Young People fight to save youth centre in Tower Hamlets

Caxton Hall Youth Centre in Bow Credit: Adnan Miah

Young people from Bow have launched a campaign to save their youth centre amid claims that Tower Hamlets cut their funding earlier this year. 

Teenagers who use Caxton Hall Youth Centre have launched a campaign to save the centre, with a petition that has received 300 signatures.

In it they call for the council to “ensure the continuation of one of the busiest youth clubs in Tower Hamlets with positive activities and engagement to prevent young people in engaging in negative and risky behaviour” and request a meeting with the Mayor, John Biggs, and other councillors to discuss the matter. 

The young people who use the centre said that it has played a vital and important role in keeping them safe. Two teens who asked not to be named told Eastlondonlines: “If people weren’t coming here they would be out in the streets getting killed. Honest and truly. They [government/council] don’t listen to young people enough. And then they worry and wonder why kids have knives when they have nowhere safe to go and have to carry a knife to protect themselves.”

Adnan Miah, who works on behalf of youth organisation Ocean Youth Connexions, had managed Caxton since 2016 until he says the centre’s funding was cut by the council and his contract terminated in July.  He told Eastlondonlines: “If we don’t get money it will have to close down.” “But”, he added, I strongly believe that young people are the future of this country. Let them have a voice. You want the best for them. Do it the right way, do the right thing”.

The club has already reduced the amount of time they are open with one youth worker claiming that he could see a link in a rise in crime directly related to the centre having to close its doors.

Ozzie Mehmet, a youth worker who has been part of the centre for over six years and is local to the area, told Eastlondonlines that there had been one evening the centre was short-staffed and as a result could not open, two of the attendees were arrested the same night, with Miah stating that another two that come the club have previously (and as recently as a fortnight ago) been stabbed.

A link between the decrease in youth services and youth street crime has long been debated,  with YMCA England Wales revealing figures earlier this year which show that youth services have been cut 69% since the Conservatives came into power in 2010, with the average local authority spend on youth services decreasing from £7.79 million in 2010 to £2.45 million in 2019, whilst knife crime rose to an all-time high in 2018. 

Youth service funding in Tower Hamlets had been slashed by 49% between 2011-17, amongst the highest in London, whilst knife crime grew 1.3 times in 2018.  

Minah said of the centre’s role in the community: “It’s about making sure young people are safe and giving them access to indoor/outdoor activities, workshops, we help them to look for training positions, jobs. Some are at risk of substance abuse, so we offer one-to-ones so the young people can understand about life and how to be more independent in the world”.

Miah told the attendees the situation regarding the centre uncertain future, leaving the decision of what happens next up to them, telling ELL that “that’s what youth work is all about. Young people taking control and having their voice heard”.  They decided to fight against it, creating the petition. 

The petition received support from the Youth Council and was shared and published by Jaami Barry, young mayor of Tower Hamlets. Miah claimed that Biggs, along with the deputy mayor Asma Begum and other councillors had attended the centre to see the work they do there and said that something would be done to rectify the situation but has heard nothing further from the council since.

On the potential closure of Caxton,  the young attendee’s said: “We think it’s silly. We get high numbers (of attendees) and it’s not really fair to shut down a youth club that a lot of kids come to. It’s like moving into a new house, you just end up getting comfortable so going to a new environment you don’t know you wonder if will get that relationship again, they don’t know the ins and outs of you.” Both agree that the club is a tight-knit group, like a “big family”, with a strong relationship having been formed between the young people and the youth workers. 

The club teach them “what it’s like to be in the real world, the stuff you don’t get taught in school” with the opportunity to meet new people and go to new places. 

However, the young people that attend Caxton remain optimistic.  They have been attending many meetings, using social media and creating a video to bring attention to their campaign. They say: “It’s been successful because we are getting our voice heard by other young people, not just adults. We are just taking it step by step.”

Tower Hamlets Council has been contacted for comment but at the time of posting had yet to respond.

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