Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the Kids Company, died on 1st January 2024. My practice worked closely with the Kids Company at the height of their activities between 2010 and 2013.
As architects we helped create two of their main centres in South London – Kenbury Works and the Heart Yard.
There was a formula for repurposing buildings to create a caring and loving environment that kids related to and felt at home in, and cared for. The existing buildings were repurposed at an incredibly low budget, given a huge ‘wow-factor’ by a team of in-house artists creating wonderful and magical colourful jungle images throughout.
Sited in deprived parts of South London the Kids Company took in kids who had fallen through the cracks in local authority social care. Subsequently additional centres were opened elsewhere.
Many of the children had suffered abuse and neglect from a very young age, which profoundly affected brain & behaviour. As part of the neurological research into effects of trauma, and possible therapies to redress this, the Heart Yard was built for this purpose; the existing buildings were bought from donations by Morgan Stanley, whose staff also were involved in team-building days of construction and decoration.
The pair of buildings were converted & renovated. 13 therapy rooms were constructed all with fresh air heat recovery ventilation, and painted in the colourful all-over artwork; they had a homely bedroom feel, with a variety of settings for putting children at ease, and many had massage tables for the physical therapies.
A key part of the Kids-Co centres was the kitchen at the heart of the building – many of the children were hungry and unable to function well as a result, and they were given healthy meals. Additionally most of the children had no knowledge how to prepare food and look after themselves, so these facilities provided essential learning in this.
My experience of the staff was they were all highly committed to the intentions of the cause, were very professional and talented, and they worked incredibly hard. Having also worked in the mainstream education sector for some years, I felt all the activity & attitudes with children within the Kids Company was consistent with good safeguarding.
The Kids Company was a big and ambitious charity, and in my view was very successful in achieving its aims. I knew the monthly incomes & outgoings were large – the construction programme was managed very frugally and a lot was achieved on very low budget; the priorities of payments were balanced between the staff and expanding the activities to other regions where neglect and abuse of children was rife and not known about by the general public.
The closure of the Kids Company was a great loss to our society.