The community leader helping Tower Hamlets’ vulnerable youths get active

Young people in Tower Hamlets were offered sporting activities after a tough lockdown Pic: Trapped in Zone One

For Bablu Miah, there are many rewarding things about running his community project, but one of the most surprising elements was knowing that the children involved might be getting their only hot meal of the day. “The young people who attend our sessions are from low-income families, so the meal they ate with us may be the only healthy, hot meal they get that day and the experience of eating as a group helped to build friendships and ingrain healthy eating routines.”

Miah is providing food for these young people – aged between 14 and 19 – on one of his sports-based outreach projects that his arts collective, Trapped in Zone One, runs alongside grassroots organisations in Tower Hamlets.

“The London Safer Together Through Sport was a project commissioned to us by Street Games last year with an opportunity to work with young people who felt isolated by the impact of the pandemic and vulnerable to risk,” Miah told ELL.

The project, which focused on younger people who are ‘at risk’ of entering the criminal system, or of re-offending, offered football, boxing, basketball and multi-sport workshops on a weekly basis.

It started running in January of this year and will finish later this month following a ‘Youth Mental Health First Aid Course’ next Monday and Tuesday (October 25/26).

Project activity. Pic: Trapped in Zone One

“Young people in Tower Hamlets are facing a range of challenges that impedes their progress, ambitions, and quality of life. This project is designed to cater for the young people from the initial engagement through sport,” added Miah.

“Significant numbers grow up experiencing poverty and deprivation, lacking the support structures to overcome challenges and take advantage of opportunities; many become vulnerable to the lure of gangs and negative peer influences leading to involvement in crime, youth-on-youth violence and knife crime are of particular concern,” Miah told ELL.

According to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), Tower Hamlets is statistically one of London’s biggest hotspots for youth violence and crime.

Sports workshops in particular were used in the project for the purpose of engaging with the younger community and channelling much of their energy towards skill development, and volunteering.

Miah told ELL: “We focused on the BAME and wider community aged 14-19 years to ensure we addressed critical transition periods which are difficult emotionally, especially during the lockdown.”

The projects continued into summer, where the Tower Hamlets council had shown Miah and his team the great benefits that come with offering the young participants a hot meal for free with every session – something they might not all get at home.

He added: “Being responsive to local need is at the centre of our approach. As widely documented disadvantaged young people are more likely to get involved if the offer suits their life demands and is delivered in the right way. Therefore, activities will follow Doorstep Sport approach: sport delivered in the right place, at the right time, by the right people, in the right style and at the right price – free!”

Only 40 youths considered ‘at risk’ were able to participate in the project, but the results have reportedly been positive.

“Thank you for a project that has really made my week so much better and an activity that helps me stay active through lockdown,” said one of the participants in a testimonial.

Project outdoors activity. Pic: Trapped in Zone One

This is far from the end of the organisation’s efforts at providing aid and assistance to the youth of Tower Hamlets, with the Club Zone One Parkview project now taking place in Bethnal Green from October 16 to December 18, 2021 – in partnership with Parkview TRA (the Parkview Residents Association).

Miah describes the project as a young female’s programme for 11–18-year-olds, taking place every Saturday in Bethnal Green, to improve their health and fitness through creativity and physical activities with the inclusion of a free nutritious lunchtime meal.

“The change in the behaviour of the young people saw them being more confident and appreciate the opportunity of an all-female activity session which wasn’t something offered to them previously.”

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