Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 8 seconds
Everyone has a story. Stephanie Leonard hopes to turn 50 young people into community organisers. Here’s how she’s doing it in Islington and Camden by empoweringÂ first-, second- and third-generation migrants’Â knowledge ofÂ blood, sweat and tears.Â Interview by Nicola Baird.
We meet in a sweet cafĂ© by Highbury & Islington tube, Sawyer & Grays, on the same day that Russell Brand is announcing his new plan to revolutionise the youth â a Hackney cafĂ© called Trew Era, notable for itâs good value coffee (ÂŁ1.80) and witty misspelling of barista as barrister, which is staffed by recovering addicts.
Stephanie LeonardÂ may not haveÂ Russell Brand’s beard and beanie but sheÂ is as good as Brand at talking change,Â especially since taking up CitizensUKâs challenge to organise Islington and Camden young people back in January 2015.
NEVER MISS AN ISLINGTON FACES: if you enjoy reading about people who live or work in Islington please follow this blog by email (see how on right hand panel).Â FreshÂ interviews are published once a week.Â
âI know Islington well,” says Stephanie, 25, who grew up in London. “I worked in the post office in Farringdon sorting postcards families sent at Christmas. Iâd get up at 5am to get there and leave to go home when it was dark too. I listened to my i-pod all day shuffling postcards. Then I got promoted and was allowed to put the cards into pigeonholes! I also worked at Waitrose in Angel, but that was a disaster. I didnât like being behind the till or having to ask permission to go to the bathroom. Iâve also helped manage a guest house in nearby Stoke Newington.â
With her in depth knowledge of Islington plus an MA in Social Development PracticeÂ itâs no surprise that Stephanie â who has Irish roots – clearly loves finding ways to energise first, second and third generation migrants to the UK (aged between 16 and 30) by introducing them to CitizensUKâs Blood, Sweat & Tears campaign. This campaign aims to get people talking about their familiesâ experiences of migration.
If itâs successful it should see more young people from BME backgrounds registering to vote; rising numbers of BME organ and blood donors and help tackle the problems many new migrants face – such as being held for months in detention centres and delays toÂ spousal visas. âOne man I know found it took nine years to get his wife and child over,â says Stephanie. Itâs clear sheâs passionate about each strand of the Blood, Sweat & Tears campaign â and talks me through it carefully, pointing out that it was a phrase Winston Churchill used to rally the UK during World War Two.
Way to go
âMy job is to develop confident young migrants who are proud of being a migrant, who can speak in public and who can negotiate with politicians,â explains Stephanie.
Sometimes she is invited into sixth forms â a recent packed meeting at St Aloysius School has led to 90 students choosing to register to vote. âThey seemed sceptical at first, but through games and role play we soon got themÂ talking,â laughs Stephanie. During that game the students discussed challenging topics including âdo you believe in capital punishment?â, âShould the NHS be privatised?â and âDo you agree with stronger controls on migration?â.
A few days later she was down at the soon-to-be-redeveloped Elephant & Castle shopping centre with some of the young leaders â Rosa,Â Salvatori, Maria andÂ KerenÂ – who were brave enough to highlight the Blood, Sweat & Tears Campaign by running a unique stall, âIâm a migrant, please hug meâ (see photo above).
Places Stephanie Leonard likes in Islington
âIâm a Londoner to the bone. Itâs my home! I grew up in Edmonton. Then when I was 16 I moved to Bow Road in East London. I live on the Stoke Newington â Dalston border now.â
âI went to school in Camden. My best friend lived on an estate off Essex Road so I spent my teenage years on Upper Street trying to get into bars. We always wanted to go to Slim Jims, 112 Upper Street, N1.â
“I still like to sit outside a cafĂ© on Upper Street and play chess with my brother.â
“I love the multi-culturalisation of Finsbury Park. And the hair shops are amazing â one of my friends loves dressing in drag so got all his wigs in Pak’s on Stroud Green Road.”
“Islington has a lovely mix. You have very wealthy people on Upper Street and then around Finsbury Park it is very different.”
Next big opportunity is in April, which will see her proteges turn up at election hustings at City & Islington Sixth Form to quiz prospective parliamentary candidates about migration and employment.
âThey are really looking forward to it,â says Stephanie who is well aware that being a community organiser can be slow â and can play second fiddle in some months to revision and exam schedules. But itâs clear she knows this is as much a job as a fantastic privilege developing young peopleâs skills and helping them hone their ability to find the right person to talk to and then put their point across with conviction and good sense. All power to those trainees.
- In Islington CitizensUK http://www.citizensuk.org/ works with St Melitus Church; St Lukes, Holloway; Congolese Catholic Chaplaincy, Muslim Welfare House, St Mary Magdalene Academy, St Mary Moorefield & St Josephâs Church, City & Islington College, Central Foundation Boysâ School; Tollington Parish; City University Studentsâ Union.
- Info about CitizensUK North London is hereÂ http://www.citizensuk.org/north_london
- Be a volunteer, or just show support. Find CitizensUK twitter and facebook linksÂ atÂ http://www.citizensuk.org/spread_the_word
- Even if you are too late to vote inÂ the 7 May 2015 election, it’s easy to register to voteÂ for the next election opportunity, see how atÂ http://www.citizensuk.org/register_to_vote
Over to you
If youâd like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.
If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk
This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at theÂ A-Z Â index, orÂ search by intervieweeâs roles or Meet IslingtoniansÂ to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola