Street gangs return after bailiffs close youth project in deprived East End

Volunteers who have been running a ‘big community’ project which has kept youths off the streets for two years are worried that ‘gang culture’ has returned to tough neighbourhoods in London’s deprived East End.

The teenagers, including offenders, were back on street corners the day the project had to close when bailiffs moved in to evict them.

The ‘Factory East’ project sub-leased space in a previously-disused warehouse in Bow and had been running a successful boxing gym with several promising youngsters and a state-of-the-art recording studio where budding performers recorded music that’s been selling on the internet.

But they were devastated by a repossession order after the main leaseholder of the two-storey building in Fairfield Road, who they rented the space from, had defaulted.

That day, say volunteers, the youths were back menacing the neighbourhood.

‘Factory East’ was set up by bricklayer Jack Ramadan, 43, a father of two teenagers, and Michelle Jones, a teaching assistant in Tower Hamlets Pupil Referral unit. They got a four-year sub-lease running until 2013, then raised �45,000 renovate and soundproof the place.

“Our young people are angry,” Michelle explains. “They have been forced back on the streets while the building stands vacant with security and guard-dogs outside 24-seven watching it with military precision.

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“We can’t believe that somebody is paying for the building to remain barren when it was fully operational with thriving activity.”

The East End has lost a valuable asset for making the neighbourhood safe, she feels, through no fault of their own.

“We have been working prolifically with ‘hard to engage’ young people making a difference,” Michelle says.

“Our aim was ending the street gang culture, giving youngsters a ‘fresh start’ by channelling their energy into music, boxing and other sport.

“But the day we closed, the youths were out hanging on the street corners again, bored with nothing to do.”

The teenagers themselves have been telling the East London Advertiser what closing Factory East means to them—boredom, lack of opportunity and going back to a loitering culture that can ruin neighbourhoods.

Sarah Taylor has been learning boxing and really wants to be a fitness instructor.

“I’ll be back on the streets,” the 14-year-old admits. “Me and my mates usually hang around Roman Road. There’s not much to do.”

Jack Webb, 15, thought of Factory East as his ‘second home’ where he has been training hard.

“This gym means a lot,” he tells you. “I want to be a boxer, but closing it down has destroyed a whole dream for me.

“There’s no keeping fit on the streets—just boredom.”

Mini Sparks, 19, and his mate Nayta, 18, formed their own band and used the studio to record ‘Friday,’ an urban dance hit that’s currently in the iTunes chart.

“Without the studio, we’re just hanging around on the streets,” Mini points out.

“Before, I got a conviction for a petty offence. Then I came here and things changed.

“But now I can feel myself slipping back to the old ways.”

The kids in Bow need the backing of community leaders because they feel badly let down.

The club helped disfunctioned teenagers get back onto the right path. But now all that’s gone.

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