In the first of a series of articles by those who have benefitted from the existence of Wanstead Youth Centre – which is under threat of closure – Kate Sloan reports on the situation so far
The future of Wanstead Youth Centre was debated at a Redbridge Council meeting on 23 March, thanks to the work of campaigners who gathered over 5,000 petition signatures to secure the important debate.
The campaign group put forward their request for a 12-month moratorium to enable the council to meaningfully engage with centre users and to explore different funding options to secure the venue’s future. (The reason for considering the closure is £2.4m of maintenance and repairs which the council claim is required.)
Campaigners, young people and the wider community were left feeling incredibly let down and disempowered when this request was not acknowledged at the meeting. Instead, the councillors who attended voted in favour of a motion put forward by Jas Athwal, the leader of the council, to develop a ‘comprehensive directory’ that would give residents easy access to organisations, clubs and activities. This motion and debate failed to address the key concern of residents, namely that there is no other centre like this in the borough, and if Wanstead Youth Centre does close, many of the activities that happen there will have to end, as there aren’t other viable alternatives in the local area.
Those attending the meeting were also shocked that the importance of the centre was diminished repeatedly during the debate, including by statements the centre isn’t actually a youth centre (as local authority youth workers no longer work there), but just a space booked by private individuals. At no point did the council acknowledge that those individuals are members of the community who have stepped in to provide activities for young people, such as gymnastics, cricket and police cadets. The young people who use the centre told councillors at a recent public meeting how vital these activities are to their physical and mental health.
I, too, have experienced the importance of this centre first-hand. I moved to Wanstead last summer with my young baby and attending baby classes at the centre was a vital lifeline. It allowed me to meet other mums at a time when I could have been very lonely, especially as the council has closed Wanstead Children’s Centre and other privately run baby classes in the area are booked up months in advance with demand far outstripping supply.
At another meeting on 18 April, Jas Athwal told campaigners: “We will make sure we consult with you, and we will make that decision with our eyes wide open.” We hope he stays true to his word and starts a meaningful dialogue on how to secure the future of this essential community facility.
Wanstead Youth Centre is located at 144 Elmcroft Avenue, Wanstead, E11 2DB.
For more information on the Save Wanstead Youth Centre campaign, email SaveWansteadYouthCentre@gmail.com or call 07403 649 306