Business leaders have pledged to get involved in an inspirational programme designed to improve the life chances of disengaged young people following an emotional event at Crystal Palace Football Club.
They were touched by the heart-rending stories from 13 and 14 year olds from schools across the borough who stood up and told about their real-life experiences at the pilot Be the Change event, sponsored by the University of Sussex and the Careers and Enterprise Company, on Thursday, September 22, 2016.
Many of them bravely spoke about the very personal issues which are holding them back at the event organised by humanotopia and LoveLocalJobs.
White Label Creative are proud supporters of the scheme and director Katharine Glass said: The Be the Change programme that empowers young people to raise their confidence, is as important to the future of Croydon as the widespread improvements to its physical environment.
"Many perceptions of Croydon are built on the historical actions of disengaged youths in the town, rather than the many positive changes taking place now.
"We must work together to improve the lives and opportunities for the young people in the borough, in order to regenerate the town in a social as well as a physical sense."
Year Nine students from 9 local schools spent the day working with local business volunteers and experienced Be the Change staff with the aim of encouraging them to aspire to a brighter future and discuss the issues they need to overcome in order to achieve that goal
Susie Howells, community engagement advisor of Gatwick Airport, said: "I was astonished by the bravery of these young people to stand up in front of their peers and talk so openly about their feelings. Hopefully this experience will help them to reflect and think about themselves in a more positive way."
The initiative aims to improve young people's lives in five key areas: hope, confidence, happiness, relationships and employability.
It wasn't just the youngsters who opened their hearts. Founders of the organisation and employees from a number of local businesses also told of their own struggles at school, how they overcame these and the steps they took to become a success in their field.
Andy Tarrant, Croydon's borough commander for the Metropolitan Police, felt the event was key to recognising the challenges facing young people.
"People can get hung up on statistics but this was a reminder that behind every statistic there is a child that matters. If just one young person changes as a result of today's event it will be worthwhile."
Gino Graziano, joint head of widening participation at the University of Sussex, described the event as "profoundly moving".
"It is difficult as an adult to get a sense of what it is like to be 14 years old and my respect for those who stood up and told their story is boundless," he said. "As a society we need to put in more effort to help these young people."
The Body Shop, NatWest, Westfield, Southern Water and Lendlease were among the other organisations represented at the event, which was set up with the support of LoveCroydonJobs.com's founding partners Harris Global. LV=, White Label Creative and StartUp Croydon – a Croydon Business Venture.
Georgina Angele, enterprise coordinator of Coast to Capital, added: "Be the Change is an excellent example of employer engagement, meaningful interaction with employers and mentoring that is at the heart of the Careers and Enterprise Company mission and vision for careers education in England."
Feyley Barnham, business development executive at StartUp Croydon – a Croydon Business Venture, who acted as a business guide described it as a privilege to work with the other volunteers and youngsters who took part of the day."
"The youngsters who took the microphone in front of 150 people were incredibly brave and the claps and cheers were deafening.
"The teenagers put their lives on hold for the day and, by the end, shone out as very capable, smart and enthusiastic members of society. I will most certainly be volunteering to support them to the end of their journey."
The event organisers now intend to use the successful event at Selhurst Park to make a positive impact on the lives of more Croydon youngsters.
Rosanna Farrar, head of events and Be the Change for LoveLocalJobs, said: "We were overwhelmed with the number of schools and business representatives who attended the Croydon Be the Change pilot and demonstrated their support for this important initiative.
"It was an extremely powerful day that I have no doubt will have changed lives. Now all we need to do is make sure that we keep up the momentum so that we can roll out a full Be the Change programme in the borough."
Graham Moore, founder of humanutopia who led the delivery, said he and the team felt proud, privileged and honoured to have played a part in such a successful and inspirational day.
"The business advisors who came from the Croydon community were true ambassadors for the event and supported the young people in a deep and genuine way," he said.
"The stars of the day, however, were without doubt the teenagers themselves who, despite facing many and varied challenges in their lives were motivated and determined to overcome adversity to make the most of their lives."
To find out more about Be the Change, visit http://about.lovelocaljobs.com/portfolio-item/be-the-change/