Innovative youth group forced to close for lack of volunteers

Tabula Rasa, the South Norwood youth project created by a group of young friends out of the ashes of the 2011 riots, has had to close, in many ways a victim of its own success.

A group of youngsters at a Tabula Rasa session: lack of volunteer helpers as much as a lack of cash has prompted the closure of the scheme, at least for the time being

A group of youngsters at a Tabula Rasa session: lack of volunteer helpers as much as a lack of cash has prompted the closure of the scheme, at least for the time being

The project managers reluctantly took the decision because they lacked enough volunteer helpers to work with the increasing number of youngsters attending the weekly sessions, which sought to offer access to recording equipment and training in a range of activities including fashion, art, photography, IT, cooking and dance.

Despite receiving various small grants and funding awards since they started Tabula Rasa in May 2012, Natalie Ajibade and Anthe Mills, the project managers, were still paying for much of the project’s activities out of their own pockets. Unable to fund staff, office space or equipment for the centre, in December they made the tough decision to close the venture for the time being.

Ajibade is hopeful of a re-launch at the Samuel Coleridge Taylor Centre as a summer project in June or July. “So much work was put in to making Tabula Rasa Project a success,” Ajibade said.

“We built up a great number of young people who attended weekly and learned new skills. It felt really good to be able to give back to the community and set an example for the young people growing up the area as to what you can achieve if you put your mind to it.”

Before setting up the scheme, both Ajibade and Mills had lost friends or family to a south London stabbing and a murder.

“When the riots happened, that just underlined the need for something for local youngsters,” Ajibade said.

The first 18 months or so of the Tabula Rasa project amply demonstrated that the demand for activities from Croydon’s youth was there. So much so, that by December last year, Ajibade felt that her organisation could no longer cope with the numbers of people attending.

She decided against limiting the number of young people attending the sessions. “Most of those attending had built friendships – to turn away one would mean we turn them all away.

“The other issues was that we were not qualified to do some of the activities they wanted to do, such as the music workshop or football and sport, which was very popular with the boys. This is why we need volunteers in these areas.”

Tabula Rasa had successfully secured £2,500 funding from the Community Development Foundation to put towards equipment for its workshops, and a fund-raising event in Shirley showcasing young people’s work saw the donation of a sound system worth £1,000. The project was actively involved in events across the borough, including the Purley Festival, the South Norwood Festival and the Cherry Orchard Arts Festival, where they tried to promote their work, enrol more young people and volunteers.

Tabula Rasa Project is seeking volunteers who are available to work this summer and could assist in the following areas:
Fashion and Art
Photography and Film
Sports, Fitness and Football

  • If you are interested or know someone who is please contact Natalie Ajibade via email To find out more information about the project visit

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