Posts Tagged youth

Clegg in the ring

Times ABC visit 2
It was a great pleasure to welcome Nick Clegg to Islington again last week. He joined me on a visit to the Times ABC (Amateur Boxing Club) to meet David Ryan and other leading club members, and also discuss youth provision with George Kinsella.

The Times ABC does fantastic work, and it’s supported by many organisations, including our Lib Dem Council. Council leader Terry Stacy was part of the visit too, and reminisced about his time sparring at the Repton Boys Club as a youth.

The club was heaving with young people training: the club has a proper gym and its work is as much about fitness, training, confidence and discipline as it is about fighting. I understand people’s concerns about the long-term physical damage that professional boxing can do. But amateur boxing has good safeguards and I believe the work of clubs like Times keeps far more young people safe than it puts at any risk. So I’m right behind the club’s ambitions to extend their building and help even more young people.

Nick was speaking out against the criminialisation of a generation of young people under Labour. Over a million children have been convicted of a criminal offence since 1997 and another million have been cautioned. It’s not just a waste of young lives and opportunity: it’s a waste of public money too. As Nick points out, the Government spends eleven times more locking up our young people than it does on backing projects to stop them getting involved in crime in the first place.

The number of visits Nick Clegg has made to Islington as party leader is nearing double figures, and there’s more to come. It’s great to have him in our corner for the fight ahead.

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Reporting from the ‘war zone’

I’ve blogged before about the Guardian being unfair about the Cally. Now the Independent has done the same.

I usually like reading the Independent, not just because it gives the Lib Dems a fairer hearing than most, but because it tends generally to have a sensible, humane, small l liberal approach.

Columnists like Deborah Orr give a welcome common-sense counterpoint to the hysterical hyping that can happen, particularly on issues like crime.

Not so much, however, in last week’s piece about Cally and Holloway by Amol Rajan. As its lurid headline “The war zone: How the notorious London neighbourhood they call the ‘V’ is fighting for its life” suggests, the article would not be amiss in the Daily Mail, from its description of “feral youth” to characterising the whole area between York Way and the Cally as a “war zone”. He even uses the phrase “tabloid stereotype” apparently without irony.

What’s the reality on the ground? No-one denies that the Cally has problems – hence the recent dispersal zone – but it also has many positive things going for it, not least its community spirit.

Last week I was door-knocking on the Bemerton estate with my team. Worries about lifts and leaseholder charges were the main issues. The week before on North Road, it was recycling facilities, the local park and bus routes. People worry about crime, housing, and making ends meet. Ordinary folk, with ordinary concerns; not a war zone.

On Friday morning I happened to have coffee with a friend at Gran Sasso, a neighbourhood Italian cafe on the Cally. We were talking about how, despite some high profile cases, the area is much cleaner and safer than it was when we first lived there years ago. Also in the cafe, two of the local Safer Neighbourhood Team were meeting a community activist who is a leading supporter of the Cally-based Copenhagen Youth Project. That’s typical of the area.

Every week there are examples of good people doing good things. On Saturday the York Way estate held its successful fun day; the week before it was the Lumpy Hill adventure playground fun day. On Thursday night I was talking with one of the community safety officers about progress tackling vice crime around Market Road. On Sunday I had tea with some members of Islington Veterans Association, who meet at Fr Jim’s church, just off the Cally. Tonight I’ll be applauding Islington Youth Theatre, based near North Road, as they perform at the National.

St Andrew’s School, which serves the Cally, is an outstanding school that has just appointed an outstanding head. This week Sparkplug, an excellent youth motorbike project, has its annual award ceremony. The Times Boxing Club is getting extra funding from the Council. And so it goes on.

Now the Indy has printed a response from the borough Police commander plus a joint letter from Cllr Terry Stacy, the Lib Dem council leader with Paul Convery (one of the Labour local councillors for the Caledonian ward) and Fr Jim Kennedy the well-respected local priest. They reject the idea that the area is a “war zone” and point to the good work of many local groups. But will their letters catch the eye the way the original article did?

Rajan’s piece is full of inaccuracies. He says the local landmarks are the prisons, without mentioning the Cally clocktower, City & Islington College or Kings Cross station. He talks about the Prospex charity being homeless, without mentioning that it’s been offered a home by a local church (subject to planning permission…). He calls the area the ‘V’, not a name I’ve ever heard used for the place, while in the same breath saying that it has no official name (er, what about North Kings Cross?) and then agreeing that it is known locally as the Cally.

