In a candid interview, the Gangs Prevention Programme Developer, Lutel James (LJ) shares with JUST West Yorkshire’s Director, Ratna Lachman (RL) the implications for young people and how the community intends to respond to the Council’s decision.
RL: Can you set out for our readers the context in which your work takes place?
LJ: We set up CYDC because Chapletown is a deprived area and our young people experience a number of social problems like poverty, unemployment, poor educational performance, drugs, criminality and gun and knife crime. We wanted to invest in young people and make sure that we improved their confidence, helped them so that they could acquire the skills they needed and prepare them for their future.
RL: How many young people use your Centre and what sort of activities do you offer?
LJ: Every week 600 young people from different ethnic minority communities in the Chapeltown use our Centre.
We offer them a range of activities such as football, rugby, basketball, table tennis, youth clubs, futsal, gang prevention programmes. These are the young people that public services could never reach and classed as hard to reach easy to ignore.
I can confidently say that due to our intervention young people have stopped going down the life of crime – youth who would have otherwise been in prison, on the streets and homeless, or dealing drugs, or involved in criminality; or gun and knife crime.
RL: Will the cuts mean that the young people will not have access to any youth provision?
LJ: Leeds City Council has said they intend to bring youth provision in-house. That implies that they have the expertise to deal with many of these young people who are on the margins of society. We are a community project with deep roots in the local community and it has taken us years to build relationships of trust and confidence with young people and their families. The work that we do is not limited to offering a couple of hours of activities per week but we offer a holistic service. For instance we tackle anti-social behavior at an early stage because we know that it can potentially lead to gang affiliation and lead young people down the road to criminality. We build young people’s confidence, nurture their skills, offer them peer mentoring support and work with their families so that we can empower parents to raise their aspirations for their children. Because young people trust us and we know them well we can link them up to relevant partner agencies so that services are targeted to meeting their needs rather than being wasted. I am so proud of what we have achieved because the same children and youth who are in full-time education; have scholarships; have gone to universities could have so easily gone down the life of crime.
RL: Leeds Council would say that the cuts are inevitable because they are trying to balance budgets and some services will just have to give. How would you respond to this?
LJ: Although the ethnic minority population of Leeds is increasing the local authority does not invest in BME communities. 3 years ago we had a number of organisations funded by Leeds City Council – Chapletown Young People’s Club received £36,000 a year to work with young people on activities such as home work; Leeds Reach received £26,000 to support young people back into mainstream education and we received only £22,000 a year for the range of activities that we deliver. Two of these projects had their funding cut and our allocation was reduced to £18,000 – can you imagine how difficult it was to deliver anything with such a small amount but we did it because we had the support of the community.
With Leeds City Council announcing that it will stop funding our project, over the last three years this area that is so deprived will have lost £85,000 in funding for vital work with young people.
RL: Leeds City Council will probably say that it needs to make this saving or vital frontline services to vulnerable people will be affected.
LJ: But these young people are vulnerable. Recently 11 of our young people were sent down to prison and many more people would have gone down that path if not for our intervention. What is more expensive – making these young people productive members of society or fund prison places? It costs £119,000 for each new prison place and every year each prisoner costs £40,000.
If young people are involved in anti-social behavior, or criminality or fail in school we all pay as a society in benefit pay outs; in probation costs; in drug rehabilitation programmes. So the £22,000 that funds our project is nothing in comparison to the cost of criminality and poor life chances.
These young people are our future but it looks like the Council and the police would prefer to criminalise our young people than give them a fair chance in life. We only have to look at the number of people in prisons and youth offender institutes to see how we have failed Black young people.
RL: So if the plans to close down CYDC go ahead what are your options?
LJ: I think as a community we are fed up of being ignored and made use of. Where are our councilors and MPs who have used and abused us – they have taken pictures with young people and put it in their fancy documentation. Where are they now?
I have been asked to sit on this committee and that committee – when Leeds council got money for the Ending Gang and Youth Violence Project after the 2011 summer riots – they were happy to use us and we delivered the outcomes and no doubt they got praise for the project.
While London burned we were out on the streets preventing our young people from rioting – do you honestly think that if the same thing happened – council workers could stop violence from happening. Our young people are angry at being stopped and searched; at not getting a fair deal from public bodies; at being stigmatized in schools; not getting employment – as a young person growing up in Chapletown we understand young people and can reach out to them in a way that no one else can.
I have seen mothers who are crying because they feel they will lose their kids if our project is not around – they are in turmoil – and they are not prepared to stand by and let our project close. So this community is saying it will not let the project close and we will stand together to prevent this from happening because they have cut one project after another.
RL: So how can you prevent the Council from closing down CYDDC?
LJ: We will march down to the civic hall and demand to see the Leader of the Council, Councillor Wakefield. We will demand that those who have taken our votes are accountable and stand up for us and defend local services. We will block off Chapletown Road and Sheepscar Interchange because we are sick and tired of being suppressed as a community. There is too much at stake in terms of young people’s future and we will not let young people fall apart. These are the actions that have the support of the wider community because this institutional racism has to stop or we will lose our children and young people forever. This is too heavy a price to pay as young people are our future.