Natalie Bell – Head of Youth and Community Programmes and previous Redwood Housing Co-op tenant
‘people genuinely care about what’s going on’
How did you find out about Coin Street?
I was a tenant at Gabriel’s Wharf running a shop called Cherub selling designer women’s wear in 1989. South Bank was a desolate place at that time and I fell in love with Coin Street’s concept of ‘there is another way’. I then worked at Studio 6 and at the Riviera restaurant for 8 years. After being made homeless with a one year old daughter I ended up being one of the first tenants of Redwood Housing Co-op at Oxo Tower Wharf. I was so grateful having a secure home. Being able to walk to work in five minutes was a real bonus. I volunteered a lot in the co-op running social events and chairing the Complaints Panel for 3 years which saved the co-op a lot of money!
As a single parent, I was frustrated at the lack of activities and services available locally for families. So, I set up FamilyLinks as a volunteer and managed it with local parents, running services for hundreds of local families and young people.
From 2003 to 2014 I was the director of SE1 United, a youth forum set up by local young people which taught me all I know about community organising and youth leadership. In 2002, I became a trustee for Coin Street Community Builders and Coin Street Centre Trust. Now, I am employed as the Head of Youth and Community Programmes, my dream job!
How long have you been involved? Has this changed over time?
Well, I’ve been involved since 1989 and have seen a lot of change in the area, development of buildings and the arts scene, new people moving in and the transformation into one of London’s most loved districts. When I first lived here it was a ghost town, literally no one around and a lot of concrete. There were very few amenities and it felt quite unsafe at night.
How do you feel you have benefited from your involvement with Coin Street? Was that the expected outcome? Has there been other unexpected outcomes?
I owe Coin Street a safe, vibrant childhood for my children. They seized every opportunity going from dance classes and participating in the Thames Festival, to getting work, qualifications, and accessing all the experiences the South Bank has to offer at a discount. My heart is here. Even though I have moved around over the last few years, my aim is to live back to the area. I feel most at home here and have made so many good friends.
My experience as a volunteer at Coin Street helped me grow my career as a community worker. I am currently studying a MSc at CASS in Voluntary Sector management and lecture part time. I never thought I would even do a degree before my involvement with Coin Street.
Has your experience of Coin Street impacted your family and friends? If so, how?
Coin Street has built a real sense of community. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything or that things are always in harmony. You cannot please everyone all the time. There is a healthy sense of ownership and community action here. I believe this is better than apathy. People genuinely care about what’s going on and that’s a strength. What’s important is that there is a will to communicate, understand differing views and to try and pull together as best we can. Considering other huge issues going on all over London, I think this area is still one of the best around. My friends love visiting Waterloo and sometimes it takes me ages to get down the road as I often stop to speak to people. It is friendly and sociable. There is lots to do.
If you had to sum up your view and feelings about Coin Street, its programmes and staff team in three words, what would those words be?
Where I belong….