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Newcastle, England : The Kids Kabin Project


“Let’s Make, Not Break”

Kids Kabin is a children’s charity based in Newcastle upon Tyne. We use creative arts and practical, hands-on projects to give children living in disadvantaged communities a chance to achieve. We work with schools during the day, developing creative projects to complement the curriculum. Then in the afternoons, evenings and school holidays we run creative and practical workshops on the streets using our innovative mobile workshops, at our main centre in Walker and in community venues across Newcastle upon Tyne. We also run wild camps and bike rides in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders.

A view of its history

In 1993 three Sisters of the Assumption were sent to Walker, in the east end of Newcastle upon Tyne. After some months of reconnaissance, they chose to settle there.
Even before we had time to unpack, ‘the nuns’ were objects of curiosity, and our small space was invaded by children who were only subdued by the offer of occupation out of limited resources of paper, crayons and games. It was the beginning.

Sometime later, the Sisters felt it was the moment to reflect about the new project. What had they learned ? What was this agenda material ? From observation and the ‘invasion experience’ it was clear that local children needed a place of their own and people who would give them recognition, time and attention, and something to do. Indoors, these children were happy to draw, paint, model and play. Despite poor concentration levels, there was the possibility of bringing, for short spaces, some order into the chaos, a chaos which reflected the background of their lives. Outside, their play was often destructive and harassing, like removing, drain covers, upsetting fruit stalls, smashing windows and breaking into cars.... From out of all this, came the idea : Why not replace this destructive tendency by creativity ?

A simple slogan was formulated as a rapid response to a concrete situation. It may also be seen as a natural response from the Sisters whose mission is that of education. Like all successful educational systems, theirs was founded on the acknowledgement of the value and uniqueness of each person, the desire to help them develop their potential and use their gifts to contribute to a better, more just and humane society. This is just as applicable to the situation in which the Sisters now found themselves as it was when first formulated and practised in the nineteenth century, and as it is currently being played out in many cultures and forms of education today. The name given to it is ‘transformative education’. Some happy expressions dating from its origins illustrate the freedom within which the system is designed to work. Referring to young people, here is one : ‘Direct their flight, but don’t clip their wings’, and another : ‘It is madness not to be ourself as fully as possible’.

Kids Kabin tries to include and integrate. Those young people living with multiple risk factors and chaotic lives are likely to struggle to achieve at school. This results in ongoing patterns of exclusion or non-attendance with these young people seeing themselves as failures next to many of their peers. We aim to rebalance this by enabling those excluded children to achieve in front of their peers :

  • Kids Kabin welcomes all children and these children attend Kids Kabin voluntarily
  • Children need the freedom to express themselves at Kids Kabin
  • We want to focus our work on those children most at risk of social exclusion
  • The most socially excluded children display the most difficult behaviour
  • Many organisations exclude those people who display the most difficult behaviour
  • We do not want the behaviour of children at Kids Kabin to put off and exclude others
  • We aim to create an environment of mutual respect and positive relationships

Between 1994 and 2000 Kids Kabin focused on the 8-12 age range. Then in 2001, alongside the new building, we started working with 13-16 year olds – ‘the senior sessions’. Increasing the age range was a justification for the development of purpose-built premises. However, between 2002 and 2006 we had been struggling with our work with teenagers. We found that they were no longer interested in the creative activities that we specialised in. We had tried to develop more vocational courses and adapt the programme accordingly. We had given them responsibility for planning ; we had introduced a range of new and different activities. However, we were still having limited success. We actually found that the teenagers were less engaged, more difficult to enthuse and less creative than the 8-12 year olds.
After a wake-up call from a funder in 2006 and the self- reflection that resulted from it, we looked in detail at our strengths, weaknesses and other new ideas. The young volunteers’ initiative was already under way. We had also been discussing the idea of replicating the ‘old Kids Kabin’, the shop unit, in other parts of Walker or in the west end of Newcastle. We knew that the Kids Kabin model would work elsewhere and we drew up a plan to develop three satellites between 2007 and 2010. This was a very ambitious idea, which came into its own in 2013. Now these satellites are fully established.
Trailers are hitched to bicycles and taken to other areas in Newcastle. There is a mobile bike repair trailer, mobile kitchen, mobile pottery etc. These are set up in the street, in community centres and church halls. The system is immensely popular and engages the help of parents as well. 

Some testimonies of the volunteers :

“I am serving in Kids Kabin in Newcastle. An art and craft centre for kids. It is a venue where kids can create and be part in activities that will take them away from bad influence of streets and also help them be better adults in the future. There I see how lucky those kids. They are provided with things to ensure they will have a good life and have better future. The United Kingdom, although it is a first world country is also suffering and in trouble in many aspects of its society. I am called here to serve with a purpose beyond boundaries and differences”. (Spencer from the Philippines)

“During this year at Kids Kabin I have discovered plenty of new skills. For the first time in my life I have tried to do pottery, woodwork, bike repair and I have fallen in love with these sessions. I never knew that I like bike rides, but I found out this year. I use the bike everywhere. I began to cook a lot and the children like very much to cook with me, because I am trying to do different international cuisines with them. I have discovered that I am becoming stronger in challenging situations and I have some skills to work with "difficult" children, and I can influence them. Very often I put myself in a difficult situation that develops my skills and find a way out from that situation”. (Igor Kornij, from Ukraine)

“My international volunteering year here in Walker was fantastic ! I am so grateful to God for sending me here to work in Kids Kabin and other neighbouring projects within the area. As a teacher, it enhanced my skills more in the variety of activities such as arts, dance, music, drama, woodwork, glasswork, pottery, cookery, sewing, and bike repairs, hands-on projects to give children living in disadvantaged communities a chance to experience and achieve something good for themselves, indoors and outdoors. As we work in the streets, it gives me courage to share my gifts and talents with them, my skills and knowledge in implementing the goals of Kids Kabin in action surrounded by the values and respect towards each other. I enjoyed so much working with the staff and my co-volunteers in my community with different groups of kids like school groups, after-school kids, street kids and children with special needs. It makes my heart sing for joy and thanksgiving…” (Felma, from the Philippines)

Sister Christine Charlwood r.a.
Will Benson
Assumption English Province


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