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Parents heap praise on Hackney martial arts instructor's pilot project to transform lives of young boys

PUBLISHED: 16:38 27 March 2019 | UPDATED: 16:38 27 March 2019

Teenagers collect their certificates from Hackney Speaker Cllr Clare Potter and Yasuke Project organiser Kevin Stuart at a special event to mark their completion of the Yasuke Project at the Young Hackney hub in Forest Road. Picture: Polly Hancock

Teenagers collect their certificates from Hackney Speaker Cllr Clare Potter and Yasuke Project organiser Kevin Stuart at a special event to mark their completion of the Yasuke Project at the Young Hackney hub in Forest Road. Picture: Polly Hancock

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A project created to help young Hackney boys “rediscover their sense of community” has been lauded by parents for transforming the lives of their sons.

Hackney speaker Cllr Clare Potter chats about the project with graduate Raheim Parague, 14. Picture: Polly HancockHackney speaker Cllr Clare Potter chats about the project with graduate Raheim Parague, 14. Picture: Polly Hancock

Martial arts instructor Kevin Stuart, 45, felt he could use the discipline he learnt at Homerton School to give the kids of today a supportive environment to overcome life’s challenges.

He had grown restless after seeing so much knife crime on the streets and approached his employers at the council’s youth service Young Hackney about a three-week pilot for 15 boys aged 12 to 16 – The Yasuke Project.

“I was basically just frustrated that not enough was being done,” Kevin told the Gazette. “I do quite a lot of work for Young Hackney – martial arts classes and some boxing – but I thought I could do something more in depth and work with the kids to make an impact.

“There are positive kids out here and we can change their minds.”

Kevin Stuart from the Yasuke Project. Picture: Polly HancockKevin Stuart from the Yasuke Project. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Lots of the boys just go to school and play computer games and hang around with their friends. There’s always talk about area codes, so I took on kids from different areas. The idea was to get them in a space where I could work with them closely and make them do stuff together.”

As part of the project, Kevin had them doing drama classes at the Forest Road youth hub and also took them to Liverpool to learn about the history of slavery.

“I just wanted to show them how it happened,” he said. “And taking them out of London was a good thing. Martial arts is a structure, so I tried to think of it like that and got martial artists to speak to them, as positive role models.”

Kevin also encouraged the boys to talk to each other about their lives and interests.

Students demonstrate their drama skills at the event. Picture: Polly HancockStudents demonstrate their drama skills at the event. Picture: Polly Hancock

“Kids these days don’t talk,” he continued. “A lot of them were really shy when they came in and didn’t speak much. But they all grew. A lot of them are now coming to the classes – 11 out of the 15. The parents absolutely loved it and said their sons were so different.”

The project culminated in a presentation ceremony at Young Hackney this month, which was attended by Hackney speaker Cllr Clare Potter and the boys’ parents.

Now Kevin is determined to continue his work, and is already in talks about taking on another group and doing more with the original boys.

“I’m not messing around!” he said. “I said to Young Hackney: ‘This is what I want to do’ and they want me to carry on.

And they aren’t the only ones. Diane Bryan’s two sons, Petchey Academy students Menial, 14 and Meeshek, 12, were both on the course.

“Kevin is doing a brilliant job,” she said. “After the presentation they couldn’t stop talking about it and they are still going to his classes.

“It’s made them a lot more confident having met a lot of new people, and I feel more confident with all this knife crime that they know some self-defence.

“It’s been a really good thing with all the postcode stuff, too. Nobody lets their kids out these days, and kids are scared to come out of the house. So for them to have somewhere they can go with good male role models is really good.”

Diane said her children have had little access to projects like Kevin’s before, but believes they are vital.

She continued: “We are keeping our children inside because it’s safer, but that creates a lot of social problems in the future with mental health. You can see them, but if they are just gaming they won’t know how to interact with people – it’s not normal. So the fact that this is in a safe building where they look after everybody is really good. It’s nice to know people are looking after kids in the community. You often think it’s just us parents.”

Another parent, Sacha, said her son Kariym Foster, who goes to Haggerston School, was a different person.

“He’s come out of his shell,” she said. “He’s always been shy but he’s always wanted to go to something like this too.

“At the presentation Kevin started to talk about one of the boys, saying how shy they were when they started, and I thought he was talking about Kariym, but he called out a child and it wasn’t mine. Then he did it again and started saying: ‘This next boy is the at the centre of the group and is very outspoken’ – and he called my son out. I was like: ‘Huh? How?’”

“It shows you just need to put a child in an environment with his peers and it’s going to make him arrive. My son has evolved in three weeks. He can’t wait until the next instalment.”

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