The number of youth clubs in London has nearly halved since 2011, yet their historical importance in providing a safe space for young people is still unmatched. And Shawdon Smith is one man who knows this all too well. He’s dedicated his life to uplifting the young people in his community through Ambitious Academy.
The centre aims to support the youth of Archway and on the nearby Elthorne Estate – where he grew up – through mentoring schemes, connecting them to professionals and showing them they are valued and seen. After finishing university and returning home, Smith knew he wanted to work with the young people in his community, reaching them in a way that parents or teachers often couldn’t. ‘I just said “this is my passion, this is what I want to do”.’
Although he says the estate he lives on has a ‘pretty bad history’, Smith always understood the potential of the people who grew up around him and had first-hand experiences of the power of youth centres. ‘Me and my friends always used to go every week when we were young!’ he says. While Ambitious Academy is a wonderful place to socialise, ‘it’s a lot deeper than that,’ Smith explains. It offers one-to-one sessions, residential trips, mentoring and skills-based workshops.
He sees places like it as spaces where those pushed to the outskirts can have their potential nurtured. ‘Young people in our area want to make a difference and do something constructive,’ he says. And now Smith and his community have found their calling in film.
Working alongside production companies, they are telling their own stories. In collaboration with youth-led media organisation Fully Focused and Arsenal in the Community, in 2018 Ambitious Academy created the short film ‘Drawn Out’, which gives a glimpse into the harsh realities some experience in the capital.
Since its release, the film has had more than 4 million YouTube views. Its success has seen Ambitious Academy’s young people appearing in shows like ‘Top Boy’ and ‘Bulletproof’. ‘We’re trying to get funding so we can continue creating films,’ he says.
Smith is proof of the power of community. ‘It’s not about money or making an income for me, it’s more of just having that moment when a young person can be proud.’