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How Urban Synergy is helping hundreds of young people

TEAM WORK: Members of Urban Synergy

AT A time when youth crime was at its highest, charity founder Leila Thomas said, "enough was enough". In 2007, she put her words into action when she founded the charity Urban Synergy with the aim of bettering the lives of 11 to 18-year-olds.

She said: "I thought, how could I do something to help young people with the issues they had because as a community, we should be supporting the next generation to achieve what they want to achieve.”

In search of positive role models, Thomas branched out into her own network where she "spoke to people who were successful in their own rights such as doctors and engineers so that they could speak to and help young people."

While engaging with the youth, Thomas learned that they were interested in getting their hands on work experience and meeting role models who could share their secrets to success.

“We wanted to make young people aware that beyond the school gates, there are people that look like them who work in those areas,” said Thomas. “We wanted to raise awareness because there’s a disconnect between their aspirations and jobs in the future.”

“You can break that barrier right down when young people see someone who has done it themselves because it shows them that it is possible and they can work there too. They just need to see positive figures, unlike what they see on the TV, which is often negative," she explained.

FOUNDER: Leila Thomas

Preparing young people to be as efficient as possible, the team at Urban Synergy help young people to strengthen their ability in communication, presentation and teamwork skills as well as how to handle conflict.

Alongside equipping them with transferable skills, the teams’ programmes work to provide young people with inspirational seminars, 1-2-1 mentoring and offer prestigious work experience placements.

Yet despite the positive change that Thomas has seen while managing her charity, she says that more can be done within the community. “People need to engage with charities that are doing work in this area to support young people. In this current climate, there are a lot of funding cuts but the young people still need that support.”

“We need to tackle this exclusion issue that the black community is facing. They say black children are three times more likely to be excluded from school, which needs to be addressed but children, in general, need to be able to access that support to take that next step."

As she reflected on what has been over a decade's worth of success, Thomas shared one of her best stories. “Last year teachers in Hackney said they couldn’t culturally connect with a group of Caribbean black boys, so they needed an organisation to engage with them from the same background. It was the best outcome for them and the teacher, and they completed all their exams,” she said.

While the charity continues to create bright horizons for the younger generation, in the future Thomas said she would “like to see Urban Synergy working in neighbouring boroughs. It’s a blueprint that works and we need to expand that to reach more young people so they can achieve their full potential.”

As a call for doctors, lawyers and scientists to join the charity, Thomas said: “We are looking for as many positive role models as possible and we’d really love them so sign up and be involved.”

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