How Arsenal in the Community’s Kicks sessions inspired local youngster Shawdon Smith to help fire the ambition of young people on the Elthorne Park estate
Shawdon’s first contact with Arsenal came when he was eight years old and he attended the Double Club for support with his ICT skills. Soon he was hanging out in Elthorne Park – before Arsenal helped to renovate the pitch. “At that time it was just two metal goals and concrete and dust. It wasn’t really a place where young people would go and play football,” he says.
“So all we did was go out into the street or hang about the park. I did find myself for a while getting involved with people who would be looked at negatively. Kicks, though, was a major thing once it started because we had something to do, and Arsenal were always pushing us to better ourselves as individuals.”
Although Shawdon wouldn’t describe himself as a good footballer, he spend enough time at the Kicks sessions to see how much they helped the community. When he finished his degree at university, his first thought was to return to Elthorne Park and see what he could do to help raise the aspirations of the young people who were now attending the Kicks sessions.
He wanted to enrol young people on courses to improve their employment prospects and play a constructive role in their own communities. As a result he set up a company called Ambitious Academy and set about getting support from local businesses.
“At first we made up food hampers through donations from local shops and handed them out to people who we thought needed them, including a lot of elderly people.” Once the staff at Arsenal were convinced that the Ambitious Academy was a viable idea, they supported Shawdon to attend courses, gain skills and become a community activist.
The Ambitious Academy started running a local youth project every Tuesday, working with up to 30 young people to improve their English and Maths. That was followed by projects to help youngsters develop photography, film and dancing skills, and eventually branched out into film as well.
Shawdon believes that starting with skills young people want to learn and think are important will help make the transition into studying for qualifications in these subjects much easier.
“We want to be able to offer qualifications in each subject area and when the young people achieve these we will help them with their CVs and their interview skills. Finally the Ambitious Academy will connect these young people with apprenticeships and support them into the world of work.
“If the young people from Elthorne don’t want to go to college or university we can hopefully help them into an apprenticeship, where they can make some legitimate money, and see what they can achieve through their own efforts. We’re trying to just spark that little bit of ambition and say, ‘You know what, this can be done’. How willing are you to chase that goal?
“I believe there’s a lot more potential for things to come out of the area. I believe that there’s a lot of ambition within the young people here. They are part of a generation of young entrepreneurs. They don’t just look at things as a straightforward nine to five. We have seen a footballer that’s come out of our estate. We have got musicians and artists who have come out of our estate. We’ve got painters and actors that come out of our estate. Our young people say that’s someone that’s just like me. He’s come from an area just like me, we can make it that way.”
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