I was born and brought up in Tipton, Sandwell, in the ward of Princes End. And more specifically on the estate that is called the ‘Tibby’ or the Tibbington. That's what most people refer to it as. My parents moved from Jamaica in the sixties and raised five children and I'm the youngest of five.
I'm a twin and I would say we had a pretty good childhood. My older siblings grew up in the seventies, so they experienced a lot more discrimination and racism than we did living on our estate at that time. There were lots of children living on our road and we all grew up together. So, we were quite a close-knit group of children, and I'm still friends with some of those individuals now, which is really nice.
There were instances growing up where there were racist remarks made, not from my inner friends or those within our circle, but from people that didn't necessarily know us. Even though we grew up on this estate, we generally kept ourselves to ourselves. However, if you had a conversation with my older brother, especially because he was a boy in the seventies, he experienced a lot of difficulties growing up. I would say the prejudice and the racism that we faced were more evident when we moved into employment.
When we started working at McDonald's as teens, to save money to go to Uni, that's when we started to see things change. That's when a lot of the things began to surface that we never experienced before. My mom obviously worked and so she'd experienced it in the workplace especially because she'd come from Jamaica, so she prepared us for it. The things that she and my dad experienced weren’t the best. But I think my mum was very good at preparing us for what was ahead by telling us that not everybody was going to like us. She said, “You and your sister need to stick together like glue. You might think you've got friends, but that's not necessarily the case.” Princes End, is 94% predominantly White British, and it was probably about 99% back then.
Obviously, I wanted to fit in. But then I thought, “well, if, I don’t fit, I'm not going to try and be something that I'm not.” You’ll have to judge me by my actions and by the way I treat other people. My mum brought us up in church and we became born-again Christians in our teens, so we were always taught, to treat people how we wanted to be treated. So even though we were sometimes treated at a disadvantage, we always tried to treat people with kindness and respect.
As a kid, I wanted to belong, but as an adult, I just wanted to help people. This was one of the reasons why I wanted to get involved in community work in the first place, it was because I just had a real desire just to support and help people regardless of their colour or nationality or where they were from. It didn't bother me. As teenagers, we used to volunteer informally at church with the youth club, which carried on into my 20s. I was working part-time at McDonald's and helping out with the youth club, I’d gone to do a Degree in Tourism Business Management because, so in my mind, I was going to travel the world and do whatever it was that I wanted to do. It was in my 3rd Year at Uni that I realised I wanted to be a Youth Worker. So, I said, that's what I'm going to go and do.
I worked for Connexions Black Country for a time and then ended up managing a youth project on my estate. This was definitely divine; God had his hand in it. I've had kids knocking on my front door asking, “what time’s youth club?” It was so good. I absolutely loved the kids. And they ended up loving me – I think lol. I've had parents come to me years later - One of the moms had three children that use to attend the youth club, she also had a niece that came along a number of years later. One day a couple of years ago, she said, “you don't know, you don't realise how much you've done for our kids, you’ll never understand how you've impacted our kids.” I was taken back.
I think giving people your time, that's the most precious thing. People think it's probably money or things but actually, time is the most precious thing, because you can't get time back. And it's how you invest that time. I've invested time into children and young people over many years and then ended up working in the community again through what we are now doing with Life in Community. At the time, I just thought, “oh, it's just something I am doing to help people.” But for those people who have been impacted by what we have done, well it's been massive.
So, I did youth work for a long period of time, and then a few of us set up ‘Life in Community” to work across Princes End, which includes the Tibby estate. There's so much going on. There are so many issues and problems and historically it's always been here, the ward is in the top 10% of deprivation in England and then Sandwell is the 12th most deprived local authority in England.
So, we needed to start looking at how we could address some of these issues, and then the pandemic hit. We were like, ‘noooooo!’ But one of the first things we did was to carry out some consultation via Facebook and set up an online questionnaire. We know not everybody's online, but we just sent it and said, “If we want to set something up like this, we need to know how it can help? So we asked, “What services do you think you need at this moment in time?” And people said they needed somebody to talk to, somebody to pick up a prescription and do my shopping. So, we set a listening service for people, giving us the opportunity to call folks up. Individuals could get referred or refer themselves and get ten sessions over 10 weeks, just to offload to somebody for an hour a week.
