Helen Kersley: Islington Giving

Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 55 seconds

Everyone has a story. Not everyone is aware that Islington is one of the most unequal places in the country. Here Helen Kersley explains what this means, and how Islington Giving is trying to turn this situation around by supporting local community organisations and bringing local residents, businesses, voluntary groups and services together. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Helen Kersley from Islington Giving. (c) islington faces

Almost the first thing Islington Giving Programme Director, Helen Kersley, says to Islington Faces is, “We’re not about old ideas of philanthropy where it’s just about the rich giving to the poor. Instead we see that everyone has something to give to – and gain from – their local community, be it money that can allow things to happen or time, space, ideas, knowledge.”

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Since Islington Giving was set up in 2010 it’s found all sorts of ways to tackle disadvantage in the borough. Not only does Islington Giving fundraise to bring more resources into Islington, it also supports projects that enable people, regardless of circumstance, to live a fulfilled life. For example during 2016 grants worth £384,106 were awarded to 12 organisations working with isolated people, through programmes such as the Good Neighbours Schemes and Saturday Socials. The organisation also funded projects supporting families and young people.

In all more than 4,000 people benefitted and more than 1,000 people offered their time voluntarily.

And now Islington Giving is trying to work closer with the borough’s many small businesses. “Many small businesses are at the heart of the Islington community. If they are a small employer their staff can raise money fundraising, for example, Grace at local estate agent, Currells, ran the Marathon. Or businesses can offer space, like one pub, which is quiet on a Tuesday afternoon, invites older residents for tea. Small things can bring the community together,” she says stirring a strong cup of coffee.

Helen has spent the past two years working at Islington Giving, cycling from her home in Balham to the office at the top of Essex Road. “It began as six funding organisations coming together. We thought what could we achieve if we pooled our resources?” The answer is a great deal. For starters Cripplegate Foundation, which has historical roots in the borough going back to 1500, covers all of Islington Giving’s staffing and overhead costs. For a fundraiser like Helen that means, “We can genuinely say that every penny people give goes to Islington people. That’s a huge USP.”

You can support people having a tough time in Islington by making a donation to Islington Giving below:



Islington is a place of contrasts. Along Cally Road you’ll find Pentonville Prison, grand Georgian houses, council estates, rundown housing, gated units, £3 pints and gentrified coffee shops. (c) Islington Faces

Islington’s Reality

Figures taken from Islington Giving annual review 2016:

“Islington is a place of contrasts – one of the wealthiest and poorest arts of the country; world-class venues and opportunities sit alongside serious deprivation and overcrowding.”

  • Islington pensioners have the worst levels of health in London
  • 1 in 5 people live in poverty in Islington (40,000 out of 200,000)
  • Islington is ranked in the bottom 10% of deprived areas in England
  • 38% of our children live in poverty – one of the highest levels of child deprivation in England
  • We have the fifth highest level of older people suffering derprivation in England
  • Islington pensioners have the worst levels of health in London
  • Islington changes fast: around 10% of our population move in or out of the borough annually.


Yours to use
Last year Islington Giving secured the support of the Big Lottery Fund through £450,000 (over three years) to enable local people to fund the projects that will be best for their community. “With the best will in the world it is actually very difficult for an organisation like Big Lottery to go deep into a local area and know what are good projects, who are good leaders or even what’s needed,” explains Helen. “What we want for Islington is that everyone, regardless of their circumstances has the means to live a fulfilled life. Islington has it all: amazing opportunities, fantastic venues, beautiful spaces, great shops and special places like the canal. What we want is for everybody to feel that it’s there to use, it’s not just a place where you have to have money.”

“The big thing we hear is the isolation people feel, which can be because of a lack of money, language barriers, culture and disability. To address that, we need to connect with them, and help them connect with each other. We feel the model has changed. It’s not all about a journey to a job, now the key ingredients that people need are secure shelter and secure relationships. If you’ve got those two things in place then you have the essential building blocks for wellbeing,” she adds.

Although the team at Islington Giving understood the challenges the community face, many people were surprised by a report, Invisible Islington, published in 2008 by Cripplegate Foundation, which “showed how many people in Islington see local places and feel ‘they’re not for them’. We want to get to a point where no one will say that,” says Helen.

That’s why Helen is currently fundraising for three new Islington projects that will help develop skills and connectivity. The first is a family strategy developed after conversations with local people including those with children with disabilities, or who are new migrants or are isolated, and don’t have a lot of resources.

“Mental health challenges in this borough are huge, we have some dreadful statistics,” continues Helen which is why we want to do more for young people’s mental health offering one-to-one support in 2018 for 100-150 young people aged between 10-30 years.


Helen Kersley: “It’s not all about a journey to a job, now the key ingredients that people need are secure shelter and secure relationships. If you’ve got those two things in place then you have the essential building blocks for wellbeing.” (c) Helen Kersley

Places Helen Kersley likes in Islington

  • Arlington Square is beautiful. It was a derelict space, now it’s a community garden. I often go for a lunchtime walk – see this link: https://vimeo.com/64094393
  • The beigels are incredible at Raab’s The Bakers, 136 Essex Road, N1 I love that style of service – you don’t walk up to the counter.
  • I like to sit by the lock at Regent’s Canal, Angel.
  • There’s good coffee at the community café in Whittington Park.
  • Platform is fabulous. It’s an amazing resource on 2 Tiltman Place, Hornsey Road, N7. Islington Giving partners had an event there in May and I’ve been to amazing Company 3 events there too.


Grant makers
Helen has also helped set up a ground-breaking programme which gives young people, the chance to be grant makers and decide what a sum of about £40,000 should be spent on. “It will be for people who are looking to build their own skills and care about community, so they’ll decide what activities for young people, run with young people, it will be spent on. They’ll get training, support, have some fun and have an influence,”says Helen.

Since 2010 Islington Giving has raised £5 million to support a wealth of local initiatives including mentoring young people and families and combating isolation. There’s clearly more to do, so if you recognise the value of Islington Giving, do consider finding out more on its website where there are ideas to help anyone get involved whatever your circumstances.

  • islingtongiving.org.uk
  • Islington Giving is at 13 Elliott’s Place, N1 8HX. Twitter @isgiv #islingtongiving
  • Facebook Islington Giving
  • Insta @IsGiv

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird dot green at gmail dot com.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola