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Three of Hackney's most amazing community heroes honoured at annual civic awards bash

PUBLISHED: 20:00 24 May 2017

Civic award winners Janette Collins, Bobby Kasanga and Felicia Ogunleye. Pictures: Polly Hancock

Civic award winners Janette Collins, Bobby Kasanga and Felicia Ogunleye. Pictures: Polly Hancock

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It has been a heartbreaking week. But the I Love Hackney Mayor's Civic Awards at the town hall tonight were something to smile about: community champions, nominated by you, were celebrated for the incredible service they've given to Hackney. James Pitman spoke to the winners.

He's a winner too! Hackney mayor Phil Glanville will dish out the awards. Pictured, after completing the Hackney Half Marathon earlier this month. Picture: Gary ManhineHe's a winner too! Hackney mayor Phil Glanville will dish out the awards. Pictured, after completing the Hackney Half Marathon earlier this month. Picture: Gary Manhine

The woman known as Mama Hackney, a reformed gang member with a book deal, and a volunteer who’s spent 14 years looking after the homeless were set to be honoured with Hackney’s top community awards last night.

The second annual I Love Hackney Mayor’s Civic Awards were due to be dished out to veteran youth worker Janette Collins of The Crib in De Beauvoir, Hackney Wick FC founder Bobby Kasanga, and Felicia Ogunleye of the borough’s befriending service.

Their gongs were set to be handed out by Mayor Phil Glanville at a town hall ceremony as part of the I Love Hackney civic pride campaign – launched in 2006 in retaliation against a Channel 4 property programme that labelled Hackney “the worst place to live in the UK”.

Mr Glanville said: “Hackney is the great place it is today thanks to the hard work of those who go the extra mile for their community.

“These awards will hopefully inspire more people to get involved and make a lasting difference to the Hackney community.”

Mr Glanville chaired a judging panel that included A&E registrar Dr Ronke Ikharia (see p20), Colette Allen of youth charity Hackney Quest (profiled on our “Who’s Who” page two weeks ago) and Gazette editor Ramzy Alwakeel.

Colette said: “The three winners stood out as having come a long way from where they began and done so much for the community. They are all exceptional and amazing in their own separate way.”

It’s Mr Glanville’s first civic awards: he took over from former mayor Jules Pipe in September, a few months after the first set of winners were honoured.

Janette Collins, The Crib

Janette Collins outside The Crib, Benyon Court. Picture: Polly HancockJanette Collins outside The Crib, Benyon Court. Picture: Polly Hancock

Janette – or “Mama Hackney” as she is known to the countless youngsters she’s helped – said: “I am really honoured to receive the award, especially because it recognises the voluntary sector.”

Janette, 57, started the Crib Youth Project in 1999 to help young people find work and education opportunities.

Back then, the Crib faced daily obstacles – including suspicion from its neighbours – but today up to 150 kids can turn up to a single session.

They can get help with life skills, take part in the “Trading Places” scheme that’s helped improve relations between police and young people, or show off skills in the “Boroughs United” talent show, which aims to break down postcode rivalries.

She believes Channel 4 was unfair in its labelling of Hackney as “the worst place to live” – but warned: “Gentrification is one of the biggest threats to Hackney now.

“People are expected to pay extortionate fees to live in little boxes. When there are no jobs this actually means people getting pushed out.”

To help the next generation avoid this, Janette and her team have been trying to think “outside the box” – encouraging young people into drama and dance, journalism and, in the case of one young woman, even diamond-grading.

This approach has led to Janette’s “best moments” – when Crib users find success by starting their own businesses and social enterprises.

Bobby Kasanga, Hackney Wick FC

Bobby Kasanga on the football pitches at Hackney Marshes. Picture: Polly HancockBobby Kasanga on the football pitches at Hackney Marshes. Picture: Polly Hancock

Bobby, 31, came out of prison in 2015 with a degree, a book deal, and the determination never to go back.

But it was only after getting into conversation with some footballers in the park that Bobby, of Amhurst Road, knew where to channel his energy. He realised there hadn’t been a semi-professional team in Hackney since the original Leyton Orient upped sticks 80 years ago.

That was when the idea for Hackney Wick FC was born. Bobby has devoted himself to the club ever since, even working night shifts so he could concentrate on the club in the day.

Putting community first is part of the Wickers’ ethos. Each player dedicates two hours a week to the borough volunteering for events like the Hackney Half Marathon.

Free training delivered to Hackney Women’s Institute led to the formation of the women’s team, and now the Wickers typically run eight sides across all age ranges during a weekend.

Things haven’t gone that badly for the Wickers on the pitch, either. Since finishing last in their first season, they’ve gone up to sixth this season, won the first-ever Fairtrade Cup, been finalists at the Pride of Sport Awards, and picked up Team of the Year at the Hackney Sport Awards.

Bobby doesn’t work nights any more, but that doesn’t mean he’s been able to catch up on his sleep. He’s planning to set up an anti-knife charity, and perhaps even finish the third instalment of his novel – The Life I Live, Not The Life I Chose was published in 2014 and 2015.

Felicia Ogunleye

Befriending volunteer Felicia Ogunleye with (left) Marcia Davis, the senior volunteer co-ordinator at Hackney Volunteers and Befriending Service. Picture: Polly HancockBefriending volunteer Felicia Ogunleye with (left) Marcia Davis, the senior volunteer co-ordinator at Hackney Volunteers and Befriending Service. Picture: Polly Hancock

Felicia, 72, works tirelessly for Hackney’s volunteer and befriending service – no mean feat when you consider her mobility problems.

She’s a familiar face at church, where she feeds the homeless, she volunteers at the Red Cross, and she finds time to ring no fewer than 20 people every week to help tackle loneliness – all without being paid a penny.

She’s had problems getting around since undergoing a hip and knee replacement, but that hasn’t stopped her.

Felicia started volunteering in Nigeria during the 1990s – and last night’s award marks the second time she’s been recognised for her efforts over the years. In 1999 she was voted best volunteer for her chairmanship at the Nigerian Red Cross.

She’s now a fundraising officer for the British Red Cross, where she’s helped out since 2000.

Asked if her mobility issues were a burden, Felicia said: “As long as I can get up in the morning and help, I’m very happy.”

Marcia Davis, who nominated Felicia for the award, said of her friend: “She always goes above and beyond her duty. She never misses her volunteering duties.”

She added: “She’s always smiling even when she has problems of her own.”

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