This week I spoke with Akeel Mitchell, owner of Funny Feet Holiday Club and After School Club who shares his experience of working with the young people of today. Funny Feet is a Child centred club. In other words the children take the lead and request games and activities they would like to do in a day.
Funny Feet was set up in Edmonton around 12 years ago. Originally set up as a partnership, it was an idea developed to give back to the community. Akeel Mitchell, had a wealth of experience from working in after school projects before and found it the perfect opportunity to give something to the children of the area in which he works so that children in the local area can experience free play, companionship and independence which promotes self-esteem and motivation.
Akeel described his personal childhood experience as “originating from the Caribbean and coming to the United Kingdom at 6 years old, I was just your typical boy from the flats and an excellent athlete. I had a strict grandmother which meant that I wasn’t really allowed to play out with other local children. However, I was brought up with strong morals and I had to go to church which has made me the person I am today. As I grew up I was taught not only to respect others but also to respect myself as a person. I find that that’s can be lacking now days in the youth and youngsters.
When I was younger there were gangs but not anything like the gangs of today. There wasn’t much opportunity for the young people at the time as there was only one youth centre in the whole of my area.”
Offering a comparison of things back when she was growing up to now, Mo Valentine explains “you had gangs, but not like the gangs you have in today’s culture, it’s all very different for the young people now. It was just boys on the corner of the street, you basically just hung with the boys but now the culture out there is different. It’s all for a different purpose now. So, we’re very mindful of that here. For myself, I work within the Galliard school and I joined 10 years ago now as a play leader and worked my way up as a manager and fully support Akeel.”
Rather than ignore the issues around the area, Funny Feet use their experiences from their school environment and training and taken part in gang awareness workshops run by local Gang Awareness Officers that visit the school. This knowledge has been invaluable. They then use this to reinforce this when speaking to the older children and also support, share tips on how the children can support themselves should they come face to face with a difficult situation. Mo said “When something happens outside, you see an accident, you’re not prepared, and you go into shock. Through our school training we can offer the older children and their families help and support in dealing with the current issues. Hopefully, they may not ever need to use this.”
Unfortunately, the afterschool club is only open to Galliard children. However, the holiday club is open to any child from any country. Funny Feet have welcomed children from the USA, Spain, and the Caribbean and from many local boroughs. They accept children from their fourth birthday. The upper age range has recently changed due to local issues. “We pride ourselves on building a good relationship with our families. So how can we say that at 12 years old, your child is too old to attend? These are the more dangerous years on the street! We’re very mindful of the culture out there, that 12 and 13 year olds are very open as to what is going on out there. Which then makes them easy pickings during summer holidays, and this puts these children at risk. Children out, with nowhere to go, nothing to do, are very vulnerable and this could lead to our children becoming involved with local gangs. For this reason we decided to uncap the age restrictions at 12 and invite our older children to attend. In agreement with their family, we have given them the title ‘Junior Helper’ and they offer help around the setting over the course of the day. This could be something like supporting younger children, which we encourage. This has proved very popular with families. It only made sense for us to come to a solution to where we work alongside the parents that we invite the older children, some as old as 15 to work as Junior Helpers. This then offers those children valuable experience and a purpose; they can then place this on their CV at a later stage. We hope that by doing this we continue to offer our children a very safe environment.”
The wonderful thing about Funny Feet is that it is not strictly academic environment but instead it is very play orientated where the children are able to lead the agenda for the day. Both Akeel and Mo explained, “School is one thing but we’re not all academics. Some of those children are artists, sportsmen/women and Funny Feet gives each child that opportunity to unlock those abilities. For example, we would have children who could be the next cooks of the world. So we offer all those children the chance to learn how to cook. We have cooking lessons and cook-offs. It isn’t just about the cooking though, it’s more that this more than this. We discuss the foods we are using and what we eat. The whole picture.”
The purpose of Funny Feet is to offer that positive experiences in a world that at resent can be confusing and scary while offering the children important life skills. It helps open children’s perspectives on gender roles as Akeel explained “just the other day, I was washing up and one of the little boys asked me why I was doing something that he believed only women could do. I told the boy that it’s not only women who should do housework but also men as well, we all share the same responsibilities. For me, its important to share information like that and to break down those barriers.”
Today, we understand that our families face daily struggles. Some of these struggles are not straight forward. Juggling jobs, shift patterns, illness or travel disruptions. “We have witnessed the stresses families face and the changes in them, there are so many pressures that these families are under and our purpose is to help those families but taking the safety and security of the children out of that equation”.
From speaking with both Akeel and Mo, it was clear to see that they absolutely enjoy every aspect of their jobs and the work they do within the local community. It was very clear to see that to them, the children are the central point of Funny Feet and whatever they do, they never loose focus of that and will always ensure that with any decisions made, it will always benefit the child. For those eight hours a day during the summer holidays, they act as your child’s parent and someone that your child can look up to.
Should you wish to find out more information about Funny Feet you can call them on 07521 162 527 or visit their website www.funny-feet.co.uk