“My role goes beyond the classroom”: spotlight on Nelio Rodrigues

Meet some of the individuals making creative projects and connections in North Kensington through this year’s Westway Arts Funds:  Artist Commissions, Festival & Events Funds and Training & Professional Development Fund. Nelio Rodrigues is a recipient of a Training & Professional Development Fund.

Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself & your background

My name is Nelio Rodrigues, also known as Manjerico, a nickname that I use commercially. I’m originally from Mozambique, spent many years living in Portugal and in 2002 I moved to London and then moved to this area in particular. I started working for the Westway Trust in 2003 delivering Capoeira classes. They did really well, I then set up a really successful group exercise class with Westway Fitness Centre downstairs. I’ve also worked eventually as a duty manager for the sports centre down the road for a few years. So, I’ve always been working in the area one way or the other. So whether I’ve been teaching groups or maybe one-to-ones or being involved in different collaborations. With my job, I work with groups, I work with one-to-ones. You end up having, developing a little experience dealing with people and people sometimes come to you for answers and sometimes they come to you to share stuff.

Nelio Rodrigues Portobello Summer Festival

At the Portobello Summer Festival

Why did you apply to the Training and Professional Development Fund?

So, I find myself playing a particular role in my community in which I’m a bit of a community leader. Initially they come to me looking for an exercise solution and eventually they come to me looking for a wellbeing solution. So, I found out that my role goes way beyond teaching a group exercise class. Whether I’m working with children or with adults, my role goes beyond the classroom, goes beyond the studio and it ends up being a role of supporting individuals, supporting groups, and helping people quite a lot. So, the funding that I applied for is for a course called Counselling and Therapeutic Skills, an institution in Acton called Metanoia.

It’s a really interesting institution that works with psychotherapy. This particular course is aimed at giving an introduction to therapeutic skills. Things like empathic listening, not just mental behaviour. Different things that will allow you to assist people with what they want to share with you. What the funding has done for me particularly is giving me the opportunity to access this qualification that had been in the back of my mind for a few years, but the funds were never really there or finding the funds for this qualification was never a priority.

Can you tell us about Capoeira and your work teaching and developing it in North Kensington?

I’ve set up an association, which is called the Grove Capoeira Association and we work in different ways. We work with the Westway Fitness Club, with two adult lessons every week. Trying a lesson is free, and then we find a way that we make it affordable for people to take part in this activity. I work locally in different schools, so we go to schools and we deliver after school clubs. We work with children from year one to year six. The main things that a few people will have a few barriers towards Capoeira so they’ll say to you, “Do I have to be fit in order to do it?” or “Do you have lessons for beginners?”, so I think a lot of people need reassurance that once they get in that environment they will be supported. That reassurance comes from a one to one conversation. So whilst we have the social media, Instagram and Facebook, and whilst we have the website with all the information available, I’m finding that to break down that barrier so someone to come and try something new, something different relies on that one to one conversation.

What does North Kensington mean to you? How would you describe it to other people?

I think North Kensington is a very special place. The amount of different communities that have made this area their own community. Because all of the times when you speak about communities, you will think, “Oh, the Irish community,” or “the Caribbean community.” Within the Caribbean community, you can talk about the Trinidadians, the Jamaicans. So, this concept of a community could set us apart instead of bringing us together.

But when you come to North Kensington, your community is your Spanish neighbour, your Italian nanny that helped you to look after your child, or your French fitness teacher. So when it comes to community within North Kensington, it’s a wider concept than your ethnic group or your racial background or the language that you speak. What I’ve learned throughout the years of living and working in North Kensington is that the word ‘community’ is wider than what we can imagine. I think that’s quite special. Personally, when I think North Kensington, I think working-class communities and working-class communities can relate to each other because everybody is working really hard. Everybody’s fighting to survive in this very savage capitalist world we’re a part of.

Nelio Rodrigues Westway Trust

What stage is the training at – what are the outcomes you’re hoping to achieve?

My counselling training is just at the very beginning. I’ve had two sessions so far. We’re a group of 24 people. There are three course facilitators and it’s meant to be a 10 weeks course. It’s going to take me all the way to mid-February. So, it’s an entry-level qualification that can lead to a diploma if that’s something I want. At the moment what I’m mostly concerned with is just strengthening my knowledge of how to help and support different individuals that might see me. I think when you look at yourself as an activity leader, other people will gravitate towards that leadership. I think my role is to bridge the gap between who I am in my work environment and who I can be as a community member or a community leader.

when it comes to community within North Kensington, it's a wider concept than your ethnic group or your racial background or the language that you speak. Click To Tweet

Can you talk about your personal or organisational ambitions for the future?

My personal ambition is to become a better person and to be stronger and better equipped to deal with everyday challenges and grow internally, externally. And also grow while supporting the community that has supported me. I’ve been a single dad for many years and this particular community has helped me a lot.

With the Grove Capoeira Association, my ambition is to expand what we do. We use Capoeira, and we use exercise as a tool to empower people and give them some wellbeing back. It’s also a tool that brings people together. You have different nationalities that end up in this area. They don’t find it easy to make friends and through this physical activity and breaking a sweat together and seeing each other on a weekly basis, you start forming a bond. If you’re not born and raised in this country or if you haven’t gone to school in this country, it’s not necessarily easy to make friends and build a social life. So, with our association, we want to keep doing the work we are doing without it being a particular strain to me as a person who is leading the activity.

So, we have to make sure that the association is sustainable. It needs to have the long-term partnerships that it needs to have so that it can work independently from the funds that I can put into it. Over the course of 16 years as a self-employed fitness instructor, I have been subsidising a lot of the activities that we do. So, if there’s a mum who says that she can’t afford capoeira for her son, and I tell her “bring your child anyway”, I have to be aware that that’s bringing a cost to my own personal life. That’s income that I’m not bringing to my household. Going forward I want to be an active community member, and give something back, but without that costing me and my own household as much as it has been costing me over the years.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like people to know that there is help available out there. So, if you’re struggling, if you are feeling challenged, whether it’s mental health, emotional health, or finance, we have to do a better job at letting our community members know that there is help out there.

Individuals and organizations have got a personal responsibility for the people that they’re working with. A lot of businesses are flourishing because they are surrounded by an ethnic, diverse community that is very attractive and very charming, but that relationship needs to work both ways. So, if I’m an institution or organization or company or private business and I find it exciting to be in Portobello Road, I have to make sure that it works as a two-way relationship. It’s very easy to use this particular community and community members to sell the idea that you are keen and supportive and aligned with this community. People have got to be a lot more honest and transparent and learn to listen more. You have in this community, different generations who are very passionate about how things happen and develop, and it’s very easy to dismiss people. So, it’s important that things not only look nice on paper or on application forms but that we find a way of supporting each other on a very long term and I think transparency is key.

So, it’s important that things not only look nice on paper or on application forms but that we find a way of supporting each other on a very long term and I think transparency is key. Click To Tweet

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