Against the odds

by Sevasti-Melissa Nolas

The last couple of Fridays my MA Childhood & Youth Studies (MACYS) students and I have been visiting the South London children’s charity Kids Company. The visits to the charity are part of the MA programme’s enrichment activities. Their Clinical Director also delivered one of the sessions on the Current Developments in Childhood & Youth module, which went down a storm with the students. That had been my hope. Kids Company is one of the most exciting children’s organizations that I have come across (the Music And Change Project is another one) and I’m really pleased that my MACYS students have been able to also get a small taste of what the organization is about.

I was first introduced to Kids Company four years ago while working at another London-based children’s charity. I had been responsible for designing an evaluation of some collaborative work the two charities were undertaking. On my first visit there I remember being astounded by the energy, the noise and the colours of the low ceiling-ed yard that Kids Company is housed in. I’ve since come to think of it as a bit of a Tardis – looks small but actually fits a huge amount, of people, of activities, of life.

At the time I was working predominantly with clinical psychologist and psychiatrists and the organization I was based in was quiet and orderly. My colleagues took to describing Kids Company as ‘chaotic’ – it probably was compared to the more clinical environments they were used to working in. I always resisted the adjective because of its negative connotations. For me it was more like a carnival, a celebration of people and sound, colour and food, relationships and traditions.

I love the welcoming feel of the place as the youngest members of its local community flow in and out of the yard doors. It seems that despite the many challenges that come with working with children and young people with complex lives and in spite of many structural constraints (funding, poverty, deprivation, negative representations of young people, lack of sensible youth policy), there is a sense of cohesion and togetherness between the staff, and the staff and the young people, that I’ve found lacking elsewhere.

I’m sure that on a daily basis it’s far from smooth sailing, and indeed carnivals, like Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin has written, have both a light and dark side. Over the last couple of Fridays, we heard from key workers about the challenges of their work. Yet it’s in working through such tensions that transformation can take place. And so going back to Kids Company after 3 years it was great to see that the place has expanded, retained its uniqueness and is still as strong and inspiring as I remembered it to be.

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