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

The Wharf - - Canary Wharf - Jon Massey

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

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