People power in Petersham

Last week we caught up with Petersham resident Sam at the weekly community cafe to find out how connecting with Shift community builder Zoe has enabled the estate to flourish – creating friendships, building support networks and engaging teenagers through a sizzling summer of activities.

As we settle down with a coffee the air is filled with chatter and laugher, showing a genuine friendship which has clearly played a big part in enabling them to connect with both each other and the people around them.

Mum-of-two Sam has lived in Petersham for three years and has played an understated yet pivotal role in transforming a little used green space in the centre of the estate into a thriving space for families and young people.

Wanting to make a difference in Petersham

Sam explains: “We moved here from Draycott and despite going from a small flat to a three-bed house, everyone said, ‘ooh you don’t want to go to Petersham, it’s dead rough on there.’

“The estate does suffer from some anti-social behaviour but when I first moved here there was nothing on for children at all. There’s a lovely green space in the middle but there was nothing for them to do on it.

“I’d been keen to organise some activities for families for a while but when I’d spoken to other people about it, nothing had really come of it. Then I met Zoe at a Christmas event at the end of last year and everything changed.

Changing perceptions

“Along with some other local mums we got a few ideas together, had a bit of a brainstorm and things have really built over the summer. We started off with a treasure hunt as that was fairly easy to do and that gave me a platform to start adding other things on.

“Something I was really passionate about was getting a lady from a charity called OWEN (Open Water Education Network) to come and speak to local children. Her son Owen had died in Beeston weir last year. It had been on the news recently about teenagers going down to jump in the canal five minutes away from here and I thought it would be really important for them to hear from someone who’d been affected by this.

“Loads of people came but some of the local teenage boys who would really benefit from it – and who were the same age as Owen – were hanging back away from it and didn’t really want to join in. I said to her, that’s the group you need to target and she went over and got them talking.

“It was good and I felt really proud of myself for doing it. It was amazing to see the teenagers actually listening to her and taking it all in. Talking to them makes a big difference. A lot of people complain about their behaviour but no one actually speaks to them about it because they’re scared of them.

“We did lots more activities over summer including a treasure hunt, picnic in the park and a trial of football activities which was so successful it’s now a weekly thing for both younger and older children.

“It was really nice because people were saying ‘I’m so glad this is here’ and asking, ‘will you be here tomorrow?’

Building natural friendships

“It’s been nice to be able to come out with the kids and not have to get on a bus. All the activities have been on the doorstep. I’ve been able to speak to people I wouldn’t normally have spoken to and made friends with people who I might only have passed on the way to the shops otherwise. For example one lady I’ve become good friends with is an older mum, whereas I was a younger mum and our children go to different schools. Our paths would never have crossed otherwise.

“It’s happened really naturally. We’re part of a support network now and if we’re struggling we can talk to each other which is so crucial. It’s easy to feel isolated when you don’t speak to anyone, especially when you’re a mum with kids and you’re not out and about constantly.

“It stops loneliness. Friends I’ve made will message me or come round which is nice because I haven’t got many friends round here. Having someone on your doorstep is good.

Hopes for a future Petersham

“There are still issues in Petersham but if there are positive things happening on that field we’d like to think the positiveness will start to outweigh the negatives things.

“Our next plans are to think about activities for Bonfire night and Christmas and I’d love to use the community hall more instead of just on a Monday morning for the community café. A proper café on here rather than just once a week would be great because there’s nothing round here at all.

“None of this would have happened without Zoe. I knew I wanted to do something but I didn’t know who to speak to or how to access things to make it happen.”

Zoe is a Community Builder as part of our Active 4 Life initiative. You can find out more about her role here

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