Celebration for launch of SPECeast first posted 2 December 2003

 LONDON - first posted 2 December 2003 - 745 words

A party was held last night at Unilever House to celebrate the launch of SPECeast a 'peer educational school in life-styles and value systems for young people' run by the diocese of Westminster in Tower Hamlets.

Guests included many friends and sponsors, including representatives the Bernard Sunley Foundation, Jack Petchy Foundation. Drapers Company, Mercers Company.

Situated in the former St Patrick's primary school in Wapping, SPECeast is an offshoot of SPEC, the diocesan youth centre at All Saints Pastoral Centre, London Colney, Hertfordshire, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year.

According to the Government's Index of Multiple Deprivation 2000, Tower Hamlets, which includes the areas of Stepney, Poplar and Bethnal Green and the Isle of Dogs, is the most deprived borough in the country. There are high levels of poverty, crime, overcrowding and homelessness. A third of the population are from ethnic minorities, the largest being Bangladeshi.

SPECeast offers Tower Hamlets youngsters of any faith or none, aged between nine and 18, an opportunity to spend a day together, working in small groups, to explore their lives and grow in self-esteem. Subjects might include anything from relationships and drugs to gifts and meditation.

Designed by architect Gerald Murphy's firm Akitekts, SPECeast is a bright, modern space complete with a kitchen and dining room, computer and study rooms a "quiet room", which can be used as a chapel or for Muslims to pray in, and a block of purpose built single rooms for the residential team.

"Fr Vladimir Felzmann, Westminster's diocesan youth chaplain, who is the brains behind SPECeast, says that schools in the borough have responded brilliantly to the project. It is already booked up well into next year.

Fr Vlad said: "One of the aims is to integrate the community so that we will have mixed ethnicity in things. If you have a bunch of black, white and Asian kids and they do something together, it breaks down the barriers and prejudices. We hope that the kids will like SPEceast so much that they will want to have a residential at SPEC."

A residential team of seven, including volunteers taking a year out, live at the centre. Fr Digby Samuels, parish priest of neighbouring St Patrick's, acts as chaplain.

Operations director of SPECeast Cleo Jones, 28, spent four years working at SPEC before joining the SPECeast outreach team which was based at St Mary and St Michael, Commercial Road. "We used local church halls and we went into schools, mainly Catholic ones, to do retreats and we used music, art, drama and dance to introduce themes and get discussions going.

"On May Bank Holiday weekends for the last three years we have held a noise project. We've has barbecues with halal food, played football on the green, packed shopping at the local Safeway and cleaned up graffiti at a youth club."

She says that some people are a little bit suspicious about their presence. "People think that we're out to make them Catholics. We're not. Part of our job is to befriend and learn about other cultures. There's been a lot of curiosity. We've had people turning up in the car park wondering what we are doing."

She believes having a residential community at the centre is important. "It's a support for each other and a way of building up our faith. I joined SPEC straight from sixth form, and I've matured and grown through it. I'd recommend taking a year out to do this to anyone. You learn from each other and discuss life experiences with each other."

Esther Coward, 23, looks after confirmation groups who come on day-long retreats. "When they come on the retreat they learn a lot about themselves and their faith. We try and make it an interactive day and try to be flexible with the programme."

Building up links with non-Catholic schools in the borough is the responsibility of Stuart Taylor, 24, a graduate in genetics from the University of Birmingham, and a Pentecostal. "I invite teachers to come and have a look at the centre and check it out," he says.

One of the biggest challenges of SPECeast will be how it can make young Muslims feel accepted. Inter-faith co-ordinator Helene Irving, 23, a graduate in religious studies from the University of Cambridge, says. "It's going to be a bit trial and error. I know their are inter-faith groups in London, but a lot more needs to be done in Tower Hamlets to improve links between Christians and Muslims."

For more information on SPEC and SPECeast check our Links pages.

Share this story