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by Morgan Ofori

Magdalene Adenaike outside the Thornton Heath leisure centre Pic: Patrick Meyer Higgins

A self made community entrepreneur and knife crime campaigner is planning to acquire a much loved former jazz venuinto a community centre. Morgan Ofori meets Magdalene Adenaike.

A campaign has been launched to raise £1m to turn a former live jazz venue in Thorntorn Heath, Croydon into a community centre.

Prior to closing in 2017, the Lord Napier was host to legendary acts like the late George Melly, other jazz stars like the late trumpeter Bill Brunskill, The Lord Napier hotshots, and more recently, the Reminisce Reggae band.

Now Magdalene Adenaike, the founder of grassroots organisation, Music Relief Foundation, who has campaigned against knife crime and believes music tuition can change young lives, has set her sights on acquiring the former public house and turning it into a place that serves the community and home for her expanding organisation.

Speaking to Eastlondonlines from her office in Thornton Heath, she said:

“I wanted to be the UK’s Beyonce in front of the camera and not behind the scenes, but I found purpose bringing joy to a community through music.”

The MRF are looking at ways of funding their campaign which has a target of million pounds.

Adenaike is adamant that the venue change is necessary to take the area to the next level:

“There isn’t much going on in Thornton Heath as an area. With the negativity that surrounds it, a community collective bringing that place back to its former glory in terms of the music and for disadvantaged children it would be a good thing.”

Adenaike says she has found fulfilment by driving change in young people’s lives campaigning against knife crime and providing music tuition.

Since 2011, the MRF have delivered over 1,000 workshops, working with 5,000 young people in that time. It has survived off local and lottery funding in the past.

The organisation operates via a combination of direct work with students that are at threat of being permanently excluded from school as well as local campaigns that have sometimes extended beyond that reaching parliament and policy changers.

In 2017, MRF launched a knife crime campaign by its “youth ambassadors” at parliament.

Adenaike believes this was a highlight because of how important the issue was and still is to Londoners:

“We started this campaign at parliament at the same time as Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘London needs you alive: don’t carry a knife’ campaign, we believe in empowering youth to have a voice and be accountable, it sends a message, our young people stood alongside and did this with the mayor.”

Launch of knife crime campaign held at the Palace of Westminster in 2017- More Than Able. Magdalene Adenaike, former Commander Jeff Boothe ,MP Sarah Jones, Nia and Javon and Yemi Hughes. Pic: Aceshots photography

The MRF’s youth ambassadors are named ‘More Than Able’ (MTA), a dynamic team of volunteers aged 11 to 25-year-olds. They work together to tackle youth barriers within society, engage with policy makers, support the organisation to represent the voices of young people and improve the disconnect and communication between young people and relevant stakeholders such as parents, teachers, communities, and council representatives.

Adenaike speaks of a constant evolution within the MRF, touching on a time before it existed: “I was a teenage mum, I have experienced homelessness, I was not born here, so my accent made me a target. If I did not have parents that understood the help a teenage mother required, I may have been the victim of abuse or used drugs to cope, as I was impressionable.”

“I was guided by God to firstly, start speaking at mother-baby units, leading the choir at church, and all this without a job.

“I found my calling working with chronically low self-esteemed young people and empowering them to develop themselves as musicians, but also as people.” Adenaike added.

After Covid in November 2021, MRF celebrated its 10-year anniversary and began to pivot towards a music school, which catered for neurodivergent young people. The sessions are delivered by a team of trained music tutors and brings in necessary funding to help with running costs.

Carers and parents of the young people were also given a platform to express concerns in a safe space for the adults. Adenaike told Eastlondonlines: “This is community, we call it the music relief family.”

With the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of Jermaine Cools, a 14-year-old boy who was fatally stabbed near West Croydon station. Adenaike stresses that the dangers of being a young person in Croydon is something she speaks to her young people about regularly: “To see the loss of another child, as a parent is very painful.”

“I tell the students; you are more than able. When you grow a seed, it does not grow today. Equip yourself for tomorrow. Unfortunately, Jermaine will always be 14. Life is a process. Understand the voice you have.” Adenaike added.

In light of Croydon Council recently declaring bankruptcy , MRF’s founder is aware that the organisation is going to have to find ways to resource themselves and battle underfunding that will come from the council cutting money available for services: “We are running different activities to raise funds, such as a charity walk in the new year and an awards ceremony taking place this month.”

The MRF awards ceremony on Friday celebrated the talents of young people musically in front of industry judges and influencers.

Other sources of funding have come via the PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) foundation’s ‘colourbrave’ fund which gives financial support to social enterprises that promote inclusion and are ‘black-led’.

The just giving page for the Lord Napier site to become MRF house is here.

A Charity walk will be happening on January 28, 2023, tickets for this can be booked here.

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