Forging a sense of community

27.05.13 Categories: How donations help, Young people

It’s not often you see Batman strolling along Tower Bridge – after all, it’s a long way from Gotham.

But the Dark Knight himself made an appearance when young people from the Challenge Network did a fancy dress walk in aid of Maudsley Charity in September 2012.

The Challenge Network brings 16-year-olds from diverse backgrounds together, and through a set of challenges, prepares them to design and deliver a project that will make a difference in their community.

Along the way, they learn key skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication, and are encouraged to develop trust in others, responsibility for themselves, understanding and empathy.

The young South London Challengers were split into four groups. Each was given the challenge of designing and delivering projects to raise money for Maudsley Charity, which aims to support innovation and improvement in mental health services and promote public awareness and understanding of mental health issues.

King’s Health Partners fundraising staff worked with each of the groups to brief them on the work of South London and Maudsley, particularly in the areas of addiction and eating disorders.

They held brainstorming sessions with each group for their fundraising events. Afterwards, the groups planned and organised their events with the help of their group leaders.

‘When the Challenge Network asked if we would help with their project to encourage young people on the programme to fundraise and raise awareness, we were delighted to be able to let them know about the work of South London and Maudsley,’ says Elizabeth Martin, fundraising events assistant at together we can…

‘Mental health is often something that affects young people as they struggle with adolescence and growing up. We covered a wide range of issues that South London and Maudsley treat, from addictions to eating disorders and depression. These seemed to strike a chord with many members of the group, who were enthusiastic and keen to get involved and spread awareness. It’s vital that the work of South London and Maudsley is understood by those that may rely on their services in the future or know someone that does.’

Vicky Kerry, senior mentor at the Challenge Network, came out of the meeting feeling inspired. ‘This meeting gave myself and the group an insight into current mental health issues, and who can and does suffer with mental health problems,’ she says. ‘It opened a few eyes in the room.’

One group climbed to the 24th floor of the Waterloo Conference Centre (with the kind help of the Union Jack Club.)

Another brought music and fun into Southwark by dancing, singing and rapping to delighted commuters at bus stops.

The third group held a sponsored costume walk from the Charter School in Dulwich, past Maudsley Hospital and finishing at London Bridge.

And the last group decided on fancy dress bridge walks from Vauxhall and Tower Bridge – meeting at the London Eye for a silent disco.

The events raised funds for Maudsley Charity but more importantly they helped create something just as valuable - understanding, and a real sense of community.

Jon Yates is a co-founder of the Challenge Network. He says that projects like this are vital to help diverse young people get to know each other.

‘You can grow up in Britain today and all your friends could be exactly like you,’ he points you. ‘It’s easy to get to 18 and live in a bubble. And that goes for people who only know other well-off people, and for people whose parents don’t work and who only know other people whose parents don’t work.

‘If people don’t mix together, they don’t understand each other. Little things become big problems really quickly and small misunderstandings become big issues,’ he adds. ‘But one thing you hear again and again on the challenges is young people saying: “I never thought I could get on with people like this – but now I realise that actually, we have much more in common than I thought.”

There’s a real sense of camaraderie on programmes between people who wouldn’t normally speak to each other. That’s what The Challenge Network is all about.’

Lauren Kocher, assistant programme manager at the Challenge Network in Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham, says she’s delighted with the challenge’s results.

‘I was amazed at how each group was so moved and threw themselves into creating the perfect sponsored activity on behalf of the charity,’ she says. ‘No matter how much money they were able to raise, the experience alone taught each of them a great deal and encouraged them to do more for their community and local charities, which for us at the Challenge is the whole point.

‘So thank you, King’s Health Partners and South London and the Maudsley, for allowing us to be a part of your work.'