Hello there dear reader, my name is Ubaydullah Samiullah Saique or Obi Saiq for short (cue the star wars jokes!), and first off you are probably wondering why I have decided to start my first ever article/blog/whatever you call whatever this is that I’m doing, with stating my name I mean you could probably just look at the header of the page and see my name so why say it again well I’ll be frank guys, I can’t do that. I mean it’s not that I’m trying to be different I’ll be honest I looked at other blogs on other sites and they were SOOOOO boring it felt like I was reading a flat pack furniture assembly manual, an insight in to the experiences of a person who I didn’t know and had no affinity with hence I decided I can’t just let you read about my experiences, my thoughts and ideas without establishing a sense of who I am. I mean what use is a map if you have no idea what area it encompasses or diagrammatically represents well folks I won’t let that happen and I won’t trick you into reading a dull blog/article/whatever you call whatever this is that I’m doing, because I believe that is a crime, a crime so bad that I consider it to be worthy of a lengthy prison sentence! So by now you are thinking along the lines ‘Well Obi if you’re so uptight about connecting with your audience by conveying who you are why the hell have you spent such a lengthy paragraph talking absolute nonsense’, and part of me agrees with you but at the same time how can I convey who I am in merely a few sentences, a few sentences can’t even encompass the life of a man whom has existed almost twenty years that’s 240 months That is 7300 days, which is 175,200 hours, which is 10,512,000 minutes! 10 million minutes in a paragraph? As brilliant as I am that is a task near impossible so like a good comic book you will not learn of our hero in a measly 20 page issue but over hundreds of issues (or in my case a series of blogs if I’m allowed). So relax, open up can ginger beer and read on!
Recently I was working on an animation project with the museum of London/Docklands over by Canary Wharf. The theme of the animation was with regards to places to hang out and socialise in and around the docklands as well comparing this to the places that older members of the public who resided in docklands used to socialise in. Me along with several other young guys worked with two guys named Mark (who essentially led the project) and our duties included gathering information and material for animation including interviews with the pubic as well as generating ideas for the animation itself. Now it was a great project and really worthwhile but to be honest I’m not going to sit here and bore you with the ins and outs with the details of the project because what’s the point when Mark and Mark haven’t even finished yet, I would rather you watch the final product and then IF you wish to know the ins and outs go ask either of the Marks (excellent chaps by the way) because they deserve the real credit. Instead I’m going to discuss some of the observations I made during the course of the project which in some way or the other affected me and I being the wonderful and enlightening character I am feel obliged to share with you.
Now I like to pride myself as a Londoner, not just any Londoner too but an East Londoner (the best kind of Londoner!) but despite having lived around the east end since I moved to the UK as a child I’ll be quite frank and say had never been to the Docklands before this project! The reason or reasons is simple, firstly there was never anything special in the Docklands that would motivate me to actually get on the DLR and get myself there, I mean what was there that I couldn’t find in Green street, West Ham (I mean where else could you find £1 pound fish, fake Pokémon cards for a quid and cheap curry!) and secondly I always had this preconception in my head of everywhere near Canary Wharf being full of rude grey suited businessmen more focused on making money than actually caring for their fellow humans so I just avoided it, just like I avoid the urban hell holes called Dalston or similarly Peckham. As soon as we began the project however, one of my first jobs was to take part in interviewing a couple of Youth workers in All Saints at their youth centre and my impression drastically changed. Even before arriving at the centre I was surprised to see how abysmal and depressing the area was, Grey 60’s tower blocks that filled the background looked like oversized tombstones, the people slumping along just looked miserable as if they were in mourning and the drizzling rain would suggest even the heavens were crying for this place. This area was dead. I mean it’s not that I’ve never seen an environment like this before for god sake I’ve lived and grown up on a pretty shit council estate but I just never thought that such a place could exist that’s less than half a mile from such a rich financial hub that is canary wharf but after just a glance at this place, part of me was expecting to arrive at some run down bike shed-turned-hangout run by a few uninspired locals who had nothing else to do in their spare time. I was wrong! The youth centre was built on top of an old Salvation Army building (which looked abandoned but I’m not 100% on that one!) and contrary to what I said earlier it was an actual building, not a bike shed!
