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Our Chairman, Charles Mindenhall was recently featured in the Evening Standard.
Recent events in London shone a light on a truly desperate situation facing communities in our capital and UK society more widely. The knife crime statistics alone reflect a deep concern about how we help young people to reach their potential and avoid the traps that lead to a more negative, and potentially dangerous, life. It is a sad fact that gangs are recruiting some children as young as 10.
We cannot allow our young people to think that gangs and crime are the best, or only, choices available to them. And we cannot afford for them to become disenfranchised and lost to society.
To me, the starting point is obvious. These young people need a safe place to go where there are plenty of things to do and be excited by, to try things out and learn new skills, and get mentoring and guidance.
But providing those places has been a challenge. A rapid decline in provision of youth facilities in the capital, with over £39 million of funding withdrawn and 81 youth clubs and projects closed since 2011, is removing safe and inspiring places for young people.
Our organisation, OnSide Youth Zones, is trying to reverse this. Over the past decade we have built a network of 10 youth centres across the country by using an innovative funding model that harnesses private-sector support to remove over-reliance on cash-strapped local authorities.
OnSide Youth Zones have more than 20 activities per night, ranging from sports, music, arts and drama to employability opportunities — which all help to raise aspirations, confidence and self-esteem. They are also platforms around which other youth organisations can coalesce and deliver their services — since last year 30 other young people’s organisations have started to operate from our Wirral facility.
Our ability to grow youth service provision is possible only because local authorities, businesses, donors and community leaders have chosen to work together. With three Youth Zones set to open in 2019 in Barking and Dagenham, Barnet and Croydon, and two more being planned for White City and Haringey, these communities in London believe them to be essential, not a “nice to have”.
Independent research into our impact has shown that 89 per cent of members feel more self-confident and 86 per cent are happier. Ninety per cent say they get on better with others while 72 per cent are getting better school grades. Anti-social behaviour drops significantly, with an average reduction of 50 per cent in the surrounding areas of our Youth Zones.
Our young people deserve the best we can give them, and we all have a responsibility to ensure they have the opportunity to make the right choices. What they do with those opportunities is up to them.