Life & Soul

As a Christian charity, we believe that every child and young person is created in the image of God and has value and purpose. Each person is unique with their own skills, abilities and experiences. Sadly, the message young people so often receive is one of conformity and comparison, they can be left feeling that they aren’t enough as they are.

Our vision is that every child and young person would love their God-created uniqueness and be confident in their own voice and place in the world. Where young people are facing challenges we provide mentoring and workshops that enable them to explore who they are and what is right for them so that they can confidently pursue their chosen path in life.

A word from the Founders of Life & Soul

In 2000 I started working for KCC as a detached youth worker mainly working on Sherwood estate. Previously, the youth centre had burnt down and so the work was based around building relationships with young people on the streets and later occasionally in the community centre and on a mobile bus.

Many of these young people had already faced lots of challenges in their lives. Some had difficult home backgrounds, or had experienced the impact and limitations of low income, unemployment and poor mental or physical health. From this work, I felt there was a sense of hopelessness amongst some of the young people, many had low expectations for their future, they had seen friends and family drop out of secondary school at a young age, some got pregnant at a young age and others felt overlooked or had no aspirations, dreams or opportunities. I grew to love spending time with them and strongly felt God’s love for them.

I loved their sense of freedom, fun and resilience in the face of sometimes overwhelming circumstances and after having similar experiences when visiting the homeless hostel for women, I went part-time with my teaching job and set up Life and Soul, supported by a group of friends who became trustees.

In the beginning when we applied to be a charity (officially registered in 2002) we had no idea what we were doing, we just wanted to do something! It was very small, just me initially, working with different individuals and organisations who had the same passion. We had the starfish story at the heart of what we did – trying to make a difference to one life at a time. God opened doors and slowly momentum built and the team grew with different people feeling God call them to set up new projects and to expand the vision. 

Over the years, there have been many staff initiating and running numerous projects from assemblies in most primary schools in Tunbridge Wells to Hope crafts – an enterprise where women from the hostel made items such as bunting to sell at craft stalls. We have done detached youth work, sex and relationships education, play therapy, self -esteem sessions, cooking lessons and mentoring. We have followed where God has led us and tried to help every child and young person we’ve met to fulfil their potential through support, encouragement, love and respect. We are incredibly grateful to those who have travelled on the journey with us, and continue to do so, as we trust God to lead us in his ways to the young people of Tunbridge Wells.

Em Cheesman

At the same time that Em was working with young people in Sherwood, and a few months after moving to Tunbridge Wells, God laid on my heart the idea of running a monthly youth event/concert. Not primarily for church kids, but for those that wouldn’t be seen dead in one! Every time I walked past Christ Church on the High Street I had a strong sense that God wanted it to be held there. I went in one day and asked the then vicar, Rev. John Banner, what he thought. He told me that it was a nice newly built Church, that allowing hordes of young people in on a Friday evening could mean things getting damaged, basins being broken off the wall, toilets being trashed and the floor and stage being ruined. He then turned to me and with a wink said, “As long as it’s done with excellence, I’m all for it. You have my blessing. Run with it.” And with that he gave me the chance to run with the vision unhindered. Thank you, John!

With his blessing I built a team of volunteers, came up with the name ID in a dream, and began to plan the events. The first one was In October 1999 where Phatfish headlined with our house band, Cashu, in support. This began a monthly event that ran for six years, starting with around 80 people a month and hitting 740 at its peak in 2004/2005. Many of these young people came from the outreach work that Em was doing in Sherwood. 

ID also spawned the Grassrootz Festival, set up as a different charity, which I ran alongside Si Colenutt from 2000 – 2005.

Many young people inevitably came from Tunbridge Wells Churches and beyond but I was keen to make it clear that ID was not a youth group and was not wanting to poach young people from other churches, so I set up a website called life& (along with the logo that’s still being used to this day) that was an umbrella site, on which youth groups could feature their own events, with ID being just one of them on there.  

In 2002 we decided that ID needed to have more accountability and friends became trustees and a charity was set up to include the ID event and Em’s outreach work.

We used the Life & Soul name for the charity and Life & Soul Youthwork was born!

Even though ID was at its peak numbers in 2005, I felt God prompting me to call it a day. So, ID ended on a high and we invested in a school’s dance/rap band, trained by the bandwithnoname, called CollectiveKent, which we took into many secondary schools for a number of years to come.

Today, Life and Soul is still evolving; listening to God’s heart and seeking his will as best we can, stopping and starting things accordingly, and not hanging on to the past but looking forward and thankfully continuing to know God’s blessing because of it.

Nick Cheesman

Life & Soul Team

Life and Soul Volunteers