Report by Victoria Munro, Local Democracy Reporter
A community group tackling youth violence in Waltham Forest is set to open a new space for young people.
Steve Barnabis previously ran The Soul Project in Wood Street, offering a free space for young people, but the charity was evicted from its building in 2018. His new group, Project Zero, aims to see a year where zero young people die from gun or knife crime, and has now found a building to operate from on a long-term basis.
Project Zero had been running briefly at Crate in St James Street but needed a bigger space to offer youth services. The Outset Centre in Grange Road has now been offered to the group “at a very reduced rent” by Waltham Forest Council and will play host to fun activities, learning and support for those aged eight and older. Pandemic restrictions allowing, Steve hopes to run its first holiday programme during the February half-term.
Steve told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “My cousin Robert was killed by knife crime in 2004. I went to the hospital and I was there in the morgue and had quite a varied range of emotions.
“I had empathy and understanding for why young people might carry a knife or commit a crime but it was quite a difficult process.
“The perpetrator was a 16-year-old boy, who had been excluded from school, and his home life was tense. It got me thinking that the need to provide support for young people was greater than ever.”
Over twelve years The Soul Project’s was so successful that Steve’s work was celebrated by a mural in Canning Street, painted by the artist Gabriel Pitcher.
In 2019 Steve lost another cousin, Alex, to knife crime, receiving the news as he and his relatives were preparing to hold a summer event for young people. He said: “It was a really strange day, I had family members having to go off to the crime scene and I was having to cover the programmes they would have been running.
“It was quite difficult the second time around. Fifteen years on and it felt like it was not getting better but actually getting worse.”
He hopes that Project Zero’s new youth club at The Outset Centre will provide “a safe place for young people to go”, both after school and during holidays, where they can have fun supervised by staff members.
Activities as diverse as coding, music production, fashion and drone-flying will be offered free to young people, with an emphasis on employment for older groups.
Steve said: “We know that a lot of parents, especially around this area, have concerns around gangs and drugs and very rarely allow their children to go out.
“We are also going to be working very closely with the youth offending team and providing one-to-one programmes to steer (young people) away from getting into further trouble.”
Steve explained that Project Zero hopes to set young people up to apply for “the jobs of the future” offered by new developments planned for East London over this decade. These include the film studio due to begin construction in Dagenham this year and London College of Fashion moving to Stratford in 2022.
He said: “There are a number of developments happening around East London in the next five to seven years and our young people should be applying for those.
“If we work with our young people now, they should be able to apply to those jobs on their doorsteps.”
Beyond the pandemic, Steve said the biggest challenge was securing long-term funding. He said: “At the last centre we had a soft play area, which generated income that helped us quite a bit.
“With this centre, it’s not that big so we have not got that facility. We’re going to be very reliant on fundraising and grants to run because we want to make everything free for young people.”
For more information about Project Zero: