South London Changemakers: Amy Warner, Feathers Up
This conversation is part of South London Changemakers, a series celebrating the impact of the Community Leadership in Motion (CLiM) programme, that funded community projects across Lambeth and Southwark. Learn more about CLiM here.
In this conversation, we sat down with Amy Warner, a child counsellor and Founder of Feathers Up, an organisation that provides free counselling to children who have experienced racism and discrimination in South London.
We spoke about what inspired her to start Feathers Up and her advice for other social entrepreneurs seeking to spark change.
Can you tell us about your project and what inspired you to start it?
I’m Amy and I’m a qualified children’s counsellor. I run Feathers Up, an organisation that provides free counselling to children aged 6-12 who have experienced racism and discrimination in South London.
At Feathers Up, we’re working towards a world where all children know that racism is not acceptable, and have the tools they need to be able to respond to it and report it. We help children who have experienced racism and discrimination to deal with their feelings, rather than suppress or avoid them, and become mentally resilient.
As a child I felt isolated by racism. I experienced racist bullying without even realising. I found that, even if an incident was handled at the time, there wasn’t any aftercare. My experiences had a big impact on me and I later experienced depression and needed to seek counselling. Going through counselling helped me reshape my thought patterns, and without it, I don’t think I would have made it to University and to where I am today. I realised I needed to start an organisation that highlights the impact racism can have on a child and offers that longer-term care and support.
What does a day in the life of Feathers Up look like?
We go into schools and run six-week long group counselling sessions. In the sessions, we do activities like writing down negative thoughts and positive thoughts, as well as creative activities, like making crochet bracelets.
We also have a Robot. Sometimes children find it difficult to talk to an adult. So Mr Robot comes into our class, and the children anonymously write down a negative experience or feeling and pop it in a pocket in the robot’s back. At the end of the session, we go through the notes and find ways to help them through their situation. For example, they might say they’re feeling neglected at playtime. This then helps the teacher’s to be aware that someone’s feeling like that, so they can be extra vigilant at playtime.
What’s been the impact of Feathers Up so far?
It’s been incredible. The feedback from the children and parents has been great, and I’ve seen a huge change in the kids and how they treat each other over the six weeks.
We recently received funding, which has allowed us to reach more schools and start a session for parents and carers to come along for a family counselling day in a local community space. It gives parents a chance to see the progress of their children and participate in our anti-racism workshops themselves. It’s amazing to see the kids show their parents everything they’ve learned. We give parents ‘carry-on bags’, to support them to help their kids maintain what they’ve learnt.
What challenges have you faced as a social entrepreneur?
It’s been really hard to get into schools. Lots of schools never called me back to start with, or just didn’t want to do it. But when I got funding, I started to get taken more seriously. I also became more skilled in my approach because of the things I learnt along the way.
I often invite people from schools to see the workshops now, and they love it. Seeing it for themselves makes them realise that they need it in their schools.
I’m new to all this… I’m only 27, and I’m trying to start an organisation, without having been taught or having done it before. I’m learning as I go. I’m a lot more confident at just having a go now, especially after getting funding. It’s given me confidence in myself.
How was your experience being part of CLiM?
Honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I got help with writing a business plan and creating a strategy for Feathers Up. I also got access to a community and a network of other people running projects in South London.
How have you found being fiscally hosted by The Social Change Nest?
I didn’t know about fiscal hosting before CLiM, but it’s been amazing. Applying for funding is just so difficult when you aren’t incorporated. I don’t have experience in this area, I just had a good idea. I didn’t understand the legal side of things. I think if I wasn’t so strong minded and passionate, these barriers could have stopped me. But I just saw the needs of the children I wanted to help and thought, no, Amy. Keep going.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
So much. I want my own space, so I can offer one-to-one therapy and create a play zone. I love going into schools, but I think having that one-on-one time with the children will be really beneficial as well. I’d also love to have a team of counsellors that can go into schools to deliver the sessions.
I want to expand our services as much as possible. I’m looking into providing a free app, where I can make all of our resources publicly available. Online resources are essential, because it will help us to reach children who may desperately need support but aren’t able to attend our sessions.
At the end of this year, I’m publishing a children’s book about Mr Robot, that I hope will help kids and spread awareness about racial inequality. It’s nice to have different tools – sometimes kids don’t want to talk, they might want to read, or draw. So having a book will be great.
What’s your advice for other young social entrepreneurs who have an idea but don’t know how to start?
Trying to start something is very stressful and challenging. If you’re not happy within, you won’t be able to start the journey. So start with yourself. Then when you’re on the journey, just embrace it. Take it step by step, and push yourself, but don’t get disheartened if you don’t achieve everything you want to this year, because there’s always next year. Stay passionate, and if you truly, truly want it to work, it will work. Believe it.
If you want to support Feathers Up, you can donate via Open Collective here.
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