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Islington civic awards 2019: Meet the best of the borough's community heroes

PUBLISHED: 13:53 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:12 14 March 2019

(Top) Shauna Maragh, Sadia Ali, Irene Francis, Jane Garfield; (bottom) Dot Gibson, Stephen Griffith, Mick Havens, Jessica Plummer. Pictures: Joshua Thurston/Cllr Rakhia Ismail/Polly Hancock/Emily Webber/Guinness Trust

(Top) Shauna Maragh, Sadia Ali, Irene Francis, Jane Garfield; (bottom) Dot Gibson, Stephen Griffith, Mick Havens, Jessica Plummer. Pictures: Joshua Thurston/Cllr Rakhia Ismail/Polly Hancock/Emily Webber/Guinness Trust

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Eight inspirational Islington residents will be honoured in tonight's civic awards at the assembly hall in Upper Street.

Ben Kinsella's parents George and Debbie, Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel, then-mayor Cllr Una O'Halloran and council leader Cllr Richard Watts with winners at last year's event. Picture: Em FitzgeraldBen Kinsella's parents George and Debbie, Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel, then-mayor Cllr Una O'Halloran and council leader Cllr Richard Watts with winners at last year's event. Picture: Em Fitzgerald

Winners of the civic awards include people tackling knife crime, homelessness, alcoholism and drug abuse – but also those setting up badminton and bingo classes to take on the scourge of loneliness and isolation.

The annual event is an opportunity for the borough to celebrate outstanding community contributions from those whose vital work often goes unseen.

Islington mayor Cllr Dave Poyser, who will hand out the awards, said: “Islington has a wonderful tradition of volunteers – I wish we could give awards to all of them.

“The youth are our future and let’s hope these winners continue to contribute to what they have already started in Islington.

“It’s wonderful that in our diverse and multicultural borough we all work together so well as a community.”

In addition to the mayor, this year’s crop of community heroes was chosen by Deputy Lieutenant Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes and Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel.

Cllr Dave Poyser, Islington's mayor for 2018/19. Picture: Em Fitzgerald/Islington CouncilCllr Dave Poyser, Islington's mayor for 2018/19. Picture: Em Fitzgerald/Islington Council

As always, the Gazette is proud to sponsor the 2019 awards.

“Reading about the wonderful, selfless people in our borough and the remarkable work they do quietly behind the scenes is a real tonic,” said Ramzy.

“Everyone who was nominated has made a difference – they have saved and transformed lives, put smiles on faces, given their neighbours a voice.

“They are Islington’s superheroes, and they prove there is such a thing as good news.”

Last year’s winners included a fierce champion of green space, a long-serving leisure centre volunteer and a selfless community worker.

Shauna Maragh with Sasa Onyango from Solace Women's Aid. Picture: Joshua ThurstonShauna Maragh with Sasa Onyango from Solace Women's Aid. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Ben Kinsella award: Shauna Maragh

Shauna Maragh is part of a new generation of clued-up youngsters learning about violence against women and girls – and how to put a stop to it.

The 15-year-old, who will be handed the Ben Kinsella Award at a ceremony tonight, has been volunteering with Islington charity Solace Women’s Aid for two and a half years.

Sasa Onyango, the team leader who nominated her, is proud as punch.

“We see the sparks in young people, in girls, who want to create change for themselves,” she said. “Young people have a huge understanding of equality and stereotypes and they definitely want to do something about it.”

It’s thanks to people like Shauna that times are changing. She discovered Solace when the charity gave a special assembly at the Arts and Media School Islington – the secondary comp in Finsbury Park where she’s now in Year 11.

Ben Kinsella.Ben Kinsella.

“It was the first time I had heard about violence against women,” she said. “It was new to me. I wanted to do something.”

Since then, Sasa reckons Shauna has never missed a single fortnightly meeting of Hear2Change. A group for 11- to 25-year-olds in Islington and Haringey, Solace set it up to get more young people’s perspectives on inequality and violence. Shauna was one of its first members, and is now on the steering group.

