Lord of the Rings star Sir Ian McKellen visited a youth centre in London earlier this week to see an art project that is bringing together a wide spectrum of the community.

The star visited the Limehouse Youth Centre in the borough of Tower Hamlets as part of the launch of a new scheme being overseen by City Gateway, a charity dedicated to bringing hope to the local communities of Tower Hamlets that haven’t benefited from the area’s wider economic development.

City Gateway works in partnership with over 20 large firms in everything from team volunteering days through to individual mentoring schemes & ongoing work placements. The new scheme launches with a ‘Literacy Lunch’ project at City Gateway’s Women’s Project – a twist on reading volunteering schemes which traditionally target children as it aims instead to boost the language and confidence of women, principally from the local Bengali community.

At the launch, City Gateway’s CEO Eddie Stride commented: “Many of the companies we partner with already provide incredible opportunities for their staff to support local projects but in some roles it can be hard to take a day off to volunteer even if your boss tells you to! We’re looking to provide bite-sized opportunities where people can come down in their lunch breaks or straight after work and still make a big impact.”

The centre in Tower Hamlets, run jointly with Poplar HARCA, has attracted more than 50 entries into its art competition which is being openly judged by a mix of young people, Canary Wharf workers and local residents, including Sir Ian himself.

“I do love art, my house is full of paintings on the wall – though none of them are done by me, I’m useless!” said Sir Ian. "Drawing’s a great gift and several of them clearly have a great eye for colour and pattern. They’re all full of energy, they’ve clearly had a lot of fun doing it! It’s quite moving when you see some of the fairly rough art downstairs, kids who have clearly not had a chance to do much art before, that they’re still managing to communicate something original.

“Everyone needs encouragement, everyone wants a good laugh, everyone wants to develop themselves, and projects like City Gateway begin to allow that to happen.

“Firms in the area have a duty, they’re lucky to be here. They can be stuck in all of this new development and around them, if they just looked out of their windows, on the street level there are people who need help, through no fault of their own.

“Volunteers coming down will have a fantastic time and they’ll have their eyes wide-opened, as I’ve had mine.”

To read a full interview with McKellen about the work of City Gateway, click here.

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