A non-profit organisation aiming to end the violent deaths of Waltham Forest’s young people is set to open a new centre this month.
Steve Barnabis, 48, founded the Soul Project to offer a free space for young people on Wood Street, Walthamstow, in 2006, two years after losing a teenage cousin to violent crime.
In 2018, the project was evicted by the building’s new owner and reformed as Project Zero, so named for its goal to see a year where zero young people die from gun or knife crime.
After a short stint operating out of the CRATE Building, the project now has a new home – offered “at a very reduced rent” by the council – a short walk from St James station.
The Outset Centre, providing fun activities, learning and support for those eight and up, will open on Grange Road and hopes to run its first holiday programme during February half-term.
Steve set up the Soul Project after his cousin Robert was stabbed to death by another teenager.
He said: “My cousin Robert was killed by knife crime in 2004. I went to the hospital and I was there in the morgue and had quite a varied range of emotions.
“I had empathy and understanding for why young people might carry a knife or commit a crime but it was quite a difficult process.
“The perpetrator was a 16-year-old boy, who had been excluded from school and his home life was tense.
“It got me thinking that the need to provide support for young people was greater than ever.”
The Soul Project’s 12-year run was so successful that Steve’s work was commemorated in a mural on Canning Street, painted by the artist Gabriel Pitcher.
However, in 2019, Steve lost another cousin, Alex, to knife crime, receiving the news as he and his relatives were preparing to hold a summer event for young people.
He said: “It was a really strange day, I had family members having to go off to the crime scene and I was having to cover the programmes they would have been running.
“It was quite difficult the second time around. Fifteen years on and it felt like it was not getting better but actually getting worse.”
He hopes that the new Outset Centre will provide “a safe place for young people to go”, both after school and during holidays, where they can have fun supervised by staff members.
Activities as diverse as coding, music production, fashion and drone-flying will be offered free to young people aged eight to 10 or 11-plus, with an emphasis on employment for the older group.
He said: “We know that a lot of parents, especially around this area, have concerns around gangs and drugs and very rarely allow their children to go out.
“We are also going to be working very closely with the youth offending team and providing one-to-one programmes to steer (young people) away from getting into further trouble.”
Steve explained that Project Zero hopes to set young people up to apply for “the jobs of the future” offered by new developments planned for east London over this decade.
These include the film studio due to begin construction in Dagenham this year and the London College of Fashion moving to Stratford in 2022.
He said: “There are a number of developments happening around east London in the next five to seven years and our young people should be applying for those.
“If we work with our young people now, they should be able to apply to those jobs on their doorsteps.”
However, he acknowledged that the project’s “biggest challenge”, other than the uncertainty caused by Covid-19, “will really be about funding”.
He said: “At the last centre we had a soft play area, which generated income that helped us quite a bit.
“With this centre, it’s not that big so we have not got that facility. We’re going to be very reliant on fundraising and grants to run because we want to make everything free for young people.”
More information can be found about Project Zero on their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/ProjectZeroWF/?ref=page_internal