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The creative art of raising self-esteem

24 October, 2019 — By John Gulliver

Some of the calendar’s photographers snapped during a visit to a ‘pop up’ art gallery in Royal College Street, Camden Town, on Saturday run by a New York gallerist Hilary Needleman who wanted to encourage the children to take an interest in the arts

IMAGINE how an 8 or 10-year-old boy or girl would feel if they saw their name printed on an exceptionally well-designed calendar as the official photographer responsible for the stun­ning image that will per­suade someone to buy it.

Now, imagine if that little boy or girl has learned to take photo­graphs of such quality, not at school but at a little building in Kentish Town where a professional photographer runs an after-school “club” – also known by its official name, Sir Hubert von Herkomer Arts Founda­tion – for local children.

And many of them are disadvantaged children – children who are being given a boost of self-confidence through the dedication and efforts of photographer Debbi Clark, who simply wants to give these children a lift up. Local schools, it seems, do not have the facilities nor the prof­essionals in the visual arts, to inspire these chil­dren with the excite­ment of creative photography.

I mention all this because you’d think that such a “club” and such a dedicated person would be given every encourage­ment by the council faced, as it is, with children wandering the streets after school, with fewer and fewer youth clubs to go to – the council should be leaning over backwards to help this club. But what happens?

Debbi, though she would be the last person to com­­­plain, has to go cap in hand every few months to local charities or private com­panies because, effective­ly, the council doesn’t seem inter­ested in helping. Of course, the question is: How many councillors know of the magnificent work being done by Debbi? How many committees have weighed up how they can help her?

The February photo from the calendar, by Adam, 10

At one stage, more than a year ago the council helped Debbi financially, then they withdrew their support, then, after I’d written about it, they decided to let her “club” share a small council building in Queen’s Crescent, rent free.

But beyond that – nothing. The club, it seems, isn’t worth much more in the eyes of councillors and officials.

That is why Debbi teamed up with the equally threatened nearby Kentish Town City Farm to produce a calendar to sell which I am proud to publicise – and why not? The council may deem it is not able to help these children all that much, but pub­licity may help them, and I am please to be able to offer it. The photos in the calendar, all of animals at the farm, are striking. If they had been taken by professionals they couldn’t have been better. Judge for yourself.

The children come from surrounding schools – Carlton, Gospel Oak and Rhyl Street primaries, and Haverstock, Parliament Hill, William Ellis and Acland Burghley secondaries.

But Debbi doesn’t just provide somewhere for these children to go to in the evenings or weekends. She also helps the children who are “banned” from other youth clubs, the children who ride around on bikes, or even mopeds, children who are dismissed as nuisances by officialdom. Debbi doesn’t look at them at that way – fortunately.

Debbi isn’t the only person trying to do something to help these unwanted children. Attached to St Mary’s Church in Primrose Hill is another little-known “club”, this one intended for children in trouble, some “excluded” by local schools. It is run by another dedicated person, Jason Allen, an experi­enced youth worker, who knows how bitter life can be if the cards are played against you.

Yet, again, I understand, this club too needs help.

I remain baffled about why the council fails to support these projects with the generosity they deserve. It is possible that the councillors don’t even know of their existence, and without casting blame one way or another, perhaps they will now take a look at them – and, hopefully, see the error of their ways and decide to give them the extra support they need. There is nothing wrong with these clubs going to private companies for help, but shouldn’t the council be a little ashamed of itself that they find it necessary to do so?

• More about the Debbi Clark’s photography project at http://vonherkomerfoundation.org/ and http://ktcityfarm.org.uk/exciting-photography-project/

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