Protests took place outside Ealing Town Hall last month to rally against the impending closure of Southall Youth Centre.
The Save Southall Youth Centre campaign has accused Ealing Council of neglecting young people in one of the borough’s most deprived areas.
The campaign group officially launched in June as a response to the council’s plan to demolish the youth centre, also known as the Young Adults Centre, on Park View Road in September.
The group believe this will leave young people who use the centre in a helpless situation.
Minni Dogra, lifelong Southall resident, campaigner and retired solicitor who has worked in the area for 24 years, said: “We have to stand and do what is right.
“I feel that Ealing Council isolated the youth when dealing with them by keeping the residents and wider community out of any form of consultation.
“Ealing Council are running roughshod over Southall, because the local community here suffer greater poverty indicators, such as lower incomes, and are often challenged in English language and digital skills which makes it difficult for them to understand and partake in local governance procedures.
“This is a huge barrier to the people of Southall articulating their concerns and objections to the planned closure of Southall Youth Centre.
“The youth have been fighting their own corner for a long time in a situation where they were told by Ealing Council, point blank, that the youth centre would close.”
What is the council proposing to do?
According to a website set up by Ealing Council in partnership with Lichfields, a private company involved with planning and development for the council, Park View Road is to undergo redevelopment to make way for new housing.
The proposed development includes building 60 new apartments with a mixture of one, two and three bedroom homes in a five storey block.
According to Lichfields, the homes will be both under the Shared Ownership and London Living Rent scheme.
Development plans also show a proposed play area for infants and toddlers, a storage area for bikes and a courtyard entrance.
But the plans also require the demolition of the Southall Youth Centre building and development over its surrounding areas, which include an open green space with shrubbery and trees, and ball-game courts.
The website states: “In December 2021, the council agreed to close and relocate the Young Adult Centre.
“It is to be moved temporarily to the Dormers Hub in Longridge Lane and the Dominion Centre in Southall Green, within a mile of the current site.”
The council recognises that once the services are moved temporarily, they will be shared with other organisations, such as the main library and some charity groups.
In a letter addressed to council leader Peter Mason, chair of Save Southall Youth Centre Suresh Grover expressed the group’s belief that these two locations would be unsuitable to accommodate young people because of overcrowding.
It is estimated that hosting the youth centre in two temporary separate locations would require funds of around £300,000.
Impact on Southall’s youth
Currently, Ealing borough has three youth centres: Westside Young People’s Centre, Southall Youth Centre and Bollo Brook Youth Centre.
Southall’s centre was built in 2000 and boasts a youth gym, common room and music room.
Activities include archery, cooking and debate sessions, and the centre facilitates the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics in 2017 show that Southall Green was one of the areas with the highest number of residents aged 18 and under.
Figures from last year’s census show there has been a 24% increase in people aged 10-14, a 17% increase in 15-19, but an 8% dip in 20 to 24-year-olds in the borough.
A recent youth plan from Ealing Council stated: “The 2017 population by ward for young people under the age of 18 identifies areas where additional youth activities should be focused to maximise the opportunities to [engage] young people.”
Yet, despite its commitment to relocating the youth centre, the council said it has not found a new permanent site to rebuild the youth centre.
According to the campaign group, the council said finding a fit-for-purpose site will take four to five years and may cost around £2.5 million, with no concrete plan of where the funding will come from.
Southall is home to many second-generation youth from Indian, Pakistani and Somali origins.
According to a Child Poverty Action Group report in 2018, Southall Broadway has around 39% of its children living in poverty, while Southall Green has around 43%.
Given Southall’s diverse makeup, the group have criticised the council for failing to perform a thorough equalities impact assessment.
An equalities impact assessment is used to assess the impact on vulnerable or minority communities before a major decision by a local authority is made.
In the group’s first meeting, campaigners brought to light that the council concluded this move would have no equality implications, which they were doubtful of.
In addition to this, the council has identified Southall Broadway as one of the borough’s most problematic areas for crime, citing problems with drugs, knives and violence – all of which are a concern for young people.
Nell Blane, Ealing resident and health and wellbeing consultant, expressed her concerns about young people’s mental health with so few places in the borough ready-made for under 18s.
She said: “Young people see the youth centre as their safe space.
“If they are distressed at school or home, they go to the youth centre because you’ll find that young people may distrust schools.
“The youth centre is their place where they trust the adults that work there.
“They can talk about issues that affect them, and in my experience, it can involve suicide, the misuse of substances or being subject to abuse.
“When I was young, I was desperately looking for support and I did not know where to turn.
“The youth centre is such a space.”
Young Ealing Foundation is a charity which has been at the heart of the fight against the youth centre’s closure for the past three years, last year launching a petition which received over 800 signatures.
Dogra explained that she spoke to a young girl who told her using the facility has helped with improving her English.
For other young girls, it is a safe space for getting away from cases of domestic violence at home.
Whose land is it?
According to HM Registry, some of the land to be developed on contains a section protected by Education Acts 1944 to 1953.
The records at the Registry also show that the land owner of this section is the London Borough of Ealing.
But the protections under those acts could potentially mean that this section of the land can only be used for educational purposes, and therefore, have some building restrictions on it.
However, according to a letter written by a local resident in June, to then Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, the council did not adequately responding to locals’ concerns about the restrictions.
The letter alleged: “In many of the interactions with the council, residents have been met with the denial of the restriction or simply that it is not valid.”
Dogra added: “Half of the site on the right, looking from the road, was originally a private house with huge gardens, known as Vine Cottage, and is believed to have been gifted to the people of Southall.
“The Southall community have a vested interest in the youth centre building and the Vine Cottage land on which it stands today.
“The youth centre building belongs to the Southall community, if not legally, certainly morally.”
One of the main concerns highlighted to the council by the campaign group is when the decision to close and relocate the youth centre was made.
The council created the company Broadway Living to deliver housing in the borough.
According to their website, their goal is to create 2,500 affordable homes by 2022.
The campaign group believes the ambiguity started when the company’s business plans were approved at a cabinet meeting by the council in February 2021, but there was no mention of the youth centre in these plans.
This sparked questions among the local community about the future of the facility if development proposals were to go ahead.
During the following months, youth organisation Ealing Young Champions rallied the local community and presented their petition to the council in October.
And whilst the decision was made to relocate in December, the campaign group said residents only learnt of the decision this summer.
At Lichfield’s public consultation in May, held on behalf of Ealing Council, Dogra said: “The leader of Ealing Council has made it clear throughout the past year that the development of further housing must go ahead.
“He said the decision had been made. So why is the council having a consultation after the fact? Is this all a tick box exercise?”
An Ealing Council spokesperson told North West Londoner: “We know how valuable youth services and youth centres are to younger residents and no decision has yet been made on the future of this service. All options are currently being considered for the site.
“We are currently considering how these services can be delivered in the borough in the future to ensure that the needs and requirements of the communities they serve continue to be met.
“Young people have already provided valuable feedback on what future services should look like and this will form a major part of future plans, and will be a part of any wider consultation processes.
“Services offered by the YAC is not just building based, it is a collaboration with other charitable and voluntary youth services, as well as the council and we will look at how best to support this going forward.”
Save Southall Youth Centre meets weekly on Wednesdays at 6pm at Southall Town Hall and encourages participation from the local community.