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Pandemic heroics are put in the spotlight

A dozen Covid pandemic heroes are on display in King’s Cross. Dan Carrier talks to some of them, along with the photographer

10 December, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Abdikadir Ahmed, one of Camden’s 12 heroes on display in King’s Cross. Image: John Sturrock and Argent LLP

WHEN schools closed in the spring and pupils were told they had to work from home, hundreds of students turned to completing studies using just their mobile phones.

The chronic divide between those who had access to a computer and a quiet space to work and those whose home situation was less conducive to learning was laid clear.

It became very real to youth worker Abdikadir Ahmed.

He works for the Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC): based in King’s Cross, the group saw how lockdown hit many who were unable to access technology.

Abdikadir knew he had to do something to help – so he used his own organisation’s equipment and lent it out, and then found money to provide 45 laptops to students in real need.

Abdikadir’s tireless work has now been honoured in a new photo exhibition in King’s Cross. Called The 12 Heroes of Camden, his image joins other people who have risen to the challenge of supporting others during the pandemic.

“We saw there was a massive digital divide within the area,” he says. “We found out young people were doing homework on their phones. It’s quite harrowing to hear that, and we thought as an organisation we’ve got to mobilise.”

And as he and his colleagues investigated further, they discovered that many young people were falling behind due to online lessons offering extra challenges for accessibility and support.

“We hired maths and English tutors to help them,” he recalls.

His photograph was taken by King’s Cross-based photographer and music events organiser Aaron Hettey.

Aaron, 26, has long taken stunning shots of live music events he is involved in – and that led to him being commissioned to take the dozen portraits, which are on display in the redeveloped King’s Cross area, including Granary Square and Coal Drops.

“There were some really amazing people doing things across the borough,” he says. “I went round person to person and asked them to tell me their stories and their experiences. I wanted to hear them express themselves – and then take their portrait as they did so. I wanted to capture how they felt as they spoke of what has happened. You can always tell someone to smile at the camera – but by telling their own story, the emotion of the year comes through. That way, I got a reaction that could really be captured.”

Supported by charity body Camden Giving, other people featured include Kentish Town Community Centre manager Sarah Hoyle. She established a “Happiness Hamper Project” which delivers boxes of treats, and plans to hand over 300 this Christmas.

Albert McEyeson, founder of Action Youth Boxing Intervention (AYBI), has spent lockdown combining boxing sessions with cognitive behavioural therapy. Over the past nine months, he saw how his sessions were desperately needed so set them up online. He said: “During Covid, we’ve been supporting people with mental health issues who are struggling, giving them a safe space.”

The heroes were all chosen by the Camden Giving. Primarily supported by donation from Camden’s businesses, they award grants to community groups and charities – and have seen demand rocket this year.

“There was a lot of panic nine months ago from all sorts of directions,” says Camden Giving’s chief executive Natasha Friend.

“There were individuals who did not know how they would get the support they needed. There were grass roots community groups at the heart of the solutions – but they had to work out how they could stay safe, stay operating and fundraise too.

“Then there was a sense of panic among people who wanted to do more for their community but did not know how to go about it.”

Camden Giving has funded 75 projects in the past year, but have only helped one in three applications because of a lack of resources.

“We have been able to work with brave community organisers and they have carried a burden on their shoulders,” Natasha added.

“And we cannot take our foot off the pedal. The inequalities we have seen this year are not just the result of Covid – it has just highlighted the desperate need many face.”

And the impact Covid has had has not been random – it has hit people who have already been facing difficulties, she adds.

“We have to ask ourselves: how have we allowed our community in Camden to become so unequal?” she said.

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