Andre Schott is Director of Fitzrovia Youth in Action, a charity supporting young people:
“I’ve lived in Fitzrovia for 11 years and co-founded Fitzrovia Youth in Action (FYA) in 1997. There was quite a lot of conflict around the Warren between different groups of young people – between white and Bangladeshi young people and between those who lived there and other young people hanging around the Warren. Residents were also fed up of the minority of young people who were drug dealing or being anti-social.
In response, we set up a football competition, and that turned into young people cleaning up the Warren, getting the drug dealers to leave and telling others ‘this is our area and we’re looking after it’. On the day of the tournament we launched FYA aiming to help young people develop themselves as well as develop their community.
Fitzrovia lacks outdoor open space and accessible, affordable activities for young people. We need positive activities – youth work, skills development and sport. Young people want more facilities and safe, fun activities to develop themselves, but there is a shortage of safe, non-faith provision in the area. There are a few organisations providing activities here, but we are all very limited in our resources. In the past we’ve tried charging, but some people stopped turning up and were too embarrassed to say that their parents couldn’t give them the contribution so we provide our services free.
We engage with young people from Fitzrovia first and foremost – but we can’t employ a range of coordinators and participation managers if we focus only on this neighbourhood, which has a very small youth population – so our remit is wider. Historically, there have always been a lot of young people from Regent’s Park estate and the West Euston area who used to hang around the Warren and Fitzroy Square that we work with. I think that many of the young people that we work with have territorial issues – they don’t feel comfortable going into other parts of central London – certain roads are big barriers.
We recently consulted young people about their concerns. Their top three worries were employment, crime and drugs. They worry about what to do when they finish school, what will happen to them in the current climate. These young people don’t have the networks or resources to find out what interests and stimulates them or get to where they want to be.
You’ll have heard stories from the square residents about young people smoking cannabis and making trouble in the past, but that group had no one working with them at the time. They need to be engaged from a young age in positive things and be given positions of responsibility, so when they grow older they can get practical support into what they want to do through mentoring, work experience or long term support. What we’re doing is engaging young people in positive activities, forming relationships in order to support them through their teenage years. That’s our work summed up.
We really value the drop in at FCC. With All Souls right opposite, it’s a great opportunity to get those young people engaged so they’ll know FCC and FYA before they grow into teenagers and need support. If we had the resources we’d like to extend those. The ultimate would be for FCC to provide this facility free of charge or at very low cost for local organisations, offset by income from corporate hire. We’re very similar in our thinking and our ambition to tap into the resources around us, like the business community and their employees. Together we could offer a menu of things businesses might like to get involved in, and have a more strategic approach to working with them in the future.