Diversity Project – Whitleigh Youth Group

The Whitleigh Diversity Project was a 10-session project, later extended to 14 sessions, that ran from November 2019 until February 2020. The project originally started with a group Barefoot worked with in Ernesettle in 2016 and aims to challenge misconceptions young people may have towards people from different backgrounds and cultures through experiential learning while also broadening young people’s horizons.

We started the project by meeting up with our group of 8 young people aged 13 – 14 at the Four Greens Wellbeing Hub and discussing what the young people themselves might wish to learn about. They displayed a keen interest to learn more about black history and Judaism, particularly the Holocaust. We then also spent the remainder of the session getting the group to explore their own identities by making a collage from old papers and magazines about who they are and then talk about this with the rest of the group. We find this gives the young people a good idea of what identity means and how we all differ from each other in certain ways. 

After exploring who we are and how we differ we spent the next few sessions focusing on refugees. This is something we learn about every time we explore diversity with young people as this was the driving force behind our very first Diversity Project. We find that there are nearly always many misconceptions regarding people from the refugee community and we like to use the project to challenge these misconceptions. We started this by taking part in some refugee awareness training which was delivered at Four Greens by the Plymouth and District Racial Equality Council. Once the group had learned what it really means to be a refugee we then split into two smaller groups and spent a couple of sessions volunteering at Cultural Kitchen where the group got to engage with the Plymouth refugee community while also trying some of their cultural dishes. The group really enjoyed this and engaged well with all members of Cultural Kitchen. Gabby Lloyd (aged 14), one of our participants said, “Cultural Kitchen made me realise that refugees aren’t really any different from us even though they may have a different way of life. I would really like to go back and do it again as it was fun!” and Bradlee Medway (aged 14) said “I thought refugees were something different to what they actually are”. 

This then led us up to Christmas, with our final session before the break being a visit from Jabo who discussed Black History with the group while they learned about how Japanese people celebrate Christmas, which involves eating KFC chicken which was a big surprise to both Jabo and the group!

After the Christmas break, we returned with a focus on Judaism. We arranged a trip to the Plymouth Synagogue and we also watched a film about Anne Frank. The trip to the Synagogue was one of the highlights for the group as it was interactive, so the group got to dress up and learn all about how the Synagogue works. Our host Jerry was amazing!

After the trip to the Synagogue we had Jonathan Marshall MBE invite us to be a part of the Holocaust Memorial Day, so we got to work and hurriedly assembled a display about the Diversity Project for the event. We then invited Jonathan to come visit the group to see the display and share his knowledge on the late Solly Irving who was a Holocaust survivor that Jonathan knew. The group were fascinated by Jonathan’s talk and we had a great session at Four Greens. Kiera Chown (aged 14) said “I like watching documentaries about the Holocaust and WW2, but this taught me stuff I never knew”.

After Jonathan’s visit the group got to take part in the Holocaust Memorial Day. We attended a service up at the memorial plaque on Plymouth Hoe with the Lord Mayor, Jonathan Marshall and many other dignitaries and members of Plymouth’s Jewish community. We then attended a service at the synagogue before spending the rest of the day manning a stall in the guildhall with other organisations from across the city who aim to promote diversity. The group were chuffed to be given the day off school to attend this event so thank you Sir John Hunt! We all really enjoyed informing people about our Diversity Project and learning all about the other organisations from across the city. Pictures below.

Once the group had experience attending the Synagogue and Holocaust Memorial Day, we moved on to learn about Islam. For this, we arranged a visit to Plymouth’s Piety Mosque in Greenbank. The group had an inspirational talk from the Imam and a question and answers session before having a tour of the Mosque and getting invited to sit in on one of the prayer sessions. Josh Mills (aged 14) said “going to the Mosque opened my eyes to a lot I didn’t know about Muslims, it was fun!”

This brought us to the end of the project and our trip to London which we where able to do with help with funding from the Street-to-Scale fund and money from Councillor Jonathan Taylor. The trip to London is always a big part of every Diversity Project we do as not only is it a big reward for all the young people that successfully complete the project but it also gives the group the chance to experience diversity in one of the most diverse cities in the world. When we visit London, we link up with a youth group we have built strong links with over the years called Bollo Brook. Based in West Acton, Bollo is a council run youth project headed by a youth worker called Colin. They deal with a lot of gang activity and Bollo Brook is a project that is always in the spotlight in London for the positive work they do under some very difficult circumstances. It is amazing when we walk into their youth club as all of their young people are from very diverse backgrounds and it is quite often something our group have never experienced before. It always seems to come as a bit of a shock to both groups but by the end of the week they always start engaging positively with each other which is always amazing to see.
We arrived in London on the Friday afternoon and spent the evening at one of Bollo Brook’s open access sessions where we got to see, and got involved, with their making of music videos. We were then extremely fortunate to be invited over to another youth project in the area called Delve. Delve has been set up and supported by an inspirational man called Jamal Edwards. Jamal came through the ranks as a young person at Bollo Brook and used the skills he learned their editing and making music videos to set up SBTV and Just Jam Records. He went on to sign and launch the careers of artists such as Ed Sheeran and Stormzy. Jamal has now set up three youth projects within the Acton area of London as his way of giving back to his community. While we were at Delve Jamal came and visited our group and spoke to them about his admiration for the project and they where all amazed to discover that Jamal follows our youth group Instagram page and he said he was a big fan of all of them for the great work they do for their communities. He then video – called a famous Youtuber called KSI and the group were over the moon to get to talk to him. Another nice touch was one of the local mums whose son attends the project heard who we were and what we were doing so made a big pot of proper Jerk Chicken with rice and salad for us all to enjoy at the Delve youth project. After eating our very tired but very happy group returned to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.

The next day we met up with Colin and some of his group from Bollo for a tour of central London. We got on the tube, many of our groups first time, and headed off to Marble Arch to begin our tour (when we got to Marble Arch our group where hugely disappointed to discover it wasn’t made of marbles!) We visited Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, Westminster and visited lots of different shops such as M&M World. We then finished the day off with a group trip to Nando’s. On the final day we went to London Dungeons before taking a walk along the South Bank before returning to Plymouth.

 

We would like to extend a special thanks to:

START for always being so supportive of our Diversity Project and allowing our groups to freely engage with the refugee community they support in Plymouth at the amazing Cultural Kitchen.

To Plymouth and District Equality Council for accommodating our Refugee Awareness Training in a patient and thoughtful way.

Jabo Butera for coming and spending some of his own time with our group and engaging with them so well.

Jonathan Marshall MBE for giving of his time and talking to our group so passionately about the Holocaust and his friend Solly Irving. Also, for allowing us to be a part of the Holocaust Memorial Day.

To Jerry and all at Plymouth’s Synagogue for doing one of the best interactive tours ever.

To Piety Mosque for allowing us to come and be a part of what they do yet again, you guys are great.

To Four Greens Wellbeing Hub for giving us free use of their rooms to run the project.

To Whitleigh Big Local for the free use of the minibus for all our trips, including the London residential.

To Julie, Barefoot’s finance officer, for volunteering to be our driver for the London residential.

To POP+ and Street-to-Scale for accepting the funding bid our group wrote and awarding us £1000 towards the London Residential. The group were shocked they could write a bid themselves and fund the trip, which was great to see!

To Jonathan Taylor, labour councillor for Whitleigh, for donating £500 from the councillor’s community scheme for the London residential and for his ongoing support for our youth project in Whitleigh.