Monthly Archives: January 2007

Streatham Arts Festival founded by Landmark Education graduate

mel.jpgI am the out-going voluntary Director and Founder of the Streatham Festival, an event thatstreatham_festival_2005_logo.gif originally grew out of my participation in Landmark Education’s Self Expression and Leadership Program 5 years ago. At that time I had already led many successful projects but deep inside did not consider myself to be a “real Leader”, whatever that was.

At the start of the Self Expression and Leadership Program (SELP) we were invited to create a project that would create a new future for any community. I decided to work with my local community but immediately saw a lot of barriers, at that time I knew no-one in Streatham, not even my next-door neighbours. Streatham had no designated arts venue. Not only was I already hugely busy, I was secretly cynical about the notion of “community”. I was also surprised to discover that underneath that, I was scared that no-one would want to be involved with me: a few years previously I had worked hard to get a voluntary project off the ground and failed. I was afraid to step out and fail again. With the support of Mark, my coach, I began to ask local people to help me create some sort of arts event which at the time I imagined would be a one hour, one-off event.

The course leader Kuljit Bamra was one of the most joyful and inspiring people I have ever met. The support of others on the course was also invaluable. We were a pretty varied lot: from those who had been highly successful in life already, to those who were tentatively exploring their dreams. Together we shared our visions and our fears.

From the start I learned new, more inclusive ways of working with people. My thinking around working in teams andstreatham_children.jpg consulting with communities began to alter radically. I found to my surprise that people cared deeply about their local environment and wanted to contribute. Sometimes asking people to be involved felt embarrassing and I kept feeling like I was not a “real Leader” and my project wasn’t important or large-scale enough. Despite these feelings, I took action and when I started getting great results, I began to think and act in new ways.

To cut a long story short, my SELP project culminated in the creation of a one day community festival in 2002 which now in 2006 has grown to a 10 day affair, with major sponsors, over 50 events per year, a part-time paid co-ordinator and a team of around 30 core volunteers who are now the ones who make it happen and grow year on year. It is now absolutely the creation of the community and would not thrive without them.

streatham-festival-1.jpgI went on to do the Landmark Team Management & Leadership Program (TMLP) which was invaluable in supporting me in dealing with challenges such as the rapid growth and evolution of the festival, staying committed when I felt overwhelmed, becoming a more publicly accountable person and managing a large volunteer team in my spare time.

Through the Self Expression and Leadership Program I learned and experienced things that I continue to draw on daily. As well as discovering my own authentic expression of leadership, I also expanded my love of people and, which has brought a lot of joy to my life.

Mel Larsen

The ‘House of Hope’ for orphans of AIDS victims in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

aids-orphans1.jpgMy project was to build a ‘house of hope’ for orphans of AIDS victims in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

There are many children who have lost their parents through HIV/AIDS or violence in the country, KwaZulu-Natal having the highest level of 40 % HIV in the country. Children live in crumbling mud huts unable to repair the leaking roofs because their father has gone. They are unable to feed themselves as they don’t know how to grow vegetables and maize. The government doesn’t know about them as they aren’t on any government programme. They are literally starving!

I always wanted to do something to help underprivileged children in a foreign country. I was already planning to visit South Africa anyway, so I contacted AIDS Africa who gave me the details of Gods Golden Acre(GGA). I met Heather Reynolds the director of GGA on my first visit.

I take volunteers over to Cato Ridge in the Valley of a Thousand Hills, near Durban. It takes 3 weeks for a group of 10 volunteers to build a house of hope out of concrete blocks and a corrugated metal roof. At weekends we relax by the beach or take a safari in the nearby game reserve. The cost per person is about £1,200 including flights, accommodation, food and weekends away.

For my project I said that by the end of the course I would have 5 volunteers and raise £2,500. I actually found 11 hiv-aids-zambia-small.jpgvolunteers and raised the £2,500.

Since then, I have taken 19 volunteers over including myself in 2 groups and built a second structure. Between the two groups they have raised over £40,000.

I am so proud to be part of this charity that I now continue this programme and as a way of contributing to society I will support GGA in the coming years by arranging more groups on an annual basis. I am putting together two groups at present for 2007 and have more people interested in volunteering in 2008.

In addition, some people are unable to volunteer themselves and are separately fundraising for GGA.

I was coaching on SELP so it wasn’t a new programme for me. What I got out of the project was that anything is possible. Think big, not small. You don’t know what you can achieve. I couldn’t have believed I would be so successful and that I would exceed all my expectations. Greater things can be achieved with my own coach. There were two occasions when I was stuck and my coach helped me through and gave me great advice that enabled me to reach higher and higher. I learnt that people are very happy to contribute where I initially felt awkward by just asking. One friend thanked me for giving her the opportunity to sponsor us when she couldn’t volunteer herself. Greta things can come out of nothing, sometimes just a casual conversation in the corridor. Telling everyone what I was doing meant more people could contribute in some small way. One lady I met at a birthday party told a friend and her friend is now going with us next year.

I have also found a way of contributing to humanity which I hadn’t expected and which makes me feel good about myself. None of this would have been possible without the SELP programme.

Nick Bailey