October 16th, 2015

Another small step

I have another mini success story for you this week. I’ve been talking at length to one of our girls over the last couple of weeks who has faced some situations that have really upset and worried her. We discussed the situations from every possible angle, exploring her perception of how she and others had contributed to them, and eventually, the possible ways that resolution could be found. She was adamant that there were certain routes were just not possible for her, because of embarrassment, fear or stubbornness (all self-confessed)! But as we parted I encouraged her to not write them off and be brave. If I’m honest I thought it was unlikely that she was going to change her mind and expected her to bring the same situations back to me the following session. But on each occasion, the following time I saw her, she approached me wide eyed and with a grin, told me that she’d not only taken the plunge but had seen a really positive outcome. I don’t know whether she was more surprised by what she’d done or that it had worked!

These were big milestones for this young woman. In each scenario she stepped outside of the safety of the long held values and assumptions that she held about herself, how she should conduct herself and how relationships work. I’m so glad that I took the time to properly listen to her, to process with her, and to continue to encourage her as she fiercely rejected my suggestions! I’m reminded of how important it is for the girls to feel understood in their relationships with us, in order to trust and act on our advice. And I have real hope that these experiences will start to change this young women’s view of herself, what she’s capable of and how she can impact the response that she gets from others.


October 7th, 2015

Reflections from the ‘newbie’

Being the ‘newbie’ at Canaan Project has been fun and challenging. Having been in my previous job for 6 years, it has taken some getting used to having to be the new person in the team and the one asking all of the questions! I’ve learnt lots of new things already, including how to play ‘Jungle Speed’ which is a confusing game of colour and shape matching which, as the name say, is a rather fast moving game. The girls have been very patient with me as I have been learning from them the rules and basics of the game. I thought I was doing ok at it and then they declared that we would now play it at ‘normal speed’ which is when I realised how much they had slowed it down to be able to teach me!

Having been told by many of the girls that Tanya had prepared an epic Christmas meal, so the pressure was on to be able to make decent food in the kitchen!! In the past couple of weeks we have had a mixture of successes and mini disasters in the cooking department! We made Peri Peri chicken and sweet potato, which tasted amazing and was great to sit round the table and eat it together, the girls who helped to make it were full of pride for the delicious food they produced. Nando’s better watch out!

On the total flip side, we attempted to make chocolate crispy cakes for a charity coffee morning, which I thought were the simplest cakes out there…but somehow melting the chocolate led to an utter flop! I wondered how the girls would react to the failed chocolate crispy cakes, but they found the whole thing really funny and were pleased in the end that they hadn’t really worked as planned because it meant they could eat the mixture themselves! So we ate the random sludge and laughed about it together. It was a good moment to share with them.

The role of a youth worker is to support, guide and teach the young people we work with, but so many times through the work we do they teach us something more about the world or maybe even ourselves. My short time so far at the Canaan Project has been lots of fun, and I hope I am always up for being taught by the young people we work with – especially the ability to laugh when things don’t go to plan and eat the cake anyway!


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September 18th, 2015

Role Models

This week has been a good week. I achieved two goals, one personal and one professional, that were the result of months of work and persistence. On both occasions I was buzzing with excitement and bursting to tell someone. My mind quickly went to people that knew how important this would be to me and would care. As I searched my phone for their numbers, I celebrated by replaying in my head the steps that had led to these accomplishments, and I realised that the people I was about to call, hadn’t just been bystanders in the journey but had played an integral part in my success. In both situations there were a number of significant people, with greater experience than me who had shared their knowledge, skills and wisdom with me and coached me a long the way. They helped me identify what I was doing well and what I could improve and they inspired me by their own achievements. On numerous occasions it was these peoples’ belief in my ability that led me to persevere when I was ready to give up.

This led me to think about how important role models are for our young women and their success, and the part that we can play in that. I took two young women to meet a journalist friend, Selena, a couple of weeks ago who is passionate about amplifying young women’s voices and seeing them aspire and achieve. Both girls have written short opinion pieces for Selena in the past and we were meeting to develop this relationship further. Selena was so encouraging and enthusiastic about their ability and their ideas and they came away freshly inspired and motivated to write. One of those young women rushed in to club this week excitedly waving a piece of paper which had a big red A* on it. This was her first piece of coursework in a new subject which she’d taken draft after draft of back to her teacher, determined to improve her grade. It was a privilege to celebrate with her and exciting to think that we are playing a small part in her present and her future success. I really look forward to continuing to connect our young women with people that can inspire them, encourage them in their gifts, hone their skills and cheer them on.


