Up close 7 personal withy The founder of young people’s charity free@last, John Street on playing football in the streets of Zimbabwe, a landmark £2million campaign – and how we can each make a difference to often forgotten communities
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
After three years working in a computer centre, my new wife and I went to Zimbabwe as volunteers for a youth organisation called Youth Alive Ministries. From football with street kids to national youth rallies we had an amazing 12 months in a beautiful country. We only returned to the UK to start my degree in applied theology and youth and community work. Placements in south London and south Chicago taught me about the dark side of life, the hidden communities in our world that are forgotten and neglected. We moved to inner Birmingham to work for a small charity in Nechells and then I became an independent youth and community worker before eventually setting up our own charity – free@last – to improve the lives of the children and young people of Nechells.
In 2009 we began our ‘buy a brick’ campaign to raise money to buy our own building for delivering services in an environment where the local young people and children felt valued. Three days before Christmas we completed our £2million youth and community centre.
IT’S WHAT I DO
I am the founder and director of free@last. The charity, for some, is a lifesaver – for others, whether local people of business supporters, it provides opportunities to give and receive, creating opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives.
WHAT I’D LIKE TO SEE
Eradicate child poverty and get every business in Birmingham involved. To climb a 4,000-metre mountain! To run a school of integrity for people in the public eye. To get my published works into the hands of young people around the world.
My children. I am exceptionally proud of all four and how they have grown/are growing into men and a young lady who care about others, are selfless and reflect God’s character. Together with my exceptionally lovely, kind and supportive wife, they have allowed me the freedom to have an impact on other people’s lives too.
BIGGEST LESSON LEARNED
Everything takes time. There are no quick wins, especially when working with people (community based and professionals). Nurturing supportive relationships to help you on your journey is a must, we can’t do any of this alone.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BRUM
Birmingham as a whole city has a massive amount to celebrate and share with the rest of the country. Our history, diversity, youthful creativeness and passion as a city – but the barriers we put up ourselves stop progress. Change these and we will become a leading city (because who wants to be second?!)
What’s that? I am a season ticket holder at Aston Villa FC, I like to do all the activities that Freax Adventures offers, particularly climbing mountains, wild camping – and getting away from phone signals.
Living in a poverty stricken area does not mean you cannot achieve, especially when you have the right support and vision for change.