Cross-community collaboration will be key to improving the future of young people in London

Charles Mindenhall
OnSide Youth Zones

London is home to around 1.8 million young people, just under the equivalent population of Northern Ireland.

Despite this, the capital has seen significant cuts in funding for universal youth services, with at least 30 youth centres closing between 2011 and 2016, that’s nearly one for every borough in the city.

These amenities play a vital role in giving young people access to the activities, interactions and opportunities that simply don’t exist in formal education or out on the streets.

OnSide Youth Zones is trying to help reverse this decline by bringing state-of-the-art facilities and high-quality services to areas of London which desperately need them.

The charity has achieved great things since it launched in the North West during 2008, right at the height of the financial crisis.

Our founders used their experience building successful businesses to create an innovative approach that could overcome funding and operational challenges to deliver high-quality youth services across the country.

The network now has ten Youth Zones in England, each giving local young people aged between 8-19 (up to 25 for those with a disability) affordable access to high quality sports, arts and leisure facilities as well as crucial services that support employability and health.

At the heart of OnSide Youth Zones' model is the cross-community collaboration between public, private and voluntary sectors with the communities who need these facilities.

It’s a case of ‘stronger together’.

Everyone in society has a vested interest in ensuring young people’s wellbeing and aspirations are supported. What’s needed are mechanisms for individuals and organisations to pool their resources and formalise their commitment.

The framework we’ve adopted brings together SMEs, corporates, successful individuals, charitable funds and local authorities in a philanthropic cross-community partnership.

It removes over-reliance on any single source of funding and ensures that Youth Zones can draw on the skills and experience of people from diverse backgrounds.

It’s proven its value over the years, with an impact study calculating that, on average, Youth Zones deliver £2 of social benefits for every £1 spent on operating costs. Diversified funding also means that the public purse benefits further with the ratio rising to £6 for every £1 of local authority contributions.

A major milestone in bringing our form of cross-community collaboration to London occurred last week, when we broke ground at the site of Future Youth Zone in Barking & Dagenham. It is one of three that will be constructed over the next year with two set for Barnet and Croydon. A further two are in the pipeline to be announced soon.

OnSide Youth Zones has been welcomed with open arms by local councils in areas that are crying out for somewhere safe and inspiring for young people to spend their leisure time.

We’ve also found significant demand within London’s SME community to get involved in addressing social mobility challenges.

We work with local business owners who want to transform the lives of young people, with many investing in the communities that have played a key role in their success.

In addition to investing money, philanthropists and SMEs often dedicate their own time and skills to champion their Youth Zone. This can involve harnessing personal and business networks to secure further support from fellow businesses and local influencers or providing specialist support in operational areas such as finance or marketing.

We’re also fortunate that OnSide Youth Zones was chosen to be part of a new charity partnership, alongside Samaritans and Place2Be, by The Lord Mayor’s Appeal which brings together businesses, employees, neighbouring communities, and charities to find solutions to some of London's most pressing societal issues.

Income poverty rates for children, working age adults and pensioners are higher in London than elsewhere in the UK, leading to a range of social problems including ill-health, substance abuse and crime.

We all know that prevention is better than cure, so investing in universal youth services is vital.

It’s our mission to ensure the power of cross-community collaboration is harnessed to make a difference to young Londoner’s lives now and in future generations. If you share this vision then contact us to get involved.