Caramel Rock’s Sony Manku on fashion power
Charity Caramel Rock is helping young people from diverse and challenging backgrounds get onto the ladder in the fashion industry
In one of the many new developments popping up in Gallions Reach is a charity that is making a massive difference to youngsters with challenging backgrounds who may otherwise have “fallen through the cracks”.
The charity was set up by Newham-based Faith Johnson 10 years ago, starting out as a small sewing club for vulnerable students.
It now gives people the chance to gain a variety of qualifications, including BTEC levels one, two and three in fashion, art and design, but, most importantly, it offers opportunities to people struggling with education, employment or training.
It also partners students with brands such as Aquascutum, Classic Cuts and Osman London, where they carry out work experience.
Faith said: “When we first started Caramel Rock in Custom House it was always our vision to see young people from diverse and challenging backgrounds who are sometimes not suited to the traditional classroom environment come to our academy and thrive and excel in what they have an unswerving passion to do – that’s creative and fashion orientated.
“Our charity makes a massive contribution not only to the people we train but also the local community, so it is really important from time to time to stop and celebrate the achievements of our students and let people know what we have to offer and what our former students have achieved.”
Project leader Funmi Akingbad said she was told time and time again by students that to them it “feels like home”.
Funmi, from Denmark Hill, said: “We cater to their needs. They can stay with us for as long as they want and they get more one-to-one time with us.
“We also get them employment and in the past we have got our students paid jobs as well.”
Funmi has been teaching the classes of 15-20 students for five years now, bringing with her more than two decades of fashion and teaching experience.
She works alongside centre manager Sony Manku, 40, who is tasked with running the day-to-day goings on and also recruiting new students.
Sony, from Wanstead, said: “The way we recruit is mainly through word of mouth and a lot of it is going to events such as careers fairs.
“I often find that no-one else is offering what we do.
“There are plenty of opportunities for beauty and business it seems, but not fashion, so we want people to know we are out there.”
Sony said the charity was passionate about trying to reach out to people who may struggle in other educational settings – and shared why she thought its approach worked best.
“We are a very inclusive organisation and we thrive on that – we have students that have mental disabilities and those that suffer from anxiety,” she said.
“Some of these students just need a chance – a lot of them are hard working, they just need that chance to improve themselves.
“I think our approach works much better for our students because we’re a bit more relaxed.
“Students say they just feel comfortable as it’s a smaller place and everyone is here to help out and that’s how I think they fit in.
“When they are done we don’t say OK, you’ve done the course, bye, we help them find employment, and help with CVs. There’s a lot of involvement from us.”
Current Level 2 BTEC student Oriana Domingos, 18, joined the course after studying art and design at Newham Sixth Form College in Plaistow.
She said: “Our career adviser told me about Caramel Rock because I wanted get into fashion design – and ultimately I want to design my own clothes.
“At the moment we’re learning about fabrics and I’m finding the teaching straightforward.
“It’s great working in a small group, as there is more time for me individually.”
For more information about the charity or to get involved, go to caramelrock.com
Students at Caramel Rock