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Off the wall! HARCA’s Spotlight teams up with Paint the Change to celebrate local heroes of the east London community.


Situated on the Linc Centre wall sits 4 portraits which were unveiled in the summer. These are the faces of Aaron Williams, Heather Peirce, Senie Emmanuel and Helal Ahmed. These inspirational figures were voted as “community heroes” by the Bow residents due to the extraordinary work that they have done around Tower Hamlets. 

Spotlight, HARCA’s creative youth service, runs interactive art-based workshops for young people aged 11-19. Their Youth Independent Advisory Group (YIAG) collaborated with Paint the Change to challenge prejudices surrounding youth culture. YIAG are a group of young people who work closely with Tower Hamlets Police to keep the area safe by alerting police if they have any concerns.  Paint the Change commission street art and run education workshops that empower young people to combat prejudice and bigotry. Yemi Aderibigbe, Youth Coordinator at Spotlight, explained: “We got in contact with Paint the Change and had seen their work done before. The Linc was the best place to do this as the area is an amazing chunk of the community.” Rebecca ‘Becs’ Marshall, Community Projects and Partnerships Officer at Poplar HARCA, said that the project was about “drawing attention to this centre and raising awareness to bring the community closer together.”

Who is on the wall?

The wall features 4 community heroes:

  • Aaron Williams is a writer, MC and music producer who worked with Dizzee Rascal and currently works across 6 community centres within Tower Hamlets. Considered a father figure in the community he regularly visited the Linc centre as a youngster.
  • Heather Peirce (1930 – 2018) aka ‘Lady Gayton’ was a HARCA board member who fought against anti-social behaviour to improve living conditions. Becs Marshall spoke fondly of Heather, saying: “You could see the difference in the area. She stopped the area from being built on.”
  • Senie Emmanuel is a football coach at Mindset Development FC which focuses on developing local talent for 3 -15 year olds. In addition to football, Mindset provides career and employment advice for young people. Before Mindset, Senie worked as a Neighbourhood Youth Coordinator at the Linc centre.
  • Helal Ahmed is a founder of Spotlight and a former employee at HARCA. He grew up in Tower Hamlets and was heavily involved in the community and politics. Helal worked at Spotlight for over 16 years, and even after leaving he continues to work on youth projects. He told us: “I was chuffed, overwhelmed but also happy that I am appreciated as an individual. It gives you a drive to keep on doing it.”

Jo Skoulikas, Project Coordinator at Paint the Change, said: “This project was exciting for us as we’d been spending time getting to know the young community. We were so inspired that it seemed obvious to celebrate all those that have contributed to this rich neighbourhood. People told us how inspired they felt to do more in their neighbourhood because of the stories behind the portrait. It was about giving inspiring role models so we could change the negative narrative around the area.”

Yemi Aderibigbe added: “We need to “push young people to be the best version of themselves. As youth and community workers it’s important for us to help develop young people as much as we can.”

Aaron, Senie, Heather and Helal are legends of Bow. They have established a legacy that will continue inspiring generations. The murals painted by artist Carleen de Sozer are stunning. She has situated the portraits in such a way that they appear to be overlooking the Linc centre as though they are guardian angels, keeping a watchful eye over the community that they have dedicated their lives to. As Becs Marshall aptly summarises: “Heroes are not celebrities; it can be a small thing. It means you have made a positive impact on an individual or group or a part of your community.”

The Linc Centre is situated at 70 Fern Street, Poplar E3 3PR.

"We need to “push young people to be the best version of themselves. As youth and community workers it’s important for us to help develop young people as much as we can.”

Yemi Aderibigbe, Youth Coordinator at Spotlight