Seema Chandwani: Youth work isn’t sexy nor prescribed – it follows and grows with the young person.

I make no apology for copying again some of Seema Chandwani’s twittering thoughts posted ahead of today’s London City Hall Summit called by Sadiq Khan. Not at all abstract but responses grounded in the reality of day-to-day circumstances they express bluntly and eloquently the argument for a process-led, young people centred youth work, which has time on its side.



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This event cannot be an opportunity to blame each other for the shambles we find ourselves in, it’s the fault and responsibility of all regardless of party. This event needs to be honest & not pass the buck to absolve responsibility. We’ve no time to watch headline table tennis.

In London (and throughout the UK) young people, campaigners and Trade Unions warned Local Authorities/Council Leaders of the dangers in cutting Youth Services. In Feb 2011 Haringey was informed of consequences and pursued a 75% cut months prior to the riots.

Tomorrow must ask serious questions about why local authorities and council leaders ignored warnings, intel,and young people when they decided to slash Youth Services. Blaming govt cuts can only go so far when money is found for logo changes, propaganda mags etc.

The Mayors £45m Youth Fund has tweeted about is piecemeal, it allows organisations with the best bid writing abilities to be the most successful. It keeps us in gimmick mode. Youth work isn’t sexy nor prescribed – it follows and grows with the young person.

Any youth project applying for 3-year funding that is able to tell you 36-40 mths before the end of the project what the outputs will be is a fantasy. They’ll seek the young people to fit the outcome and the most marginalised will be seen as too much effort to meet the targets.

Youth workers need to be able to work with young people without the pressure of arbitrary targets that some young people cannot achieve. A Youth Worker needs to know they can stay on a journey with young people that could take months or years.

A real effort needs to be made by politicians, especially Cllrs at what Youth Work is. If it doesn’t make sense to you, accept this is your problem and not the service/staff and force yourself to learn rather than adapt the service to meet something you can understand.

This notion of ‘targeted’ support is absolute bullshit. No young person feels they can engage on equal terms with projects called ‘Troubled Families’. It’s degrading, it commences with judgement and it disempowers. Would you engage with things like that?

Youth work works because it attracts young people into activities that make them feel good, maybe that one thing they get praised for in education. It’s delivered in a space they feel comfortable and should have ownership of. They engage with trained adults in an equal way.

When things go wrong at home, on the street or at school. They have that one space, where they go that makes them feel good. They have relationships with adults that over time they’ve trusted with smaller things. They can now go to them with the big things.

If you think young people just get referred to a professional and trust is instantly there you’re insane! They don’t want another adult telling them (or threatening them) what to do. They want the freedom and ability to explore feelings, risks, consequences to make a decision.

So tomorrow must be clear that putting police on the street is a temporary measure. Investing in young people, properly through unrestricted youth work (not gimmick funding grants) is a political responsibility. Youth work ain’t a hobby, it’s a tough profession.

Seema Chandwani – ‘Marginalised people exist because the system of marginalisation exists’. Twitter thread goes viral.

Ahead of trying to pull together a host of stories and articles arising from and coinciding with the tragic events of these last weeks, Seema Chandwani has agreed to me pasting into a whole her passionate and powerful Twitter thread of April 6, which has gone viral.

THREAD: I’ve been relatively silent about the murder of 17 year old Tanesha Melbourne-Blake, sometimes you just have to shut up and listen.

I first met Tanesha 3 years ago during the fight to ‘Save Haringey Youth Services’. A fight her and many of her peers fought with passion.

I’ve rewatched some of those campaign videos. The words are haunting. Those young people knew what could/would happen should cuts to services continue.

Watching Tanesha’s face in those videos, little did she realise the lives she was campaigning to save, would include her own.

I’m not in anyway saying if the youth services cuts didn’t happen she’d be alive.

But the issues raised by young people in such campaigns need to be heard – cutting of services creates an environment where young people feel compelled to speak out about their lives.

Young people in areas like Tottenham are very capable of articulating their own wants and needs, but they asked me to campaign *with* them because they needed a ‘political advocate’ as this fight was in their words ‘unequal’ – they felt unable to ‘compete’ alone.

