Local Hero

by Karolina Przeklas

In the UK thousands of people give up their time as volunteers. Financially, their work is never paid.  Emotionally, their commitment  has a dramatic impact on many local communities. Steve O’Neill is one of those amazing people. He has given 30 years to Islington Admiral Football Team and is still counting.

Steve O'Neill with trophies

Steve O’Neill with Admiral United trophies

The first time I met Steve O’Neill, head of football for Admiral United, he was standing on the sidelines at the Market Road football pitch. For the last 30 years you could find him there at least twice a week.

It all started by simply wanting to play some football. In 1983, together with colleagues from The Sunday Times on Grays Inn Road, Steve started a football team.

sunday times lads

Steve O’Neill with The Sunday Times lads

Admiral fc 86' with trophy

Admiral’s FC 86′ with the winning trophy

Today, Admiral United consists of two adult and four youth teams.

“Volunteering is very important in the sport,” says Steve. “Behind every champion or a team there is always someone willing to give out their time to help that person or team to achieve something. They could be anything, from team manager, coach, secretary, treasurer, fundraiser or even someone who cleans the kits, but they are vital to a club.

“Admiral’s managers, coaches, secretaries are all volunteers. They give their time freely and willingly to help. When one of our teams wins a trophy, the whole club wins it with them. It’s a shared experience.”

Admiral players come from many different nationalities. This reflects London’s multiculturalism, and Steve believes that the city is welcoming to everybody. “Londoners have a deserved reputation for letting everyone have a go at achieving something, we don’t see different cultures as being obstacles to being a Londoner,” he says.

Steve is all about football. His passion is contagious. When you talk to him about Admiral you get a warm feeling that this really is his extended family. Undoubtedly his involvement in the club is also a great personal achievement.

What does the future hold for Admiral? Steve’s dream is to “have a team full of players who have made their way through from our youth teams to play in the senior teams and to enjoy winning trophies in that team”.

But to achieve this dream and ensure the future of the club, Admiral needs help. “Playing football in Islington is very expensive and lots of our players come from lower-income families in the borough. The club is always on the lookout for anybody willing to trust us with their generous donations to enable us to continue the good work of the past 30 years,” says Steve.

Admiral Youth

Admiral’s Youth

It is thanks to people like Steve that many of the community centres around us have a chance of surviving in today’s recession. In the times of austerity measures, medieval cuts, failing education system and what can be called ‘a broken society’, we should be treating people like Steve as heroes, for these are the real role models for our children to look up to. Their commitment and passion is a corner-stone of any community.

“Football is not just a game” – Steve O’Neill



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Hidden Secrets: The Heart of the Amazon Rain Forest

By Nayara Chaves

Indigenous children, Photo by Ana Cota

Indigenous children,
Photo by Ana Cota

Gisele Esteban, Brazilian environmental lawyer, talks about slavery and deforestation at the heart of the planet: the Amazon rain forest.

Under the black surfaces and muddy rivers of the Amazon, 3,000 species of fish glide through the largest water basin in the world. In Brazilian territory only, at the margins of this incredible bio-diverse world, more than 20 million people make their living from the river. But the Brazilian rain forest is no safe haven.

Esteban worked throughout Latin America, she spent ten years of her life helping different companies protect the Amazon. But her job was not only about helping the countries’ natural resources, but also about protecting its people.

The forest ensures the survival of its inhabitants by providing food, shelter and natural medicines. But these people also need to be protected as well as abide to governmental laws, which according to Esteban, is not the case in vast areas of the rain forest.

Indigenous people living in the Amazon. Photo by Daniel Zanini

Indigenous people living in the Amazon.
Photo by Daniel Zanini

 Why should we protect the Amazon?

Esteban, who currently lives in the UK with her husband and stepdaughter, works freelance for a diversity of companies interested in the Amazon. Recently married to an Italian Chef, she says all she needs for now is to spend more time with her family.

