Clapham Youth Centre – Almost 50 years of service to the community

Stephanie Davis revisits her old stomping ground, Clapham Youth Centre

I enter the Clapham Youth Centre for the first time in many years. Hanging on the wall, framed and with pride of place is a photograph of a lady receiving an OBE from Prince Charles for her ongoing dedication towards youth services. To the right of this is a large and sparkly banner celebrating ‘48 Years’ of youth services.

Clapham Youth Centre, Jubilee Party
Clapham Youth Centre, Jubilee Party

Clapham Youth Centre, Lyham Road, is proof that community centres are still valuable and essential. Community feel and cohesion is bursting out of the door.  Visiting the youth centre on a Monday evening there was an energetic feel. Warm, welcoming and sharing jokes with one another, the youth workers of Clapham Youth Centre continue to provide a family feel in the centre.

A group of young members were happily transfixed on colourful craft projects, while others chose to take part in the table tennis tournament. It is clear to see that everyone who both works and attends this centre is very much a part of the family. Not much has changed since I attended the club some years ago as a child; the post-war period building remains and familiar faces can be found.

It is not just a social hub, but over the years the youth centre and the admirable staff have undoubtedly enhanced the lives of many young. The Youth centre, based on Lyham Road, SW2, will celebrate its 50th year anniversary in 2014. I will never forget the love and care that the leaders showed to me and all the other children at the youth club. Through Clapham Youth Centre I have some of my fondest memories of being taken on unforgettable summer trips to beautiful places like North Devon and day trips to Theme parks, adventure playgrounds and ice-creams by the sea, all at subsidised prices, affordable to local families on low incomes. The members of the youth club care about the community and the future of the young people; you can see it in their eyes and by the manner in which they speak about their projects.

A lot has changed in youth services since I was a child, mainly funding. But the importance of youth clubs should never be underappreciated.

‘We have received cuts as has every youth centre in the country but we need to exhaust every organisation for funding,’ Community Development and Youth Manager, Tonya Smith told me.

Tonya has been involved with the centre since 2003 as a seasonal youth worker. She is now working on promoting activities in the centre and cohesion within the community. One of her major tasks is to organise more activities in the daytime for local residents. Although Clapham Youth Centre has traditionally targeted young people, they are looking to expand the use of the premises. They currently run daytime activities such as a Cyber Café, a young parent’s group and a social club for disabled people.

In addition to a general youth club for juniors (Mondays), Clapham Youth Centre runs ‘Bridging the Gap’ for teens, a young women’s club, a boys night, a music media workshop, a dance and drama club and a unique Driving School for young people. There is also space outside to run around and do sporting activities. They hold pool and tennis tournaments, a summer school and members can go on holiday to Devon in the summer.

Tonya would like to see a refurbishment of the youth club and feels that there needs to be more outreach to young people and the local community as a whole. ‘There needs to be both development, and more young people designing and leading programmes.’

Connecting with young people is crucial, as it is so easy for them to be distracted by the wrong things, especially when growing up in inner city South London. In some instances families have little money for extra curriculum activities and are pre-occupied by problems in their lives.

‘When the young people get to about 15 they tend to drop out of the youth club but we don’t want to lose them,’ said Tonya.

Recently, however, the youth club’s budget has been practically sliced in half. It now has to ‘sell itself’ which means that they could be refused funding and have to seek it from alternative sources. However, the dedicated team are continuing to draw up new initiatives for the centre. In honour of her ongoing twenty-year commitment to the centre, one of the long-term volunteers of the Centre, Lyn Ming, was awarded an MBE by Prince Charles in 2009.  It was her picture then, hanging at the entrance.

Clapham Youth Centre draws many of its members from the local estate, Blenheim Gardens. It is critical to engage young people and to give them something positive and interactive to take part in, to get them out of the area and show them other parts of London, and different perspectives. Young people often find themselves stuck in one tiny section of this big city of possibility.

The children in the youth club are enthusiastic as ever. Nine-year-old Jade Cambridge whose siblings have all attended the centre, told me her experience of attending Clapham Youth Centre.

‘I started the club as soon as I could!’ Jade attends every Monday and enjoys taking part in the arts and crafts, making things like pots, plates and even clocks.

Jade gets bored staying at home and doesn’t like watching TV or playing on the computer for long periods of time. Her favourite thing about attending the club is seeing all her friends. Lively and confident, Jade would like to be an actress when she is older and has played the lead in her school play.

‘I think I would cry if the club closed. I’m attached to it.’ Jade told me.

I certainly hope to see Clapham Youth Centre continue its good work.