The article strikes me as a tasteless piggy-backing on the death of Ben Kinsella, without any real understanding of the community that is still mourning him. There’s never been any suggestion that Ben was killed because he was on ‘someone else’s turf’.

The ‘V’ that springs to my mind for Mr Rajan is the one formed with two fingers.

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Young poets prized in Islington

The Poetry Society is running a project to find the best young poets, and it’s coming to Islington.

The project, called SLAMbassadors UK, is open to 12-18 year olds, and covers rap as well as more traditional poetry. Twelve young poets will be selected to perform their pieces at a semi-final in February, with the chance to progress further in the competition.

There is a writing workshop from 5-7pm on Thursday 4 December and then poets will be recorded peforming their pieces on Sunday 7 December 2-4pm.

Both events are at Islington Central Library, on Holloway Road. Appropriately enough, the outside of the library is decorated with statues of great poets past including Spenser and Bacon. And both the library and the Society are Edwardian institutions. Islington Central Library celebrated its centenary in 2007, and the Poetry Society reaches its 100 next year. Now they’re both keen to be seen to be up to date.

For more information on SLAMbassadors UK, contact Geoff James at the Council, or Joelle Taylor at the Poetry Society.

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Islington Play Rangers

I came home to a leaflet on the doormat advertising the new Islington Play Rangers service.

The Play Rangers will be leading free group play activities in parks and on estates in Islington for 8-13 year olds, in the 4-6pm slot after school.

I think this is a great idea, especially as many of the holiday play schemes have now finished. The Play Rangers will be in Morton Road gardens once a week until the end of October.

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Boxing clever

Yesterday was a great day for sport with the opening of the Beijing Olympics (if a less good one for human rights…). And it was a significant day for Islington with the sentencing of Martin Dinnegan’s killers.

So it felt right that last night I was part of a small but important meeting looking at how sport, specifically boxing, can help give young people a positive direction in life.

The meeting was called by the Times Boxing Club and Ben Kinsella’s family (Ben’s cousin Billy is a keen member of the club). We discussed their aim to do even more to give young people structure and ambition, by building another floor to their club to fit in more activities. I’ve known David Ryan from Times for years; he’s passionate about the club and their work. David’s been recognised as one of sport’s unsung heroes: the club is his life.

We also heard from two men who’ve lost their sons to violence. Ben’s dad George Kinsella spoke movingly of how he dearly wished he wasn’t there; it’s very early days but the Kinsella family are determined to see some good come from Ben’s death, and want boxing to be part of that. Mark Prince, an inspirational figure, who lost his son Kiyan, spoke about how boxing had given his own life discipline.

Even after a decade working at the Sports Council, I’ve been doubtful about boxing in the past. But that’s changed as I’ve met and respected more and more people involved in boxing. People like Mary Powell, Islington’s first ever Lib Dem Mayor, who still runs the London ex Boxers Association. Or young boxing star Marlon Mellish, who lives just round the corner from where I used to live in Barnsbury

Marlon says boxing has given him the structure he needed; he’s now studying sports science at City & Islington and hopes to go on to university. For him and many others, boxing’s not just an outlet today but hope for tomorrow.

My apologies to friends Helen & Andy whose wedding party was also last night. But keeping our young people safe is such an important issue, I wanted to be there in person. It was good to have Lib Dem Cllrs Paula Belford & Lucy Watt there too.

I’ll certainly be doing what I can to help Times with their plans.

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Ben Kinsella: time to lay down the knives

The tragic and violent death at just 16 of Ben Kinsella has shocked people all over Islington. My heart goes out to Ben’s family and many friends, it’s so awful.

It was late on Sunday night, after the football, that I heard that the latest victim was Ben. The death of a young person is equally tragic whoever they are; when it is someone you know, it is all the more shocking.

Last night I was out in Finsbury, collecting signatures for our post office petition, but the talk soon turned to Ben, whose family is well-known and well-loved across the area – not because of TV fame but because they are such a strong part of the community.

So many people are touched by this. Just the other day, Ben & I were chatting on the same Facebook group about our local Woolworths closing down. My friends’ teenage children are devastated at the loss of one of their own.

We all pray that good comes out of tragedy. Islington has lost other dearly-loved boys. Martin Dinnegan’s death inspired the Islington Commission on youth crime. Nassirudeen Osawe’s death, in broad daylight, reminded us that knives are everywhere. Just last week, I joined Greg Foxsmith, chair of the Commission, at a local Lib Dem discussion on the issue. On Friday, I had lunch with a local Somali youth worker; knife crime was on the agenda then. I never dreamed then we would all be mourning Ben now.