The rain forest importance goes beyond its borders; the forest is instrumental in the global climate balance and directly influences the rainfall in Brazil and Latin America. Esteban has witnessed many cases that most people will never know about. She confirms that  human slavery and illegal deforestation, are all commonplace in the Brazilian rain forest.

“Brazil has more than half of the Amazon rain forest on its territory, that is 4.2 million square kilometers in total. An equivalent of 49% of the country, and do you know what that means?” she asks. “That means it is pretty hard to keep an eye on a forest of that size.”

Follow the Link to see an interactive map of the Amazon:

The meaning 

According to a new census conducted this year, the number of enslaved workers used in illegal deforestation more than doubled since last year. Not coincidentally, the estate of Amazon is a region that has the highest rates of enslaved workers in the whole country, accounting for about 62% of reported cases.

Amongst the list of activities that make use of slave labor, are charcoal production and livestock – two sectors that insist on pegging its production to the devastation of  forests.

The government has tried to address the problem, but for most of the Amazon the boundaries of the properties and their owners are still unknown, as most of them were merely occupied. Making it impossible to enforce the law.

 “Land regularization is the definition by the state of who has the right to the land’s ownership. The first step is the mapping of private property to allow new deforestation monitoring and accountability of the entire production chain for environmental crimes occurred,” says Esteban.

Army by Rio Tocantins, deforestation. Photo by Reporter do Futuro

Army by Rio Tocantins, deforestation.
Photo by Reporter do Futuro

Find out more about the Amazon. 

In this short video containing satellite images provided by NASA you can see how deforestation has affected the Amazon in the past decade.

Did you know that the Amazon rain forest acts as a giant cleaner cleaning the air we need to survive? If the world could better preserve forests, the effects of global warming would not be so aggressive.

How familiar are you with global warming? Find out what people in the streets say about the subject.

Your opinion is important, let me know how you feel about this post.

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Photographer Stephen Champion

By Charlie Allen

From photographing actors and famous writers to documenting Sri Lankan history, Stephen Champion talks about this life and reflects on his experiences in the war zone.

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Stephen Champion

Stephen Champion. Image by Stephen Champion.

 “I grew up in a farm in Surrey, and saw lambs being born and the realities of nature. It didn’t prepare me for my first experience of carnage but nothing does.”  says Stephen Champion, 54, a photographer who lives in Central London.

Once a photographer of famous writers, artists and actors for magazines such as City Limits in the 1980’s, Champion now focuses on Sri Lanka which he has been documenting for the last 28 years. “I was absorbed straight away.” His first visit was in 1988.

He was always drawn to photography and studied a BA degree at Bournemouth Arts InstituteWith no A levels, he was taken on as “special case” by the university due to his travel experiences.  “I Hitchhiked around South Africa with only a vegetable knife at 16 years old for the adventure and I traveled all around the world.” he continues.

He then did his Masters degree in San Francisco where Champion focused on portraits, often capturing drama in unusual situations.

Portrait Photography

“An artist friend called me to come over when she was splitting up with her boyfriend. I was working with an old 1959 Rolleicord baby camera and it resulted in a picture of her with her left breast fully exposed – her white skin and red nipple hanging out with the boyfriend grabbing it for her not to leave.”

He returned to England and photographed various famous artists including playwright Alan Ayckbourn, Swiss harpist Andrea Vollenweider, writer Howard Jacobson, and actress Lindsay Duncan. His last portrait was of actor Gerard Depardieu. “I photographed him curled up in a duvet with his head poking out. He was a sensitive big soul.”

Gerard Depardieu by Berned Bujold

Gerard Depardieu by Berned Bujold

For the next 22 years he lived in Brixton. “Those days were very lucrative. I was living the life of Bohemia, loads of people did it in the 80’s. That was the beauty of that time, we haven’t got it now and we’ll never get it back.”

