Teenagers and their mums come to rescue the A-Team as Tower Hamlets mayor plans youth cuts
PUBLISHED: 17:50 30 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:59 30 July 2020
Teenagers and their mums have made an impassioned plea to the Mayor of Tower Hamlets defending the East End’s much acclaimed A-Team arts organisation from being scrapped.
They urged last night’s council cabinet meeting not to go ahead with £100,000 cuts from the youth service with facilities being lined up to be parcelled out to contractors.
The arts organisation paid for out of council tax has successfully run Whitechapel’s Brady Centre for 40 years — but now faces its music and drama being dismantled next spring when youth services overall face changes.
“It’s difficult in our community for girls to be out there,” mother-of-three Mamentar Begum told the mayor. “But the A-Team really fuelled confidence for my daughters who would have just been in small corners with no confidence.”
Her teen daughter Anjuma, once diagnosed with “having anxiety”, joined last night’s online meeting to make her own plea.
The 19-year-old said: “The A-Team made me the open-minded, confident and aspiring person that I am today, expanding my abilities to go into the huge world and tackle the challenges. It’s our escape, a place where we can be ourselves, where we belong.”
Single mum Rahina Begum spoke openly about how the “lifeline” organisation saved her son from depression after her divorce and stopped him ending up on the streets.
“It provided me with a lifeline as a single parent,” she said. “My son became internalised and wouldn’t speak of his emotions. Neither his school nor social services could get through to him.
“I could see my son go down into depression, going onto the streets and be part of youth crime, being groomed for drugs, because he didn’t engage in school or at home.
“But A-Team Arts saved my family, giving my son inspiration to do something with his life.”
Geraldine Bowyer retired from the organisation in December, but was “shocked that the A-Team is under threat after 40 years” and was being parcelled out to the voluntary sector.
“Your report says arts can no longer be delivered in-house,” she pointed out. “I don’t see why not? It has been in-house all these years when we’ve been incredibly successful.”
The youth service faces changes next Spring with some centres being reduced from five days a week to four. That could mean more street crime, 17-year-old Amiet Rahman told the cabinet. He had a look at the agenda and wasn’t happy.
“It’s after school when knife crime is at its height,” he said. “People are more likely to carry weapons for their own safety because others are doing this.”
He suggested more investment in youth clubs for the future and even offered to help councillors with the budget “to see what you guys can do to benefit us”. He would be “more than happy” to help.
The report on youth service streamlining promised that centres would stay open, even if some would close on certain days.
Those are the ones “that don’t meet the high quality criteria”, councillors heard. Focus would be on flexible “detached teams” working on issues with young people then moving to other areas “to maximise resources effectively”.
But there were discrepancies from one district to the next, Cllr James King pointed out.
Facilities in Spitalfields, Stepney, Bow and Poplar were being “uplifted” with £250,000 in contracts. He asked why “areas not covered by commissioning contracts will have funds reduced” like Bethnal Green which was facing youth centre cuts.
The cabinet agreed to £100,000 savings from its youth budget.
But Mayor John Biggs was impressed by the teenagers and their mums and would look at it “for a budget consideration”.
He acknowledged the A-Team as “precious” and offered to talk further. There was time before the crunch next spring.
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