Young people matter – particularly in a borough with the capital’s lowest average age. Shailja Morris looks at plans for a new ‘Youth Zone’, and speaks to the education providers making a difference
Barking and Dagenham Council says the borough’s future lies with the young people of today. In a borough with the youngest population in the UK (there are 57,000 under 16s), and the highest number of births in London (82 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age), it is easy to see why the council, local businesses and charities are determined to work together to invest in this demographic.
These collaborative relationships will be brought to life in May, when London’s first ever Youth Zone opens in Parsloes Park, Dagenham. The purposebuilt facility will offer universal and targeted provisions, including sports, arts, mentoring and community outreach work to young people aged between eight and 19, and up to 25 for those with disabilities. The resources are impressive and include a recreation ground with a football pitch and skate park, a recording studio, a climbing wall and an arts room. An employability programme for young people not in education, employment or training will run during school hours.
Called ‘Future’ Youth Zone, the centre is an independent charity and part of the OnSide network of 20 Youth Zones based on a hugely successful model set up in north-west England. Barking and Dagenham Council contributed half of the £6.5 million capital building costs. Further funding was received from The Queen’s Trust, the Jack Petchey Foundation and the Seroussi Foundation, by way of UBS. Founder patrons include high profile individuals such as bestselling novelist Paula Hawkins, of The Girl on the Train fame, as well as local businesses such as Mulalley and Squibb Group.
Chief executive Gavin Evans says: “Barking and Dagenham was selected as the site of London’s first Youth Zone primarily because of its growing young population. We have a great location in Parsloes Park, where Porters Avenue meets Gale Street. It is easily accessible by public transport and is five minutes away from Becontree station, with a bus stop right outside. There are 20,000 people of the right age within one mile walking distance – we’re bang in the right place.
“As well as recreational facilities, we are helping young people develop employability skills to get them passionate about business and the world of work. They will have the opportunity to create their own products and services and we’ll be running ‘Dragons’ Den’-style activities with the help of business partners.
“We have a family of founder patrons who are businesses, individuals and foundations. With their help, we can offer work experience placements, mock interviews and talks to give them an insight into the world of work. The relationships with our founder patrons go beyond being a financial partnership. We want to immerse them in what’s going on in Future Youth Zone so they can see the positive effects of their investment. We’re still on the lookout for further support from local businesses and individuals.
"We will be open every day of the week and during school holidays. Membership costs just £5 a year, with a 50p entry free. A meal will also be provided every evening for just £1. Our aim is to have 3,000 members in our first year and we are taking online memberships now.”
Bestselling novelist and founder patron, Paula Hawkins, explains how she first got involved: “I saw all the amazing facilities they’ve got [in Wigan] and was impressed not just by the range of activities on offer but the support being provided and how enthusiastic those kids were. I thought straight away it would be something I would be interested in helping with.”
For the borough’s schools and colleges, exciting developments are also in progress. By May, Barking and Dagenham College will know the outcome of its application to become an Institute of Technology (IoT). Principal and CEO Yvonne Kelly explains: “We would become a national institute, putting the borough’s educational offer firmly on the map. It would also help the future sustainability and security of our college.
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