11 November 2022
I grew up in the seventies and eighties in the heart of North Acton’s Poet’s Corner. I had a very happy childhood upbringing both in a warm, loving and supportive family home and in a fiercely progressive, nurturing and anti-racist school.
But, as Thatcher’s Britain emerged, along with the rise of populist far right sentiments, I felt my adolescent self starting to withdraw from society. This wasn’t helped by being increasingly aware of family members (I was one of five) and friends being victims of unnecessary ‘stop and searches’ and experiencing other aspects of racial discrimination on the streets and workplace.
The Fendley siblings were all actively encouraged to go out and live their lives normally and without fear of experiencing racial bigotry – often underpinned by a ‘what to do and what not to do’ run-down of parent tips to help us stay out of trouble. But I convinced myself that the warm, loving, caring and nurturing bubbles of school and home were all I needed to thrive.
Needless to say, I was wrong. Friends and family also started to notice that I was withdrawing, becoming somewhat of a semi-recluse. My once huge confidence and social skills were rapidly eroding – and the concern continued to grow.
Somewhere to go
During the summer holiday, one of my younger brothers had started to attend a youth club in East Acton. My increasingly worried mum and dad willed me to join him for a trial week.
With great reluctance I crossed the line, entering the world of this large prefab on the outskirts of Acton Park. The youth club leaders, Didi (a former teacher) and ‘Doc’ Ade (a qualified doctor of medicine) were both friendly, approachable and gladly welcomed me into the Acton Park fold. The other volunteers there all shared the same values.
Something to do
The prefab opened up like Dr Who’s TARDIS, buzzing with a hive of activity including art initiatives and indoor sports and games. It also included structured discussions on social matters from young people’s unemployment to racism to responsible citizenship.
On the felted walls, by the double door entrance, were various signups to join the youth club football and cricket teams, opportunities to go on cultural trips to central London museums and theatres – all for little or no cost. There were even trips for older members of the club to visit and be career-inspired by organisations such as IBM.
Someone to trust
The youth workers, Doc Ade and Didi, created a safe, fun and tolerant environment steeped in understanding, belonging, self-improvement and in being yourself. I had found the third home in my triangle of havens.
Doc Ade and Didi created an empathetic space where I could make new friends (in some cases friends for life) and interact with adults and young people from all backgrounds.
Perhaps most importantly, it was Doc Ade and Didi that successfully challenged me to confront my negative behaviours, and helped me to regain my confidence and well-being.
What youth clubs did for me and my brothers…
My two younger brothers look back fondly on the youth club as mainly creating happy memories. But also as somewhere to go, to keep them out the type of boredom-inspired criminal and recreational mischief that literally destroyed so many of the lives of their peers.
For the six years I spent in youth clubs, I transitioned from being an active participant, taking advantage of every cultural and sporting opportunity available to me, to being a volunteer leader and mentor to new and often anxious young members.
All of these experiences would stand me in excellent stead for future life, whether at university, playing top level sport, or in thriving as a leader in the workplace.
Like so many wonderful youth clubs established during the seventies and eighties, cuts and lack of volunteers and resources eventually forced many of these spaces to close down. Thankfully the Acton Park area still has an excellent youth club providing a fabric for its community.
And now, nearly 35 years later, and a lot of water having flowed under the bridge, I am the Director of Fundraising and Partnerships for London Youth, working with some of the most committed colleagues and stakeholders you could ever wish to have as allies.
Working together with our 600 youth club members, we are in a pivotal position to offer support to those young people still most affected by the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, and those facing racial inequality and injustice.
I truly feel that I have found my way back home.