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Group photo from Poetic Unity's Spoken Words Event

Three south west London charities to deliver youth employment and mental health scheme

Brixton-based charity Poetic Unity have announced that they, alongside Black Cultural Archives and Theatre Peckham, have received National Lottery support to create an essential youth employment and mental health scheme in their shared communities.

A total of £360,000 was awarded by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK, to form The Poetic Relief Project – which aims to benefit thousands of young people across the UK who have seen their chances of employment and mental health suffer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Project will consist of 12 programmes which aim to support young people’s mental health, personal development, community cohesion and education across the UK, in person and online. 

It will also give rise to ‘The Cultural Leaders’ youth employment scheme which will enable the three charities to train 12 young people, aged 18-30, for roles in the creative industries every year for the next three years.

An example of a typical workshop for Poetic Unity, who work predominantly with young people.
WE GIVE A VOICE TO THE VOICELESS: Workshops run by the charity empower young people to reach their highest potential.

CEO and Artistic Director of Theatre Peckham Suzann McLean, said: “The Cultural Leaders youth employment scheme will develop skills in facilitation and producing, equipping them with the paid experience at the beginning of their career.”

The new hires will learn the daily operations of each charity, help to deliver workshops and events for other young people and gain unprecedented access to a sector that is notoriously daunting to pursue.

But you can expect nothing less from charities that have committed themselves to giving young people a voice and empowering them to reach their highest potential.

Poetic Unity founder and Chief Executive Ryan J. Matthews-Robinson, 33, said: “When I was young, growing up in Brixton, my friends and I were marginalised.

“We didn’t really get the opportunities that we should have compared to some of our counterparts.

“Looking back on it now, that’s definitely what fueled my passion to make sure that all young people get opportunities.”

An example of a Poetic Unity event.
AT THE FOREFRONT: Poetic Unity gives hundreds of poets a platform to speak their truth.

Matthews-Robinson is equally as passionate about poetry and its ability to bring people together. 

He reflected: “Poetry is different to any other art form.

“People actually listen to the words and the expression, instead of a song where people don’t necessarily listen to the words and are more focussed on the beat.”

He realised how powerful poetry could be when the charity started working to support young people’s mental health. 

He said: “It’s like free therapy, it’s something you can do without having to pay for anything, you just need a pen and paper.”

It also helps that the charity really focusses on creating safe and non-judgemental environments for its young people to express themselves in.

When asked what made his organisation different from others, Matthews-Robinson stated that Poetic Unity and its programmes are safe spaces for anyone that wants to be a part of their community.

He said: “If you haven’t got a safe space nothing else can work; you can’t educate, you can’t help someone’s mental health and you can’t give someone a voice.

“If a person doesn’t feel safe, they’re not going to open up.

“That’s the key thing that we have in our community, that everyone who comes in knows that it’s somewhere they can be comfortable and from there they can flourish.”

MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: Testimonials from Poetic Unity’s mental health workshops March-February 2021

Since its creation in 2015, Poetic Unity has been at the forefront of contributing to the growth of the poetry scene in London.

In this time it has produced more than 500 events, given a platform to hundreds of poets, and created a BBC/BFI documentary on the importance of poetry for young people.

The charity was also able to expand during the COVID-19 pandemic because of their ability to run programmes and events online.

From March-December 2020, the charity was able to reach 10,000 people, regularly working with young people across the UK, not just in London.

Deputy Director of Partnerships at The National Lottery Community Fund Abdou Sidibe, said: “We are incredibly proud to support this exciting partnership, which will empower young people across the country to improve their mental wellbeing and employment prospects.

“National Lottery funding is there to help people and communities prosper and thrive – it is thanks to players that we can fund this important work. We look forward to seeing the positive impact The Poetic Relief Project will make to young people’s lives.”

The employment scheme begins in September 2021 and you can find out more about this exciting scheme by contacting [email protected] with the title ‘Cultural Leaders’. 

If you are aged 12-30, and interested in learning more about the services and programmes being run by Poetic Unity, you can visit their website here.

If you are interested in learning more about the work carried out by The Black Cultural Archives, you can visit their website here.

If you are interested in learning more about events and shows being run by Theatre Peckham, you can visit their website here.

Feature image of Spoken Word event by Poetic Unity

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