstep of residents. Job opportunities are no longer a distant dream. There is a renewed energy in the area. Renewed vigor. Frustrated, disenfranchised voices are slowly transitioning to hopeful ones.
Our volunteers are also a testament to the mission. Joel Catchatoor spends his Thursday evening hanging out in our space with some of our young people, because he understands the value of the project.
“I volunteer with FAST because I have a passion for its vision to see the young people in and around the Patmore estate transforming their lives and community. I volunteer with FAST because it’s a privilege to journey with these young people. I’m not here to do, or to tell – I’m here to listen to, encourage, support and enable these young people so they can fulfill the huge potential that I see in each one of them.”
And after years of neglect, that’s exactly what the Patmore needed – an encouraging tongue and an attentive, listening ear. Yet in spite of all the successes, just as many challenges remain. Whilst the lives and livelihoods of a subset of residents have been improved by FAST’s existence, only a fraction of the work we hope to carry out can be achieved with current financial constraints.
If we are to reach more people, transform more lives and enable more people to fulfill the potential we incessantly see in them – we’ll need more funding to do so. Donate now and be part of the solution…