Is there enough for young people to do in Waltham Forest?

Adjoa Wiredu looks at how youth provision in the borough has changed over the last six years

Active Change Foundation

Ibrahim at the Active Change Foundation, which he credits with helping him get a job

Youth provision has changed dramatically in the borough in recent years.

Ask young people where to find the local youth centre and what sessions they run and you won’t get many answers.

That’s because, since massive cuts starting in 2010, it has become harder to work out what services are being provided for young people in this area and where it’s all actually taking place. I’ve found that although there are youth sessions in the borough, it looks very different to what it once did.

The ‘traditional’ format, which provided spaces for young people to go to after school such as the Outset Centre near St James Street, and Leyton Youth Centre, has mostly disappeared. Instead, young people are mostly referred to specific groups.The youth centres are still open, but on a closer look, you will find only a few targeted sessions. The spaces are now mostly used for community groups and family services as a whole.

If a local young person has a need for advice or help, they now need a referral from the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) or from other places such as social services. What was once Pastures Youth Centre, providing one-to-one focused help for young people, has now become a space incorporating many different sessions for groups and families. They do still, however, run minimal sessions for youth such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.

I approached Waltham Forest Council to get an explanation for its changes to youth provision and councillor Mark Rusling, the portfolio member for children and young people, explained: “The ‘universal’ youth service unfortunately ceased to exist in 2010 following reductions in government funding for services to adolescents.

“In response to this, Waltham Forest Council took the decision to create a targeted youth support service, focusing on the needs of those young people most in need of support. We are also one of the few boroughs that have maintained our children’s centres, offering support to thousands of families in the borough.”

YMCA East London is another option that youths in the borough can rely on. It offers youth activities every day of the week; basketball, multi-sports, diva zone, gym workout sessions, interior design, youth club ‘chill out’, photography, as well as half-term activities and sexual health advice. The centre in Forest Road, which was expanded last year, will soon also introduce sessions to cover weekends as well.

The Active Change Foundation (ACF) in Lea Bridge Road, set up in 2003, is one of a few youth centres in the borough still intact. Hamza Abdul, a 23-year-old youth worker, has been working at the centre for eight-and-a-half years. He told me he was once a youth coming to the centre: “I basically transitioned from youth, to youth worker. I’ve been coming here for at least ten years now.”

Open Monday to Friday, from 1pm until 9pm, Hamza believes ACF’s provision is the way it should be; centres for youth should offer more sessions and should be open longer.

“Most youth centres are open at very specific times and that is nonsense to me,” he says. “Most people come here and just chill and sometimes they will go on for longer.”

ACF is one of the few left in the area that still provide the classic approach to youth centres and offer a space for young people to meet, play pool and games, catch up with friends, and also get involved in sessions that provide development.

Active Change Foundation

Video games and pool are some of the activities enjoyed by young people at Active Change Foundation in Lea Bridge Road

Hamza continued: “We get about 60 youths here every day, after school things tend to get busier. On Friday this place is just booming, we can get up to 80, and after 8pm it’s usually the older guys, but then they play cards and I lock up with them.

“We used to do pizza nights and play FIFA – I usually bring stuff from home because I know I’m playing with my friends and just helping them really.”

Like many centres, ACF is open to young people from the age of 12 years, up to 24 years, and they not only coexist in the same space, it also seems to help with developing the younger kids.

Hamza says: “We’ve created a brotherhood where if any of us see the young ones smoking we can stop them, especially the ones that bunk school, we know and we can tell them because we see them here and know them.”

ACF offers workshops, CV-building skills, and also work with youth on a one-to-one basis; they also have a young leader’s programme which helps to build young people into community leaders.

Financial cuts have obviously changed the way a number of centres operate and although there are many youth groups in Waltham Forest, the need for dedicated open centres where young people can see each other regularly, take part in one-to-one sessions, and have the opportunity to build relationships, is still a need.

Hamza adds: “We’re getting a lot of members signing up and in the last seven months it’s been increasing a lot, which is good.

“We do a lot of outreach, we’re out on the streets for about four hours every day just talking to kids, outside schools.”

And the need for sessions as well as longer more informal opportunities for young people to learn is also essential, as I learned from Ibrahim, a 20-year-old who got his next step in life after some time spent with a youth leader.

He told me: “I got my first job because of ACF, I was working on the magazine here and for the CV building. I sat down with [youth leader] Maxwell, and literally, as soon as I changed it and sent it, the second day I got my first job.”