Free to be kind

241833295_1248156165612163_7069054864140989380_nElsa and the kindness tree at last year’s Wanstead Festival

Elsa Arnold is well known locally for her work as a mental health advocate and for Spreading Kindness Through E11. Here, she outlines her work with east London charity Freedom 2 

I first connected with the founder of Freedom 2, Mel Manning, after setting up the Spreading Kindness Through E11 initiative, as their focus on creativity and well-being tied in with a lot of what my projects have also aimed to achieve.

As a passionate mental health advocate, particularly for young people, I saw the importance of the work FREEDOM 2 does in schools to support girls via their creative programmes, and I am grateful to now work closely with them through my role as their first youth trustee. 

We offer creative programmes to young girls aged 12 to 17 who may be at risk of exploitation. Based in east London and Essex, we focus on different areas of well-being to help build the girls’ self-worth and confidence, with the aim of providing space for self-expression in a way that feels comfortable for them. 

Programmes such as our FREEDOM 2 Create package provide resources for schools to be able to support their students’ emotional well-being in practical ways. We’ve seen, through running the sessions, how much value students find in having the opportunity to learn a new creative skill within the school day, having the space to talk to one another and explore issues that are important to them. 

In December 2021, we hosted an exhibition of several of the girls’ work from different schools at Fullwell Cross Library. The artwork displayed showcased a sewing piece in which the girls had sewn powerful words they felt connected with into fabric. Words included affirmations such as ‘I am strong’. The girls chose words and phrases personal to them, which were then sewn together into one large piece and hung in the window at the library. A huge value of FREEDOM 2 is empowering the young people we work with and giving them a platform to have their voices heard and know that they matter. We were pleased to be able to do this through our exhibition pieces. 

My role as a youth trustee also contributes towards this empowerment of youth voice. It is really powerful to feel you are being listened to and thought of, not only in the delivery of workshops, but in the decision-making of the organisation. I have learnt so much over the last year as a trustee. I’ve had the opportunity to edit their first-ever blog series and support events and new ideas for the charity moving forward. It’s been an extremely valuable experience, for which I’m very grateful. For a charity to recognise the importance of including young people throughout all of the work they’re doing is amazing and shows their commitment to the difference they are trying to make. 

We would love the opportunity to work with more schools, so do get in touch if that’s something you would like to be part of.

For more information about FREEDOM 2, visit freedom2.org.uk