Ian Williams has been co-managing The Green, Nunhead’s community centre, with his partner Sian Sinclair for 8 months. Here he shares how, faced by the pandemic, they opened the centre up to Nunhead Knocks and how lockdown has created a space for people to help their communities as well as protest.
“Sian and I moved to Nunhead eight years ago and, at that time, we had a café and catering business in Deptford selling amazing sandwiches and lunches. We used to deliver any leftover lunches to homeless people or charities in the area and, if there were any left after that, to our neighbours in our block on Nunhead Grove. Over time they got to know our food and us, allowing us to develop a great relationship with the local community.
“My mum was a very loving, honest, and community-driven person and she instilled those characteristics into me and my siblings. We grew up in tough circumstances as one of the only black families in a Kent town. My strong family unit kept me in the right mindset as I grew up facing racist discrimination from peers at school, strangers in the street as well as the police. Those days shaped how I am now.
“Last year we were looking for a change - our lives were so different to when we started our food business and we decided to look for employment elsewhere. A management position came up at The Green and we decided to apply as co-managers. We know The Green well as its our local community centre and we had worked with the organisation, providing food for community events, and attended classes there with our daughter, Monáe, as a baby. It felt like a great opportunity to put our skills to good use for the community and we were excited when our application was accepted.
“Sian and I bring different strengths to the role. I’m a conversationalist and love talking to the different people who come through our doors about what they like about the centre, and what they want from it. Sian has a background in law so is fantastic at anything related to policy, health and safety, and staffing. However, between us, we have a strong belief in community spirit and want to develop The Green and its services to best suit the needs of everyone in Nunhead.
“The coronavirus was a shock for everyone, and - for us - it meant putting the right guidance in place to protect The Green’s staff and the community.The whole world had stopped, and it was hard to know the best thing to do next. Should we develop our own services to support people? Or look to support other organisations already providing a service? That’s when we heard about Nunhead Knocks and the huge numbers of volunteers they were attracting who wanted to support the community.
“I first heard about the organisation through their promotion to attract volunteers and donations at the very start of the outbreak. We sought out further information on how they planned to serve the community and decided The Green's resources would be well used supporting their effort so, in early April, we offered The Green to Nunhead Knocks to use as a base. We felt it was the best way of serving the community as they were already coordinating the set up of essential services, including distributing meals, dog walking and picking up prescriptions.
“Since then, we’ve been supporting Nunhead Knocks logistically and ensuring that they have everything they need to operate from The Green, whether it’s access to printers or enough tables to organise food donations.
“Lockdown has been both difficult and brilliant. I used to teach in schools so have been exercising those muscles home-schooling my daughter, which has been harder than I thought it would be! It has been wonderful to spend so much time as a family doing stuff together. But it has also been a challenge juggling this with working from home and trying to keep up with our service users. Myself and two colleagues have been checking in on members of the Ivy Club, a multi-cultural group of seniors who met at The Green for chair-based fitness and other activities like bingo, knitting and the occasional snooze! They’ve been isolated for a long time and it’s important they know we’re still there for them.
“There are of lots of issues across the UK that don’t get dealt with because everyone is normally so busy and wrapped up in their own life. However, lockdown has given people the opportunity to take notice of their neighbours and support them, from the senior citizen who lives in their block to the family down the road who need help. People are spending more time in their home community and its having an impact.
“Similarly, I think the pandemic is related to the way many are responding to the Black Lives Matter movement. As people have been shut inside and quietly worrying about things happening in the world, lockdown has given them the time to consider, reflect and voice their opinions. The murder of George Floyd brought a lot of things to the forefront and people have decided to stand up and say no, enough is enough.
“The pandemic has also shown that change doesn’t happen because of one or two people. It happens when many get together, whether it’s forming community organisations like Nunhead Knocks, or taking to the streets and protesting.
“Looking forwards, we must try and keep the good things that have happened during this time going. When the pandemic is over and volunteers return to work, people will still have financial problems, so we need to continue finding ways of offering support. We would love for the community to share any ideas they have of how to move forward. What services do you want to see at The Green? How can we help to keep this community spirit alive? What do you want to do to help moving forward? We would love for people to get in contact (email@example.com) to share their ideas.
“I also hope that the protests and Black Lives Matter Movement create sustained, honest conversations within our communities. For white people particularly to engage in the conversation, to learn about the experience of being black in Britain, about personal and structural issues related to race that sustain this problem and what can be done to address them. To look at the experience people are having and ask themselves if this is the future we want our children to live in.”
Committee members Claire, Paddy and Charlie look back on their time in the group and how it should be structured in the future.
Residents of Nunhead and Peckham share how lockdown impacted their mental health.