On a recent, sunny August day, Hornsey Vale Community Centre was bustling with activity, as Kith & Kids hosted their annual summer project. These five or ten-day sessions, which run during the school holidays, focus on social development by giving children or adults with learning disabilities or autism the opportunity to socialise and take part in a range of activities.
Through dance, arts and crafts, drama, massage, and even supervised outings, volunteers and participants focus on making the most of human interaction. “It really helps to fulfill our aims of enabling our members to express their creativity, their feelings, through whatever medium, because many struggle to talk about things,” says manager Robin Stone. “This is a way they can get those feelings out, let us know what’s going on, and feel very supported with that.”
Getting back together
This is one of Kith & Kids first multi-day events back in-person since Covid-19 related lockdowns moved events online. While the charity was able to pivot to a few virtual events, “it ran its course, really,” says Robin. “It’s really good that we could get back together,” he says, and work on regaining social skills.
Kith & Kids was formed in 1969 by a group of parents who wanted to provide activities for their children in which they could learn practical skills and support each other. Since then, it’s evolved into an organisation with around 70 active families based around North London and 200 volunteers. It runs a variety of projects including weekly life-skills focused meetups, 10-day events like the summer social project (repeated at Christmas and Easter), member outings, and most recently, a visiting service for children whose parents can’t see them in person as often. They’ve also opened a new charity shop in Chingford.
Over time, the charity has come to focus on helping people with disabilities navigate social settings, and deal with the at-times negative, stigmatised reactions they may experience in different social settings.
“We try to create an atmosphere of positivity, support each other, valuing what each person can offer.”Robin, Kith & Kids Manager
“We’ve moved a little bit away from the practical learning, and we focus a bit more on the emotional skills, and enabling people to express themselves, their feelings, and [learn] social skills,” Robin says. Essentially, through being guided and modelled by volunteers, participants learn “how to interact with others without getting too upset,” and cope with any setbacks.
The Connor family has been involved with Kith & Kids for about 12 years, and Aidan also attends fortnightly Kith & Kids sessions, in addition to the summer project. “It’s so helped him socially because he has a group of friends here, both other members and volunteers,” she says. “He sees this as a kind of extended family.” Says Robin, “We try to create an atmosphere of positivity, support each other, valuing what each person can offer.”
While managing a big event like the summer project has required following complex protocols, it’s “wonderful” to be back in person, Jane says. “It’s not without its challenges and anxieties,” she says, “but it’s also an opportunity for parents to get together” – a crucial aspect of the support provided by the charity.
In partnership with Hornsey Vale
The community centre offers its space to Kith & Kids at a subsidised rate because the non-profit’s work is in line with its vision and values to support people with disabilities. Both organisations have shown great longevity and derive so much from supporting each other’s mission. That success is predicated on teamwork, Robin believes, and empowering stakeholders to feel they have a voice, particularly people who “recognise that it’s important to do something for other people in the community.”
Robin says the centre’s flexibility around running an event of this scale amid Covid-19 has been invaluable. “Hornsey Vale has offered Kith & Kids a sense of openness, friendliness, [and] support that has really saved us, certainly in the last year-and-a-half through the pandemic.” The centre, he adds, “has welcomed us with open arms and coped with all the chaos that we create in a very positive way.”