More recently, she has helped organise two youth conferences in Islington. Attended by kids, parents and professionals, the most recent was about gender stereotypes and how they restrict young people.

“I’m proud of all the people I’ve helped be more aware of what’s going on,” said Shauna. “A lot of young people – girls and boys – know about it.”

She added: “It’s helped my confidence. I was really shy before.”

The Ben Kinsella Award is named after the 16-year-old stabbed to death in Holloway in 2008. His parents Debbie and George, now fervent anti-knife campaigners, judge and present it each year alongside the Mayor’s Civic Awards.

The award recognises a young person who is a role model to their peers and has a bright future – just like Ben should have had.

Asked if she sees herself that way, Shauna said: “I feel like a bit of a leader – I’ve helped a lot of young people.”

When she finishes her education, Shauna hopes to work in events production and management.

Sadia Ali. Picture: Cllr Rakhia IsmailSadia Ali. Picture: Cllr Rakhia Ismail

Sadia Ali

Sadia Ali, 50, is the eyes and ears of Islington.

She works across a wide range of community projects – from tackling knife crime to fostering religious engagement to addressing educational inequality.

In 2010, Sadia started the charity Minority Matters on the Andover Estate. It provides educational support to BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It’s great to be recognised for the contribution I’m making,” said Sadia of the award.

“Islington is really important to me. I’ve lived in the borough for over 30 years now and I’m proud to be an active member of the community.”

Stretched across multiple Islington programmes, Sadia won’t often finish work until midnight.

She has helped deliver a Muslim engagement project for three years, staged talks for youngsters from the Andover and Harvist Estates about the danger of drugs, found estranged family members involved in drug trafficking, and over the Christmas holidays set up a phone bank to support mothers whose children are missing.

Irene FrancisIrene Francis

Irene Francis

A 91-year-old woman and “true Islingtonian” who has been active in her Finsbury community for decades has today scooped a Mayor’s Civic Award.

The nonagenerian has lived in St Luke’s estate since 1980 and became heavily involved in her Tenant and Residents Association (TRA) when she retried from her job in admin at BT in 1985.

She’s also sat on countless panels, supporting ward councillors with issues such as housing, crime and antisocial behaviour in the community.

“I always try to be active and stick my oar in to whatever’s going on,” she told the Gazette.

“I like to see fair play so I keep an eye on council affairs, so I’m a watchdog for everyone else making things are fair and square. I love living in the heart of Old Street and wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Cllr Troy Gallagher (Lab, Bunhill), who has known Irene for 17 years and nominated her for the award, said she’s “one in a million” and he’s delighted she’s among this year’s winners.

He told the Gazette: “She’s always been absolutely exemplary force in her community activism and she’s one of the few remaining people of the old Finsbury who really stands up and fights for the lives of local people. She’s 91 but shows no signs of slowing down and she really is an inspiration for future generations.”

Jane Garfield at The Toy Project. Picture: Emily WebberJane Garfield at The Toy Project. Picture: Emily Webber

Jane Garfield

Jane Garfield founded The Toy Project five years ago, an award-winning charity in Archway that recycles toys and gives them to children from low income families.

The toys are also given to refugee families, prisons, hospital wards, care homes, therapy centres and children struggling with bereavement.

Under Jane’s guidance, the charity has grown to deliver the Grandparents Project, which enables pensioners struggling financially to give their grandchildren a Christmas present.

Further to Jane’s community work in Islington, the charity has also reached out internationally – The Toy Project has opened a library in Grenada, sending toys and books to eight schools there following a two-year campaign.

Jane is also a member of the Archway Town Centre Group and runs a stall at Archway Market.

Due to the great success of The Toy Project, Jane is now moving it to a larger site to extend its work in Islington and beyond.

Dot GibsonDot Gibson

Dot Gibson

Dot Gibson’s passion for social justice began in 1945 when she witnessed the general election and soldiers coming back from the front.

