By Joy Faulkner*,
‘I’m not built for this.’ I thought as I stood outside the BT Sports studios on the Here East Olympic site. I was with around 70 people, and we were posing for a photograph. Everyone was smiling – we’d had a better response to our action then we’d expected, but I just wanted to run away and hide.
I am a conflict avoidant person. The kind of conflict avoider that eats food that I hate because the idea of saying ‘I don’t like this,’ to the person who cooked is too stressful!
On the citizens UK 6-day training, I cried and asked to skip the action role play sessions because the thought of being in a disagreement with someone, even a fake and scripted disagreement, felt too overwhelming.
So, when I was asked to help lead an action about paid work experience placements only 9 months later, no one was more surprised than me that I was up for it.
The idea was that we approach BT sport and publicly ask them for a meeting to discuss paid work experience placements for young people from the London Olympic legacy boroughs of Hackney and Newham.
Local people had been told years ago that hosting the 2012 Olympics in Stratford would generate 40,000 jobs for them and their families, and frustratingly, it seems that though more opportunities have appeared on the park, those people struggle to access them.
BT sports had moved onto the park a few years ago, and have created some jobs and training for local people, we wanted to talk to them about extending their offers and asking them to be more intentional in recruiting from groups of people who don’t normally get access to those opportunities.
It all felt pretty reasonable, even to me, so I sent an email explaining that we would be coming with a group of people and that we’d love to talk to someone from BT Sport.
The challenge was that BT sport didn’t want to speak to me – I called, I emailed and I went to the offices in person. I couldn’t get a response. I didn’t even know if anyone knew we were coming!
BT’s silence was terrifying to me. Had we upset them; did they think we were coming fight? I tried to explain that it wasn’t about causing trouble, that we just wanted a meeting, but got nothing back.
My fear of the potential conflict was huge, causing sleepless nights and tightness in my chest, but during the 9 months between training and this action I had learnt that sometimes space needs to be demanded, that communities and institutions that work together can make real political change and that asking a question and telling the truth aren’t being unreasonable.
I’d learnt it by watching other leaders being brave, seeing individuals and groups dealing with people in power being hostile towards or ignoring them.
I’d learnt it from a 17-year-old who spoke out to police about stop and search, and the youth worker who challenged the MP about local government spending on youth provision.
I’d learnt it from the 12-year olds that asked business to sign up to keep their shopping centre safe and the 13-year olds who asked the mayor if she would visit them.
I’d learnt it from the organisers who’d spent years building love-hate relationships with head teachers, police officers and politicians on behalf of others.
And I’d learnt that I wasn’t less capable of finding that bravery to push beyond fear in me.
In the end we turned up to the BT Sport office with around 70 people. They were expecting us. Five executives from BT Sport came to meet with us, and we had a tense exchange in which they agreed to meet with us at a later date to discuss the paid work experience placements. Cue the photo op, and my moment of realisation ‘I am not built for this.’ I am not someone who likes tension, or thrives off seeing shifts in power, but I didn’t run away and hide either. I, like so many of the leaders I have seen, can be brave, can go beyond my comfort zone for others and for myself.
*Joy Faulkner-Mpeho is coordinating chaplain at the London Design and Engineering University Technical College’s multifaith chaplaincy. Before this role, Joy spent 12 as a youth worker supporting young people of all faiths and none. Joy is passionate that young people not only fulfil their potential but learn how to use that potential for the good of the communities that they are a part of. As part of that, she is interested in exploring how community organising might work together with youth work practice to support young people’s faith and leadership development.