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Reaping the whirlwind of cuts to our youth services

22 February, 2018

Bafta award-winning actor Daniel Kaluuya, who grew up in a working-class estate in Camden

TWO events took place within 24 hours of each other this week, one starry-eyed and full of dreams, the other a sheer horror show – and, in a strange way, they are connected.

The first on Monday evening was the Bafta award that went to the actor Daniel Kaluuya, who grew up in a working-class estate in Camden.

The other is about two youngsters who were knifed to death – both on Tuesday evening, within a mile of each other.

There are no easy answers to the epidemic of fatal stabbing running through the veins of London. Politicians will trundle out a lot of political rhetoric, that there needs to be greater public vigilance, schools need to look hard and long at the problem, the police need to be more effective.

But haven’t we been here before? What hasn’t been heard enough is that there should be a steady supply of youth services to cater for our young people, especially, in their years of maturing.

This doesn’t mean all will be well if this happens. It doesn’t mean knife crime will disappear. But what is more likely to happen is that today’s crime waves will recede.

Police in Kentish Town after Abdikarim Hassan, 17, was attacked in one of two fatal stabbings in Camden on Tuesday night

It can become a political cliché of course to blame our social ills on austerity but there is little doubt that if you cut the traditional facilities – and this has been happening at an alarming speed over the past seven years – society will bear the costs. This week it is reaping the whirlwind.

Thoughtful politicians in power at the Town Hall face a dilemma. Faced with heartless economies that have been forced on them in the past seven years where facilities for the young, the elderly and the vulnerable have become victims of failing political policies, what do they do? Do they simply manage the creaking, destructive system? Or do they refuse to bend the knee?

What has all this to do with Daniel Kuluuya? Daniel could have ended up a crime statistic. It was because of his mother, who shared the fears of a lot of mothers, especially in Camden Town and Kentish Town, that their children had to “get off the streets” because Camden is a “dark place…” where “there are loads of drugs”.

He has become the person he is largely because he found a home in that great School of Fame – the Weekend Arts College (WAC) in Belsize Park. Since it was founded in the 1980s – mainly through the efforts of Celia Greenwood – it has provided a haven, for low income youngsters, where they can learn dance, music, art and acting, with caring facilities provided for disabled children.

It is a unique institution – a rare jewel in London. Somehow, it has managed to withstand the cut-backs – just about.

There should be more WACs and similar places in Camden and in the capital.

Little will change unless society changes it priorities.

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