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January 23rd, 2015

Feeding the ducks

We often hear stories of difficult incidents or situations that are faced by the girls that we work with or those close to them. We work hard to support these young women by listening, allowing them space to talk about and process their feelings, helping them decide how they want to respond and advocating for them where appropriate. Despite our best efforts however these situations are rarely resolved over night. We have to accept that not all things are within our control and our role is often more one of walking alongside young people in the difficulty rather than heroically saving the day. This is hard when all of our instincts are to want to make things ok for these young women.

It seems to have been one of those weeks with a number of troubling situations coming to light. As we have discussed as a team how best to support these young women, we have reflected in each case on the significance of simply offering them some respite and relief from their difficulty; a consistent, safe and welcoming space where they are shown kindness and respect and can have some fun with friends. One of these young woman who we have worked with for 2 years wrote on a Girls Club feedback form recently, “I have learnt how to be happy”. When I read her comment I thought back over all the fun we’ve had with her; having water fights, learning to swim on a residential, telling embarressing stories and laughing til we’ve cried and most recently feeding the ducks in the park for the first time. Her situation has improved over the time we have worked with her and we have been part bringing that change, but she still faces real challenges. We haven’t “fixed” her situation but I think its experiences like this that have enabled her to find glimpses of happiness in the midst of all she has going on, and that have fuelled her resilience and hope for the journey forward.





December 19th, 2014

Its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

Canaan Project has been getting in the festive spirit this week as we had our last session of the year, our Christmas party! As has now become tradition, Tanya and the team cooked an impressive Christmas dinner and we played some silly games all of which seemed to have the main purpose of making as much mess as possible. The girls had a lovely time, showing off their music knowledge in our intros quiz and some of them tried Christmas dinner for the first time! Elsewhere at Canaan we’ve visited Winterville in Vicky Park for a christmas ice skate, and visited the Christmas market along the Southbank whilst on a meal out to celebrate the end of another successful cooking project. It has been a busy few weeks for us, so we’re looking forward to resting up over the holidays before back to the busyness of 2015.


November 21st, 2014


Last week we helped run a Community Day on the Cranbrook Estate along with several members of the Tenants and Residents Association and Cranbrook Community Garden. There was biscuit decorating, a bouncy castle, a fancy dress competition, face painting and a tree mural which everyone that came was encouraged to contribute to. A group of our girls ran a little cafe with hot drinks and cakes they had made at club which were impressively good!

I really enjoyed watching how they interacted with the people that came, some who they knew well, some they knew of and some they were meeting for the first time. And also the different roles that they took, as they switched between serving others in the cafe and being served through other activities like face painting. One of my highlights was when a couple of the girls instinctively started regulating the smaller children on the bouncy castle so that everyone was able to have a go.

The day reminded me of the importance of community. Despite coming together as a group of individuals as we regularly do in our girls clubs, separate from our unique sets of circumstances, we are each part of networks of people. The girls don’t exist in isolation which is clearly evident as so much of what we talk about when we meet is their interactions with others, good and bad, confusing and exciting, frustrating and inspiring. Community can be an amazing force for good as we share eachothers needs and resources but can also be difficult and even painful as each of us also can’t help but bring our baggage and brokenness with us.

Developing independence is a defining task of adolescence but the ultimate goal for us all must be successful interdependence. So as our young women are learning what makes them distinct from others and uniquely valuable we also want them to learn how to give and receive, to accept and challenge, to compromise and stand firm, to apologise and forgive and all the other skills we use to relate to those around us everyday. Our hope is that they will be able to celebrate and contribute to all that is good in their communities starting now!


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November 7th, 2014

Half Term Highlights

Half term holidays always mean trips for us and last week was no exception. We have a whole new cohort of Year 7’s in our Year 7 Lunch Club who we are loving getting to know and a mass pilgrimage to the ice skating rink always works wonders for this process so two minibuses of us descended on Lee Valley Ice Centre last Wednesday.

