The members of a sewing club at a Peabody estate in London had barely seen each other this year: community activities took a hit as well as school and social lives.
But between lockdowns, they got together to customise Christmas jumpers and pose for portraits by world-renowned photographer and activist, Misan Harriman. They showed up to celebrate community, reflect on a crazy year, and speak their minds.
It's all there – everything you've thought about in 2020 – and more: community, family, loss, representation, school, loneliness, friendship, fear and opportunity... and they're facing it with heads high, hearts full.
Portraits by Misan Harriman. Film and additional photography by Hanna Adcock and Jonathan Hyams. Special thank you to the staff and volunteers who run the club all year round, and made this project possible.
"I would want to be represented as a kind, funny girl, that hasn’t done anything wrong. I guess you could say us teenagers get judged very quickly. Especially Black teenagers. If you’re just wearing baggy clothes you get judged very quickly and it escalates into a bad thing. So, I don’t want people to be judged so quickly in our society. Because it’s not fair. […] You could be big and look grumpy, but on the inside, you could be very nice and loving...
I don’t think some kids should grow up to feel afraid. I think kids should grow up to be confident as they are, and they should stay strong. Because we’ll all have opportunities in our lives. And kids are the next generation, so they need to be confident – and not scared to talk about how they feel.
2020 was the worst year ever.
I think it’s best if we start a new normal, change the way we were before. We could stop crime, we could get homes for homeless people, we could get food to people who were poor. Like at school, we have a food bank."
"When I’m myself, I just feel free, like nothing’s holding me, it’s like no-one’s stopping me [...] nobody’s controlling me.
I’m funny, a weirdo... sometimes too sensitive and [a person who] gets angry really quickly and just loves to play around and joke a lot.
Coronavirus has affected my family because we’ve been in the house for a lot of time. We haven’t come out and it’s just devastating, because it’s like you’re trapped in this escape room.
I think it was October 13th we were relieved from lockdown... I felt relieved to be stress-free and just go out and explore the world.
We’re sharing our world, so we just have to get along with each other and put the differences behind us. We’re all the same and we’re special in one way. You’re special because you can either run fast or whatever. I’m special because I’m Black and I can achieve anything – so can you.
There’s only one Earth and we live on it and we have to take care of it if we wanna stay alive for ages."
"[On my jumper] the lips are closed because it represents our lips being muted, silent and not talking to anyone – just being cooped up in a dark corner, or in a dark place.
This is basically saying that you should make your words count and everyone has a voice.
It’s better to be yourself and not to copy another person, because being yourself is way more important than thinking ‘oh this girl’s not going to like me because I’m different from her’.
I want people to see me as a kind, young girl who is courageous and eager to learn new stuff all the time.
I think it’s been a really difficult 12 months and even though we lost lots of lives, at least we survived it."
"Even though we’re going through Covid 19 there’s still hope and there’s still a bright light.
We’re still close to our family members, so you can still create memories with them.
I couldn’t go to school and my mum and my brother couldn’t go to work so it took a big toll. I was sad but at the same time happy because I could see my mum. We all stayed in our houses, but we still had fun because we were together.
The fact that I’m going back to school means that it’s slowly getting better 'cause I’m allowed to be with my friends and parents are allowed to go back to work, so it gives me hope that everything’s gonna be back to normal.
[When I see people protesting] it makes me feel happy because I know that people actually care and they’re not turning their back and they’re helping others that need help.
We all come from one place, so if [you’re discriminated against] because of race or a disability, you’re not gonna have a say that could change something that’s important, and you’re not gonna have opportunities, which can make a big difference."
"It feels special that a person that’s worked around the world is coming to our community.
We had to miss school for six months. It wasn’t as harsh for my year, but like for the Year 10s and 11s it was hard because they had their GCSEs coming up and they hadn’t learnt all the things that was gonna be in the exams yet.
Sometimes it’s good if you have a loud voice but it’s not good if other people don’t get to say what they think. So if it’s just you saying everything, it’s not really fair on the other people – and what they think, like if they’re quiet they might not get to say it, but their idea might be a little bit better than yours."
