Image above: Volunteer Joyce Wischoff and Executive Director Rodgers Orero
When you enter Riana Development Network’s office in Edensor Gardens, you are presented a modest scene: two desks, two tables, walls scattered with posters and white board. What they have achieved is far from modest, because they have helped thousands of young, primarily local people to become self reliant and have restored their hope for the the future.
Two friendly and welcoming faces greeted me when I arrived, Rodgers Orero, Riana’s Executive Director and veteran volunteer Joyce Wischoff, who explained their work over a cup of tea.
Riana was founded in 2005, to help disadvantaged people in Chiswick, with the belief that people only need opportunities and guidance to be able to achieve independence and a reasonable quality of life.
The volunteers work to ensure people will be afforded opportunities to gain skills, build confidence and receive support to become independent and make a positive contribution to the communities in which they live.
Their namesake is a river in Africa, where warring communities on either side of the river would fight for access to the water. The elders of the communities brought the warring factions together, by offering their guidance to the younger generation.
Initially set up as an advice and guidance organisation, Riana has evolved over time to serve the community in more material ways, including workshops, supplementary education sessions, bridging the ‘digital divide’ in the pandemic and more recently helping people to deal with the ongoing cost of living crisis.
They have helped thousands of people year on year to better organise their lives, avoid crime, avoid addiction and other health issues, and fostered respect, cooperation and active interest between people within their communities.
Image above: Dancing at a summer fair
Volunteer workforce has helped thousands
The group is largely volunteer run, led by board of trustees and supported by three part-time members of staff. A total of 30 volunteers run the show, across various different community programmes. If someone is in needs of help or guidance, they often find out through word of mouth or via their links with LB Hounslow’s social services and outreach teams, or local schools Cavendish Primary and Chiswick School.
Rodgers has over 15 years experience in community development both in Africa and Europe. He is convinced that the key to addressing poverty and equality is by educating youth and giving them hope.
Primarily working with young people, the community activities they run include social events to reduce isolation, supplementary school for children who might not be achieving their full potential, employability skills training and even education on sexual and mental health and healthy relationships generally.
Active citizenship plays a big part of the charity’s work, bringing community members together so they are participating in the community. Summer fairs, coffee mornings, youth forums and nature and allotment work have all been organised by the charity, with the overarching idea of being active in and positively contributing to the local community.
Year on year it has helped thousands of people in Chiswick, with the figure swelling as services expand and demand for them grows. Some people who Riana helps include refugees and their families, with many of these people are in supplementary school, as many don’t speak english as their first language.
Image above: educational workshops are often carried out for young people to help build life skills
“If there were more community programmes set up like what we’re doing, it would make a better world”
Volunteer Joyce Wischoff has been living on Edensor Gardens estate since 1980 but grew up on Devonshire Road. She has lived in Chiswick all her life and community spirit and togetherness mean a lot to her. She says, despite being challenging, community organisations such as Riana are driving forces for good and Chiswick needs more of them.
“People don’t really understand communities, you walk into a place you see trees you see houses but that’s not a community, it’s the people who live there…
“If there were more community programmes set up like what we’re doing, it would make a better world. You know why? People these days don’t have time because technology has taken over our world and what you get from that is you get hatred, crime and the colour problem. When you’ve got a community like ours, we’re trying to stamp that out. We’ve got refugees coming from different parts of the world, different cultures, different languages and to really and truly come to terms with that it’s a hell of a challenge.
“To be able to manoeuvre these things and to get these parents to open up and tell us their needs and tell us what we can do to help, because we understand the system as we have been brought up in a British way, in an English way. We’re trying to educate people, young people.
“Today we have knife crime, drugs you name it. The young ones they need a hero, and when you come to a voluntary organisation like this, they look up to their heroes. They go home and parents may not be able to relate to their children, but they can come and speak to one of the development leaders. Then we can put things in place.”
Image above: young people learning maths in a supplementary weekend class
Pandemic and cost of living crisis has brought challenges
When Covid-19 hit, supplementary schooling had to be put online. The charity was allowed by LB Hounslow to deliver work to people’s homes, such as booklets which could be studied and then later referred to during the online sessions.
This is when the ‘digital divide’ became apparent to volunteers, as some parents only had one computer at home and more than one child, with many others surviving low incomes unable to afford broadband. Laptop donation drives and broadband initiatives from the LB Hounslow were not enough to meet demand. Rodgers said:
“For example a school like Chiswick, which has over a thousand pupils, when we went to collect for young people who didn’t have laptops, initially there were only 12 laptops so that wasn’t enough. Luckily enough the BBC Children’s emergency support came in and we got a provision of laptops to be given to families at that time.
“As a small organisation though, we did not have the technical support in terms to keep things online.”
Spike in food bank referrals
Food bank referrals too are at an all time high, with the pandemic and the resulting cost of living crisis making life much more difficult for the people Riana helps, increasing the need for the charity to refer families to local food banks, which is something which they have not needed to involve themselves with in the past. Life becoming increasingly difficult for the people they help on a weekly basis, they say:
“Now, every week we are referring almost five, six people to food banks. We have had to sign up FairShare UK so when somebody leaves food donations at Sainsbury’s or Tesco we pick it up and give to this or that family. Things are becoming much more difficult for families, the demand is becoming high and it’s a big challenge.”
Despite the ongoing challenges, the charity’s volunteers and leadership remain undaunted and continue to greet the any problems they’re faced with optimism, their enthusiasm for helping people untarnished.
For more information on Riana Development Network or to contact their team, see below.
Community Room, 1 Edensor Gardens, Chiswick, London, W4 2QY
Phone: 0208 742 8906
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