Ms Gibson, who is in her 80s, has been tirelessly standing up for social justice ever since.

She fights for pensioners’ rights at the Islington Pensioners’ Forum, where she has been secretary for five years, and as the deputy general secretary for the National Pensioners’ Convention.

She also organises a weekly lunch, IT classes, an “end of winter blues” event in February and garden parties at her home in Highbury Terrace in the spring and summer.

She is eager to involve anyone who wants to help and no job is too big or small.

“The person at the meeting making a cup of tea is just as important as the person chairing the meeting,” she said.

She also gets people involved if they have mobility issues, explaining: “Everybody can do something, even if it’s sitting at home knitting and putting it together for our sale.”

Ms Gibson wants to bridge the gap between young and old and said pensioners stood “shoulder to shoulder with the students who protested climate change last month”.

Stephen Griffith holding award from The Guinness PartnershipStephen Griffith holding award from The Guinness Partnership

Stephen Griffith

An “exceptional” youth worker who’s dedicated his carer to helping disadvantaged and at risk young people in Cally has today been honoured with a Mayor’s Civic award.

Stephen Griffith, 54, is project director at the Copenhagen Youth Project charity, which hosts a youth club with mentors and runs a range of weekly workshops in everything from music to cooking, yoga and business.

Stephen has created a nurturing and youth-led sanctuary at the Copenhagen Street centre, where he steers people away from crime and antisocial behaviour through education and upskilling and advising them to make the right choices.

“I felt really privileged to be recognised for what I have been doing for a number of years,” he told the Gazette. “And it’s nice that what we have been doing has been positively recognised.

“You get into this profession to a good job, there are always doubts about little pieces of work that you do, but we’re just trying to make a difference in the area.”

Going forward, Stephen says youth projects like his need to take a holistic approach by focusing on health and wellbeing.

Mick Havens, Eagle Recovery Project. Picture: Polly HancockMick Havens, Eagle Recovery Project. Picture: Polly Hancock

Mick Havens

Having found himself homeless and struggling with alcoholism in 2006, Mick Havens is rightly proud of his transformation.

Now a pivotal community figure as chair of the Eagle Recovery Project, which supports people with alcohol and drug problems, Mick, 58, knows first-hand how to turn things around.

He credits the group of Islington residents – which he has taken from a class of six having cups of tea to an established community club delivering badminton, yoga, bingo, quizzes and mental health sessions – as his proudest achievement.

Born and bred in the borough, Mick is proud of his roots.

“Everything I love about London is in Islington,” said Mick, a big Arsenal fan.

“I love the borough’s people, its history and the diversity – there’s always different people to meet, always something to learn.

“I want to give back to the community.”

Family is important to Mick too – he lives with his mum in Highbury New Park, making sure he’s around for the day-to-day chores.

Jessica Plumber with two police officers. Picture: Jessica PlumberJessica Plumber with two police officers. Picture: Jessica Plumber

Jessica Plummer

Jessica Plummer is struggling to cope with the loss of her son Shaquan, a victim of knife crime, but she channels her energy by working with police to engage with young people.

She’s set up an anti-knife foundation in his name, through which she has spoken to 8,000 kids about dealing with the loss of Shaquan. The 17-year-old was stabbed to death in January 2015 by Jemal Williams in Enfield.

Jessica, 48, who lives in Parkside Crescent, Finsbury Park, suffers from stress and anxiety in reliving her trauma – but says it’s worth it to engage with the children she meets, who she thinks of as her own.

“I don’t talk to them like a mother who lost her son,” she said. “I talk to them like their own mother.”

Jessica’s work is more vital than ever. Three young people were stabbed to death in Islington in 2018, while 17-year-old Nedim Bilgin became the most recent victim when he was fatally knifed in the Cally last month.

“In a few years there will be no more children to bury their parents,” she said.

But Jessica finds her work therapeutic.

“It’s a bit of counselling and healing for me,” she said. Asked about the work she does with police, she added: “They paved the way for me, and I’m so happy to be working together with them.”

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