It’s the child’s bed that does it for me. A pink bed, with a white sculpture of a child on top of it. Above, a mobile, coat hangers of men’s shoes. They represent, we’re told, the young artist’s abusers. This was the pretty bedroom she longed for, and this is where her childhood was destroyed. It is a devastating work of art.
Yesterday I joined a group of bloggers at the HQ of Kids Company in Southwark to meet the charity’s founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh, and hear about the work they do there. We’d been invited by the lovely Cherry Healey, who has been working with Kids Company for a while.
After a tour of the building, past bags of food which will be given to families who have nothing to eat, past the devastating works of art, we’re shown into a warm, colourful room where Camila, resplendent in fuchsia, turban and diamante earrings, sits surrounded by cushions and art: she has a very calming presence, and it’s easy to understand why the kids trust her, and why political leaders listen to her. As she tells us about the children Kids Company helps, the incredible work the charity does, I find my eyes filling with tears for the third time during my visit. She is utterly fascinating and inspiring. What Camila has done over the past 18 years is bring light into the worlds of children who were facing a lifetime of dark. They go from facing a bleak future, to hope.
The world she describes isn’t totally alien to me: I grew up in South London, and went to a comp where I knew kids affected by violence and terrible home situations; I knew kids who were shot and stabbed, and others who ended up in prison, and my mum was a child care social worker in Southwark for many years. But that was over 20 years ago. Today, with the increasing problem of gang culture, drugs, the impact of Government cuts and so many children going cold and hungry, the situation faced by the kids that Kids Company helps (and they really do transform the lives of these children) is desperate. Kids Company – they have three properties in London – offer kids with nothing a safe place to go: a hot meal (eaten as a ‘family’), somewhere to hang out, to sleep, guidance, support, care and love. Today their services reach 36,000 and they intensively support 18,000 children across London, including the most deprived and at risk because their families are unable to support them; they help the kids that social services simply don’t have the resources to support. Kids whose home lives are a relentless cycle of violence and deprivation.
That’s why I’m joining forces with Cherry and a group of bloggers to help raise awareness for an important campaign Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Company are launching, supported by celebrities including Russell Brand and Chris Martin. I’ll be able to tell you more about it soon, but meanwhile, I’m sitting here, completely humbled.