We trained a group of people and now we have a team of volunteers that help us to do that. There's such a need out there and it's trying to see how we can help to meet that need. It’s about how can we equip local residents; to give them the confidence, the ability and the resilience to say, “actually with a bit of help, with a bit of offloading, with a bit of training, I could do this or I could be involved in that.” For example, we had one mum who was the victim of domestic abuse. She was just on the floor, if that’s the best way to describe it, when she came to us. She got matched to one of our listeners and they spoke every week for ten weeks. She needed additional support which we also helped with. And when I completed her review after the sessions she said, “you don't know what you've done for me, you really don't understand. You’re like a family the way you work together.” She then started coming to our weekly job club to volunteer; she just wanted to make the tea and coffee to say thanks. But for me to even get her out the house…that was massive, it was huge. She's had so much help and support, and she values it so much.
And other people we’ve supported have said things like “I don't know what I would have done during the pandemic if you hadn’t been around, one person said, you’ve saved my dad’s life” Some of the positive feedback that we've had, hasn’t just been from clients and or residents, but also from the professionals that have referred people. We have a lot of families that have children's services involved, and they get referred to us, the workers say, “We are so grateful that you're here”.
Ultimately, what we want to do now is try and build resilience amongst residents who want to get involved. By working with us, we want everybody to know that they've got a role, a purpose. I think without purpose you fall flat on your face. And I think if you give somebody a purpose like making teas and coffees, it makes them think, “I need to get out of bed today. I need to go and make those teas and coffees the best I can.”
When I complete assessments with clients for the listening service, I hear some of the things they've struggled with over years. Adults that have experienced things as children and that stuff is still with them.
Our elderly clients love the shopping service. They literally love ‘cantin’ because some of them are so lonely. They’re just they're so happy to see somebody and just talk to them. One thing I’ve noticed and it’s a frustration for me from a cultural point of view is that we live in a predominantly white area and older people are so isolated. Within the Black community and the Asian community, we look after own. It's very rare we put parents/grandparents in residential homes, unless there's something severely wrong. We look after them until they leave the planet. What I find strange is that many elderly people in our community have children, but they just don't see them. I know over lockdown, so many people were keeping families safe but there are instances where individuals have got family members but they weren’t helping them out. Whereas in the black community everybody's helping each other out, although that could just be my family, but I don’t think it is. I mean we nursed our mum until she passed away.
If we could really help each other then it would make all the difference, that’s what changes communities and that’s what we need to be doing.
People have become isolated, people used to go to the pubs or to their local church, everybody knew each other and all got along. But now most of the pubs have gone, and churches are not so well attended in this community, so there's nowhere for people to come together. Princes End hasn't got a local community centre where we can bring people together. So, we are working with St Johns Church and the PCC (Parish Church Council) to see how can we create a community hub where people can actually come and gather so they can just get to know each other and get the help and support they need. If we can be part of that, if the church can be part of that, and the other organisations that work in the community can be part of that, then it can create a thriving community.
How can we bring life into the community? That's why we called our organisation ‘Life in Community’ because we wanted to see how lives can actually be developed. We all live here. So how do we make it into something more tangible that local people, local government and central government can see? It’s what we want to see.
We want to bring life to our community; there's been such darkness and deprivation for such a long time. It’s how can we try and make a change. Not ‘we’ who can make the change, but that ‘we’ work with our community to make the change. We are the community.
What keeps me going? Is believing in God, it’s believing in Jesus. He tells us to love our neighbour as ourselves. He tells us that we should go out and look after the widows and the orphans. The Bible talks about the great commission where Jesus says, go out into the world and make disciples. We’re called to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to preach the gospel. This is my Jerusalem; Princes End is my Jerusalem. And I'm not necessarily preaching the gospel, but I'm doing what Jesus did. He went out and he fed people, he went and healed people, he went out and he spoke to people that nobody else wanted to speak to. I see that people need to be looked after and cared for, to be supported in whatever way, shape or form that is. So that's the thing that drives me; God’s word tells us this is what we need to do so I'm just trying to follow that. It doesn't have to be in a church.
I love my community. I love to help people regardless of the colour of my skin. Whether I am white or black or Asian or whatever, I think I would still have my faith and that would still be the thing that drives me.
I'm grateful to God for what he's been able to do right now. And I just pray that He continues to give us the resources to be able to do whatever is needed to support our community, but also to help people in our community to help themselves.