When We Speak – Activating the next generation of activists Part 1: Debbie and Hiba

When We Speak – Activating the next generation of activists Part 1: Debbie and Hiba

When we speak - activating the next generation of activists

Young people describe their experiences of being part of the first cohort of our new youth activism project, When We Speak.

The project aims to inspire and enable young people in East London to bring change. As part of this project Toynbee Hall will be directly supporting young people between the ages 15 to 25 to run their own local project by providing grant money, training & coaching.

Since October 2019 we have been helping 6 social impact projects grow in a number of ways; forming stronger networks, workshop training and providing microgrants to test their incredible activism.

In this blog series we hear from some of the participants about their experience on the project so far and what they have gained from it so far.


Toynbee hall has been an amazing experience for me by allowing a project that I had always visualised to actually come to life.

I went to a mostly white school and at times felt unheard and unable to really express myself. In my last year of secondary school my friends and I decided that we needed to have a black history month to celebrate black achievements and create empowerment. Being musical, I decided to lead a gospel choir. Singing songs like Lean on Me, Stand by Me gave these students a way to grow in confidence, really express themselves and gave them a passion to create a similar environment for other black students. I loved being a part of this experience of helping people feel confident in their skin and empowered and knew that this was something I wanted to do for a long time.

In my gap year I have been able to achieve this through the When We Speak programme at Toynbee Hall. Having workshops and meetings  increased my skills in leading a choir , being an activist and creativity by designing leaflets and posters.

I have also been greatly inspired by our community – When We Speak where everyone is driven to achieve change.


As a young black Muslim woman there is a lot to be angry about. Waking up to news of yet another innocent black man being killed by police or hearing about a friend’s mum having acid thrown at her because of a scarf wrapped around her head naturally inspires you to want to change the world and make a difference. But these had only ever been dreams and fantasies, something I so desperately wanted to do but didn’t think I could. So it felt almost kismet when I stumbled across the When We Speak launch event, which, truthfully, I attended mostly for the music and free food. But, I left the event belly full of delicious curry but hungrier than ever for change.

The weekly sessions always began and ended with a check-up on how we were feeling, however, the main programme would vary. Sometimes we would have guests, some were big and well-established organisations such as ‘change.org’ and others were young activists like us sharing their story. There would also be workshops to develop important skills, such as pitching, and additional 1on1 sessions to help improve our individual projects.

Thanks to When We Speak, I have co-founded a youth choir based in East London for minorities to create a safe environment in which they can learn to love themselves and be empowered. Beginning the project was a little intimidating; I had very few connections and experience, but When We Speak introduced us to people who had done similar things who taught us everything we needed to know to run a successful youth choir.

The programme also provides each project with a grant, but that is just an extra bonus. What is greatest about When We Speak is the support given, the lifelong skills you learn and the inspiring people you meet.

You can hear from more of the participants parts 2 and 3 of this blog series which will published throughout the week.

Meet more of the When We Speak 2019/20 cohort.

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