Whitleigh Diversity Project

Here at POP we love a community! It’s what we do and the reason we are here: supporting and encouraging organisations that help to bring about ‘change’ and make the world a better place. Big or small, we support existing ones and help new ones begin.

At the heart of everything POP does, is a belief that being part of a community makes our lives better, whether that’s the area in which we live; the sport that we play or follow or the interests we share. We know that being a part of something is good for us: we are physically and mentally healthier when we ‘belong’. POP supports the community projects; the charities, organisations and social enterprises that make up our wonderful voluntary and community sector. But we also know that you cannot have strong, healthy and sustainable projects, and expect them to work their magic, without the fundamental ingredients of ‘relationships’ and ‘trust’. And it is for this reason, that everything POP does focuses, one way or another, on supporting our communities through the creation and strengthening of these two elements. Without them, we have nothing.

With more than 350 members, POP gets to hear about the many wonderful projects ‘doing good’ across the city and strengthening communities; building relationships and creating trust. Some are radical; some inspirational and some are creating lasting and meaningful change. One such project is all these things and more: The Diversity Project.

Set up in 2014 in Ernesettle by the charity Barefoot, the Diversity Project was created as a way of tackling racism by introducing young people to some of the many ‘different’ cultures and religions in Plymouth. It was a huge success and can be credited with changing perceptions; creating empathy and dispelling racist attitudes. In November 2019, a third Diversity Project began in November 2019 in nearby Whitleigh, at the request of a group of 13 and 14-year olds who, having seen what had happened in Ernesettle, wanted their own ‘diverse’ experience. The effect it has had on those who participated has been profound. Fourteen-year old, Kiera Chown, says it’s made her a better person;

“I’ve become a nicer person to the religious people,” she says. “I do not judge them anymore because I learnt about them and their beliefs and how they live.”

Talking with youth workers, the young people decided what and who they wanted to learn about and how they might do it. They have visited the Plymouth Piety Mosque; participated in ‘refugee awareness sessions’, where they met and listened to the stories of refugees now living in the city and volunteered (and ate) at Cultural Kitchen. For Gabby Lloyd, also fourteen years old, these experiences have been a revelation;

“Before we started it we thought that some religions, like Muslims were like… not scary, but we was just wary of them, and we went up to the mosque and they were really lovely people and it opened our eyes and showed us that what you read in the newspapers isn’t true. It’s just other peoples’ opinion.”

Visiting the Mosque proved to be a life-changing experience for the groups from Ernesettle and Whitleigh. As well as having a tour of the mosque; an inspirational talk from the Imam and a frank Q & A session the young people were invited to attend one of the prayer sessions. As Josh Mills (also 14 years old) recalls;

“Going to the Mosque opened my eyes to a lot I didn’t know about Muslims: it was fun!”

Designed to take place over ten sessions, the young people in Whitleigh wanted more: they wanted to learn about Black History; Judaism and the Holocaust and so it ran for a further four weeks. As part of their ‘Jewish’ studies, they visited the Plymouth Synagogue; watched “Anne Frank” the film and learnt about the horrors of the concentration camps. As a result of their interest, they were invited to attend the memorial service on the Hoe on Holocaust Memorial Day and to put up a display about their own Diversity Project in the Guildhall as part of the day’s events.

At the end of the project the young people were rewarded with a trip to London – a result of an application to POP for £1000 from the Street-to-Scale fund. Unlike traditional funding applications which are often quite onerous, S2S is straight-forward. One of the youth group, fourteen-year old Courtney Smalley, wrote the expression of interest, and was thrilled to hear that her application had been successful, and they would receive the money.

And what an experience it turned out to be. Hosted by the council-run youth club, Bollo Brook, in inner-city Acton – home to a lot of gang activity – the group of eight young people from Whitleigh were able to experience one of the most diverse cities in the world. As Jon Dingle the youth worker running the Diversity Project explains, it was an eye-opener for both groups;

“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.”

Currently waiting for Covid restrictions to be lifted, the Whitleigh group is looking forward to showing their new friends from London around Plymouth in what promises to be the start of a beautiful new friendship between the two youth centres. Meanwhile, there are also plans for Gabby, Kiera and their contemporaries to take a group of older residents to London and, in doing so, help to strengthen the relationship between the different generations in their own community and, also, enable the young people (who have already been through this ‘journey’) to encourage a different, older, group to embrace ‘diversity’. Meanwhile, another group of young people waits to take part in Diversity Project 4, a pioneering initiative that has proved to deliver significantly more than it costs.

Thanks to all these wonderful individuals and organisations that have helped to bring about greater tolerance and understanding among the young people on the Diversity Project in Ernesettle & Whitleigh: Plymouth Piety Mosque, The Plymouth Synagogue, START and Cultural Kitchen; Jabo Butera at DBI; Plymouth & District Equality Council; Jonathan Marshall MBE from the Plymouth Centre for Faith & Diversity; Four Greens Wellbeing Hub; Julie; Barefoot; POP+ and the Street-2-Scale fund and Cllr Jonathan Taylor.