A group of Grove Park residents is involved in negotiations with Lewisham Council to reclaim and re-open an historic youth club on Marvels Lane that has been closed for five years.
A recent announcement from Sadiq Khan has given them new hope – as local resident ALICE TROY-DONOVAN explains.
The Grove Park Youth Club Building Preservation Trust (BPT) is proposing to transform the abandoned site into a community and arts hub, providing spaces for local businesses and community events alongside a core programme of youth services for which the building was purpose-built in 1966.
“The community, and especially young people, need a place to creatively congregate,” says Rob Clayton, chair of BPT, parent, and local resident of 15 years. “This building has served the local people wonderfully and is just the sort of place we need. When we meet our neighbours and friends, great things happen – why should young people in our area be denied this opportunity?”
The youth club had served the community for almost 50 years when it was closed by Lewisham Council in 2013 due to cutbacks. When demolition and sale to a property developer was proposed, local residents immediately mobilised to save the building.
A comprehensive alternative plan for the site was finished in January 2016, outlining not only the preservation of a unique, Bauhaus-inspired building, but an updated youth club model incorporating community event spaces, a cafe, and office rental for local businesses.
The plan, written by the Grove Park Neighbourhood Forum, is for a self-sufficient community hub, overseen by the BPT but reporting to the council and managed by a youth-based stakeholder.
Grove Park young people, meanwhile, have been left without a place to congregate outside of school hours.
“Since the youth club shut down, I’ve seen the negative impact it’s had on the community,” says local resident and mother of five Latoya. “The children go around not having much to do.”
“I was ecstatic when I heard that the club was being saved from demolition,” she added.
Youth club closes, crime rises
The youth club’s catchment area encompasses around 7,000 young people and is situated in one of Lewisham borough’s most deprived wards. The Chinbrook Estate, of which the club forms a part, is afflicted by gang violence, with at least two incidents of youth stabbings recorded in the period since the youth club was closed.
Government statistics show that crime in the club’s catchment area rose in the period 2010-2015, despite a reduction in crime overall in the borough. Other metrics tell a similar story: the proportion of residents reporting to have no qualifications is five percentage points higher in Grove Park (22.5%), for instance, than for Lewisham as a whole (17.5%).
Some funding from the council has been put in place for part-time after-school provision in an alternative site. However, even those responsible for this have stated their clear wish to relocate to the more suitable venue of Grove Park Youth Club as soon as possible.
The BPT, which is run by volunteers, produced a bid for this funding in autumn 2017. A consortium was rapidly brought together, led by the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, and endorsed by all local councillors, but was disappointingly rejected.
Pressure on Sadiq Khan
The loss of vital youth services is a London-wide issue. According to a report compiled by London Assembly member Sian Berry, 30 of the capital’s youth centres were closed between 2011 and 2017.
“The deep cuts to youth services in recent years come from councils,” says Berry, who visited Grove Park Youth Club as part of her research.
“But this is a result of government austerity that leaves them cutting everything that isn’t compulsory to the bone.”
The Green Party member has been pressuring Sadiq Khan to amend his budget to cater for the drastic cuts in youth budgets (between 2011 and 2017, cutbacks for services in this area reached a colossal £100 million).
This week, Khan finally responded, with the creation of a £45 million fund to help young Londoners – particularly those who are at risk of involvement in crime – over the next three years. From spring 2018, local communities, charities and schools will be able to bid for funding from a £10 million pot.
“Places like Grove Park, where existing buildings have been left empty by councils and communities are putting forward ideas to reopen them, should be backed as part of the Mayor’s new funding plans,” says Berry.
The mayor’s press statement acknowledged that “youth services across the capital have been decimated” – evidence that the urgent message of Berry’s reports has at last been listened to.
As BPT Director Stephen Kenny points out, the youth club was built in response to a 1960 report outlining the critical need for local authorities to provide extra-curricular activities for young people.
“The Greater London Authority’s predecessor designed the youth club in response to what was a national emergency. The situation today is no different. Then, as now, we need Grove Park Youth Club.”
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