Facing the future
Riots, job shortages - it’s been a tough summer for young people. Martin Hilditch investigates how one housing association is helping
From setting up a youth board to keeping community centres open despite the recession, Poplar Harca, has built a big reputation for its work with young people.
The association’s chief executive Steve Stride will reveal the secret of the 8,500-home landlord’s success to delegates at the International Housing Summit in Rotterdam, Holland, next month (1 to 2 November).
But as a sneak preview and as part of The Riot Report, run by Inside Housing, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation to examine ways to help prevent a repeat of August’s riots, we talked to some of the young people Poplar has worked with in its Tower Hamlets base in east London.
We asked them about life on their estates and why they think the riots kicked-off. Here are their stories.
Shuel Ahmed, 19, student
‘I come from Teviot [estate]. From what I remember, it has changed drastically. From four or five years old what I saw was damp tower blocks.
They were full of, sorry to say, piss all over the floor and lifts that broke down. Funnily enough, I accepted it because it was all I saw. I thought as long as there’s no piss in my house, just in the block, that’s OK.
‘All the blocks have now been knocked down, apart from one which is getting knocked down. Conditions have improved since my childhood.
‘For me, it [the biggest issue for young people] is employment.
‘You can’t obviously give young people a job, you need to give them the tools. Give them the skills at a young age to get something they don’t want to lose. A lot of people turn to crime because they’ve got nothing to lose.
‘In Tottenham where the riots started, [people] had nothing to lose. If people had jobs [they might think], “If I get into this rioting I might lose my job”. I’d have been surprised if it had kicked off [here].
‘Friends told me about the youth empowerment board [at Poplar Harca]. I thought it was a good opportunity to get involved. We had a vote to see who wanted to run as chair and vice-chair.
‘I became vice-chair. We ended up attending selection for the contractors [for estate improvements].
‘I’m going into my second year and studying maths and computer science at Queen Mary University. I wanted to teach [but] I don’t want to get into it at a young age because you get more pressure from students.
‘I want to get into software development [now]. I’m hoping to get an internship this summer. That would build another network. It’s about who you know, not what you know. It’s unfortunate that people come out with first class degrees and it’s hard to get into employment.’
Shane Grazette, 21, apprentice
‘I think it [rioting] was a one-off to be honest. It was the school holidays. In Poplar we didn’t really have any trouble. We have these youth centres. Other areas are deprived of youth centres, so [youngsters] are on the streets.
‘They will start thinking negatively. If you’re inside a club you’re doing something positive and you’re enjoying yourself, but you can also be gaining a skill.
‘I feel I can walk round this area. There’s always someone I’m going to see from school or a class or work. I don’t feel like I have to watch my back.
‘When I go to Hackney I feel like I have to be on my guard all the time. There is tension in the air.The estate I was hanging about and living in was Burdett.
‘The buildings were really horrible. When I’d just started secondary school, [my family] was one of the lucky ones to get into the new Burdett building. That’s where I met Helal [Ahmed, youth service manager at Poplar Harca].
‘I was always willing to do youth schemes. There was one called Y-Bank. At the time, we weren’t old enough to earn money. So what Helal and his team did was think of ways we could get vouchers so we could get stuff we wanted.
‘We would earn points [for community work]. The more points we earned, the higher [in value] the voucher would be.
‘It was very hard for a time [after leaving college]. I was looking and looking and looking [for work] round the area giving out my CV. I realised there was a Poplar Harca place that was [offering help with] employment and training. I said “I need help”.
‘I’m doing an apprenticeship now [with Poplar Harca]. I’m still getting the wages I was getting when I was on the Future Jobs Fund and learning a new skill and getting an education - an NVQ Level 3 now [in business administration]. Something that I know that I can take with me.’
Helal Ahmed, youth service manager, Poplar Harca
‘We had quite big debates with young people about the riots and the English Defence League march that took place afterwards. Their attitude is: by us getting involved you would be making the problem bigger. They were saying “I can’t be arsed with that. I’m too busy playing pool”.
‘Our conversation started around the Saturday [when the riots started]. The youth workers and other members of staff were having those conversations.
‘By Monday or Tuesday those conversations got a bit deeper to encourage young people not to become part of that process.’
Babu Bhattacherjee, director of communities and neighbourhoods, Poplar Harca
‘I remember going into Poplar Boys and Girls Club and seeing a group of young people outside, who were being a bit challenging that afternoon [Monday].
‘But they were still close by. Even though we were talking with them outside it didn’t feel like there was a great draw to go anywhere else. We were saying that it is best not to go over there [to riot-hit areas].’