Grandmentors: How scheme is helping transform lives of Islington pairing them with middle-aged workers

Mentor Jeremy Cornish on the right talking to Filmon outside the Gherkin

Mentor Jeremy Cornish on the right talking to Filmon outside the Gherkin - Credit: Archant

On the surface, Filmon Russom and Jeremy Cornish make for an unlikely pairing. Filmon, with his designer haircut and stylish tracksuit, looks every bit your typical 19-year-old. Jeremy, 63, still dressed in the suit and shirt he wore to work, looks every bit your typical suave businessman.

Grandmentors Filmon competes in a race at his college

Grandmentors Filmon competes in a race at his college - Credit: Archant

Yet Filmon and Jeremy have far from a typical relationship. The two met in October through the “Grandmentors Islington” scheme. Established in 2009 by charity Volunteering Matters, based over the border in Hackney, Grandmentors gives support and advice to teens who have recently left the care system and are “not in employment, education or training” (NEET).

The idea is to help them solve their own problems by giving them access to someone else’s life experience: they are assigned an older mentor to help them tackle life’s problems.

The programme has been quite the success story so far, receiving a “highly commended” award at the Children and Young People Now awards last year. Statistics show while 71 per cent of young people are NEET when referred to the programme, just 19pc are NEET when they leave.

“The long-term goal is to help vulnerable teens get on their feet and on the road to success,” says Verna Chung, regional manager for Volunteering Matters.

Mentor Jeremy Cornish on the right talking to Filmon outside the Gherkin

Mentor Jeremy Cornish on the right talking to Filmon outside the Gherkin - Credit: Archant

“For some of these young people it’s been really life-changing.”

It’s access to this kind of advice that drove Filmon, from Essex Road, Canonbury, to enlist in the programme.

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“My social worker suggested I get a mentor,” he said, “and I agreed I’d give Grandmentors a shot. I’m glad I did because Jeremy’s such a nice guy.”

By his own admission, Filmon was lacking confidence when he met Jeremy last year.

Arriving in Britain as a refugee from Eritrea at the age of 11 without a word of English, he had always had his sights set on becoming a professional footballer before a knee injury forced him to give up on his dream. He applied to university and got a place at Middlesex studying sports science, but was still struggling to interact with others around him.

“I just used to think: ‘Why would what I’m thinking matter to other people?,” he says. “But my perspective after this last year has changed.”

Filmon puts a lot of this change down to his relationship with Jeremy.

“I was a little nervous at the first meeting ‘cause I’d been told he lacked confidence, but as soon as I met Filmon I thought, ‘what a nice guy’,” Jeremy tells the Gazette.

“We just got on – there wasn’t a problem at all. He’s intelligent; he thinks about what you’re saying; he clearly listens. It’s just been a pure joy.”

Since their first meeting in October, Jeremy and Filmon’s relationship has gone from strength to strength. Whether to watch a football match or go over Filmon’s latest uni presentation, the two meet every week.

“I usually have something I need help with and Jeremy’s always got something to offer,” says Filmon.

“I was coaching when I met Jeremy, and he’s helped me meet other people in that area. Like physiotherapy – Jeremy had a friend who’s a physiotherapist and he introduced us to each other. I’ve met all his work mates as well, and now I play five-a-side with them every week!”

Watching the interaction between Jeremy and Filmon, there’s an air of father and son about their relationship. Jeremy is constantly encouraging Filmon to speak about his latest accomplishments at university, and takes pride in talking about where he sees Filmon in the future.

“Filmon’s doing so great I’ve been wondering if he still needs my help,” he laughs.

As much as he is enjoying getting to know Filmon, Jeremy recognises that without Grandmentors they would never have had the experience they’ve had.

“All of Grandmentors is a success story, but it’s all different routes,” he says.

“Some Grandmentors work extremely hard, over a period of time, to build a trusting relationship – which itself is often the most valuable gift to a mentee!”