A Tale of Two Tottenhams : Rhetoric and Reality Revealed by Seema Chandwani

In our last post we welcomed the insights provided by Nic Gratton’s research into the West Midlands Youth Work landscape. Hot on its heels comes this revealing guest blog from Seema Chandwani, former Deputy Head of Haringey Youth Service and a Tottenham resident. In a critical cocktail of information, analysis and emotion she brings us right up close to the situation in the town she loves. Is this gap between rhetoric and reality in Tottenham exceptional?

Tottenham sadly is now on the map for all the wrong reasons, an area that will long be known as the home of the riots and not for the first time as the 1985 riot also took place here. Prior to the riots, as many Youth Workers up and down the country are aware, Young People from Haringey (the borough where Tottenham is located) commenced a campaign to save their Youth Service. Despite their campaign, in Feb 2011 Haringey Council decided to cut the Youth Service by 75%. Cuts started to take effect from April 2011, the riots occurred in Aug 2011.

It will be wrong to state that the closure of the Youth Service led solely to the riots, but knowledge informs us that a circus of social circumstances leads to social disorder. For Young People in Haringey, specifically Tottenham there is an array statistics that demonstrate a negative impact on Young Peoples lives ranging from low educational attainment, high youth unemployment, high crime rates etc. Intelligence should have informed decision makers of the potential risks of the action they were about to make, especially as the Young People and wider community had told them at every juncture – Young People needed their Youth Service.

The riots have happened now, and as a community we must look at the facets that contributed to the cocktail of discontent and work towards solutions. Various organisations have conducted research and reports which all had demonstrated the need for Youth Services to move forward in tackling many of the social issues that have been highlighted due to the riots.

It’s now been a year, the council still retain three Youth Centre buildings in the borough, however where the 25% of the Youth Service budget is, remains a mystery. The Youth Service does not exist, instead a ‘Youth, Community and Participation’ service has been created, although none of the professionals who work in this service are called ‘Youth Workers’, their role is confusing, are they Junior Social Workers? Are they Careers Advisors? They appear to be doing ‘home visits’ and ‘casework’ rather than offering actual Youth Work in an informal environment which has been tried and tested for decades. This indicates that the actual cut therefore was 100%.

Following the riots, in March 2012 the council had announced in the press that Bruce Grove Youth Centre, a £4m Youth Centre situated in the heart of the riot zone was set to re-open in April as part of the Councils ’12 for 2012’ objectives. Young People from Tottenham were excited, after 18 months of campaigning, finally there was an achievement, however April came and went without any honouring of this claim. Two months later, after the first media statement the Council informed the press again in May 2012 that Bruce Grove Youth Centre reopens four days a week.

Bruce Grove Youth Centre used to be open 30hrs a week, offering ‘universal’ provision run throughout by council paid ‘Youth Workers’, the detail of this article showed what was on offer was 11.5hrs of provision, over 4 days run by 4 different organisations. If Young People were not young offenders, in care, carers or special needs then they were unable to participate in 7hrs of what was on offer. The remaining 3.5hrs was run by a Church Youth Club, in an area with a high population of Muslim Turks, Kurds and Somalis. Despite the council acknowledging “Young People have told us time and again how important the Youth Centre is to them” then claiming “I’m delighted that we’ve found a way to make more regular use of the centre and its facilities” this is nothing more than a list of venue bookings using the building and is not a Youth Centre.

Young People are not happy, they have spoken of being asked to leave the Youth Centre as they are not eligible for the services on offer, which are specifically targeted by the organisation which has ‘hired’ the centre. Frustration and anger is being displayed by Young People who have lost all faith in the council and the democratic processes to represent them. After 20months of campaigning, of attending meetings, conducting petitions, the democratic system has failed them.

We now have approached a year since the riots, the Youth Centre continued to be ‘hired’ out to these organisations under the guise of ‘partnership working’, however many voluntary sector youth organisations have had their funding withdrawn and are being asked to pay rent to use the Youth Centre and deliver one of the councils ‘12 for 2012’ pledges for Young People.

In Feb 2012, the Council set up the ‘Tottenham Community Panel’ (the Chair and Deputy Chair was the Leader of the Council and another Cabinet Councillor, both who do not reside in Tottenham) who made key recommendations for improvement following the riots, including the ‘Opportunity and Activities for Young People” theme. In Aug 2012, the Council fed back to the panel its progress report in which it states [top of page 8] that “Bruce Grove Youth Centre is open 5 nights a week”.

The Summer saw the Council invest in a good level of summer activities for Young People, which attempted to mirror the ‘Summer Uni’ programme that was cut after 2010. However, there are some complaints from a team of Young People in the community who spent their summer double checking this programme. They spoke of many activities in the brochure, which were not run by the council, not actually happening. They also spoke of a ‘school like’ environment where they were asked to leave should they not wish to participate in an activity, but merely ‘chill’, even after they had participated they were asked to promptly leave.

Last week, the Police issued a dispersal order for groups of Young People on the road of the Youth Centre (a main road in Tottenham) and surrounding areas following complaints from residents and traders of ‘anti social behaviour’ and ‘alleged dealing and taking of drugs’. A Youth Centre, located in the heart of the riot zone, which had a £4m refurbishment in 2006 is now in the middle of a youth dispersal zone? The same centre which apparently has been open ‘five days a week’?

This week, a response from Haringey Council on another matter revealed:

  • The Equality Impact Assessment for the Youth Service in early 2011

    • Did not foresee the levels of disorder which occurred in the riots

    • Did not adequately assess the levels of crime, unemployment or other social issues

  • The council has not conducted a review since the riots to “measure the impact of the cut to the youth service and the riots”.
  • There is no action plan in place to reinstate youth services in the borough since the riots.

Although there has never been any doubt by me or other adults in the community that the Young People have been lying, we wanted to see for ourselves how what the council are saying and what Young People are saying could be vastly different, it feels like they are talking about two different Tottenhams. Since Monday (10th September) various people in the community went to ascertain whether the Youth Centre is actually open. On Monday night it was closed, on Tuesday night it was closed by lights were on, cars were in the car park but the door was locked and there was no access. Last night (Wed) I went to the Youth Centre, it was closed. The council website has not been updated (I have taken screenshots) to indicate any Youth Centres are open.

In an area as volatile as Tottenham, where we have very vulnerable Young People, this response is not only not good enough, it is dangerous.

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