Q: Do you think there are groups of people in society who aren’t heard as much as others?
"Maybe the working-class people that are working a lot and they don’t have as much money. People look down on them because they don’t have money, so they can’t really say their ideas."
"I’m Nigerian... I like going there because it’s just different. It’s nice weather, friendly people. It’s different to London. Different food, there’s many things you can do there on holiday.
Before, during the Windrush time, Britain needed other people’s cultures here. The place would be boring without other people’s cultures and it wouldn’t be diverse. So, if you just bring other people’s cultures its more interesting, it’s more fun, it’s more entertaining.
People should be like family. Everyone is family in my opinion. So, you should treat other people how you basically want to be treated. You should treat your neighbours nice, you should treat your community nice and just make it a friendly place for people to live, which can encourage other people to live round here and do things round here.
You need to look after where you live, if you damage where you live then you’re not going to enjoy the environment... Just look after the ocean and look after the environment."
Q: How would you like things to change?
"Just for everyone to be the same and not treat people by how they look or what colour they are."
Q: How would you like to be represented?
"As a confident person."
Q: What are you really good at?
"I think sports. Basketball. It feels like you can be in a team with other people and be able to do what you can with them.
I'm independent. Because I do stuff by myself and it’s not like everyone helps me to do it."
"I wrote my letter to my brother who died two years ago now. I just basically wrote in the letter that I miss him a lot and I love him, and I’ve told him what’s going on in the world, like coronavirus. It was kind of a relief to be honest because I’ve never done it before, and in a way, it let me release my feelings out towards him.
Personally [lockdown] impacted me very well because I’ve got to understand myself and become a better person, but within my family, we had to stay away from everybody because my younger sister has [asthma].
[At Christmas] all of us usually go to my nan's house and the food is just amazing it’s a bunch of traditional food, we play games, we play music. We have the traditional food but then my nan also makes different things as well like mango chutney, all different kinds of food."
"If I were to describe myself in three words I would say I’m kind, confident and self-assured. I’d also like to be portrayed as intelligent because a lot of the time in media Black people aren’t represented the right way...
For me and my family we got to bond more and talk more and I think that’s quite great, but I also think maybe for other families it might not have been so great. I think some families aren’t getting as much support as they need...
Children are the way of the future so if they aren’t given the proper resources and they aren’t given food and nourishment then how do we expect them to grow and lead and help create a sustainable planet and a sustainable environment.
When I think of 2020 I kind of just think of it as a mess and a lot going on, but I also think it’s a time we’ve learnt from what we could have done and our past mistakes and what we could do better in the future."
"I felt a bit lonely in quarantine because there wasn't really a lot of things to do…
I've lived here since I was born. I like how people here are very kind. When you're walking someone will come up to you and say good morning.
I like how some of my friends live near me. And I like how there's not really any bad situations here. But the only thing I don't like is when police officers, they just come into our estate at any time. And it makes a lot of noise. But I understand they're trying to do their job, and it's good for them to check their areas.
I’m excited to do this project so all the bad memories of my mind will just go away and I’ll think about all the good times.
I was a bit disappointed because people – they don't listen to the rules and they just decide to not social distance, or not wear their mask, or not wash their hands.
Never give up on your dreams. Never say that you can't do something when you can. And always be grateful."
*Name changed to protect identity
After meeting the group, Misan said:
"For young children of colour, as we've had this extraordinary year. Know that you more than matter. You don't just belong in every room. And you shouldn't just have every opportunity that everyone else does. But every room really is lucky to have you, you add to the fibre and fabric of this society of this great country and that's what this year should have shown you.
"As we go into 2021, the adults will be fighting for you to make sure that you have a fair and equal chance in everything that you dare to dream of.
"I always say we should look to our youth to know the very best that we can be. And that's exactly what I've experienced today. They are the best of who we can be. And what we don't want is society to take that magic away from them, due to the construct of institutional racism and the [...] cycle of poverty.
"They've been through it. You know, this year's heavy, it's a lot. They're all rays of light."
Save the Children's Christmas Jumper Day is on Friday 11th December. Sign up now to support more projects like the sewing club.