The Baytree Centre | Voices of Change

Here at What Can We Do? we strive to promote a better and fairer world through civic engagement, and that is why we launched the Voices of Change guest blog series.

We want to amplify the voices of a variety of different charities, community groups and individuals from home and abroad. While highlighting how COVID-19 has impacted them, how kindness plays a role in what they do, how people can get involved to support them and what the ideal future looks like.

Our special guest today is the Olive Ahmed, youth service manger for The Baytree Centre, discussing her work during COVID-19 and beyond supporting girls and their families through the pandemic.

The Baytree Centre logo

Tell us about yourself - Where do you work and what is your role?

I’m Olive, I’m the Youth Service Manager at The Baytree Centre, a social inclusion charity for women and girls based in the heart of Brixton. We run numerous programmes for young people, including after school clubs, a mentoring programme, summer activities, holiday activities and we also support girls that are not in school.

In a pre-pandemic world, we would have activities happening after school, whether that be art, drama or maths. Similarly, we also have our Into School programme for newly arrived and refugee girls. The girls tend to be over 11 and we help them learn English but also support them in the process of getting them into school and just generally becoming more familiar with living in the UK and making friends. They are often quite isolated because they would have been at home by themselves, so helping them feel settled is so important. We also have social action and leadership programmes for older girls and personal development initiatives as well.

My role is to oversee these various programmes and line manage the team. As well as developing the programmes we need to apply for funding. Once we have the funding, I make sure we are delivering on what we promised and letting funders know what we’re up to.

How has COVID-19 affected The Baytree Centre’s work?

Our work simultaneously changed completely but also in some ways remained exactly the same.

So pretty quickly we took everything remotely. We would hold maths and reading sessions on Zoom for young people, we had hangouts including a dance session, a quiz and even martial arts.

Our girls who aren’t in school who are part of our In School programme had ESOL

classes (English and literacy classes) and exercise classes as well as wellbeing sessions.

Mentoring also went remote to enable a positive and safe environment for our girls despite lockdown. Lots of young people were having their mentorship sessions via Zoom or Whatsapp with volunteer mentors or with staff.

Also because of COVID-19 and the impact it had on people’s livelihoods and incomes, as an organisation we’ve had to support a lot of families, whether it be from a foodbank referral or emergency funding or even accessing a laptop. This has always been a part of our work, where we often help families with housing and benefits, but obviously COVID impacted a lot of people quite badly and quite quickly and we’ve had to respond to the increased need. We’ve had to help people with their lives quite literally.

How can people help/get involved with what The Baytree Centre is doing during COVID-19?

We always need volunteers. Our volunteers have been an incredible support during this time. As I said people have volunteered as mentors for young people and that’s been great because obviously learning from home, potentially in a crowded house without technology access, is extremely challenging. Some schools have been quite good during lockdown with providing extra support, while others have just been sending work and have not been able to give any real support. So, people badly need mentors during this time.

Also, donations are always great, as many of our families have found themselves in challenging situations, we’ve had to give small financial help because of their difficulty accessing the support they need. So, donations are always a great help.

As we sort of ease out of lockdown and come back into normal life, we’re planning to run our summer activities starting next month (August) which is great, and we are going to need volunteers to help us deliver that. Come September when we start our more usual after school activities, although on a reduced basis, we will still need volunteers and support from the local community. We always need and want more people.

The Baytree students drawing

Tell us about the role of kindness in your work.

So, it’s really interesting because at Baytree we have our 5 virtues which include respect, self-discipline and kindness happens to be one of them. Of course, you have to be kind, but it is such an important value of ours by remembering people’s humanity and giving them that dignity.

There have been so many instances of kindness, people dropping food off for people sick with COVID and volunteers have been going around to help and generally being really great. There have been some really just lovely examples of people relying on their mentors during this time and really stepping up to help emotionally.

I’ve been just amazed by my colleagues and their resilience. The thing about the pandemic is that it’s been difficult for everyone, including our staff. Everyone had to adjust for themselves but at the same time still do their job and it’s been amazing to see them go above and beyond even when they’ve had their own challenges to work through. I mean they’ve been teaching English on Whatsapp, which is crazy, when they designed Whatsapp I know that is not what they had in mind but that’s how ingenious people have been. People have been working flat out to really support these women and girls we work with.

What is the most amazing act of kindness you have seen during the COVID-19 crisis?

The mother of one of our families had twins at the start of lockdown and it’s just a crazy situation to have twins in a time when no one can see you. She also has an older daughter who comes to Baytree who has her own sort of challenges, at the best of times, and hasn’t had the support necessary for home schooling, because her mother couldn’t help, you can’t homeschool and have two newborn babies.

So, it was just really nice to see the patience and care this mentor showed this new big sister in this crazy situation where she’d gone from being an only child to having 2 new brothers. I don’t know if it was the most amazing act of kindness, but it was just a really nice example of one of our mentors coming into a situation and being a bit of consistency and support when this family really needed it. Other members of the team we’re able to organise electricity and all this sort of stuff for the family as well and bring bits and pieces for the babies too. It was lovely to see the community come together and help a family in a stressful situation.

What does the ideal future look like for you? What positives would you like to see come out of this crisis?

Like we’ve talked about it has been really great to see people rally together and support each other. We’re really fortunate at The Baytree Centre that we’ve always had amazing volunteers, but I do think this is the first time for a lot of people where they’ve had to really think about their community and rely on their community. I think particularly in London the way we live, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know my neighbours, I recognise them a bit more now because of COVID, but I think that community spirit and being more connected with the people right next door to you is really important and I would like to see that continue.

I think its also been incredible on a societal and governmental level, you’ve seen the level of support that has happened on issues that are ongoing and we’re pressing before COVID and suddenly we saw all this action and effort going into place. I think COVID did force people to realise how interconnected we are, and I would like that to continue. One of the upsides, even though its been an incredibly challenging situation, is that lockdown has allowed people to dedicate more time to self-care and for their families, and have been able to put into practice all these positive things we know we should be doing but in normal life no one has any time to, so it would be nice to see that last in a post lockdown world.

For myself, I am really keen for when more of our young people come back that we are really helping them process, in a non-threatening tell me about your feelings way, what has happened. Even though people have had different experiences, I think it is really critical that we don’t just move on. This has been quite a traumatic situation and we need to give people that time to heal properly and move through it as opposed to just passing through it.

Everyone, but especially young people, have missed out on quite a lot of experiences this year, some of them we’re meant to do exams and haven’t done them, leaving parties, and all these different things that would have happened that haven’t happened. It sounds silly because who loves exams, but our girls were really upset that they didn’t get to do them, because you know they work so hard for them and then it’s just taken away. People have had to sacrifice a lot and I think it’s important that we acknowledge that.

Olive Ahmed
Olive Ahmed

Olive Ahmed

Youth Service Manager

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