But a visit East opened him up to a whole new journey.  His plans were to visit India – but this didn’t happen until 10 years later. “I’ve never published that work. Sri Lanka is where my work is. The story is in Sri Lanka. The further I went in the more genuine it seemed.”

Sri Lanka

“It went from heaven to hell in a day. I worked with the connection between nature and the traditional culture. I saw those things being eroded. I have recorded the history – not only the conflict –  but the good times, the bad times, and the great change.”

With striking images of the Sri Lankan landscape, his work also shows much darker images showing the brutality of war. “My pictures are understated. I think the narrative explodes in the pictures. “One of the most powerful pictures from the conflict is called A Shop Full of Corpses. It’s of the Batticaloa Market Massacre of 1990.” Champion continues, “It shows blood dripping from the door. It was very brutal but in a very simple way. I was arrested when I took it because it’s evidence of the killings.

Aftermath of Bombing, Jaffna 1988 53. Copywright Stephen Champion

Aftermath of Bombing, Jaffna 1988 53. Copywright Stephen Champion

“In 1986 I saw a bomb drop onto a line of people waiting outside the cinema. I went to hospital to check up on them and there was a floor of blood. I remember sitting down for 20 minutes and crying, and I couldn’t do anything. Then, I picked myself up and did my job.”

But Champion had to deal with death and disaster regularly on his trips and his photos often show tragedy in the most simplest of ways. “The brain deals with it. I am not a clever photographer and I work from my heart. Spectacular things often don’t work for me.

“It’s funny the way children deal with death. They giggle and they never lose a gaze when they’ve been traumatized. It does something to little children that we as adults see in a different light.”

Colours of Change

Champion has published various books including Lanka, Darmadeepa and War Stories. His latest exhibition, Colours of Change, takes place from 18th April until 22nd June at The Brunei Gallery.

The exhibition boasts 82 images altogether, only 30 used from his books. “Colours of Change shows romantic photographs of yesterday and today’s modern and increasingly polluted world. My journey was the conflict and the change in the landscape.”

Want to hear how the exhibition is going? Listen below for interviews with people who attended the private viewing:

Young labourer, Hakmana 1989. Copyright Stephen Champion

Young labourer, Hakmana 1989. Copyright Stephen Champion

By the late 1980’s, Champion says, you could no longer find a house made of leaves or a hand molded interior made so water would easily flow out of the house. “It suddenly disappeared after 2,500 years. Some places are not recognizable. There are lots of concrete blocks now. The country has physically changed. There is no identity, it’s not like India.”

“Women don’t wear saris, there is no transport. It is cut off from the western world, and caught in a time warp. But it is quite charming as there is no pollution. The end of war destroyed a lot – the Tamil people and their psyche.” Champion continues.

“Sri Lanka is a gentle country, there are little hills not big mountains, it’s not boiling hot it’s warm. There are no extremes and I think that’s why it’s more apparent when something destroys it. It’s a very pretty place but has the most vicious things happen to it.”

Stream of Thought

Champion visits Sri Lanka several times a year for around two months at a time covering up to 7000 km each trip. “I’m celebrating now, and not harping on about the past. I have come to understand the working of things more and have no judgement to make. I hope my work is a good stream of thought for people. It’s a document and retrospective. I’ve never looked back.”

Being a photographer doesn’t pay the bills, says Champion. “I don’t even get paid enough to pay council tax. I sold my house in Brixton seven years ago and I used that to live on.” His work and books are self-funded and he has given up a lot to make ends meet. “ I’ve re-invested in myself and my work. I was very fond of good food, then I had to learn to become a very good cook!

“When you see the show you’ll ask yourself  is it worth another look? If it takes you on that journey, then I’m succeeding.” Visit his website: http://www.stephenchampion.org/

Stephen Champion (right) and John Hollingsworth, the exhibition manager (left) at Colours of Change private viewing

Stephen Champion (right) and John Hollingsworth, the exhibition manager (left) at Colours of Change private viewing. Image by Charlie Allen