Bradley first went to Somerville Adventure Playground at the age of four. It became a place where he spent a lot of time as a child. Bradley describes the playground as “a second home.”
“Getting involved in different activities I learned to understand my capabilities here and what I was good at, what were my interests, and take part in activities that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to experience”
Going to the playground gave Bradley opportunities and experiences that he wouldn’t otherwise have had. It also enabled him to meet other young people in the area. He particularly remembers outdoor activities such as building dens and going on playground trips to Macaroni Wood in Gloucestershire where children from Deptford were given the chance to experience life beyond the inner-city.
As he got older, Somerville continued to play an important role in Bradley’s life. He decided that he wanted to “give something back to the community” and in 2003, started to volunteer at the playground. He gradually developed his skills by completing various training courses and, two years later, applied for a part-time job, eventually progressing to become the Director of Somerville Youth and Play in 2009.
The organisation has developed considerably since it functioned solely an adventure playground. Bradley describes Somerville’s development into an organisation that is now “more of a community hub with an adventure playground incorporated into it”, hosting not only children’s services, but also older people’s groups, men’s projects, employment initiatives as well as art and cookery groups. These projects are often run in partnership with other local organisations. Many of their youth projects are focused on support for young people who have been excluded from, or are at risk of exclusion from, mainstream education. They also run projects that focus on the prevention of gang and knife crime; workshops in schools; bicycle maintenance and have developed a partnership initiative with the police in which young people restore stolen bikes in which they are able to keep the bikes they have restored.
Bradley sees his main achievement as having developed and realised the idea for a new building for Somerville that was both fit for purpose and able to offer opportunities to the wider community. “It inspired me and inspired others. When you sit inside this building and see actually I was a part of that, it is quite hard hitting really… and the building will be here when I leave, which I think is the best thing that could ever happen.”
The initial building was intended to have been a temporary structure, but was actually on site for over 35 years. “This meant the condition of the building was in dire straits…Young people need to have places that inspire them and that building wasn’t very inspiring.”
Bradley and others from the Somerville community got together to raise funds for a new building and persuade Lewisham Council who owned the land to give them the lease. They were successful in getting a 25-year lease and, with funds from the Big Lottery and other charitable trusts, they were able to secure the necessary resources to take the project forward. The new building was completed in 2016.
“People can make a change. You’ve got to feel like you want to do something in order to achieve it. You can ’t just say well, I want to do it, but you’re not motivated or inspired to do it.”
His hopes for the future are for a sustainable organisation that continues to be part of the community. “Somerville has been here for over 45 years” and needs to be “here for many, many other families for years and years to come.”