Bright futures: Newham young people on life in the borough


Bright futures: Newham young people on life in the borough

“I have promised young people in this borough that this will be the best place in the world for them to grow up.” From her base at Building 1000 in the Royal Docks, Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz is transforming Newham’s youth services.

An outspoken advocate for local young people, her vision for youth work in this borough is impressive. A £4.5 million annual investment until 2023 is promised and double the number of Youth Zones. In the Royal Docks itself, our new Internship Programme launched last year and will provide year-long paid placements for 18-30 year olds with local businesses.

Once a Newham young person herself whose first job was at East Ham McDonald’s, Mayor Fiaz’s career path is sure to inspire young residents. But is the future bright for Newham youth today? To find out, we spoke to Joel (21), Lily (15) and Muhammed (13) alongside their participation worker, Anna. All three have taken part in one of Newham’s Youth Assemblies, hosted in the Royal Docks last year, and have attended the Shipman Youth Zone in nearby Canning Town.

I have promised young people in this borough that this will be the best place in the world for them to grow up.

Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham

2020’s Youth Assembly was titled “We Make Newham” and themed on our fast-changing built environment. Eight local youth organisations were represented and 32 young people attended the socially-distanced gathering in The Crystal building gardens. Meanwhile, during Covid-19, the Shipman Youth Zone has been an essential place of support for Royal Docks’ young people. They’ve hosted online quizzes, games nights, virtual cooking sessions, and offered mindfulness and wellbeing support.

Of the young people we met, Joel is an established spoken word poet and online games enthusiast. Lily eyes her future in the performing arts and will study law as her back-up gig. (“I like to plan things early. It’s one of the wonderful things about me.”) Muhammed recently hosted a public event for Newham's Islamophobia Awareness Month. He brings honesty and frankness to our chat and shares that his favourite lockdown meal is the Filet-O-Fish burger.

If you’re lacking a young person’s perspective on Newham today, consider making the 2020 Youth Assembly report your essential reading. One of the findings was that young residents lack safe leisure facilities and are being priced out of the borough. Stratford’s Westfield Shopping Centre was given as a positive example of public space young people feel safe to gather, “We go to Westfield because there’s nothing else to do and it’s a safe space.” The report also reminds us of the negative stereotypes that young people live with when it observes, “Young people in an outdoor public space are too often stereotyped as being in gangs and selling drugs.”

We put these concerns about life locally to Lily, Joel and Muhammed in our interview. Lily has an undiluted passion for Newham, a place she’s lived all her life: “I’ve been here for 15 years. It’s been perfect the way it is.” She has memories from her younger years when even on the wet and rainy days life in Newham felt good: “Happy, free, less stressful. Just a place just to relax and unwind.” Still, not everything Lily sees about the new Newham is rosy. “Things are getting a bit more hectic and the prices are going up. That’s a bit of a challenge for some of us.”

When young people were talking, that was really acknowledged. My voice has always been listened to.

Lily, participant in the Youth Assembly

For Joel, the borough’s youth provision has been a safe haven over the years: “Youth workers really do help. It’s a community thing.” His memorable local landmark is Beckton Alps, otherwise known as the hills near Asda and famous for fantastic views of the Thames. “I’ve been there many times with friends. Sometimes we just go and sit down and listen to music. Other times we go exploring.” Joel met and worked with Mayor Fiaz in 2019 and joined the youth takeover of Newham Mag that year. Talking with Joel, the opportunities for career and skills development seem plenty, but he truthfully admits he can only speak to his individual experience.

For Muhammed, life here can feel big and empty. “A ghost town,” he says. “It’s new, but it’s got old charm,” he adds, summing up how the area’s history permeates even newer neighbourhoods. Muhammed seems inspired by these evolving parts of Newham: “It’s just different. There are new and interesting people here.”

Young people face real challenges in Newham. Opportunities for paid work, affordable housing and safe outdoor spaces. But youth assemblies have enabled young people to share their concerns with decision-makers. Reflecting on her participation in the Youth Assembly, Lily says, “When young people were talking, that was really acknowledged. My voice has always been listened to.” These savvy and articulate young residents have a lot to say; listening to them just the start.

Ensuring young people are able to participate and shape the future of the Royal Docks is really important to the Royal Docks Team. We are working with local youth organisations and young people to develop participation projects; look out on our site for updates later in the year. Find out more about Newham’s Youth Empowerment service here.