• Joyclen Buffong

    Founder and CEO, Rise:365, Hackney, London

    Reach, Inspire, Support, Empower: meeting RISE:365 Founder

    Joyclen Buffong

    Rise:365 is based in Hackney, London, founded by Joyclen in March 2019.

    Social Founders interviewed Joyclen in February 2022.

     

    “The greatest joy was taking the jump and believing in myself. As much as I don’t like to celebrate myself, I’m coming to the place where I can recognise what I’ve done. I’m proud of RISE, and I’m proud of being the founder of RISE.”

     

    “I believe we're all given a purpose in life, and when you can truly connect with your purpose and what you're here for, and what you're about, it's a blessing in itself to be able to walk in that, it was important for me to do so, and I do feel that I found my purpose.”

     

    “We're made to think we don't have a certain amount of power, but we do. We just need to come together and use it correctly.”

     

    Joyclen Buffong is the founder of RISE:365, an organisation she set up to help break down the barriers for young people to achieve their goals. Simply put, Rise:365 aims to Reach, Inspire, Support, and Empower every day of the year.

     

    The Creation of RISE:365

     

    After almost two decades working as a youth worker for statutory services, Joyclen decided that enough was enough, and that she needed to step in herself to address the fundamental gaps in youth provision for black and ethnic communities. In March 2019, she set up RISE:365, as a Community Interest Company (CIC) and talks passionately about her drive and sense of purpose in becoming a founder, her combination of deep experience and the fire in her to speak out against injustice:

     

    “In my experience of being a youth worker for statutory services, I've been able to identify the gaps that I felt fundamentally needed addressing. My experience meant that I am talented in engaging with marginalised groups of young people, obviously being black myself, connecting with the black community and ethnic minorities.

     

    And I have a special gift, I would call it, for working with young black boys in particular, my connection with them seems to be quite a fundamental one. For many of us, it's quite clear to see that they are discriminated against within society. And I just had a fire to speak out for them, to be a voice for them.

     

    I'm very much a people's person and very much about injustice, or justice, and the rights of people, but particularly young people, and felt that it was my responsibility to advocate on their behalf.

    I believe we're all given a purpose in life, and when you can truly connect with your purpose and what you're here for, and what you're about, I feel that it's a blessing in itself to be able to walk in that, it was important for me to do so, and I do feel that I found my purpose.”

     

    The Impact of George Floyd’s Murder in Hackney and for Joyclen as a Founder

     

    In our meeting, Joyclen recalls the wake of the George Floyd murder, and the conversations she was having with young black people around race at this time:

     

    “As workers and, you know, black figures within the community, there was still like a quieting over how we may respond in rooms or how we may speak or how we may feel, before then.

     

    I would say, since then, I've definitely found my voice and felt more comfortable in speaking out. I felt less comfortable in not speaking out than I did before. And I think that probably led on from conversations that I was having with young people about how they felt about the incident and discrimination they have faced.

     

    Young people need to see that you're with them, that you're speaking out on things. And I'm not saying you need to have all the answers at that point, because none of us do, but we need to let people know that we know where they're at, and that we connect - it needs to be seen and heard. And that didn't happen.

     

    I had conversations with young people around it and it was one thing that one of the young boys said to me: “It’s never going to change; we have been suffering for hundreds of years. We are always going to be affected by racism, I hate it, but have to accept it. It is what it is.” That really struck a chord with me to think that young people, they’re living today thinking that they have to live with this inequality and injustice for the whole of their life and just accept it.

     

    And then obviously there’s this narrative around young black people, in particular boys, the mainstream media narrative of how they drive this kind of thuggish, awful discredit to society, kind of image. So, RISE was set up in March 2019, but really spear-headed in March 2020 at the height of the pandemic.”

     

    Joyclen’s Response to the Pandemic

     

    Joyclen goes on to explain why the pandemic was a catalyst for her work at RISE:365:

     

    “So, the youth provisions and schools are shut down and I’ve been working with these young people for years and years, and they were looking at me for answers, like ‘what are we doing now? We’re at home, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.’ The world was in a space that no one had experienced before, people were frightened and struggling, I had to look at ways to support young people and the community, people’s mental well-being was being impacted."

     

    Recognising this problem, and issues around food in Hackney caused by the pandemic, Joyclen saw the opportunity to tackle them both by starting a community response food programme. She was supported by Kiran Chahal, Founder of Made Up Collective, and the programme is co-run by young people in the community.

