Since 2010, Nicholas Okwulu has been running People Empowering People, a social enterprise in Peckham that helps passionate young people to take control of their own future. He now has his sights set on providing more training, workshops and events — and he found that holding a Big Lunch helped him understand what people in his area really needed.
People Empowering People, or PemPeople for short, was born out of a need to see local residents overcome barriers in getting their projects off the ground. One of its main aims is to provide funding and project management advice, as well as access to resources and premises. ‘It's about saying to people, "You can do your project, and I will be there if you want help to push it forward,"’ explains Nicholas.
He says the local Big Lunches he ran really helped the organisation understand what people in the area needed: ‘It gave us the impetus to find out who the active people were in our community, what they do, and to see them in action.’
What Nicholas did
After Nicholas got more involved with Eden Project Communities, he says it gave him a tremendous amount of confidence: ‘We were walking quite tentatively, then Eden gave us the support we needed to go forward. I felt like I was ready to go — no one is going to stop me now!'
Today, PemPeople runs a variety of hands-on activities for local residents including Bike Projects, a bicycle maintenance scheme which trains young people as bike technicians, culminating in a City and Guilds qualification. The really clever bit is that the trainees then go on to deliver a range of similar projects for children and young people across the borough.
Other practical activities include a screen printing project in collaboration with the Tate Collective, the arts platform for young people run by the renowned museum charity.
Nicholas’ projects have really taken off. Bike Projects was highly commended by London Transport and was runner-up in the London Cycling Campaign Cycling Initiative of the Year. Nicholas himself was awarded a Southwark Civic Award in 2015, the Honorary Liberty of the Old Metropolitan Borough of Camberwell.
He also has ambitious plans to hugely extend PemPeople’s premises and reach by converting a block of abandoned garages into a vast multi-use space for the local community. Business start-ups, social enterprises, training, workshops, events and a café are all part of the plan, if they get the go-ahead from the Greater London Authority.
As Nicholas says, ‘We are growing from strength to strength from the ground up!’