I didn’t understand it at first, but soon did.

I won’t go into details, the campaign (both 2011 & 3 years ago) are well documented.

But I’ll make my first point; we fail as adults when we see young people fighting for help services as the problem.

I’ve watched the response over the past few days and there are times I’ve been frustrated.

If you’re a Politician or politico, currently engaged in this issue of youth violence, ask yourself why?

Why are you getting involved?

You don’t need to respond but if are genuinely interested in helping young people in this fight you have to accept this is their fight, not yours.

This isn’t about your stats, your policy, your budget or even your child.

This is about young people’s current everyday life.

If you are speaking about young people’s daily life, actually understand it first.

They are surviving, navigating through a world mainstream society haven’t dared make a TV series out of yet. It’s nothing like you think you know about, even if you once smoked weed when you were 15.

There are now politicians and policy donks up and down the country holding events/meetings to show they’re doing something.

Less than 1/10 will be inviting any young people to hear what they have to say.

A lot of pics will be taken.

Of the few that will engage young people they’ll go to speak to a school council or local church group or something similar.

Young people are not a homogeneous group. Tarquin in Hertfordshire doesn’t speak for Trevor in Wood Green.

Engaging young people facing this battle is difficult, made more difficult as almost every embryonic cord connecting them to society has been cut.

The young people in survival mode don’t know you, some don’t even believe they need to know you.

But don’t find a substitute!

‘Community Leaders’ don’t exist, they are a political fabrication designed in the 80s to create a hierarchy amongst the working class.

Stop meeting with them.

If you want to ask people how you can help, ask those directly who need the help.

Ask your ‘community leaders’ to give you direct access to those people, if they cannot, then the only thing they lead is you, up the garden path.

There is only one way to solve this problem and that is long-term inclusion.

This means understanding there has always been a criminal underworld – Dickens wrote about it centuries ago. If Oliver Twist was born in 1998, he’d have a YouTube account

Marginalised people exist because the system of marginalisation exists.

This is not a new problem. It existed when I was a teen. My and my little sister can remember the names of our friends murdered in 1990s.

Why we keep acting like this is a new thing is almost insane!

It’s always been about economics, opportunities and belonging, always.

You are competing with an industry that can promise young people a life you have failed to give.

It’s not just money, it’s a sense of worth, purpose, belonging and achievement.

Maslow is basic GCSE level psychology. Young people need investment.

It’s not a short term fix. It’s not a 4 week Twitter campaign. It’s not a  week summer project – it’s a complete 0-19 long term investment. Including investment in people working with young people

And it’s a lot cheaper than these knee jerk reactionary initiatives.

Until you can get a child to tell an organised crime ring they’re not interested – you’ll have this problem.

Criminals need a workforce and our society is providing them with an unlimited supply of young people to choose from.


‘Youth services are a right for every young person – the government must recognise this’



Seema Chandwani

Seema Chandwani, the project manager for Positive Youth News Haringey on why we can’t rely on councils to safeguard funding for youth services in an era of budget cuts – the government must act.

Read Seema’s blog in full at COMMENT

To give you a flavour:

It is clear Haringey Council made the right decision to keep funding directly-delivered youth services and approve a three-year youth strategy in September 2013 to carry us through to 2017.

But it is a pitiful shame that some other boroughs across the UK are closing youth services and do not have the insight nor political nous to recognise that savings are made not by cuts, but by investment in prevention that reduces the cost of cure and enables social mobility. There is no better service that has practised such an ethos than the youth service, which has done so for decades.

Sadly we cannot merely rely on decisions by politicians in town halls to have this foresight and intelligence, especially as many have never visited a youth centre nor care enough to do so.

So youth workers across the UK have to campaign for an additional layer of protection. This month the National Union of Students alongside Unite, the National Youth Agency and many others have launched their campaign to make local authority youth services a statutory service, with ring-fenced government funding to ensure they are delivered by councils like they are in Haringey.

We might be lucky in Haringey to have politicians clever enough to have passed a youth service strategy until 2017, valuing young people enough to ensure it is funded.

But stronger protections need to come from government to enable young people in any part of the country to have a right to these services, not for it to be left to chance.

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.