     

    “The young people were delivering 1,800 meals twice a week to families and people on the estate. It’s been about us getting up as a community, coming together and saving ourselves”, she says. “And then six months later, we went on to make a community shop, which is an intergenerational project.”

     

    RISE:365 has been a revelation in the local and wider community. Over 150,000 shopping bags and 50,000 hot meals have been provided. Its story has been picked up by mainstream media including ITV News, The Guardian and Time Out, and there has been celebrity support from the likes of Maya Jama, Kojey Radical, Professor Green and Niko.

     

    Using Media as a Tool for Change

     

    “One of the main drivers for me was showing the young people in a different light, showing them against the narrative of how they'd been shown, and how we can use social media as a tool to counteract what mainstream media puts out, because we're made to think we don't have a certain amount of power, but we do. We just need to come together and use it correctly.

     

    Then MyLondon News picked it up and there was an iconic picture of the young boys, it was about eight of them, walking through the estate carrying bags and they looked like the type of boys that the media would portray negatively. But obviously they're carrying these bags to deliver shopping to people's houses. So that image was captured. and then it just flooded mainstream media, and it just went viral, with The Guardian, all the main papers and ITV News, and there was a positive spin on how they were perceived and what they do.

     

    So obviously that just changed the whole narrative of the community, and how the community felt, how they responded to the young people, how the young people thought about themselves, and how the families felt about their young people being involved and being part of something highly valued and respected.

     

    So, although the Pandemic was something very negative for us, we were able to birth something very beautiful.”

     

    Together TV, the national broadcaster, commissioned an award-winning film about the project, called Superheroes Wear Hoodies, directed by local Hackney film-maker Jason Osborne. Broadcast across the UK on national TV, and available on ITV and Sky Plus, the film also had a community screening for 250 people, supported by Hackney PictureHouse and attended by Hackney’s Mayor, Philip Granville. Joyclen uses the film widely to engage and inspire supporters.

     

    In March 2022, RISE:365 was awarded Project of the Year at the Hackney Youth Awards 2022. “It means a lot”, Joyclen tells us, “it adds another layer of credit and value to the work the young people are doing. For us, they’re already winners because of what they’ve been doing for the community for the last two years, how they’ve given themselves tirelessly, week after week. They deserve to be celebrated.”

     

    Joyclen brilliantly sums up the impact of her work on the young people:

     

    “So, it’s definitely changed their lives in terms of believing in themselves and knowing that they can make a difference and that they are a positive contribution to society. And it helped them in a sense of not waiting for people to come in and save us.

     

    So that's really what it's been about - it's been about us getting up as a community, coming together and saving ourselves. It's about empowering young people to feel that they can make change happen. That's what RISE stands for: Reach, Inspire, Support and Empower. We reach our young people, inspire them, empower them and then support them to keep moving forward, and you know, you have down days and stuff, but every day, we need to RISE up and just do what we can each day.”

     

    “Joyclen, We Need to Speak”

     

    One of the powerful achievements of RISE:365 has been the way Joyclen has enabled its young people to speak out on issues they are passionate about. Reacting to the Child Q Case, in which a 15-year-old girl was strip searched at school after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis, Joyclen attended a protest with some of her young people. They told her, “Joyclen, we need to speak”, and decided to try to get on the speaker list. There was a long line of politicians and other people, but RISE:365 convinced the organisers that they should be given the chance to have their say before the thousands of people in attendance. “It's not really about these politicians”, Joyclen points out, “it’s about these young people who need to speak out about institutional racism”.

     

    Joyclen believes it’s crucial that young people are sitting around the table in all of today’s important conversations. The young people have met with Philip Glanville, Hackney’s Mayor, Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor and Mark Carroll, Hackney Council’s Chief Executive. Joyclen also wants the young people to be involved in a discourse with the police, even though many of her young people feel hatred towards them; she described one young man at RISE:365, now 20, who has been stopped and searched multiple times from the age of twelve, and never found with anything illegal on him. “It’s important for us to be in spaces we’re not normally seen in. If we’re not in certain rooms then we can’t make those changes”, Joyclen says.

     

    A Holistic Approach, Moving RISE:365 Forward, and the Challenges and Joys of Being a Social Founder

     

    It’s hard to comprehend that, for the whole time Joyclen has been running RISE:365, she’s continued her full-time job as a youth worker in statutory services. On top of this, she’s the mother of four children, and the two youngest of them are still only thirteen and fifteen years old.

