“We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice.
Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is,
‘What are you doing for others?'”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
What does leadership in Lambeth look like? When my son joined the St Matthews Under 10s football team, part of the St Matthews Project, we were welcomed into a unique community that answers that question beautifully.
Founded by Lee Dema, the St Matthews Project is a grass roots football charity that began on the St Matthews Estate in Brixton as an informal kick about in 2004. The project now regularly engages with over 200 young people in Lambeth every week, developing F.A coaches, arranging trips, girls’ football, providing training, mental wellbeing workshops and one-to-one support to the young of Lambeth.
“It’s all about self-esteem. If you haven’t got any self–worth as a kid, that’s it, and it will be with you for life” says Lee.
This St Matthews ethos is shared by Coach Mario, who manages the under 10s team: “It is not about winning or losing, it is about life lessons,“ he says.
The project responds to the 76 cabinet card photographic portraits made by Richard Lang Sims, of the first Lambeth Borough Council in 1901, which still hang in the Town Hall. My research uncovered Lang Sims as a successful Brixton photographer and businessman who ran a studio at 437 Brixton Road for over 40 years. He became a hugely popular Mayor of Lambeth in 1922 (the year the Latin motto ‘Spectemur Agendo’ was added to the Lambeth coat of arms) and again in 1931. Renowned for his support for the poorest children in Lambeth, and leveraging his local influence to encourage local businessmen to foot the bill, he arranged regular large scale events for the youngsters which included New Years feasts, local trips and ‘Joy Days’, creating moments of relief in what was often grinding poverty.
Like Lang Sims before him, Lee is cultivating a community of support today, attracting local corporate sponsorship and, for the last 17 years, running a Summer Holiday Scheme providing free coaching and a free hot meal (when one might otherwise not be available). St Matthews also nurture and develop football coaches who in turn help others thrive. “A good leader is someone who creates other leaders” – Lee says.
Artist's Book 'Spectemur Agendo' is available here.
(Made for the People And Places Commission and Residency (Arts Council England/ Lambeth Council/ Photofusion / 3Space) for the Lambeth Town Hall Art Programme 2019-21.)