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Skill Up Step Up: Become a giant and hire struggling young people

A social entrepreneur tells how a series of mentors helped change his life. He is now ‘paying it forward’ by helping jobless young people

<p>Work ready: Kenny Imafidon is helping jobless young people </p>

Work ready: Kenny Imafidon is helping jobless young people

/ Daniel Hambury/Evening Standard
By @_annadavis
17 December 2021

enny Imafidon knows better than most the transformative effect that encouragement and support can have on someone who has hit rock bottom.

At the age of 18, he was facing trial for murder and thought that life as he knew it was over.

But, having been acquitted, and with the help of mentors who had an unwavering belief in him, he has changed his life, setting up a successful business, advising royalty and becoming a trustee of several charities, including BBC Children in Need.

He is determined, he said, “to pay it forward” and now mentors more than 100 disadvantaged young people who are trying to find their way in the world.

His story is an example of how, with the right support, a person can alter the course of their life. Among the many organisations he represents, he is also chair of City Gateway, one of the charities at the heart of our Skill Up Step Up campaign which helps disadvantaged young people get into jobs.

Now 28, the social entrepreneur said: “You cannot downplay the kindness of strangers. In my own life I have been helped by so many people and I feel it is my duty to give back. Sometimes I am the first person to believe in someone, and they need that. I needed people to believe in me when I didn’t think much of myself.”

Two days after his 18th birthday, Mr Imafidon was charged with the murder of a 17-year-old boy in south-east London in a joint enterprise case. He spent months in jail on remand before he was acquitted at trial on the direction of the judge. But he realised his name would still be linked to a crime he had not committed and he decided to change the narrative of his life.

Before he went to prison he had done work experience in the office of Harriet Harman MP and former deputy mayor of London, Valerie Shawcross. He decided to grab every opportunity and offer of help and took his A-levels while in prison. On his release he compiled a report about the different reasons why people drift into gangs, known as the Kenny Report, which he delivered to the House of Commons.

He credits the Amos Bursary, set up by Baroness Amos, for funding his three-year law degree and setting him up with a peer mentor and professional mentor, and he has a long list of others who have mentored him officially or casually.

Mr Imafidon is the co-founder and managing director of Clearview Research, a social and market research agency. He was also appointed to the advisory board of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, as well as becoming chair of City Gateway.

He said: “What I love about City Gateway is that we are the first people to back people who may not have done well in education, or who have had some big curveballs thrown at them by life. If they are a young parent or carer or grew up with a hectic lifestyle, or were involved in a criminal lifestyle and want to change things, whatever it is, here they won’t be judged. We support them and whatever dream they have they will never be laughed at.”

Our £1 million Skill Up Step Up campaign, in partnership with Barclays LifeSkills, is providing two years of funding to City Gateway and up to four other charities in a bid to upskill jobless young Londoners so that they can be “work ready” and step into sustainable jobs or apprenticeships.

Mr Imafidon said: “Campaigns like this are important. Whether you decide to give work experience placements, apprenticeships or jobs, you must do something.

“There is nothing extraordinary about my background. I have stood on the shoulders of giants. With this campaign it’s about employers seeing themselves as the giants with shoulders that young people can stand on.”