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14 December 2021

There is no doubt that in many ways it has been a very tough year. The effects of the pandemic come on top of a decade where the places to go and services available for young people have shrunk. Sian Berry’s annual report on youth services in London shows that 10 years ago there were 299 youth centres in London, now there are only 133. Young people still need somewhere safe to go and someone trusted to talk to. But we spend tens of millions less every year on that support for young Londoners than we did a decade ago.

Young Londoners, inequality, and the pandemic

The debates about levelling-up risk becoming political rhetoric. But there is an uncomfortable truth about our city – we have the highest rate of childhood poverty in the UK.

For some groups of young people things are particularly tough. Black children in London are even more likely to grow up in poverty. Unemployment rates are higher for young people of colour, even when their qualifications are the same. 1 in 5 children don’t get to go to football or drama because their family can’t afford it. Many never leave the city or even their own borough. For those children a youth club can open up a whole new world of opportunity.

Some problems have become much worse because of the pandemic: access to space and sport for example. And we are deeply concerned about young people’s mental health. Rates of depression and anxiety have shot up, and there are simply not enough specialist services to go around. At the same time, although violence rates overall were dampened by lockdowns, the teenage homicide rate has actually increased in London.

a group of youth workersFighting for the youth sector

In this context we are incredibly grateful to have the support of partners like City Bridge Trust, CVC and London’s VRU. City Bridge Trust is a bedrock supporter of our work to support and develop youth organisations. With CVC we are delivering a training programme for 500 youth workers to build skills in supporting young people’s mental wellbeing. And one of the most energising prospects in view for us is the chance to deliver a second Rise Up leadership programme for youth practitioners working with issues of violence in our communities.

We are still waiting on an update from government on how they think youth services can be underpinned. But to be honest, I’m not hopeful for major government driven change. That doesn’t mean we still stop asking for it – even at the risk of sounding naïve.

We will never stop saying that young people need youth work. We will also never stop supporting young people and youth workers to claim the support they deserve.

Simply, more youth clubs and more youth services would mean happier, safer young people better equipped to build a bright future.

We know that to achieve these changes at this pivotal moment we need to work in concert with others, and in wider coalitions of regional and cross regional interest to increase our impact. We need to make the case that young Londoners experience huge challenges; the suggestion in the Sewell report that London is a place of huge employment opportunity for people of colour would be news to the many young people we support who struggle for employment. It also can’t be right that there are such discrepancies in spend on young people between boroughs.

The inequality between young Londoners growing up at the same time in the same city should shock us all.

group of young people doing sports activity in the summerLooking back at 2021 and towards 2022

So it is a tough picture but it is also important that we keep celebrating what we can achieve together. It has been amazing to see how our members have kept youth work going and been there for young people, especially the most vulnerable. In this year we launched our Digital Talent programme, supporting young people of colour to develop skills for the massive demand in digital jobs.

Over the last year, we’ve been continuing on our journey to become an anti-racist organisation and to ensure this is embedded in everything we do. Read more about our commitment to anti-racism here.

After over a year of closure for our outdoor learning centres we are also so pleased to be offering 1000 young Londoners free residential trips supported by Jack Petchey Foundation. And we celebrated a year of delivering the fantastic Good for Girls wellbeing programme supported by DCMS. Please check out the extraordinary film here.

We will continue bringing together philanthropy, responsible corporate action and caring individuals to make a difference. This is why we are also co-chairing a programme of work as part of the Young Londoners Coalition – bringing together people from health services, funders, housing associations as well as youth sector organisations to work together for young Londoners.

I know we will all be hoping fervently for good things in 2022. We all, I think, also feel the huge uncertainty of the times. It is a simple truth that we need your continued support to carry on in this context and I want to say a big thank you to you all. You help us to be there for young Londoners.

– Rosemary, CEO

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