My Buxton Journey So Far: Building Relationships in Marksgate

Community Organising, The Centre for Theology & Community, Urban Leadership School l

Jonathan Akindutire is one of this year’s participants in the Buxton Leadership Programme – which combines a Westminster placement, a church- based community organising placement and training and development sessions. Having started in September 2021 he reflects on the journey so far…

I joined On the Rock International Ministries Church at the beginning of September as a Buxton Intern; thriving and eager for the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding of the community of Marksgate, post-Covid. I had recently graduated from university, eager to learn and work in communities – with young people, and to learn about how parliament works. This blog is a set of reflections on the five months I have spent in Marksgate so far.

When I arrived in Marksgate in September 2021, I was not only joining a new church; I was in truth joining a new community. Marksgate is a small and tight knit community within the borough of Barking and Dagenham. Everyone knows everyone, so if you visit Marksgate regularly for a week, you will see the same faces, give the same smiles, and have the same bus driver patient enough to wait for a young man such as myself running from the community centre to catch the bus. A small and tight-knit community can, however, at times be on the back end of neglect from the wider borough. Neglect could mean less allocation of resources or unhelpful perceptions of a deprived community.

However, what I’ve learnt from my Buxton journey so far is that what often lies at the root of the challenges facing many communities is a lack of interaction with one another which in turn breeds isolation. In addition to this was also the reality of a pandemic where we were told to stay at home and not to meet up with our neighbours. Building relationships within Marksgate, has been about connecting people together, and creating spaces for residents from different backgrounds, ages, and cultures to come together.

On The Rock Church Ministries had been doing this for the last five years through annual community fun days, ladies tea and cake forums, football outreach and bible fellowship; to build strong relationships with residents. Right before the pandemic, the church done a listening campaign, which involved members of the church knocking door to door in order to grasp a deeper understanding of the issues within the area and how we could help. We found concerns around safety and the mental health of children within Marksgate expressed by parents.

We also found a huge interest and willingness from the young people in the area to participate in performing arts to express themselves. On the back of this listening campaign, we decided to organise a music festival during the Half-term for kids in the area to come and participate in dance, drumming and DJ workshops. The dance workshop involved the kids doing body expressions under different styles of music and choreography. The kids really enjoyed the dance workshop, and we witnessed kids coming out their comfort zone to perform different styles of dance moves.

The drum workshop allowed the kids to learn the art of African drumming and percussions through talks and practice sessions on hand techniques and rhythms, and we had a professional DJ come through also to teach the kids how to mix around with their favourite songs. Throughout the day we just saw smiles on each kids face as they had fun learning new skills whilst being giving full permission to be silly and goofy. The Marksgate music festival was the first of its kind, and brought out kids all around the area. As a result of the success of the music festival, we are now working to make it a regular half-term activity for kids in the area of Marksgate.

Here is a video documenting the day:

Coming out of university I wanted to assist with rebuilding communities having young people as the focal point of our efforts. This ambition and drive were also shared with many residents and local organisations in the community who shared a common concern for the safety of the young people, and a desire to address these concerns.

With Marksgate being a small community compared to other areas in the wider borough, it does at times give less space to our young people, and less resources to organisations working to support them. For the reasons of safeguarding, it is not always accommodating for the young people of Marksgate to travel to other parts of the borough as means for social activities. Nonetheless, we cannot prevent our young people from social interaction through activities as this can result in antisocial behaviour.

I reached out to Margaret Mullane who is the cabinet member for enforcement and community safety in Barking and Dagenham to address the concerns of the residents and local organisations in Marksgate. Margaret was aware of the same issues I raised and arranged a meeting for myself alongside representatives of the church to meet with her and the local ward councillors to discuss how we can address our challenges.

From the meeting an action day was approved, and on Tuesday 2nd November, Margaret Mullane alongside Chadwell heath Ward councillors and the police came down to Marksgate to visit the spots that had been highlighted as unsafe within the area and to also reassure residents of their commitment to support and help.

The senior leadership of On The Rock Ministries; Reverend Cecilia and Revered Uniece accompanied the councillors and brought light to the discussion of the challenges and work the church has faced and also the allocation of resources needed to ensure the safety of Marksgate residents. This has worked to strengthen our relationships with our representatives and also has produced a commitment by our representatives to meet with other local leaders and organisations working with young people in Marksgate to learn from them and also to assist their work.

More results from the action day led us to the conclusion that we must continue to create safe spaces for young people to come together and engage. This could look like plain-clothed police officers running activities and workshops with young people to build their relationship. It could also look like older men in the area working alongside young teenagers to teach and mentor them in various capacities. Young people are the future and strength of our communities; they require our constant attention and support. I am now in the process of identifying and developing a team of local leaders to take action on these issues, and we will be having a follow-up meeting with Margaret Mullane very soon.

A large part of my role is about developing and encouraging residents to take ownership of their area and get involved in shaping its future. A lot of residents I have spoken with have been encouraged to start and develop new projects such as sports clubs and food businesses. Members of the community have voluntarily used their time to assist with after school clubs for kids; to prepare meals for community thanksgiving dinner parties as a means to build community. Marksgate is a special community to which I have become a part of.  It’s only been a couple months, but I’ve witnessed and participated in the development of leaders and local organisations who are working to tackle the underlying issues within the area, and I can’t wait to see what emerges in the year that’s to come.  Next month I will begin working part time in Stephen Timms’ MP’s office, and I am excited to see how this work will complement my work in Marksgate, and enable me to develop my understanding of the relationship between faith and politics in the UK.

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