Justin Fenton in Lambeth: Keeping children out of the gangs' clutches

Just off Coldharbour Lane in south London's Lambeth neighborhood, a group of men stand around at the mouth of an alley, close to a 10-foot-high steel gate being manned by three people.

In other parts of this neighborhood, these images might be ominous. But above the gate are letters spelling out "Love". The walls are painted with images of peacocks and trees, an explosion of warm colors that assure the children streaming into the Kids Company support centre that this is a safe haven. Inside, children are eating hot meals, sculpting clay figures and playing games together. Adults read to them, or teach computer skills.

"For a lot of our kids, this is their last resort," said Derrick "Anthony" Mitchell, the duty manager at Kids Company who said he once ran with a gang.

The centre was started 11 years ago by Camila Batmanghelidjh, a psychotherapist who mortgaged her own home to start the organization. An overwhelming percentage of the kids who visit have come on their own, hearing about the program through word of mouth. Many of them have trouble getting a meal at home, or may not even have a home, and have been exposed to or involved with gang violence.

Mitchell said the challenges are nothing new to London's impoverished neighborhoods. He sold drugs, and lost a family member to violence at age 19 when his sister bled to death after being stabbed in the leg. He says the problems are only recently emerging.

But Zievrina Wilson, the centre manager for Kids Company, said she's seen a shift in the recent years. On 5 November, she said she was riding on a bus when a bullet crashed through the window, narrowly missing her head. At the centre, newspaper clippings of three teens who lost their lives to violence are posted in a dimly-lit alcove.

"They go to schools in failing areas, there's not any aspirations, and the teachers don't care," Wilson said. "No one fights anymore. Kids are shooting each other over post codes because they have nothing else to aspire to. It's a mask, so no one can hurt them again."

Wilson said Kids Company is about "empowering young people, by any means necessary". On one corner of the building, volunteer Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, is watching kids fiddle on computers. In the next room, a 9-year-old girl has made a whimsical half-human, half-animal creature out of clay. "Lots of people tell me I'm good," the girl says of her art. And in the back, 17-year-old Kayann Lewis is singing and strumming a guitar inside a music studio.

What appears to be a thriving after-school centre is much more, said David Gustave, an educational motivator. Kids are screened at the outset, and are offered therapy and counseling. Some need guidance to find housing or work their way back into school, all of which the group can assist with.

"Young people carry a lot of stuff – they're victims, really," Gustave said. "Through loving and stable relationships, they can gain empathy and trust. The kind of things we take for granted."

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone