With all the activism in the air these last few months, we hear the word ‘grassroots’ in London now more than ever. But what does it really mean when it comes to charities? Good Life London, a socially minded ‘community interest company’ (CIC), was set up to champion the work of the city’s grassroots movements. By working with designers, they produce jewellery and other fashion items for sale, with 100 percent of the profits going to the organisations they support. Today (February 15), Good Life London will be running a fundraiser at Ace Hotel in Shoreditch where the public can meet the charities that are changing the city for the better. Ahead of the event, we met with representatives from Ourmala, Stockwell Good Neighbours and Rhythms of Life to find out what goes into keeping a grassroots charity afloat.
Emily is the founder of a Hackney-based charity that offers free yoga classes to refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced atrocities including torture, sexual violence and human trafficking.
'I started Ourmala from scratch five years ago. I am a yoga teacher and I’ve been practising since about 1997. I first came across yoga being used with kids in Kabul who were living in safe houses, children who had been trafficked, war orphans. After doing yoga, they could remember their mum’s faces, their bedrooms, things they had since blocked out; it helped them recall these memories in a really positive way. Yoga is a such a middle-class pursuit in England, and for a refugee to step into a yoga class is very difficult. They have to know about it, to have the confidence to go in and pay for travel. Quite a few people [we work with] have war wounds like shrapnel in their legs, PTSD or other needs that can’t be met in your average yoga class.
'We work with women, men and children. We started off working with women only; it wasn’t appropriate to have men there as refugee women are more likely to have experienced gender-based violence than any other group in the world, but now we always give people a choice. Last year, we hosted the biggest ever UK yoga fundraiser. Amir Amor from drum and bass band Rudimental is a big supporter of ours; his family came over from Iran when he was young. He wrote a special piece of music just for us.'
Lesley is the co-ordinator of a group for the older community in Lambeth, set up to tackle social isolation in the area.
'I’ve been working with Stockwell Good Neighbours for 17 years. Before this, I worked in nursing, as a manager on an acute mental health ward. It’s mainly West Indian elders that attend. The aim is to reduce isolation and promote mental and physical well-being. We have a Tai Chi class, bingo and dominos, aerobics, outings to the theatre, to the seaside. We also do a lot of advocacy work, connecting people with the community and supporting them with housing issues. The club started 40 years ago, a lot of people had come over to Britain from Jamaica and were experiencing discrimination. The club was set up for them; back then it was five days a week, but council funding was eventually withdrawn.
'One gentleman we work with will be 100 in September, he’s our figurehead and has been coming since the beginning. We had a lady who had dementia, and we were able to support her right up until she died. The members were all at the funeral; they look out for each other. Our venue is the Oval House Theatre, we have a great relationship with them, they see us as their community group and allow us to use the space free of charge. There are times when I thought we weren’t going to make it financially; our funding comes mainly from grants, events and trust funds which I apply for each year.'
Andrew, a former rough sleeper, founded Rhythms of Life in 2008. The group delivers meals, clothing and hygiene supplies to homeless people across central London every night of the week.
'Our volunteers meet up to 100 people a night. We do the groundwork, we don't own a car or a van. At the moment we are in a borrowed building and once it is sold we have only one month's notice to leave [Rhythms of Life's original premises was reclaimed by Hackney Council, to date they have not been offered any alternative space]. It is a daily struggle to reach people, you have to walk two hours or more, collecting surplus food from partners.
'We haven't taken a day off since 2008. We serve all year round, even bank holidays and New Year's Eve, when we travel from Hackney to North Kensington wishing them happy new year with a goodie bag, finishing at 3am. Homelessness has definitely increased in central London. Where I use to see one person, now I see two or three. When I was homeless I was sleeping at Embankment and such places for almost six years.
'Government bodies and councils count the figures once a year, but they don't recognise you as homeless if you are standing/sitting up, only if you are lying down. That's how crazy the situation is. We are desperately seeking our new home so that we can carry on with our project. As long as we can cook some hot meals, serve them and furnish [the service users with] essential skills to get a job and rebuild their lives, we are not worried about what kind of building we may be offered. We will clean it, decorate it, keep it secured for our future landlord and make our home.'
The Good Life London product launch for Rachel Entwistle's Eros necklace will take place at Ace Hotel, Shoreditch on February 15.
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Photos by Liam Jackson and Polly Rusyn