East London youth workers celebrated as champions of their communities

Momtaz Ajid, Project Manager at Leaders in Community in Tower Hamlets

Momtaz Ajid, Project Manager at Leaders in Community in Tower Hamlets - Credit: Francis Augusto

Youth workers in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Ilford have been commended as community champions for helping young people in London.

London Youth has been based in Hackney for 130 years on the border with Islington on Pitfield Street. The organisation held an event during Youth Work week on November 5.

The event celebrated five London youth workers championing them as unsung heroes of the capital's communities. 

Momtaz Ajid was one of those five who "stumbled into youth work" after growing up on an estate in east London. 

Young people speak at the London Youth Event

Kalliyah and Elena, who are members of London Youth’s youth board, speak at the event - Credit: Kid Circus

She has worked for Leaders In Community, a Tower Hamlets charity run by active local young people in the area, for 15 years. 

Momtaz said: "After I finished my degree I struggled with low self-esteem and getting into youth work totally changed that. It was important to me to give back to the community and support others from a Bangladeshi background in the community.

"I wanted to do something a bit different and didn’t want to do the same thing that had been done before. That’s where Leaders In Community came from."

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The youth worker says it's important to make sure young people have a say in their local area.

But despite the important work youth workers do in their communities London Youth said on October 29 that the chancellor's 2021 budget and spending review did not give the youth sector any "cause for optimism". 

The organisation's initial response was concerned that the Treasury, which promised £368 million in new funds to build 300 youth clubs was not actually giving the sector new financing but "re-stating funds from £500 million Youth Investment fund announced in 2019.

London Youth's interim statement read: "If the chancellor is committing new funds for up to 300 new youth clubs this is positive, but it will do nothing to restore pride in the hundreds of youth clubs in disrepair that many young people call home.

"So many of London Youth’s grassroots community-based members are safe spaces and trusted lifelines for young people in need. They are currently starved of investment and in dire need of unrestricted funds to keep their doors open."

London Youth member Irfan Shah tweeted: " [The] Funding does not add up and [is] definitely not levelling up. Based on the numbers of young people growing up in poor areas alone, £560m over three years – you actually don’t get it, you actually have no pride."

Irfan is Head of Frenford Clubs and lead youth worker at Frenford in Ilford. He was also recognised as a community champion for youth work week. 

Irfan Shah, Head of Frenford Clubs and Lead Youth Worker at Frenford in Iford.

Irfan Shah, Head of Frenford Clubs and Lead Youth Worker at Frenford in Iford - Credit: Francis Augusto

On working at the club for 17 years, he said: "Helping young people through difficult times is a challenge but that’s what we do. Making those small changes, even the smallest impact, it brings us joy."

Kyarna Morris, Youth Drama Assistant at Hackney's Immediate Theatre, was also commended for the youth work she does.

Kyarna Morris, Youth Drama Assistant at Hackney's Immediate Theatre

Kyarna Morris, Youth Drama Assistant at Hackney's Immediate Theatre - Credit: Francis Augusto

She said Immediate Theatre provided a community space for her when she was a teenager so she began volunteering.

Kyarna said: "Youth work is the best way to engage young people. When I was young, I felt dismissed and neglected by society. I felt like growing up is a scam, paying for uni is a scam, ‘adulting’ is the worst thing ever. When I got involved with Immediate’s summer programmes, I felt like I could reach the stars."

In response to London Youth's concerns about government youth service provision a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) spokesperson said: "We are determined to give every child the best start in life and level up opportunity across the country. 

"At budget, the chancellor announced plans to invest £560 million to make sure youth services get the support they need and this includes funding the construction or refurbishment of up to 300 youth facilities in the most deprived areas of the country. 

"We also confirmed a £500 million extension of our schemes to help young people find new opportunities and better paid work, over £200 million to continue the Holiday Activities and Food programme, and a further £1.8 billion to support schools’ recovery from the pandemic and help the most disadvantaged pupils – which takes overall funding dedicated towards pupils’ recovery to almost £5 billion.”

Youth London event 2021

(From left) London Youth's chair of trustees Stephen Moss CBE, director of philanthropy at CVC Kate Butchart, CEO of London Youth Rosemary Watt-Wyness and London Youth president Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE - Credit: Kid Circus

More details about the government's down payment on youth investment will be set out in "due course".