One thing I noticed the moment I stepped in was a sense of warmth and homeliness, the room had been set up in such a matter that the bleak weather outside was like another world away the main room/ hall was full of cool stuff i.e T.V, table tennis, lounge, Books along with posters and pictures of people who attended the club plastered across the wall generated a sense positivity in my gut and that was just the surface. The youth workers who greeted us, Roz and Jon were remarkably homecoming and let us settle down before taking us on a tour of the centre. The centre included a kitchen, silent room, as well as music room accompanied with a recording booth! Now I’ll be honest folks I was stunned, I mean I don’t know if this is the only youth club to have such facilities or I just happen to be unlucky enough to attend some pretty crap youth clubs, but seriously impressive! When I was younger I used to attend a youth centre in Clapton (Not saying any names!) which I’m pretty must have served some purpose at one point in its life as a second rate World War Two bomb shelter (certainly looked like a bomb site) and the only things that were worthwhile there was the Sega Mega drive games console (You younger readers might not have had the privilege to enjoy such a machine), which was eventually stolen, and the pool table (which not to my surprise someone managed to steal that too!); in fact everything about it was rubbish including the youth workers who cared little about their job and most of the time would never even supervise the place! Going back to my story however, I found out the names of the two youth workers, Roz and Jon, and just hearing them speak I felt a sense of pride, passion and genuine love for their community. Roz, who effectively ran the club, was not native to the docklands however she had come to love this environment she had adopted and felt inclined to give something back by running the youth centre for something like 20 years. I was astounded by her sense of honour, how she kept to her principles for example Roz didn’t accept lottery funding for the club as she saw the money as a product of gambling and having seen the effect gambling has on people of such a rundown area she couldn’t accept money made in such a manor. Due to her pacifist beliefs there were neither books nor games that advocated violence.
She believed that every person has a role to play in society and pushed the kids to better themselves and to better their communities in fact one of her quotes during the interviews really struck me, she said “community is what you make of it, and if there is a lack of or no community or you are as much a part of the problem”.
Jon was a very quiet and down to earth young man, older than me but still young, he had grown up around the docks and had been coming to the youth centre since he was a kid but rather than grow up and leave he carried on to study at university and came back as a youth worker, to give back to his community and help others achieve their dreams. He was very thankful about the centre in fact he gave me a game of table tennis afterwards (I let him win), and I left the youth centre feeling quite privileged to have met these people! Afterwards I decided to do some research on the area around the docks and I actually found out that there were plenty of deprived areas around the docks and in fact the urban regeneration from the seventies onwards had only made things worse by alienating and squeezing out some of the older communities in the docklands. In fact in the boroughs of tower hamlets, where the Roz and Jon work, 4 in 10 children live below the poverty line! Now I COULD spend hours discussing and analysing the causes of such things (i.e. thatcher, gentrification, capitalism blah blah blah) but that’s not the point.
In such a baron and hopeless place Roz along with Jon had created a haven, a platform from which young people could build on and establish their own lives and she did mainly out of a kind love for her home, her community.
This deeply affected me, I was angry with myself. For all my self-righteous harping and complaining about how there is no sense of community these days and who was to blame, I was wrong. Roz’s words resonated in me, for I was as much a problem to the situation along with anybody or anything else, rather than get up and do something I sat down and complained.
They say evil prevails when the day comes that good men do nothing, well I don’t know if I am a good man but I did nothing and allowed my community, the communion of people who lived near me to slowly break apart. We create connections, friendship and love with people for many reasons but ultimately these are tested over the course of time and it is up to us as human being to maintain these bonds and if they break well it’s our fault for not maintaining them. It is ironic how Cameron’s Britain advocates a so called ‘big society’ but truthfully he (on purpose or by accident, I don’t know) has only deepened the divides between us but this is where the bonds that we form are tested. Now I understand some of you guys might be thinking, “what’s all this community garbage, I’m not anti-social like you”, for those people I am sorry but I assume most of us may not understand this.
Ever since meeting Roz and Jon I try to do small things such as smile more, say hello to my neighbours and just be more social and as result create connections because at the end of the it’s the small things that lead to the big things, in this case the big things I hope for is to strengthen the disparaged community around my area.
Now you guys are most like thinking along the lines. ”WTF has this got to do with museums or teens for that matter!”
Well that’s the thing guys museums have as much a role to play too, we always see museums as places where we go to look at artefacts from the past that give some insight into history, but its more than that!
Museums are place where we can share our pride for the history we as human beings share, a passion we all share and which I’m sure many like to discuss hence I believe it as much the museums duty as much as it is ours to try bring people together . Fortunately I am part of a Youth panel at the Museum of London and as I result I get to meet young people from different kinds of backgrounds from across London and despite our aims or reasons for attending might vary we still form connections a one way or another, essentially a community! Incentives like these help and if more museums or institutions can do this we can improve! We live in a strange world where rather than love and respect one another for who we are we find it so much easier to hate purely on the basis of being different, a world where we have a better understanding with a person the TV rather than the people who live on our street. I don’t want to live in this world so I will try my best to make it better and hope that museums, libraries and youth centres and orginizations of every kind carry on trying to establish a sense of love and community between us!
Roz was right for a lack of community we are as much the problem but I believe that makes us as much as the solution.