By James Yabut, Kensington and Chelsea Community Reporter
“We don’t advertise for volunteers: it’s all done by word of mouth. We couldn’t function without them.” Sean Mendez, director of children’s charity Solidarity Sports, explaining why the goodwill of volunteers is so important, and why such a small team can have such a big impact.
Founded by Sean in 2007, his charity offers a programme of sports, healthy eating, and arts and crafts projects to children from disadvantaged backgrounds to help boost their sense of well-being, confidence, and teamwork skills.
Referrals are received from schools and local authorities across London, but the majority come from Kensington & Chelsea. This year around 200 children will benefit from their work. Regular meetings with parents will ensure that each child gets the attention and supervision they need.
We meet following the end of another hectic half-term for Sean and his team, and he is busy finalising plans for the charity’s summer programme. This will include a trip to the Isle of Wight where the kids can try their hand at abseiling and rock climbing, and whizz along zip wires. For many it will be a rare chance to escape the city.
Sean is familiar with the problems that children brought up in London face. Growing up in Earls Court where access to private gardens was impossible, and play spaces were few and far between, he and his friends resorted to playing games and riding bikes in Brompton Cemetery. At weekends he joined his mother, Miriam, who worked at a centre for young people with learning disabilities. With hindsight, setting up Solidarity Sports must have seemed inevitable.
Today, he wonders how much progress they can make without more support, and it becomes clear what drives him: frustration at the lack of play spaces and organised sports for children of all backgrounds, a belief that schools should be teaching kids to be smarter about the food industry’s marketing techniques, and a sadness at seeing poorer families having to leave their homes.
What chance, he asks, do their healthy eating classes have against the immense marketing budgets of the giant food corporations? These are not the kinds of battles they can fight alone. “The education system has not kept up,” he says. ”Kids need to be made aware of the dangers of high sugar and processed foods. Society needs to do more.” He firmly believes much more could be done to help charities like his: “A lot of people want to do good but lack the resources.”
The charity has flourished since its start: in 2011 they published their own cookbook, Kids Cook the World and Sean is hopeful of a follow-up. The main aim, though, is for Solidarity Sports to grow bigger still so that more and more children can benefit from their projects. As Sean puts it: “The biggest compliment I can give to our volunteers is that we are an extended family to our kids.”