Now Ben’s death has shocked and touched so many people, perhaps the knives will be laid down. Brooke is a local heroine, I remember her being mobbed by delighted kids when she came to open the summer fete at a local housing association. Brooke’s fame may be a mixed blessing for her and the family at a time when they want to grieve in private. But if the Kinsellas’ star quality brings an end to kids carrying knives, then I can’t think of a better tribute to Ben.

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Mayoral hustings at St Mary’s

On Monday night I went to Islington’s Commission on Young People & Safety, meeting in St Mary’s church. The Commission, chaired by Lib Dem Cllr Greg Foxsmith, was set up following the murder of Martin Dinnegan in Holloway. Since then another local teenager, Nassirudeen Osawe, was stabbed at the Angel, with other youngsters killed just over the border in Hackney. So the Commission remains sadly topical.

Originally this session was to be for the Commission members – a mix of councillors and independent members – to hear from the young people at St Mary’s youth club. St Mary’s is my church, so I’d planned to attend the youth club visit anyway. Then someone had the idea of inviting the Mayoral candidates, and the event changed completely. It moved from the youth club into the church itself, and became a Mayoral hustings, with a difference. The candidates would have 5 minutes to speak on their policies on crime and youth; then take questions, from young people only.

The anxious adults – press photographers trying to get the best spot, party activists lurking to meet their candidates, council stewards in an unfamiliar venue – were a contrast with the groups of young people who arrived chattering and laughing just before the start. Graham Kings our vicar coped admirably with all this hoo-ha. As one of the token adults in the audience, I sat about six pews back, then got moved further and further back so the young people could sit at the front. There must have been over 200 by the time the meeting began. One councillor said admiringly “We’d never get this many young people into the Town Hall”. We don’t usually get that many in church either.

Whether it was the church or the young people or both I’m not sure, but despite all the photographers, the atmosphere was quite different from the rhetoric and conflict of a typical hustings. And it was the professional politicians who suffered as a result.Boris’ flourishes – there was “a great styrofoam edifice of hype” about crime, “ziggurats of wealth” in the City, a “revolution on a par with de-industrialisation or print” – fell flat. So did some classic claptrap from Len Duvall (Ken’s representative on earth), a side-swipe about budget voting designed to get cheers and jeers; it got neither.

Politicians regularly promise to be straight-talking; this time they really had to be.
Sian made some good points about enforcing existing laws rather than introducing new ones, but bizarrely advocated 10-year funding cycles for voluntary organisations; where’s the accountability in that? Boris didn’t share his plan to confiscate Oystercards from rowdy youths.

Brian Paddick argued that stop and search should be targeted on the bad guys, not all youth, not least because you need to build trust with young people to get the intelligence about who’s carrying knives in the first place. While Boris and Len were advocating a ‘just say no’ approach, Brian advocated having real victims, reformed offenders, people with street cred, to get the message across. He spoke really well, very directly (Boris kept referring to young people as ‘them’), getting the only spontaneous applause of the evening.
“This is great” said Boris, rather wildly. “If I’m elected we’ll do this every month, right here!” Perhaps he should consult the vicar….

After the Q&A, the Chair declared a recess, before going on to take evidence from the youth groups represented. As the candidates mingled with the audience, we rushed into the lobby, ready to thank Brian and get photos. Len left, Boris left, no Brian. Had we lost the candidate? No, he was staying on (as did Sian) to listen to the young people’s presentations.

All the candidates had called for more things for young people to do; youth worker Natalie Suleiman said it’s not ‘more’ youth activities we need but ‘more appropriate’. We have to provide things that teenagers, particularly boys, want to do and that means listening to them. Two lads spoke about how EC1 New Deal (a major regeneration project in Islington) had enrolled them as ‘community consultants’, training them on how to read council policy documents “which aren’t always youth-friendly” and then paying them to respond. The chair pointed out that the papers aren’t always adult-friendly either.

Finally we heard from Abid Ali, a Muslim who is one of the community chaplains from Feltham, London’s youth prison. He provides counselling and support to inmates while they are in Feltham and after they leave. Most inmates have a 75% reoffending rate; for those Abid counsels, it’s 26%. Worth noting in a week when Islam’s relationship with the justice system has been under so much debate.

Afterwards a group of us went for an excellent meal at Isarn Thai opposite the church. Beautiful room and really good food. On the way home I met friends coming back from the Arsenal match. Their daughter had been at the hustings and had already phoned them full of praise for Brian. Plus Arsenal won. A great end to the day….

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