Downing Street invitation for centre manager
A tireless project worker at a Walsall Baptist church that provides education and skills training sessions for residents was treated to a surprise trip to 10 Downing Street, to a reception hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron for voluntary groups
Kayon Blake, the fundraising and community manager at the town's Mend-It community initiative, had the shock of her life when the last minute invitation from the Cabinet Office landed in her email inbox giving just 24 hours’ notice.
She was invited after the project was nominated by an unknown supporter to attend the VIP gathering in London in March.
Mend-It, based at Green Lane Baptist Church, operates four days a week offering English classes to foreign language speakers, sewing and handicraft workshops, tea and chat drop-in, free bread and keep fit sessions plus card making worKshops monthly. It attracts around 100 visits per week.
Kayon said: 'My eyes did a double take and my mouth fell open when I read the emailed invitation. I couldn’t believe it. Initially I thought it was a prank and then a million questions raced through my mind. Chief among them was, why was I chosen? In that moment I heard a voice in my head say, ‘why not you!’
'I telephoned Number 10 twice to make sure it wasn’t a wind up. Then as there was so many last minute arrangements to make that another church member and session volunteer Natalie Walker booked and downloaded my train ticket.
'As I approached the gate at Downing Street a sense of nervous excitement welled up inside me. ‘Hello’ said the police officer at the gate. I replied, ‘Hi, Dave’s expecting me,’ trying to act and sound cool as I handed him my invitation. After producing that and my ID I went through the security checkpoint and the door to Number 10 opened. I was ushered up three flights of stairs into a large room that was already teeming with pastors, priests, other charity personnel and grant funders.
'Mr Cameron gave a speech about how Britain was a Christian country and that he was proud to be a part of it with its Christian values that respects and is tolerant of other cultures and communities. It made me think of Mend-It, as respect and tolerance are our core values and people from all cultures are welcome and encouraged to grow and form friendships.
'I didn’t get to speak to him because there was such a great clamour of folks surrounding him. But it was a great experience for someone like me. Downing Street was the last place I was expecting to get an invitation to. It was a very big shock and a big surprise for me and the church, an honour for Mend-It to be recognised in this way.'
Kayon first became involved with Mend-It almost two years ago as a centre user at the fabric workshops. She was new to Walsall and hadn’t made many friends. She then started attending the services at the church, and was baptised by the former minister the Revd Bob Morris. When the managers’ job was advertised last summer she applied for it and was eventually offered the position. She began in September 2015, and despite the Downing Street recognition believes there is much more to come.
'I am continually encouraged by this quote from the Bible in Philippians 1 and verse 6 ‘Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ Jesus.’ I believe that God is not finished with Mend-It, Green Lane Baptist Church and by extension, me.
'There is still much more work to be done to his glory and activities we would like to introduce if we can attract funding support.'
Mend-It was set up in 2009 by former minister Mr Morris and his wife Valerie, who spearheaded the activities with the help of volunteers from the church and the community to promote healthy lifestyles and health attitudes in response to figures which showed that the Birchills area is among of the most deprived in the country.
In addition to the weekly sessions there are health information drop-ins, fabric workshops and fun days hosted at the premises in Burrowes Street.
The service is funded by the church and with the help of grant funding which has included Walsall Area Partnership, Near Neighbours, Healthwatch, Walsall Housing Group, Heart of England Baptist Association. ESOL classes are provided by Walsall Adult and Community College.
The doors are open during term time from 9.45am to 3:00pm Tuesdays and Thursdays; keep fit operates Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am.