To celebrate the launch of our Stevie Wonder T-shirt collaboration with The Avenues Youth Project, we caught up with Carol Archibald, Director of Programmes and Marcus Leon, Senior Youth Worker. Both members as children, they tell us about the important work the charity does, what inspires them and how we can all make a difference.

Greetings, both. Could you tell us a little about the Avenues Youth Project?
Primarily, we provide programmes for children and young people from eight to 18. It ranges from after school clubs, holiday programmes, music programmes, and skills training to employability programmes. But most importantly, we aim to provide a safe, nurturing space for children and young people to develop. A young person’s journey through the youth club should provide them with the skills and experiences they require to be a valuable member of society that allows them to make a positive contribution. Avenues has a rich history spanning 43 years and is quite literally a cornerstone of its community.

Why do you think it is so important?
The way we quantify Avenues’ importance is by thinking, what would it be like if The Avenues didn’t exist? And that is a question that we never want to have to answer.

As former members ourselves, we can vouch for the impact the Avenues has on young people. Consistency might not be a headline grabber, but for generations now, the Avenues has played an important role in numerous people’s lives. We are often told this by past members. And some come back to help too.

Being able to provide children and young people with opportunities that are not otherwise afforded them really makes a difference. That might be cooking or an introduction to the arts or something else. That’s very powerful. And empowering.

You offer an incredible variety of programmes. How do you fund them all?
We receive local government support from Westminster City Council, which totals 11 per cent of our income. The rest we have to raise through trust and foundations, corporate donations, private donors and fundraising. We have a variety of funders that fund short, medium and long-term projects. And it’s a constant battle to raise what we need to keep going. And when you have a service that is well run and successful, from the outside it’s easy to think the support isn’t needed.

Marcus, how did you get involved in the charity initially?
First, as a member, when I was around 12 years old. My mum and my uncles had been members before me. And my younger brother was also a member. It had a direct impact on me, inspiring me to become a youth worker. And I’m just one story out of thousands over the years.

There’s an amazing photograph of Stevie Wonder being mobbed by some of the kids when he visited the centre in 1983. That must have been a momentous occasion. How did that come about?
He was on tour and wanted to visit what they call the USA, the projects. Can you imagine? A huge star taking the time to do that. He also performed at a nearby football pitch.

That photo has pride of place in the centre, so everyone knows it really well. In spring, we held a fundraising dinner where we auctioned off prints. We tracked down the photographer – a wonderful lady called Ulrike Preuss, who signed them for us. And dug out some other photos from the day.

And now it’s on this T-shirt that we’ve created with you. How did that come about?
We first met Jimmy from YMC and his wife Selene at a fundraising dinner several years ago. They fell in love with the place and have been working as fundraisers ever since. We just thought this would be a really cool thing to do with them.

In 2021 you were awarded the Gold Level London Youth Quality Mark. Congratulations.
Thank you. It’s a huge testament to everyone who has been involved over the years. The award recognises organisations delivering youth work in London. There are three levels – so to be awarded gold means a huge amount and acknowledges the positive outcomes the centre has on its members. We are one just a very few to receive it, in fact.

There must be so many stories and successes over the years. Any that stand out?
Of course, too many to mention. But, recently, expanding the site and developing the facility has been amazing. And last summer we took some members sailing around the north coast. Seeing them develop and pick up skills in those moments is amazing. Especially for us, as we had these experiences too when we were members.

There is a real emphasis on creativity at the centre. How important do you think it is for young people to be able to express themselves creatively?
We work with a lot of children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are vulnerable. Those pressures can often force young people into survival mode. And that might mean limiting your dreams and aspirations. Giving children the space and freedom to express themselves without judgement is key. The Avenues has a history steeped in music and radio. The Avenues will always champion creativity and freedom of expression in children and young people. Today, our music programmes aim to develop the next big music stars from our community.

What message would you give to anyone looking to make a positive impact on their community?
Each one of us has the ability to teach. Never feel you have nothing to offer.

Finally, here at YMC, we consider our name, You Must Create, both a mission statement and a call to action. How would you complete the sentence You must create…?

… time to find the real you!