     

    “It can be difficult”, Joyclen says, “we’re very family-oriented, and as a woman, there’s a lot of responsibility on you and trying to have a balance. But then I also had this feeling that my house was okay, so I needed to support others. It’s about not being naïve because your children still always need you. What’s been fortunate for me is that they’re all involved in RISE too, and that’s worked, because they’re part of the process.”

     

    We had time, at the end of our interview, for Joyclen to reflect more on her founder journey with RISE:365 and the different stages she’s been through, from start-up to growth, to her plans for the next big stages:

     

    “In the beginning the structure of RISE was not complete, I just had a vision and a drive of what I wanted to do and what it was going to do for people. And the rest of it kind of fell into place afterwards.

     

    I think as social founders, and particularly as a grassroots community founder, we may not be as equipped or supported as charities and statutory organisations, but we have the drive and the vision to want to do something and push change. So, it did kind of happen backwards!

     

    And at the beginning, I didn't know anything. I just went on Google and had to do lots of research, understanding what the differences were between a Limited Company and a CIC and all that sort of stuff. And then I looked at what really fitted with what we were trying to do.

     

    So, I set up RISE in March 2019 as a CIC right from the beginning. I knew it needed to be a CIC, because a charity's a lot of work to set up, a lot of work, with red tape again - and I just needed to go with it straight away, right from the beginning.

     

    RISE is me! It’s co-managed with two of the young men that have grown up underneath me, from since they've been young, Marvin and Jermain, outstanding young men, real models and they are like the alumni. There's something different about having people that have grown up under what you've set something up to be, in terms of how that's carried forward as a torch, because of how it's made a difference to their lives and how they've benefited from it, and how they now want to make sure they have that same impact on other young people's lives, to give them the same kind of opportunities.”

     

    Alongside the Community Shop, RISE offers several other services. They provide free counselling sessions for young people over the age of fourteen, and have a mentor programme, in which young people are tailor-matched with mentors. There is additionally a parent support programme, which combats issues in home life through mediation, advocacy and training, as well as a supplementary school programme, offering educational support in English, Maths, Business and Pan African Studies.

     

    Despite all this good work, Joyclen is determined to do more. She raises concerns that, even when young people are making good progress with her and at school, home life can be challenging for many. Keen to support those within the care system and provide high quality supported housing for semi-independent living, Joyclen is launching a supported housing programme, where young people can stay in houses of multiple occupancy and are given a space to “nourish and grow”. Another ambition of Joyclen’s is to acquire a building for RISE:365. So far, they have been using the Kingsmead Community Centre on Saturdays, but Joyclen spoke of RISE:365 getting a studio for young people to build their skills, a hall to put on community events, an outdoor space for community fun days. Essentially, Joyclen wants a complete wrap-around service to support members of the community. Of course, for these dreams to become reality, a huge amount of capital will be needed; Joyclen will need funders to dig deep.

     

    RISE:365 has enjoyed success in gaining funding from organisations like the National Lottery Community Fund, but Joyclen admits fundraising is one of the aspects of being a social founder she finds most difficult. “Putting together the terminology and structuring the information for grants, I’m not the best person to do that”, she says.

     

    But Joyclen’s inspiration and drive will, we know, bring in widespread support for her innovative and high impact work and vision. We look forward to following her founder journey over the years.

     

    For Joyclen, “the greatest joy was taking the jump and believing in myself. As much as I don’t like to celebrate myself, I’m coming to the place where I can recognise what I’ve done. I’m proud of RISE, and I’m proud of being the founder of RISE.”

     

    If you wish to donate to RISE:365, you can visit their main GoFundMe page, or their fund to help provide young people with safe and nurturing accommodation.

     

    Watch Together TV’s film about Joyclen and RISE:365 to be inspired by Joyclen’s impact and drive as a social founder: Superheroes Wear Hoodies

     

    Follow Rise:365, and share this story, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

     

    Are you a Hackney social founder? Join us at our Hackney Social Founders first gathering, on Wednesday 15th June, 10am-1pm, at Hackney CVS, Dalston Lane, London E8 3AZ: Book here.

     

    This feature was written by Joe Wooden, Research and Communications Officer, Social Founder Network.

     

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