After much deliberation our Cranbrook Girls Club decided they wanted to try horse riding so a group of us went and explored Walthamstow Marshes on horse back. We had a beautifully sunny day and a large number of the girls had their first experience of riding and loved it.

And lastly we took our Year 8-9 Lunch Club to an outdoor pursuits centre in Essex where we learnt to shoot arrows like Robin Hood and scale ropes like Tarzan!

Its been great being back in school this week, hearing the girls reminiscing with each other, seeing new friendships formed, glimmers of confidence found and feeling that extra bond with them that comes from shared experience.



September 12th, 2014

Summer Fun

Its been a busy summer here at the Canaan Project and lots of happy memories have been made. Each week we had an afternoon at the centre doing a variety of arts and crafts, games, sports and baking, and an afternoon of ‘shop, cook, eat’ where the young women got to choose a recipe, buy the ingredients, and cook a meal, before sitting down and eating together. We also ran a trip each week to some outdoor spaces including Epping Forest and the Olympic Park, and were able to enjoy the lovely sunny weather whilst appreciating all that London has to offer. And to top it off, we’ve found time to squeeze in some kayaking, canoeing and archery at Mile Ends Urban Adventure Base.

It has been super busy, but also an amazing time of trying new things, learning new skills and enjoying getting to know each other better! We believe these experiences are really valuable to the young women we work with. It is fantastic to see them engaging in activities where they are learning more about themselves and are having to push themselves and work as part of team. There have been many highlights of this summer for me, from the girls catching a frog in Epping Forest, to one young women conquering her fear of water and discovering she loves kayaking! As always, a privilege to have shared with the girls these moments of wonder and discovery, of themselves and the world around them.


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June 20th, 2014

Woodland Adventures

Its been a couple of weeks since we returned from our Cranbrook Girls Club residential and though the tiredness, bites and bruises have faded, the impact the trip had on the group is still very much alive.

After making ourselves at home in our woodland lodge, we soon found ourselves scrambling over walls and under nets on the forest floor, surrendering our neat city clothes and composures to the elements! I absolutely loved watching the girls lose their inhibitions and make friends with the mud, a rare opportunity to not worry about what they looked like.

Over the 3 days we did high ropes, swimming, archery and canoeing on a local lake and it was really exciting to watch as the each girl pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones, trying activities that they were previously terrified of and discovering courage, strength and skills they didn’t know they had. Some of the comments on their evaluation forms at the end of the trip were, “I learnt to try things”, “I’m really proud of myself” and “Best experience ever.”

Trips away from home are such formative experiences for young people, creating stories of fun, fear and friendship that get told for years to come. We also believe they give young people experiences that broaden their horizons and develop capacity in a really unique way. For some of our girls this was their first experience of being away from home or seeing a forest, or trying a certain activity and as always we feel enormously privileged to have been able to provide that for them. We look forward to building on these experiences and all that they’ve taught our girls as we continue our walk with them to discover all they can be.


May 23rd, 2014

Overcoming Barriers

This time next week we will be in the Kent countryside with 10 of our girls, preparing for the journey home after 3 days of navigating rope courses in the tree tops and roasting marshmallows over camp fires, exhausted but hopefully happy!

We absolutely love taking young people out of London, to explore new places and try new things and preferably get a bit muddy in the process! But we have been reminded over the last few weeks of how many barriers there are for some young people to taking part in activities that are outside of their normal experience. After the girls initial excitement when we announced the residential, almost all of them have wrestled with major concerns, either of their own or others, about attending the 3 day trip.

There have been concerns about friendships and bullying, body image and clothing, ghosts, heights, drowning, families concerned about being separated from their daughters and some daughters concerned about leaving their parents. It is, of course, completely valid for our girls and their families to have these concerns, some of them very deeply held, but we also believe that there is great value in overcoming them and we have worked hard to listen and understand and to work with the girls and their families to find solutions where possible.

Often creating opportunities for young people is only half of the work. Working with them and sometimes their friends and families to enable them to reach a point where they feel able to take up opportunities can be a much more complex task, requiring lots of sensitivity, insight and adaptability.