It has been one of the highlights of the past month to be involved in Girls’ Group in the CHIPS office, run each Monday night in place of the XLP bus. The idea for the group sprung organically from the relationships built with this group of girls through both volunteering on the XLP bus and seeing them at Community Meal most Tuesday evenings. It felt like a natural extension of closer relationships formed in these relaxed community spaces for encounter, conversation and sharing about our days and weeks, what is going on at school and the challenges and fun of growing up between the ages of eight and twelve.

The group has been a chance to put the learning of the recent The Integrate Movement (TIM) training to create a genuinely co-productive space based on mutual relationship and learning; a place where we can support each other to speak openly about challenges and foster an attitude of improved self-esteem and affirmation of diverse gifts and abilities.

The ideas for each week have been selected by the girls, with us supplying the needed ingredients, for example for making slime, or putty, with lots of mixing and mess ensuing, stress balls, involving filling balloons with slime, flour and chickpeas alternatively- it was agreed that flour made the most effective stress ball- and baking mug cakes. A favourite is ‘Stop the Bus’, involving being the first to get word for each category starting with a set letter- for example food, country, name beginning with B, before you shout ‘Stop the Bus.’ This has led to many hilarious examples of foods and colours, and lots of surprises! The highlight has been a trip to Brixton Rec for swimming, using floats and water noodles to practice swimming, racing generally having a lot of fun splashing in the pool.

My opinion of youth work in the past has been very much based on the idea of ‘running a session’ for young people; my experience of this work with CHIPs has shown how a new way of youth work is possible- one where learning is collaborative, there is not a ‘leader’ and a young person, but rather a place for mutual mentorship and growth. I believe over more time it can become a space of empowerment and problem-solving together, and a space where everyone feels more and more comfortable to share aspirations and vulnerabilities, and discuss the bigger challenges of becoming a teenager, and of growing up on Angell Town. Over the month, more girls have also heard through word of mouth about the evening, meaning we have had the privilege of building new relationships and connecting with a wider peer group.

On an estate where the majority of public space is used by men and boys, be that on the football pitch, playing basketball, cycling, or sitting on the benches outside, it has felt particularly important that this is a new space for girls to be, to take ownership of, to plan and to talk in a different way to mixed spaces. We are hoping to continue Girls’ Group in some way after the summer, possibly with further trips off the estate and other evenings similar swimming. Overall, this feels like a really hopeful step in building sustainable and meaningful relationships with the girls, and has laid a strong foundation for radical community over the next period of Autumn and beyond.

By Angharad Thain

Brixton Team Volunteer