Protesters mount fight against cuts to vital language services in Tower Hamlets

Campaigners say it is a right to learn community languages. Pic: Rebecca Huber

Locals in Tower Hamlets are upset about cuts of more than £31,000 that they say could close down a vital team of language teachers in the borough that offers ethnic language classes to over 1,500 children.

Members of Tower Hamlet’s Community Language Service (CLS), an organisation that offers specialist language classes to children, say the council’s plan to cut funds would leave many small communities unable to learn their mother tongue.

Last week, over a hundred campaigners gathered in front of Tower Hamlets Town Hall before a meeting where the petition to stop the cuts was debated.

“Save mother tongue”: Campaigners at Tower Hamlets Town Hall. Pic: Rebecca Huber

Cyras Kabir, a student of the Bengali school, told councillors at the meeting: “If this service is cut, over 1500 students will lose the opportunity to learn languages, which is disappointing.

 “I believe that this is our fundamental right to learn the community languages, and I hope you will listen to our demand and will use your funds to continue the CSL without cutting budget.

“Save the CLS, and save the children of Tower Hamlets.”

Councillor Rabina Khan told EastLondonLines: “Research has shown that if a child is comfortable in understanding and speaking its own language, then it becomes more adaptable in education, and in being able to speak English.

“And in a borough where 1 in 3 children live in poverty, more than ever we need to keep these language community services alive,” she said.

Councillor Rabina Khan is supporting calls to protect the service. Pic: Rebecca Huber

The CLS has been serving Tower Hamlets communities since 1985, and teaches 11 languages, including Bengali, Urdu, Polish, Spanish, Chinese and Somali.

The service costs £631,000 a year to run, and in the past year, the local government has decided to save £31,000 in funds by not recruiting to posts that become vacant. They said that due to savings in the council’s budget, cuts had to be made.

Petitioners also said that without the help of the government, the CLS will not be able to continue, as the local communities would not have the capability to employ teachers or find the necessary venues for the service.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs, who was criticised for not properly involving the CLS in the important decisions that were made, told protesters at the meeting that he did not want to shut the service down and wanted to continue supporting it.

He said: “We’re proud of our young people, we’ve got a fantastic community in this borough, a fantastic and diverse community.

“And as part of that, recognising that the importance of understanding everyone’s cultural heritage and background and opportunity to learn the language is an important part of that, so we continue to want to support that.”

Mayor Biggs: “We’re proud of our young people.” Pic: Rebecca Huber

A final decision is yet to be made, and the petition will be referred to the Corporate Director, Children and Culture, for a written response within 28 days.

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