Tower Hamlets youngsters build bridges with Canary Wharf

THEY are two communities united only by sharing the same E14 postcode.

On one side of the divide, youngsters on Tower Hamlets estates subdued by labels and stereotypes - on the other, the rich, pin-striped suits holed up in their Canary Wharf towers.

“Basically, we thought they were stuck-up snobs and they thought we were violent gangsters,” sums up perceptive teenager Fahim Miah.

As it turned out, both assumptions were wildly off the mark, as a group of youngsters aged 14 and 15 discovered when they sought to build bridges between Canary Wharf and the communities it overlooks.

Brought together by youth-led organisation Leaders in Community, the group spent six months making a documentary on the efforts to break down barriers and create a more integrated community - and the results have been impressive.

“A lot of the youngsters living on the estates are confused - they live so close to Canary Wharf but they feel like it’s a million miles away,” said project manager Momtaz Begum.

“Not all young people want to be bankers or lawyers but they have started thinking about what it takes to be successful and that’s the biggest thing they can take away.”

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The film, funded by the Poplar Harca Housing Association and Media Trust, sees the young people script, act and edit their own roleplays as well as interview people who already work in Canary Wharf. It will be screened later this year at a local cinema and will also feature at the East End Film Festival. Companies taking part included Thomson Reuters, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, China Construction Bank and Allen & Overy.

While raising aspirations was crucial, it was also important for the young people to knock down some stereotypes of their own.

“These kids are passionate about showing positive images about their neighbourhood - they’re passionate about their school and their community,” explained project assistant Lara Naqushbandi. “They don’t want to be seen as gangs, they wanted to concentrate on the positive side of the estates.

“There is the perception that they can’t go on to do great things and the fear is after a while they start to believe it themselves.”

Certainly, there is no shortage of energy and creative flair in these youngsters for any Canary Wharf employers looking to recruit locally in the future.

And if they could sit down with a bank’s chief executive, what would they put at the top of their wishlist?

“We want advice and guidance on how we can make it there ourselves,” said Shahid Miah. “Please open more doors and tell us how to get started. Get to know us and don’t stereotype us and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you see.”

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