What makes it happen: Leila’s journey to becoming a director of Banister House Solar

What a journey this has been. A journey that I had no idea would encompass so much and that would go on for so long. A journey that started from the first moment I saw the poster 17 months ago about solar panel installation on the roof of Banister House Estate, to the recent party with many of the investors celebrating the commissioning of the solar panels. As more investors began to arrive I looked around at the beautiful tables that Ann (Director of BHS) and Wilhelmena (fellow investor) had prepared and smiled at the artistry it displayed.

I looked around and felt a sudden upswelling of pride at what we had achieved. A group of people from different backgrounds and walks of life had worked hard to get to this point, and I felt privileged to be a part of it all.

As Agamemnon Otero (CEO of Repowering London) began to summarise our journey the investors in the audience nodded with approval and smiled at his enthusiasm. For the first time I walked up in front of the investors and made a speech without my notes and little preparation. Caught up in the moment of excitement I spoke from the heart about what the project has meant to me. I reiterated the importance of community organisations creating a platform for local people to involve themselves in decisions that affect their community. I spoke about the importance of providing paid training and work experience for local young people, which would enhance their skills and add to their CV.

Asked on the day if it had been difficult balancing the demands of being a volunteer with my busy work and home life. I had to honestly say yes. It has been hard but worth every minute. ‘I wouldn’t have given so much of my time if it wasn’t something that I believed in’. Another investor enquired about what I’d like to spend the community fund on. I told him about the need for a youth club on the estate for local children to attend and participate in various activities. With the distractions and dangers of local gangs, a safe environment for children is sorely needed. I could almost see his mind working to envision what I had spoken of.

A number of people spoke that day, but the two that stood out for me the most was my son Jalil and Meg Hillier (MP for South Hackney). I’ve seen my son change from a troubled boy to a mature young man over the past year and a half. Watching him recount his experiences and what he’d gained from the internship programme showed me how far he’d come. When I recently asked him and my daughter Aisha about how they felt about the project coming to an end, both responded by saying they were a little sad. They’d both participated in various activities and workshops under the mentorship of Agamemnon, and both felt they’d learned a lot from the experience. Both expressed an interest in wanting to be involved in other local projects, something I echoed during my speech. I know that this project will be a benefit to our estate and want others to benefit from this kind of community building too.

It was great to have the support of Meg Hillier who genuinely seemed to support Banister House Solar and understand the impact such projects can have in local communities. I really hope that this pilot can be rolled out across the borough. People need to feel that they are a part of determining their own future and can have a say in what happens in their surroundings. Young people need to see that they matter and have a voice. This has been a step forward in helping communities to come together and get involved in making decisions about their own area. I look forward to working on the next project.

On a final note, for those of you who were at the commissioning party, you may have realised that Agamemnon had more to say when he introduced me and spoke briefly about my journey. When I first started attending meetings, I was in the process of attempting to leave an unhappy marriage. I had little confidence and self-worth and have since undergone a tremendous journey that has allowed me to grow not only in my understanding and skills.

But also in terms of myself as a person. Being part of this project has been a positive focus outside of my family and work, and has given me confidence, self-worth and purpose. I’ve been able to transfer these into my everyday life, enabling me to take positive steps forward with regards to my family, personal development and career. So when we talk about building communities, this also includes building the self-worth of individuals like me, who can now look forward to a brighter future.

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