Monday, September 24The Voice of London

Are we all a product of our postcode?

From Whitechapel to Westminster: Gary Hutton, the Founder and CEO of the charity ‘Product of a Postcode’, exclusively shares his personal story, growing as a street-kid in Tower Hamlets.

The story reveals a personal journey of crime, danger, and self- transformation; starting in Chicksand Estate in Brick Lane, and ending last Monday, October 16th, in the House of Parliament.

“My anger started from this day,” Gary stated, as he was standing in the exact same spot where 42 years earlier he watched his mum’s coffin being carried. The tremendous confusion of a seven-year-old boy, walking out of school, not knowing he’s about to attend his mum’s funeral, stays with him to this day. Gary’s mum died at the young age of 41 to leukaemia, leaving behind 11 kids. That day, they lost not only a loving mum but also the warm and priceless feeling of security, that was deeply implanted in the precious love they shared.

“From then, anger became a norm, it built up in me“ Gary explained, sharing the story of a street boy who was unfortunate to live crime and breath survival. As he was talking, his face was calm, and he was resting his gaze on the closed gates of St Anne’s Catholic Primary School in Brick Lane, where he grew up. His eyes sparkled, possibly with pain that inescapably accompanies his story, or perhaps with the very present feeling of a personal victory.

 

Breaking the chains

Gary Hutton is the Founder and CEO of the charity Product of a Postcode. Being established in 2014, the charity aimed at mentoring and leading unprivileged young people, leading them away from crime and violence, and into a circle of education and fulfilment. The foundation has been set up in memory of Gary’s beloved sister, Kim, who has dedicated much of her time to teaching and working with kids from dysfunctional backgrounds. The charity’s establishment has followed a broad interest in Gary’s story and inspiring personal transformation, which has been portrayed, directly and uncompromisingly, in his book, under the same name as the charity.

Gary and I were walking around the back streets of Brick Lane and Whitechapel, only steps away from the bustling Saturday market. Gary was familiar with every street corner, as each seemed to accommodate some of his most tender childhood memories. Frequently, he would send friendly smiles to certain locals; who others would have probably avoided making any eye contact with, or choose not to notice.

As we arrived in Chicksand Estate, where Gary was born, the story has begun to unfold: “I was feral. My life was all about getting money and food; surviving, in a really harsh way.” His face expression was blank, as if he was telling a story of another person he’s completely detached from. “I went shoplifting every week, and when I was arrested for the first time at the age of nine, I was caught for £120 worth of shopping. In the 70s’, that was loads and loads of shopping, but for 11 hungry kids – we’d demolish it. It was always about going out, and just thieving. I can remember nicking bread and milk off some doorsteps and getting them back home, making toast on fire for my brothers and sisters, so they could go to school and not be hungry. It became the norm, and it was out of necessity”.

 

To the person who fathered him, Gary insists on referring to him as “Bin-Laden”, or “Bin”, if you prefer. He describes him with a pretty expressive despise, as a drunk and abusive man, who’d seeded much of the rage and pain he holds to this day. Yet, where one might expect self-agony or weakness to take place, Gary demonstrates strength in the shape of a life-lesson that has been learnt. As he points: “Looking back now at the survival I went through- it changed me; it hurt me, it gave me a lot of hang-ups in life, but it also made me the person I am today.” Although being a CEO of a charity, Gary still refers to himself as the “humble street kid from Tower Hamlet”, proud of the Cockney accent he nurtures closely, respectful to the street rules, in which he’s convinced a middle-class mentor just wouldn’t understand. Gary stresses the advantages of using his personal journey as a tool for guiding young people to get into education and to aim for a better-fulfilled life. He determines: “I know when a kid is hungry; I know when the kid is unwashed; I know when a kid being disruptive and why he’s disruptive. I know it because I lived that life. I am coming from a disadvantaged background, and I understand dysfunction better than anyone else, but I am also the one who broke the chains away from it”.

 

Mentors and role models

Worrying reports of the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee, published earlier this year, showed a serious rise in the annual number of victims as a result of serious youth violence and crime. In 2015-2016, overall, 6,290 victims have been reported, showing an increase of over 20% on 2012-2013’s report – Evening Standards’ publication last year, the leading London boroughs for youth knife-crime causalities (Aug 15’-Aug 16’) are Lambeth (110), Tower Hamlets (106), Newham (96), Southwark (95), and Haringey (92).

In response to these disturbing figures, the Youth Crime Committee has been established, by certain MPs from all across the political spectrum. At the committee’s first meeting, which took place last Monday, October 16th at the House of Parliament, various experts, including Product of a Postcode, have gathered to understand the causes behind the recent rise in youth crime. ‘Product of A Postcode’ has also presented the guiding method in which the charity built over the last three years, demonstrating some promising results, through a rather different educational approach. Alongside ongoing inspirational talks in which the charity regularly provides in schools and different educational institutions across London, the charity developed a ten weeks’ programme called ‘Fight for A Better Life’. This unique education and employability initiative focuses on the encouragement and development of practical life skills, dedicated to young people who come from complex and dysfunctional backgrounds or were pulled away from circles of crime and violence. Michael Olatokun, the charity’s Chairman, says: “We provide people that have not been served a silver spoon, with real education delivered by people who experienced the same sort of issues that they have, or with a similar background to them, to make a real difference to their lives and to really improve them”.

 

To Gary, the charity is a way to cherish the memory of his beloved sister, but also a way to give back, having the opportunity to pull young people away from the journey he happened to go through. “We are all a product of a postcode; our mentors and role-models make us what we become”, he passionately explains. “I’m always asking the kids a question when I’m doing a workshop or a talk: ‘would you want your life for your children?’ And a 100% of them say ‘no’. So I ask them: ‘why can’t you love yourself enough to live the life that you want for your kids?’. Gary describes some puzzlement in their usual responses to the question. Presumably, a familiar sense of confusion, wrapped with a hint of hope, that he experienced himself some 25 years ago.

 

 

Words: Adi Cohen | Subbing: Pamela Machado

 

 

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