A youth club in Islington was recognised by rapper Little Simz as instrumental to her success.
The independent artist, real name Simbiatu Ajikawo, performed two triumphant homecoming shows earlier this month and has previously dedicated her success to Mary’s Youth Club on Upper Street, Islington.
The organisation offers young people recreational spaces and activities, including performing arts opportunities, sports groups and social events.
Mary’s is a free community organisation that supports 415 children each year and has been described by the Mercury Prize winner as: “the place where it all began for me, a second home.”
It was here the Brit Award winner met her collaborator Dean Josiah Cover, aka Inflo, who worked on her latest albums No Thank You and Sometimes I Might Be Introvert.
With alumni such as Letitia Wright, Alexandra Burke and Leona Lewis, Mary’s is a hotspot for north London’s emerging talent.
Youth work development manager and CEO of Mary’s, Sally Baxter said: “Mary’s is a real community centre – it’s not glitzy – it’s a proper 1970s style community centre.
“But we have the flexibility to nurture what young people are into, everything we do is about their needs.”
With a long history relating back to pop-star Cat Stevens, Mary’s, as it is now known, was set up in 2008.
For what it lacks in glamour, it makes up for in heart – a core value at Mary’s is valuing young people’s perspectives and challenging negative stereotypes about young people.
Baxter said: “The public look at young people in a deficit model – they look at what they don’t have and forget that they’re part of the wider society.
“People are constantly surprised that young people from London like playing UNO or charades, but they do!”
In relation to Little Simz, Baxter affirmed the importance of youth clubs as creative hubs in communities.
She said: “The whole grime scene started from London youth clubs.”
Alongside recreational activities, Mary’s organises young people’s focus groups on topics like mental health, youth violence and gender disparity.
In 2017, analysis by the National Centre for Social Research for BBC Radio 4 rated Islington the worst place to be a woman in Britain.
Identifying the borough as a priority, Mary’s collaborated with Prospex to create the Islington Girl’s Super Group.
The project provides a safe network for girls to meet and discuss gender-related issues.
Baxter said: “Our alumni are women doing big things.
“We want young people to go out there in London and beyond and feel like they belong.”
At the final show of her tour Ajikawo confidently said: “London, right now I need you to understand that you are witnessing greatness.”
Whilst half of Mary’s members are young women, Little Simz’s greatness is a source of inspiration for all young people at the Islington club.
Baxter said: “We feel so lucky that Little Simz is saying so much about Mary’s.”
“It means a lot to have her celebrating us and talking about the people that have supported her journey.”
To find out more about Mary’s, and to support the organisation, click here.