My London carries an interview with former Stowe Centre youth leader Michael Dipple:
A youth worker made redundant amid huge funding cuts has called for new laws that would force councils to keep funding youth centres.
Michael Dipple called the closure in 2017 of the Stowe Centre’s youth club – where 50 teenagers spent four evenings a week – a “devastating” loss to the Harrow Road community.
The 52-year-old got his first job at the Stowe when he was 17. As a senior youth worker until 2017, he taught kids about safe sex and relationships, and the dangers of gang culture, knives and drugs.
“These kids were my family, I looked after the children of people who came to the centre when they were young,” Mr Dipple said.
“Not everyone comes from a perfect family. Unfortunately, many of these kids are left to raise themselves. That’s when they can end up having children early, or in a gang or the criminal justice system.”
He added: “This isn’t about one youth worker who lost his job, this is about young people’s lives. These people have been left to rot.”
Research conducted by the YMCA last year found overall spending on youth services in England has fallen by £737 million (62%) since 2010. This is because councils have no legal obligation to fund youth centres, whereas they do for services such as maintaining roads or town planning.
A Westminster Council spokesman said cutting its youth services budget was a “difficult decision”. And that it set up a Young Westminster Foundation in 2017 “to provide ongoing support to the youth sector”.
Mr Dipple said: “It should be the law that we have support for young people and youth services.
“It doesn’t make sense when local authorities say they want to help people from economically worse off backgrounds. Then they take away resources.”
The government’s Department of Communities and Local Government was unable to respond in time to requests for a comment about the proposed change to the law.
Mr Dipple believes authorities have a tendency to cut youth services spending when they see knife crime goes down, which can undo their positive work.
“Knife crime always goes up and down. When it goes down, that’s when [the Government] goes ‘okay, we’re alright now’ and they take away resources. Then knife crime goes back up. They need to keep the resources there but they’re not interested in the long term,” he said.
Scotland Yard crime data shows that 504 knife offences were recorded in the borough of Westminster in 2018/19, compared with 437 offences in 2016/17, and 296 offences in the year 2015/16.
Westminster Council said it received 18 referrals to its Youth Offending Team last year, down from two years earlier.
While the Stowe’s youth centre was the only one in the borough of Westminster to close after the cuts, others are reportedly “struggling”.
Jackie Rosenberg is deputy chief executive of the Paddington Development Trust which received funding for the Stowe Youth Club.
She said: “The remaining youth centres are struggling and frantically trying to fill the gap.
“You can’t cut funding like this and not expect to see a difference. You can see why councils would cut youth services when their total budgets have been cut by 40%. It’s low hanging fruit because they’re not legally obliged to fund them, but it’s so short sighted.”
The Stowe first opened as a youth centre in the 1960s, in a building once built as field trip accommodation for the highly-exclusive Stowe School in Buckingham. Today it still hosts community services for older people and skills training.
Until 2017, the Stowe’s youth centre produced its own The Cut magazine, which once featured an interview with singer Jessie J. It had kitchens where children learnt to cook, as well as a music studio and boxing club.
Mr Dipple, who now works in youth projects in Hammersmith, said: “We’re able to work with these kids and earn their trust in a way that schools and police wish they could, but can’t.
“People think all we do is play football and ping pong at these youth centres, but it’s not. These kids need to form relationships with adults.
“And if you take these youth centres away from kids you will lose that trust altogether.”
Among the successes of the Stowe, Mr Dipple recalled a young woman who later studied at the University of Cambridge. “She must be 29 now, and she grew up with parents who were alcoholics,” he said.
“It’s not always the big stuff. Some people had poor reading and writing when they came to us but now they’ve got a job in Tesco when they could have been on the wrong road.”
He also recalled how IS terrorist Jihadi John came through the centre years before he was radicalised.